Zhangjiajie (张家界), go on lets hear you pronounce that! Zhangjiajie is located in Hunan Province, China (see map below). Famous for its floating rocks and mysterious fog and the inspiration behind the Avatar movie, this is one of my most recommend places to visit in China.
From Changsha (Hunan Province) you can take an overnight or a regular train to Zhangjiajie West station. The train is equipped with hard seats, normal seats, or the sleeper option, which are rows of three bunk high beds. They are actually pretty comfortable in my opinion. Although be sure to bring hand sanitiser and toilet paper and some water for your journey.
To book a train ticket I would advise using Trip.com. You can select trains in mainland China and it is all very simple from there.
I would recommend the overnight train if you are pushed on time. Just because they arrive so early that you can reach the park just as people are starting to get there.
Departs: Changsha 23:40
Arrives: Zhangjiajie West 04.59 (next day)
Hard seat (50RMB/US$7.80)
Hard sleeper (104RMB/US$11.60)
Soft sleeper (152RMB/US$23.80)
I can highly recommend the hard sleeper, its cheap and as comfortable as you could possibly need on such a quick train journey. I personally wouldn’t pay the extra for the soft sleeper as the train noise will be what keeps you awake, not the mattress!
Departs: Changsha 06:42
Arrives: Zhangjiajie West 09:55
2nd class (97RMB/US$15.20)
This is an example of the earliest train, but be warned, arriving at Zhangjiajie West at 10am means by the time you arrive at the park it will be packed already. Also trains leaving at 7am onwards do also offer 1st class for around 180RMB/US$28 but unless you just like wasting money, don’t choose this! Trains in China are really nice, leg room on 2nd class is plentiful, I felt like I was already in 1st class compared to any British train I’ve been on.
THINGS TO DO
There are so many things to do in the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, I think you need 4 days to do it justice, or longer if you want to try some of the hikes. So below are a few things you can do in the park as well as the prices. Be sure to arrive early everyday, trust me it’s much more enjoyable to explore nature in China without hoards of tourists, pushing, shoving and clicking their cameras. Make sure to check the bottom of this post for Chinese national holiday times, and be sure to avoid them for a more pleasurable trip!
1. Tianzi Mountain Cableway
Price: One way (72RMB/US$11.30)
A cable car ride so good we did it twice. Well we actually did it twice because we had gone on an “accidental hike” and were too tired to walk any further. But it was totally worth it, the view is incredible and felt completely surreal. You really do fly among the rocks!
2. Hike from the top of Tianzi Mountain
Price: Free (but the burn is real)
There are plenty of hikes you can do in and around the mountains and I highly recommend them. Make sure you pick up a decent map for hiking around the park. We quickly learnt that the freebie map we had (with no scale) got us thinking the path we took would be a lovely quick stroll. It ended up being a 2 1/2 hour up and down hill hike in 30+ degree heat, oops! Being a geographer I am still ashamed of my foolish reliance on inadequate navigational material, so don’t give me grief fellow geographers!
3. Bailong Elevator
Price: One way (72RMB/US$11.30)
Why not slap a huge man‑made steel elevator on the side of a beautiful mountain range… welcome to China everyone! The Bailong Elevator is the tallest outdoor elevator in the world, a title not surprisingly held, due to the fact that not many nations think to plonk elevators on the side of mountains. Anyway negative feelings towards mankind aside, the elevator had a good view but was just a short 2 minute ride. But a quick easy way to reach the bottom, especially if the weather turns!
4. Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge
A pretty cool experience. However I found it a bit frustrating photography wise, as the glass was so scratched that you couldn’t get those floating photos you so often see, despite all being given these little socks for your shoes. You also are not allowed to take your camera, only phones so this was a bit disappointing. Very beautiful views of the valley as you walk on the bridge to the right. There seemed to be some development on the valley floor to the left of the bridge below, which ruined the natural vibes. To get to the bottom, you can take the elevator down, or we zip-lined. This was a really cool experience. The zip-line was actually followed by these funny slides, where you put your legs in these pants which make you slide. But being more than a little taller than the average Chinese person I was getting stuck on the slide, as the pants were too short!
Other activities include going to Tianmen Mountain, a 999 stairway to the hole in the mountain and the valleys longest cable car ride. I haven’t added this to the list because I personally did not go there, we were pushed on time, and I had heard the crowds got a little crazy!
BEST TIME TO VISIT
I went to Zhangjiajie near the end of August, and as you can see we were welcomed with beautiful blue sky and puffy clouds (a rare sight in a lot of Chinese cities). We didn’t ever get the famous mist that hugs the rocks at this time!
Arguably the best time of year to visit Zhangjiajie is September/October. But do consider the Chinese holidays in October (see below). Spring is good for the flowers, clouds and is quieter and winter looks like a different country entirely.
CHINESE HOLIDAY DATES
Here is a link to Chinese national holidays so you can plan your trip around them! If you have to travel during these times, be sure to adjust for the hike in prices, and mentally prepare yourself for the feeling of being in a city whilst in nature. I went in summer holiday times, but not national holiday and I prepared myself for the absolute worse, just so that I was free to enjoy myself and not care too much when I was there. If your up early and at least you get some time to be nearly alone with nature.
Spring Festival Holiday – around February time (changes each year). This is one of the biggest holidays, otherwise known as Chinese New Year holiday, it’s the equivalent of Christmas, only bigger!
Chinese National Holiday – A week long holiday usually as the start of October, is the second largest holiday in China and is really one to avoid travelling on. Where as Spring Festival is usually spent visiting relatives, this holiday there are no obligations to visit family, hence local hit all the big tourist attractions in China.
Visited August 2020