“Accidental” Hiking Holiday in Zhangjiajie (张家界) September 2014

For those who have watched James Cameron’s blockbuster movie – “Avatar” before, did you know where the “floating Hallelujah Mountains” are in real life?  The spectacular sights were inspired by the karst limestone formations in China, namely Huangshan (黄山), Guilin (桂林), and Zhangjiajie (张家界).

A glimpse of the "Avatar Hallelujah Mountain"

A glimpse of the “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain”

I had been to Guilin during winter more than 2 decades ago, so I can’t remember much except that it was a picturesque district with plenty of lovely nature – mountains and lakes.  So when a friend asked if I was interested on a package tour to Zhangjiajie, I thought why not?  Afterall, travelling in China is relatively cheap compared to places like Australia or Europe, ideal for a budget-conscious holiday, and China promises plenty of beautiful scenery too.

After some research on the “best package deal” with a few travel agencies, we decided to sign up with the only travel agency that flies direct to Changsha (长沙), the capital city of Hunan Province. The direct flight definitely saves us the hassle and time, unlike other agencies that charge slightly cheaper for flying to Wuhan and then transferring to the high-speed rail to Changsha. Below is a snapshot of our 8-day itinerary:

Day 1: Direct flight from Singapore, reaching Changsha in the evening and stay 1 night at Huawen Forest Hotel (长沙华文森林酒店).

Day 2: Drive to the west to Changde (常德) in Wuling District (武陵区), to visit its Poem Wall (常德诗墙) and Liuye Lake (柳叶湖), then drive further to the west for about 4 hours to the Fenghuang Ancient Town (凤凰古城) which is under the administration of Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture (湘西土家族苗族自治州) in the evening.  Stay 1 night at Feng Tian International Hotel (凤天国际大酒店) in the Fenghuang County.

Day 3: Head northwest to Zhangjiajie to visit the Tianmen Mountain National Park (天门山国家森林公园), followed by a tour of the Tujia Folk Custom Park (土家风情园-土司城) in the late afternoon. Watch the famous “Tianmen Fox Fairy” musical (天门狐仙-·新刘海砍樵) with the grand valley of Zhangjiajie as the backdrop in the evening. Stay 1 night at Zhangjiajie Mellow Crystal Hotel (张家界梅洛水晶酒店) in Zhangjiajie.

Day 4: Visit Junsheng Sandstone Painting Gallery (军声画院), then continue to take a scenic boat ride at Baofeng Lake Scenic Area (宝峰湖风景区), followed by sightseeing at the Ten-Mile Art Gallery (十里画廊) and a stroll along Golden Whip Brook (Jinbian Stream 金鞭溪). Stay 2 nights at the Qinghe Jinjiang International Hotel (青和锦江国际酒店).

Day 5: A full day conquering Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve (天子山自然保护区) and Yuanjiajie (袁家界景区).

Day 6: Another day of adventure at the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon (张家界大峡谷) before going back for a night’s rest at Zhangjiajie Mellow Crystal Hotel (张家界梅洛水晶酒店).

Day 7: Back to Changsha after about 6-hours’ drive from the northwestern part of Hunan, to visit the Changsha Bamboo Slips Museum (长沙简牍博物馆) and Tianxin Pavilion (天心阁). Proceed for some shopping at the popular Huangxing Road (黄兴路商业步行街). Overnight at Huawen Forest Hotel (长沙华文森林酒店) again.

Day 8: After lunch, head to Mount Yuelu (岳麓山) and Aiwan Pavilion (爱晚亭) on the west bank of Xiang River (湘江). Thereafter, transfer to airport for the flight back to Singapore.

There were 4 compulsory shopping stops arranged too – Silk, Tea, Foot Reflexology/ Traditional Chinese Medicine and Jewellery, which are typical of China tours where they try very hard to make you buy from these “appointed government businesses”….

NB: I didn’t purchase a pre-paid data SIM card for this 8-day tour because according to the local tour guide, you need to pay a whopping RMB 2,000 (about S$405.70) non-refundable deposit! In this part of China, you can’t access Facebook and Instagram doesn’t seem to work too. 😦

You may be wondering, why the title of this post is “Accidental Hiking….”? To cut a long story short, that’s because I did not expect that much of hiking in the mountains as the tour agency mentioned there would only be “some walking” throughout the tour! Even my tour mates who had been to many parts of China claimed that they hiked a lot more here than in their past tours to Yunnan, Jiuzhaigou and Silk Road.

Oh well, hiking isn’t a bad thing afterall, is it? Hehe… do follow my subsequent posts for this tour for more details 😉

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