24.09.2015 - 28.09.2015 29 °C
We fly from Shanghai to Zhangjiajie on the evening of 24 Sept. The flight is with Shanghai Airlines (East China Airlines) and we depart from Pudong Airport, 172 yuan taxi fare from the Bund. Takes about an hour, good roads, lots of overpasses, freeway, totally modern, well marked, we are amazed by the number of skyscrapers and high rises. The city is huge, some say there may be 30 million people.
Pudong Airport terminal is ultra modern, we are early, but check our bags and hang around in the vicinity of gate 10, charging our phones/cameras and watching the people go by. There are the usual assortment, smart, trendy, fashionistas, dowdy, (that would be us).
I contemplate things I was worried about that have yet to materialize:
- Nobody would speak English - here in the airport signs are in English as well as Chinese and many of the staff speak English.
- Crossing the street - we have crossed streets several times and survived even though we were warned not to. I prefer crossing with a bunch of people and sandwiching myself in the middle for a good buffer zone but "eyes in the back of your head," is a phrase that comes to me often as far as both pedestrians and drivers here are concerned. Pedestrians do not have the right of way.
- I have been here for more than 48 hours and have not used a squat toilet
Shanghai was a good place to start, lots of signs in English, lots of western influence such as stores, and the service industry at tourist-frequented spots speak some English.
The flight cost just over one hundred dollars, we will be travelling south west for 1358 km. We booked the tickets through english.ctrip.com. It is helpful in dealing with english.ctrip.com to have an account with the Royal Bank.
I am excited about going to Zhangjiajie Mountain Park because the mountains resemble Avatar - a movie I have never really watched as I am not a fan of fantasy or science fiction. Still the pictures look incredible and whiling away a week at a mountain resort in China seems adventurous.
Zhangjiajie (pronounced something like jungjowjee)
Located in northwest Hunan province this mountainous region of towering sandstone pillars is reminiscent of another world, perhaps a world created by James Cameron. Avatar-like floating mountains. Talk about scenery!!
The quartzite sandstone formations are unique to Zhangjiajie, it is a Unesco protected park. Hosting more than 20 million visitors annually it s not a remote wilderness.
Wulinguan Scenic and Historical Interest Area is 264 square miles, it has 243 peaks and 3000 karst pinnacles. Flora and fauna abound, macaques (monkeys), giant salamanders and the aloof clouded leopard (never actually seen), call this region home. Celosias are not a rare flower, but here they grow as big as geraniums!!
There are cable cars and buses as well as stepped paths.
We are staying at April Hostel near the Wulingyuan entrance to the park. We have to be careful as the streets are being dug up and there is debris and uneven ground:
The entrance fee to the Park is 248 cny or about 65 Can. and you can use the pass for four days. We found three days to be sufficient and of course many tourists come for just a partial day.
We spend our first day, 25 Sept at the Wulingyuan side, walking and taking a little train as well as riding the free buses. It is all very civilized, really beautiful and although there are many hikers we find the parts we can actually walk to are spectacular enough for us. I can only take so much breathtaking beauty at my age!!
26 Sept - I may have wasted money on that four day ticket as this morning I almost electrocuted myself. When I tried to unplug my phone from the converter found one prong was not inserted . I got quite a shock!! 220 volts did not kill me or maybe it was only getting 110.
The second day we took the bus from the Wulingyuan clock tower to the Zhangjiajie entrance, I think seven yuan for the bus, cab fare would have been ten times as much. You pay an attendant on the bus.
There have been world press reports about the Giant Salamander Festival being celebrated right here at Zhanghjiajie, this is a big deal around here, a real delicacy, signs and hooplah. Plus they make expensive skin cream out of parts of the salamander. It seems nothing goes to waste!!
We buy tickets for the cable car and for the first time I show my passport, maybe there is a discount. You bet there was and for seventy yuan I got a round trip ticket. It was really spectacular riding up even though there were four other people in the car with us. The cars are all glassed in to provide maximum viewing. It is almost scary going up, but the scenery is spectacular.
