Thursday, June 6, 2019

China - Zhangjiajie, Avatar forest, Tian'anmen mountain, coming home

Day 7

We got a taxi and rode for about an hour to get to our hotel. We stayed at a small place that was only $30 a night and we booked a room the night before so we could take a nap before we went to the national park. It was the Qi Man Hotel - Zhangjiajie, Hunan.  We ended up having 2 out of our 3 rooms ready which was perfect because we were able to sleep about and hour and a half and then went into the park. The hotel was occupied by the hotel managers family on the first floor and we saw his wife and two kids often as the hotel lobby was their living room. The rooms upstairs were for guests. The downside was he didn’t have breakfast, there wasn’t a bar of soap anywhere (you were supposed to use the shampoo for soap), the toilet paper rolls only lasted 1/2 a day and one of the rooms smelled musty. The upside was the hotel manager/owner was very nice, very helpful getting us in the parks and could speak English very well. He helped us buy the national park tickets and we could walk to the entrance from our place. Even though some of the attributes of the hotel weren't as nice as the bigger chain hotels the location was great and I felt like we were supporting a local family in a real way. 

We hadn’t eaten breakfast so we just grabbed a bit of fruit as we walked to the national park entrance because we were told there was plenty of food on the top of the mountain, including a McDonalds. At this point we all were starting to salivate for a Big Mac and fries instead of dumplings, noodles and broth. After hours of hiking, no McDonalds in sight and me getting quite grumpy with a lack of sleep and food we broke down and ate at the KFC we found. After another hour or so we finally found the McDonalds and ordered a big mac just because I had been craving it so much even though we weren't really hungry at that point, ha ha. 

This is the street outside of our hotel. There were a lot of hostels and only a few food options. Ashley is trying on sunglasses at the street vendor. Jeff and Virginia bought walking sticks that were helpful with the hiking but the airport wouldn't let us bring them through security so they were left in China. 


Our hotel was near the entrance to the park and then you took a shuttle to get you to the top of the mountain. You can see Jeff with his walking stick and me holding the bag of fruit (breakfast). 


Once the shuttle got us to this point we boarded the longest outdoor glass elevator to get us to the top of the mountain. I thought it would be scarier than it was. It wasn't that bad at all. The elevator wasn't too crowded and since it was glass we could see the whole time we were ascending. 

Once we got to the top we enjoyed the peaks and crags of the avatar forest. This was the forest that they used to help illustrate the Avatar movie



It wasn't a completely clear day but it was still beautiful. The cooler weather made it nice for us to walk around. 




When you looked over the edge of lookouts you realized how dizzying the heights were!

The park was spread out and had some amazing views that made you take your breath away. We took a shuttle bus up and then would stop and explore, and then when we would get in line to take the shuttle bus to the next spot where we would get out again. 

There were a number of spectacular look outs but lots of stairs. All over China as we explored there were stairs everywhere. This was not a handicap friendly place for sure, ha ha. Very few places would be navigable by wheelchair. 


When we were done exploring the mountain we took the gondola down. It would take your breath away we were so high up.


Joel liked standing up to get a better view which would rock our car a bit and Jeff would ask him to sit down, ha ha. 

That night we walked to a local noodle place while Dean hung out in the room and then bought some local snacks at the grocery store to try out. We slept well that night since we didn’t get much sleep the night before.

 The view of the streets near our hotel.

Day 8

Today we visited Tian’anmen mountain. This was our most expensive excursion costing about 35 a person to enter. We got to the entrance of the park by taking a shuttle that took you on a twisting, winding road that had 99 bends in it. I couldn’t believe how fast the shuttle buses navigated the road. For the ride up we had to buckle our seat belts and hang on to the handle on the seat in front of us and hold on! This is a picture of the road up with all the twists and turns. We could see the opening to heaven's gate in the distance at times as we would come around the bends. 


We arrived safely! When we got to the top we were at the base of heavens gate (which is a keyhole bridge in the rock) that took 999 stairs to get up to. Dean, Joel and I took the stairs which was quite a workout and the rest of the group paid to take the escalator.

There were a lot of stairs to get to the top! 


Luckily there were escalators for those who didn't want to do the stairs. The escalators were super long. 


The parts of the stairs that had hand holds were because the stairs were very steep and narrow and couldn't even fit your foot on them. I was glad we were going up and not down because it would have made me very dizzy going down. 



