The bus from Fenghuang dropped us at Zhangjiajie (张家界) station at 1pm, which made our plan for Tianmen rushed and missed our expectation.
For your information, when visiting Zhangjiajie, it has 2 main destinations of interest: Tianmen Mountain National Park (天門山) to the south-west side of Zhangjiajie city, and the more recognizable Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area (武陵源) which is beside Wulingyuan Town and to the north of Zhangjiajie city.
To aggravate the situation, the weather was cloudy and once climbed up the mountain area, it was totally foggy. Well, we could not even know whether it was a fog curtain or the clouds themselves.
The queue for cable car going up was painfully long. You would have 2 choices, to go up by cable car and down by bus, or vice versa. Going down by bus, personally I think it’s a memorably hair-raising experience though.
We needed to have an imagination that the scenery was magnificent; in reality it was sort of eerie, with vision range going down below 10 meters. The photos, despite not being able to capture the ordinary view, had a distinct look and feel.
If it had been a sunny day, I would have assured you that the ticket to this scenic area was worth the price. Unluckily we couldn’t have a chance, and that expensive ticket didn’t cover add-on services such as the famous glass skywalk.
The last part of the journey was Tianmen Cave. This area is named Tianmen because of the cave itself: literally it’s the gateway to heaven. Here you could see a stream of fog passing through the cave, in a very unearthly way.
At the end we rushed to the bus station by walking down the 999-step staircase. The first time ever I found walking downstairs so laborious like that, or perhaps because of the cold I had caught when in Fenghuang.
As mentioned, the return trip by bus made us goosebumped as we were driven along the stretch of 99 bends with lots of sharp turns. And overlooking the deep valleys below bathed in sunset light was a lifetime experience. So unfortunately (again) for me that my camera was out of memory.
Telling about getting back from Tianmen to Zhangjiajie city and finally Wulingyuan town in the evening, when all of us were too exhausted with empty stomach, is a very long story.
So we welcomed the next morning with our highest expectation of enjoying Avatar peaks the whole day, but it didn’t turn out to be less exhausting at all.
The navigation guide in Zhangjiajie will be detailed in another advice post; briefly, our chosen and cheesy path after boarding 2 buses from entrance was walking alongside Golden Whip Stream (Jinbian Stream - 金鞭溪), then spending 60 minutes climbing up 2000 steps of Luancuan Slope (乱窜坡) to reach Yuanjiajie (袁家界) where we could see Avatar Hallelujah Mountain, then taking bus to Tianzi Mountain (天子山) area, trekking down 8000 steps along Wolong Ridge (卧龙岭) then Ten-mile Natural Gallery (十里画廊), and finally riding bus back to the entrance.
It’s cheap, but really arduous, even walking down 8000 steps took us 2 hours to complete. And timing is important, as the park closes at 6pm, you may end up with getting stuck inside if returning late.
The easier option, of course, is to take elevator or cable car wherever you need to climb up or down, such as Bailong Elevator (百龙电梯) or Tianzi Cableway. Keep in mind that they need a separate ticket for each turn of using.
The journey along the stream costed us not so much sweat, as it’s quite flat and the atmosphere was fresh with lots of canopying trees. We could see the sneaking peaks above our eyes, making us so excited to view them wholly.
After dragging our own bodies up Luancuan Slope, we were presented with the view of the “real” Zhangjiajie, starting from Back Garden (后花园) and Enchanting Terrace (Mihun Terrace - 迷魂台). It was an exclusive reward to those who had finished the climbing, as those coming straight up from Bailong Elevator would skip these locations to arrive directly at Avatar Mountain.
Totally breathless. And less humans.
…then we reached Avatar Hallelujah Mountain
In fact it was not particularly different from the other sites, but crowded with lots of tour travellers, which I always found the most annoying throughout the trip. For the quality of your journey, always try to avoid popular famous locations.
…and Greatest Natural Bridge (天下第一桥)
This was the ending mark for Yuanjiajie, at this spot we had a couple of interesting wide-angle photos.
So the bus drove us from Yuanjiajie to Tianzi Mountain. A whole afternoon should be enough to discover this area before finding the way back to entrance.
Tianzi peaks, compared to Yuanjiajie, are more pointy-shaped and diverse in sizes. It also offers more sightseeing choices, and there are spectacular viewpoints out of reach of the crowd.
Arranging Battles Platform
Arranging Battles Platform (点将台) is the first I can suggest, providing you with a panoramic view of layering peaks upon lusty green valley.
Also known as Imperial Writing Brush Peaks (御笔峰), this location is a must for anyone visiting Tianzi, as it depicts the most characteristic terrain feature of the area - intense erosion caused by water and wind.
Warrior Taming Horse
The post’s highlight image is dedicated to this place: deep gorge and dense forest, with all peaks seemingly facing to the same direction, illustrating the horses gathering at warfront.
…on the way back
The down-trekking journey does provide exclusively good views too. Branching at Moon Viewing Platform (月亮垭), you will have 2 choices to continue: turn left towards Southern Heavenly Gate (南天门), which is a natural arch, or turn right to Wolong Ridge and Ten-mile Natural Gallery. The former is significantly longer, we chose it without any clue but felt accomplished after all.
Those who venture to trail this path get what they expect: a hearty course of successive astounding sights for limited number of guests, as long as there is patience and determination.
On the second day I decided to explore Zhangjiajie by myself, tempting not to miss Laowuchang (老屋场), a like-no-other place which seems to be remotely located from other sites.
Instead of torturing my body again with all the climbing, I tried Bailong Elevator this time; and as guessed, it was nothing to talk about yet saving time a lot. After that, riding the bus straight to Dingxiangrong (丁香榕) and discovering the rare village situated amid this nature park.
To reach Laowuchang, I needed to take a round-trip taxi from the village, not a typical ‘taxi’ indeed. And thankfully with local people’s help, I managed to hail a private to fetch me to the site. Oh hell, not knowing Chinese was punishing us all the time - as they thought we were Chinese.
…here presented you Sky Field Garden
Worth the price, huh? Far away we could see Bailong Elevator and Yuanjiajie.
Right beside a little is Spirit Soldiers’ Gathering (神兵聚会). If not overly exaggerated, this vista hosts the best range of peaks among those I have visited in Zhangjiajie. It’s truly blessed that the area is undeveloped and still maintains its hidden beauty.
Ten-mile Natural Gallery
This would be the ending note for my Zhangjiajie journey, if time had allowed I would continue to discover Yangjiajie (杨家界), Baofeng Lake (宝峰湖), Huanglongdong (黄龙洞) or Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon, those peripheral sites situated around. Things on the map look small, but for each route you need to account it by hours.
The route was same same but different to our first day’s, starting from Tianzi and terminating at some bus station by Suoxi Valley. What can set them apart is, you won’t feel so much lost while going by Wolong Ridge — Ten-mile Natural Gallery route, thanks to more tourists and guiding boards. In terms of difficulty, it’s less steep as well, and there’re a few stops along the way to get some snacks.
There you can walk along a mini-train line, admiring the beauty of surrounding forests and grand peaks. Trust me, looking upward from the ground gives you a different perspective of Zhangjiajie.