Zhangjiajie (张家界) and Wulingyuan (武陵源); a cloudy experience

I will forever remember Wulingyuan as the town where I ate hotpot while warily keeping an eye on a skinned cat carcass hanging among geese inside a freezing restaurant on a cold January day. I’ll also remember a woman selling sweet bark on top of a mountain and feeding Oreos to a baby monkey. Zhangjiajie, where yes you can eat McDonalds while touring a UNESCO World Heritage Site and get your photo taken next to some Avatar posters, you can send a postcard from the top of a mountain, and you can do it all while freezing your little tail off because Weather.com was wrong by about 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

But seriously, it was a good time.

I just returned last week from a trip around Hunan  with a friend and our first stop was Zhangjiajie, we entered through the Wulingyuan entrance and stayed in Wulingyuan itself.

Visiting Zhangjiajie in the winter is not highly recommended if you’re set on seeing all those amazing karst pillars of sandstone, we had fog and light rain pretty much the whole three days we were there and the views were pretty much sans mountains much of the time. But, we did get tickets for the discounted price of 143RMB and we didn’t have to fight crowds of people, though the park was by no means empty.

One thing I would highly recommend if you’re planning a trip to Zhanjjiajie, to visit the Wiki travel page on Wulingyuan and from there you can print an English map of Zhangjiajie and get further information. The English map is impossible to find within the park and trust me, you WILL NEED A MAP. Do you have a map? Okay, now circle the part that says 10 Mile Natural Gallery, got it? It’s not 10 miles, it’s only about 5KM and at the end you will find A COFFEE SHOP, MAYBE THE ONLY ONE (not sure, the park is really big).

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Our hotel room in Wulingyuan, this was by far the warmest room we had while in Hunan (other than the expensive one in Changsha), and perhaps the nicest and the workers spoke decent English and provided us with a free map, all in Chinese but still good.

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Alley right outside our hotel

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Woman selling some kind of sweet bark. She gave me a piece to chew on, it tasted a lot like Chinese medicine or the sweet medicinal tea that I’m sometimes served by students, not my favorite thing. But she was cute.

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I think this was called First Bridge of the World, you can’t see but it had guard rails and we were able to cross it to a peak on the other side, and walk around the peak itself. Everything, all the rails and such was covered in love locks that they were selling in a little shop.

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Love locks on one of the peaks.

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This was a little tea stop off area inside the park. My friend got a really sweet ginger tea they were selling and also they had instant milk tea, hot soy milk, and other things. Drinks were about 10RMB. Not bad considering the view.

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The stairs down from Enchanting Terrace Back Garden to the Golden Whip Stream.

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Along the Golden Whip Stream, this was one of the prettiest walks but we had to go down a lot of stairs to get here. It was nice.

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Monkey at one of the entrances. Can you see him? So cute.

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Venders outside of Yellow Dragon Cave selling trinkets and snacks. Not the best sweet potato I’ve ever had, but it was warm!

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We passed this mysterious building in the park near Yellow Dragon Cave, still have no idea what it was for. It was closed when we were there.

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Inside Yellow Dragon Cave.

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This was a poster right outside a rather fancy looking restaurant inside the Yellow Dragon Cave park. It looks like they’re selling GIant Chinese Salamander inside as part of the cuisine, that’s totally illegal but not the least bit surprising.

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View at the end of 10 Mile Natural Gallery, also this is the jumping off point for climbing Tianzi mountain. There is a cage here with lots of macaque monkeys, which was confusing since the other monkeys I saw were roaming the park freely. Also, there is a coffee shop here and they do a decent job!

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Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province January 2015

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Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province January 2015

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Two babies were the only monkeys small enough to get out of this cage, but actually that made it perfect for observing and interacting with them since the older monkeys are the ones who will jump on you and grab things out of your hands. This was at the end of the 10 Mile Natural Gallery.

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Monkeys grooming each other.

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Gratuitous selfie. I think I was feeling rather elated having found perhaps the only coffee shop inside of Zhangjiajie.

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This baby monkey sat really, really close to me. I could have reached out to touch him. This may or may not have to do with a pack of Oreos I had in my bag.

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Macaque baby, Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province.

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Besties.

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Pagoda at the Wulingyuan entrance to Zhangjiajie.

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The tiny town of Wulingyuan, mirror selfie.

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Wulingyuan, Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province, China. January 2015

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Our hotel was across this bridge. Wulingyuan, Zhangjiajie, Hunan.

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Snake head in a mystery jar of broth inside a restaurant in Wulingyuan.

Zhangjiajie is a lot of hiking and if the cable car is not in service when you go, like it was for us, there are a lot of areas that you won’t be able to see unless you hike the mountains via stairs. I opted out of this due to the weather and my recent knee injury, but my friend really wanted to see the top of one of the mountains and so he hiked. However, a quarter of the way up he got caught by two men who had one of the sedan chairs (see wiki page) and they basically bullied him into paying for a ride. My friend is smart and his Chinese is good so he tried to strike a deal with the guys that he would pay them 100RMB instead of 200RMB, they agreed to that. They took him in the sedan chair for about 15 minutes, a quarter of the hike, and then when they got to a resting place they made him pay them 100RMB EACH. Needless to say he was furious and those guys made about $1USD a minute for carrying him up the mountain in the chair. Also, to be avoided (obviously) is the restaurants inside the park. At one point we wanted a hot meal and we ended up paying 70RMB for two dishes, one with eggplant and one with lettuce; also a complete rip off.

We did see macaques in the park! I admit that was a huge win for me! I think we saw them on three different occasions!

We also visited Huanglong Dong or the Yellow Dragon Cave. This cave is supposed to be the longest cave in Asia and it’s pretty cool, though admittedly it was a lot like other caves in the world. But it made for a nice, warm morning since it was surprisingly warm inside the cave and we had been freezing ever since we arrived in Zhangjiajie. image (23) IMG_2060 IMG_2065 IMG_2081 IMG_2146 IMG_2182 IMG_2190 Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset
Overall, I really enjoyed Zhangjiajie and our hotel was the best. We stayed at Tuniu Hotel Wulingyuan, which my friend found on ctrip but really there were a ton of hotels in Wulingyuan, so I don’t think it was necessary to book in advance since the whole town of Wulingyuan was basically empty for the winter.

My advice to you if you go is to bring a map, snacks, patience, and your hiking boots. And a camera.

HOW TO GET THERE: You can get to Zhangjiajie city from Changsha, it takes about 5 hours. From Zhangjiajie city you can either take a local bus or a taxi to Wulingyuan. If you don’t speak good Chinese I advise printing out all your necessary information and memorizing the Chinese for the names of cities, ect, plus having them written down for reference.

English Map of Zhangjiajie

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