Once we got to the top and enjoyed the lookout we took a free escalator that took us up the rest of the way to the top of the mountain. All the way up the stairs and the escalator (and later the gondola ride) calming music was played. Probably to keep people calm and peaceful as it could produce anxiety for sure! As for me I appreciated it. We had to take 6 escalators to get to the top. Once on the top the views were even more spectacular even though the day was more cloudy and we couldn’t see clearly in the distance.


It was entertaining to see people's clothing with English words on it...most of them didn't make sense at all, ha ha. 

Hunting for a bathroom again became a pastime since a lot of them were closed and one of the stalls we finally found with a toilet was covered in brooms and mops and you couldn’t use it.

Virginia and I found this more than once in our quest for a western toilet. I think they didn't want to have to clean them so they would make the toilet unusable. Reminded me of my dreams in the middle of the night when you need to use the bathroom and I can't find a one to use, ha ha.  We figured it out and eventually found one.



While we were on the top we went to two glass walkways. I was worried that I would feel too much anxiety walking on them after watching videos of people on youtube freaking out on them but I did it with no problem. (We were supposed to do a glass bridge across a canyon at another park and I was secretly happy we ran out of time to do it.) On one of the walkways you were walking along the side of a sheer cliff. Even if you weren’t on the glass and couldn't see the bottom you were still walking along a sheer cliff! The views were dizzying and made me weak in the knees if I thought about it too much. I tried not to think about it too much and I didn't linger for long. 

We had to put on shoe covers so our shoes wouldn't scratch the glass and obscure the view. They were quite hard to put on Joel's large shoes (I'm sure the general population do not have feet as large as his). Jeff decided to help him out.

This was our walkway right along the cliff...just don't think about it while you're walking. 



Its a loooong way down...


We did a little more hiking after the glass walkways but we were pretty much hiked out at this point. 


We got to the point that all of us except Joel was done with walking and stairs and hiking. We had to get back down the mountain by 6 to pick up our luggage that we had stored before the bag check closed. Joel went on and the rest of us took the gondola down and found a pizza place in the mall to eat at. It was pricey compared to the food we had been eating but it hit the spot and tasted so good! 


We had a great view of the crazy road we came up on the way to the top...


Joel ended up meeting us about an hour later and ate the rest of our pizza leftovers. We had all our luggage with us at this point. We didn't really want to do a lot of walking or hire a big car for 2 hours with all our bags so we decided to go back in the mall and watch a movie to kill time.

We thought we would watch Dumbo. We asked if Dumbo was in English (after having another patron try and translate). They said it was in English but we got in the theater after buying tickets and having to buy 3-d glasses and it was all in Chinese, ha ha. It ended up being fine though. You could get the gist of things and figure out generally what was going on. I only understood Bimbou (which is what they called Dumbo\) and baba - which means dad everything else was a mystery.

After the movie we got a cab to the airport to get our flight back from Zhangjiajie to Beijing. Our flight ended up being delayed over 2 hours so we didn’t get into town and to our hotel until 3:30 in the morning. It was a long night.

Day 9

We said goodbye to Joel and Virginia the night before because they realized when they got to the hotel they hadn’t booked their room there. They ended up realizing they didn’t book a hotel at all and had to negotiate a place at 4 in the morning!

We got up and had our last good breakfast buffet and then got a cab to do shopping. We said we wanted a good local place to go shopping and not a mall. Well it was kind of a mall but it was a lot of stalls if people selling all kinds of things. We bought some stuff as souvenirs for friends and people back home but everything was expensive and I was kicking myself that we didn’t buy more while we were on the street or in the smaller towns. We didn’t know how good we had it earlier.

This was one of the big buildings in the city.

We got a ride back to the hotel to pick up the bags and used the shuttle to get to the airport and then hung out in the VIP lounge and ate lunch and waited for our flight. It was an 11 hour flight to get home. It was a great trip and I loved all the things we saw but I am also glad we are coming back home.

We all decided that we would love to come back to China again some day to visit! I would recommend it. You just need to have patience and be prepared to use a lot of creative ways to communicate ;).

Note to self: For my next trip to China I would pack more snacks like granola bars and peanut butter crackers, beef jerky and meal replacement kind of things because finding good/filling food was hard sometimes.