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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 are a Polish duo standing behind eTramping.com, 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.