China recently celebrated the Tomb Sweeping festival which is a national holiday where people pay respects to their ancestors and burn objects like money, cars, and clothes made from paper so that they can enjoy them in the afterlife.
Our school was closed for a week to allow everyone to travel home so we took the opportunity to do a bit of travelling of our own and headed up to Hunan Province to explore the National Forest Park, Zhangjiajie City, and Tianmen Mountain.
We spent a total of four days and five nights in Zhangjiajie, I could have stayed there for two weeks!
There is an almost limitless number of things to see and do in the National Forest Park alone.
We managed to squeeze in an impressive amount into our short stay, this was no relaxing holiday on the beach.
If you want hiking, mountains, monkeys and a little bit of magic then Zhangjiajie is the place for you!
Our hostel staff helped us organise all of our park tickets and showed us the best way to fit in everything we wanted to do without compromising on enjoying the experience.
Here are my top five things to do and see in Zhangjiajie:
1. Avatar Hallelujah Mountains
Zhangjiajie is where James Cameron found his vision for the planet of Pandora in Avatar and it is easy to see how inspiration struck as you walk the pathways that run along the summits of the Sandstone Quartz Pillars.
The place itself doesn’t feel real, but rather like you have been transported to another world.
The scale of these pillars is hard to wrap your head around, especially with the valley floor concealed from view by the solid block of green forest that covers any space available to it.
2. Tianbo Mansion
This hike takes roughly one and a half hours to complete and takes you to one of the best viewpoints in the park.
As it is with all hiking in China, the path consists mainly of concrete steps.
This is until you reach the last section of the trail, where it splits into a series of metal ladders that have been welded to the side of Tianbo Mansion pillar.
From the top of this pillar, you have a three-sixty degree view of the landscape that surrounds it, perfectly showing off the neighbouring peaks that it so effortlessly towers above.
“He who fails to climb on Huangshizhai need not have come to Zhangjiajie”.
This is what the sign at the base of the peak reads as you start your accent.
The two-hour climb to the summit of this particular peak can seem endless when you first begin.
The final destination is hidden from view almost the entire way up and every person you meet on the way will tell you it is only one hour away, even though the last person you met told you that too and that was about an hour ago!
It is worth the climb though, from the top you can truly appreciate the scale of what you now stand on top of.
The monkeys here are curious and may get a little too close for comfort at times but, make friends with the right one and you’ll have him eating out of the palm of your hand… literally.
4. Tianmen Mountain
This should be done on a nice day!
We did it in the cold and the rain and while it was still worth a visit, we did not get the best experience this mountain has to offer.
Tianmen Mountain is home to the world’s longest cable car, the journey from the cable car station in the centre of Zhangjiajie to the summit of Tianmen takes about half an hour and (until we entered a cloud) gives you views of the entire city below.
Once you leave the cable car station there are multiple options to complete a loop of the summit, including glass walkways that stretch around the side of the mountain.
To get down we took an escalator through the mountain which takes you to Tianmen Cave and the Stairway to Heaven which is about nine hundred and ninety steps to the base of the mountain.
5. Zhangjiajie’s Grand Canyon and Glass Bridge
If, like me, you are scared of heights then the Glass Bridge that crosses Zhangjiajie’s Grand Canyon might take a little getting used to.
Suspended three hundred and sixty meters above the canyon floor the bridge is made up of one hundred and twenty tempered glass panels that give you a birds-eye view of the forest below.
We spent a whole hour crossing the bridge just taking it all in and stopping for the occasional photograph with the Chinese tourists (this happens a lot in China, westerners are a novelty here).
After crossing the bridge we descended into the valley via a lot of steps attached to the side of the canyon wall and then an elevator from about halfway down.
This canyon was the gift that just kept on giving;
If the bridge wasn’t enough, we were then treated to a waterfall that appeared out of the rock on one side, “Bandits Cave”, a river the purest shade of turquoise I have ever seen, a zip line down part of the valley and then a boat ride to the exit of the park.
This is a full day out!
Aileen MacAlister, from Scotland, a teaching intern from Teach & Travel China Program Winter 2018 intake, is placed in Sanxiang, Guangdong Province, China.
Get to know more about the programme here! About Teach & Travel China Program