The Avatar Mountains – Zhangjiajie, China
June 4, 2015 – June 6, 2015
Our next destination in China was the beautiful Avatar Mountains of Zhangjiajie, China. They are not actually called the Avatar Mountains, but they so resemble the floating mountains from the movie Avatar, and in fact at least one of the mountains here was used in the film, that one of the nicknames for this incredible landscape has become the Avatar Mountains. They are narrow soaring stacks of rock rising high above the ground and when there is any mist or fog beneath them, they appear to be floating.
We took a 14 hour overnight train from Yushan to the city of Zhangjiajie, in Hunan province. Our bunk beds were in a four person compartment, and as we attempted not to wake our bunkmates upon boarding the train at nearly 1am, they inevitably woke up and we were all mutually delighted to discover fellow Americans in the compartment. We chatted for an hour with the recent college graduates from Wisconsin about travel in China before retiring to bed. Upon arrival in Zhangjiagie around 3pm the next afternoon, we found the bus station conveniently located next to the train station, and for the final leg of our journey took an hour long bus ride to the town of Wulingyuan, located at one of the entrances to the park.
We stayed at the Destination Youth Hostel, which is nicely furnished and decorated, but one of the worst smelling rooms we’ve had on our entire trip, as the entire room and especially the bathroom smelled strongly of mold. So we elected to spend as little time in the room as possible and spend most of our two full days in the area exploring the mountains.
Zhangjiajie, which is technically the Wulingyuan Scenic Area but known as Zhangjiajie, is a massive park and you should plan at least two full days to explore it thoroughly. The entrance fee is good for four days. We received invaluable recommendations, in excellent English, from our hostel which allowed us to maximize our time in the park and cover all the highlights. From the entrance of the park, buses pick up the thousands of tourists who arrive each day and take them deep into the park to begin exploring. We started with perhaps the most popular attraction, the large elevator, Bailong Elevator, which takes tourists by the thousands straight up 300 meters to the top of cliffs. We advise getting there first thing in the morning when the park opens if you want to ride on the mountain elevator as the lines can be massive and waiting times can be easily over an hour. We arrived early and were one of the first groups to go up with minimal waiting.
Once at the top you can walk numerous paths along the cliff edges with spectacular views. There are so many, and the park is so extensive we recommend choosing a few destinations and taking one of the frequent free buses that run between them.
On our second day of exploring we started with a walk along a river at the bottom of the canyon looking up at the giant stacks rising above us.
Our last views of the park before we left the second day, via the main entrance, were perhaps some of the best.
After lucking out with dry weather for both of our days touring the park, on a rainy day we continued by bus to the river city of Fenghuang.