I was just as awe-struck on day two as I had been on day 1.
The four day entrance ticket covers the park entrance and the free buses but not other modes of transportation. Each time you enter the park they take your thumb print as well as look at your ticket and any purses or packs go through an x-ray security check. We feel pretty safe here.
At the Zhangjiajie entrance to the cable car they take your picture - I thought it was another security check but no, when you get to the top you are offered your picture against a fake backdrop of the mountains. We both said no and carried on to the sightseeing points.
We have been in China for about four days now and for the first time people are taking pictures of us. It was also the first day I used a squat toilet and while I was thus occupied tourists started taking pictures of Rhea so she was surrounded when I got back. Really on my toes, I instantly took pictures also!! I like taking people pictures, tourists, locals, etc..
I also took a picture of the squat toilet as I expect it to be the first of several encounters with this type of commode:
Many places have a western style toilet, with a special sign on the door. These are not heavily used so you could actually come to China and never use a squat toilet, however, on this particular mountain there seemed to be only squats available even though there was a KFC where we ate as we wanted a cup of coffee.
It is kind of funny to see a KFC sign at a National Park in China but there are many western chains operating in this country and the Chinese are fond of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Besides chicken and fries they also sell items such as corn on the cob and warm, sweet custard tarts.
We do not think about the Chinese eating corn on the cob and potatoes but they do. Street vendors sell roasted potatoes and corn.
I take pictures of people who are in my camera's view, like this lady eating noodles on the mountain:
There are many tourists, it is about to be a big holiday week all through China. We are usually the only westerners on the bus. We just point to the place on the map when we get on and the driver either signals for us to sit down or motions to where we should go.
The Chinese are great posers, I took pictures of a few posing and a few dressed in ethnic costumes.
There is wifi here at all over the National Park, I am getting a better signal than I have in either hotel so I check my emails and send a few:
There are places to get food, water and souvenirs in the Park:
There were also a lot of monkeys around today, a pretty good day:
Even though there are crowds of tourists, I do find a few empty spots where people have ventured earlier, noticeable by the big gob somebody before me had coughed and spit out on the rocks (no spitting!!).
We were alone in the cable car descent which was a bonus!!
At the exit they had keychains with our pictures on them and since these were only ten yuan I purchased my first souvenir.
We had supper at the neighbourhood cafe, we are not very adventurous. This was my first beer in China, I was impressed by the size of the bottle and the cheap price - less than two dollars.
Even though we are in the mountains it is hot and humid and the beer tastes light and refreshing. The dishes and cutlery are all wrapped up, sealed in plastic, message, sanitary, clean.
On 27 Sept we take an elevator up the mountain. All glass, it is really breathtaking and I again got a seniors discount. I am amazed each time I view the scenery, so different from the mountains back home. Once we get back to the hostel we pack up as tomorrow we are moving hotels. We saw a lady washing clothes in the little stream or canal that runs close to our hotel.
There are many sights we do not see at home, such as these carriers:
28 Sept - for the first time we go to the fifteen yuan breakfast and decide we have been missing out - the coffee good and there are an assortment of western and Chinese dishes, I try the pumpkin soup but am not a fan. Rhea had dumplings and we had an enjoyable meal complete with noodles, pickles and corn on the cob:
Rather than lug our heavy backpacks to the bus depot we decide we need a taxi. Sue at the desk offered to drive us and for that we are very grateful. Taxis won't take six block fares. She helped us onto the right bus and told the driver where we were going. This gesture increased my esteem of April Hostel tremendously. The room had been small and musty, something made me itchy, the view was of laundry drying, roosters were crowing every morning at dawn, the streets were treacherous, but in the end I loved April Hostel. And I will recommend it - very good service, helpful, clean towels, adequate cleanliness - the staff tipped the scale for thoughtfulness, yes recommend.
The bus ride is kind of fun, bumping along, picking up people, kids brighten up when they see us and say, "Hallo."
A familiar sight, clothes drying on the side of the road:
Another familiar sight is corn drying on the pavement. China grows more corn than rice now. Who knew?