Ever since I saw the movie Avatar in 2009 and learned that many of the scenes and mountains were inspired by a mountain in China, I wanted to visit the mountain myself. Zhangjiajie mountain in Hunan province is probably the most beautiful mountain in that area. After the movie Avatar was released many also call this mountain Avatar mountain and it attracts much more visitors than before. This mountain is covered with fog most of the time which gives it a mysterious feeling. This mountain has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992.
Zhangjiajie city has both a train station and a small airport. By train, it takes 16 hours from Xian to Zhangjiajie and a soft sleeper ticket is 56 dollars, so when I found a plane ticket for 53 dollars I bought it immediately.
The problem was that my arrival at airport was at 11pm. There is a 60 kilometers distance from Zhangjiajie city to the mountain’s entrance, and I was planning to stay in Wulingyuan, a small city right beside the Zhangjiajie National Park. I have reserved a bed in Peakcap hostel and they had suggested to send a taxi to pick me up for 150 yuan, which I had declined. During the flight I tried to find someone to share the costs with, but almost everyone had already reserved a pickup already. There was a Chinese couple and because the girl was an English teacher and could speak English a little, told me they would help me find a ride when we arrive at the airport. Even though they didn’t have any luggage they waited for 30 minutes till my backpack was released at baggage claim and then they asked their driver to drive me too. The driver agreed to drive me for 80 yuan.
It was 1am when I arrived at the hostel and it was obvious that Kevin, the owner, was not happy at all to check in someone this late. After giving my bed and getting 135 yuan for three nights, he closed the hostel’s door and left.
Next morning I woke up early. The Zhangjiajie National Park opens at 7am and I wanted to be there by 7 to make the most of time there. I bought a map from Kevin for 5 yuan and asked about all the places that I could afford to visit during the two days I was staying there and I realized that 2 days for visiting all the parts of Zhangjiajie National Park was not enough, especially that I wasn’t very lucky and almost all of those two days it was rainy and cloudy.
It was 5 minutes walking from hostel to the Park’s entrance. The ticket was 248 yuan and the only discount they had was for students under 23 years old. The ticket was valid for 4 days. They also take the buyer’s fingerprint so no one could sell the ticket to someone else.
There are roads in the mountain and free buses that take visitors to different parts of the mountain. Not all roads are connected. There are telecabin or 100 yuan elevators or plain old stairs for the parts that are not connected. I climbed stairs for 21 kilometers first day and 19 kilometers second day. I couldn’t feel my feet towards the end! The feet massagers that were all over the town weren’t that much of help and reduced the pain just a little bit.
First day, I met Wesley, an American and Sergey, a Russian. They both knew Chinese. Wesley told me that the guides in the park are terrible and even when explaining in Chinese are very bad and confusing. With the help of my GPS and my two new friends’ Chinese knowledge we managed to find the places we were planning to visit. I was alone during second day but I still managed to navigate with help of my map and GPS and I was happy that I hadn’t wasted any money for a guide.
I believe one cannot just explain the beauty of the mountain and it should be visited. Unfortunately, my photos also won’t be of much help because it was cloudy and foggy. Although I tried to choose my best photos from the mountain. I promised myself and now I’m promising you that I will visit the Avatar Mountain again and this time will spend more time there.
The Yellow Dragon Cave
I only had half a day on third day and had planned to visit the Yellow Dragon Cave which was very close to Wulingyuan. Entrance ticket was 100 yuan was very expensive in my opinion but I already had come this far. There was a very long line at the entrance. Because no one, even the guides, knew English, I just entered the cave myself. Chinese claim that this is the biggest cave in Asia!
If you ever go to Hunan province make sure to plan 4 days for Avatar Mountains and 1 day for Tianmen Mountain, which was not in my plan.
Best season to visit Avatar Mountain is fall. There aren’t many clouds and it is usually less crowded.
Time of travel: Spring 2016
Ahmad Khani Iranian backpacker and travel lover