Backpacking in Hunan Province: A Mini-Guide to Zhangjiajie

Being the world’s biggest country, China offers such an incredible range of backpacking options and a lot of them will blow your mind, while still managing to somehow remain unknown. Backpacking in Hunan Province offers the diversity of remote inspiring mountains and scenery to the historical “Chairman Mao area” of Shaoshan and Changsha. Here’s a mini-guide to Zhangjiajie, brought to you by Agness and Cess, expert travellers in China.

backpacking in hunan

Backpacking in Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province, China.

About Zhangjiajie

Surprisingly, not many western neither Chinese travellers have heard of Zhangjiajie. It is a real pity as this small picturesque town located in Hunan province should be a top travel destination on their bucket list when visiting China. Zhangjiajie is the place where the famous “Avatar” movie was filmed and where the Floating Hallelujah Mountains can be found. Moreover, you can experience here the authentic local cuisine, traditions, and culture of Hunan and see the landscape which will knock you out by its beauty.

backpacking in china

Zhangjiajie is quite unknown to backpackers but worth a trip.

The World of Pandora

Have you seen the mountains featured in American blockbuster called the Avatar? If so, you should know what I am talking about. The Floating Hallelujah Mountains located in Zhangjiajie National Park became an inspiration to James Cameron to film some of the scenes for this movie here. It is really hard to believe these mountains are real. Although they do not float above the ground, but they do rocket to the sky and on foggy days you cannot really tell if they touch Earth or not. This is something incredible to experience. No wonder why this park has been listed as UNESCO World Heritage site for the past 22 years.

backpacking in hunan

The Floating Hallelujah Mountains at Zhangjiajie in Hunan, China.

Close your eyes for a second and imagine the sandstone pillars are up to 1000 meters high. Picture a breath-taking walk amongst rocks rocketing to the sky. You cross the glass bridge and you feel like you are about to fall down. Just imagine how massive these mountains must look, not only in the picture, but also in real life.

The Floating Hallelujah Mountains in Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province, China.

The Floating Hallelujah Mountains in Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province, China.

Trekking tips

Zhangjiajie National Park is equipped with one of the longest cable cars in the world. In this way you can easily get up to 800 meters above the ground to see the whole landscape and take some incredible pictures.

Backpacking in Zhangjiajie in the Hunan Province - the Cable Car

Backpacking in Zhangjiajie in the Hunan Province – the Cable Car

You can also walk through the glass bridge and extremely narrow vertical cliff so get ready for some scary moments if you are afraid of the heights.

Glass bridge in Zhangjiajie.

Glass bridge in Zhangjiajie.

The place is equipped with free eco-bus which runs daily through the park – it’s a mad ride, best compared to the roller-coaster.

agness hunan province backpacking china

Agness from eTramping at Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province, China.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park  cannot be explore properly for a day. The best idea is to stay here for at least 2-3 days. You can stay overnight, either out in the forest or in a cheap hostel, within its boundaries. The entrance ticket costs RMB 248 ($40 ) and it enables you to step into the park through the main gate for 3 days. The good news is that tickets are not checked on the exit which means that once in you can freely explore every corner for as long as you like as long as you don’t try to re-enter after 3 days.

A waterfall in Hunan Province.

A waterfall in Hunan Province.

There is a great variety of budget hostels and hotels around the park. You can book a single room from RMB 150 – 200 or stay in dorms for RMB 80-100. If you wish, you can set up a tent inside the park and do some camping there. It is totally fine with the guards to do it.

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Amazing scenery in Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province.

As for the food, you should definitely pack some snacks when going trekking. Fresh fruits, veggies, smoked meat and nuts can be purchased at local stores and shops. You can get traditional Chinese dumplings (baozi and jiaozi) from street vendors and their price is around RMB 1 for one. There are some nice local restaurants around the park from where you can order hot pot, noodle soup or fried egg with rice. Your budget food expense should not exceed the amount of RMB 50 a day.

Backpacking in China: The Floating Hallelujah Mountains in Hunan

Backpacking in China: The Floating Hallelujah Mountains in Hunan

Getting in and out

You can get to Zhangjiajie by plane, bus or train. There are daily flights from Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, but it is much cheaper to book an overnight train or take a local bus if you are nearby Hunan province. The flight takes around 2 hours and bus ride lasts more than 19 hours and costs between RMB 191/$32  and RMB 529/$89 depending on your sit preferences. Trains can also be sourced from Shenzhen to Changsha, before an onward connection to Zhangjiajie.

The Floating Hallelujah Mountains in Hunan

The Floating Hallelujah Mountains in Hunan

As you can see, Zhangjiajie has a lot to offer to its visitors. Not only the stunning mountains, but also budget accommodation, authentic Chinese cuisine and of course a bit of history. If you ever make it to China, make sure you add it to your travel list. You will not regret it.

Agness and Cez backpacking in Zhangjiajie in the Hunan Province of China.

Agness and Cez backpacking in Zhangjiajie in the Hunan Province of China.

Agness and Cez are a Polish duo standing behind, a travel blog where they both share budget travel tips on how to travel the world with $25 in your pocket. They call themselves “Tramps” as they have been travelling the world on the cheap since 2011 without permanent home. They are photography passionate and food lovers. Agness and Cez are currently based in Dongguan, China where they dig into baozi and jiaozi (local dumplings), teach English and travel around. If you would like to read more about China, you can check out their  “Add the Brick to the Great Wall:” Experience-based Advice for China from Expats” e-book where they share tips on teaching, living and travelling in the Land of Dragons.

This entry was posted in Backpacking, China, Hunan, Zhangjiajie. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Backpacking in Hunan Province: A Mini-Guide to Zhangjiajie

  1. Agness says:

    Zhangjiajie brings back such great memories. That is, without a doubt, the most beautiful place in China to explore. It’s a real pity not everyone makes it there though. Thank you Jonny for have me here.

    • admin says:

      I love your photos Agness and can’t wait to read more of your China stuff! Safe travels. Jonny

      • Allan Wilson says:

        Just booked flights here in Jan, Jonny, we’re there for the snow. Knew u’d have something about it on one of your sites 😉 We fly into Chongqing area then work down. Looking forward to smashing Baijiu in Phoenix Ancient City 😀

        • Jonny Blair says:

          Nice one Allan – this post was from Agness, but yeah I’ve been to Hunan too – Changsha has chairman Mao’s old home and Fenghuang is also worth a look. Safe travels. Jonny

  2. Torsten says:

    Really looks stunning – I would love to experience that cable car ride!!

    Just followed you on Twitter so I can read more of your adventures!

  3. Pingback: Backpacking in Hunan Province: Magical Fenghuang | Backpacking in China

  4. adara says:

    i have plan to travel to zjj on oct this year,
    my flight arrive at changsha airport almost midnight, is it safe if i stay at the airport while waiting bus operation in the morning?
    is it safe for solo backpacker women to travel zjj?
    how about the people around there, are there can communicate in english ( i can’t speak mandarin)
    do you have recommended hostel to stay?


    • Jonny Blair says:

      Hi Adara, Thanks for the comment. It’s China so not much English spoken there mate. I stayed in a cool hostel in Changsha and of course it’s safe – China is a communist regime so everybody gets on with their lives and the most crime is within the government and powers that be. I’ve never been to Changsha airport though – I overlanded it so no idea if it’s open at night or not. Have a safe trip and check out Mao’s museum for sure! Safe travels. Jonny