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).
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.
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.