Category Archives: Zhangjiajie

China – Off the Tourist Path (a bit)

We actually have Pinterest to thank for our days in Southern China’s Zhangjiajie National Park.  Jen found photos of this place on Pinterest.  In spite of the Pinterest dreams, we never could manage to pronounce “Zhangjiajie” correctly, so we started calling it Jumanji instead.  So, I will continue to refer to it as Jumanji in this post.

During trip planning, we figured that we could try to get there from Guilin.  It didn’t look that far on a map, right?  Wrong.  Different province, and quite a distance between the two, especially when we discovered that the overnight tourist bus to Zhangjiajie, promised by several websites, did not exist.   We were at the bus station, coming to terms with this information when we were told that a bus leaving for another town where we could catch a train to Jumanji was leaving in ten minutes.  Without much thought and no great alternative, we jumped on the bus to avoid losing another travel day.   We boarded to a bus full of stares, as we were the only non-Chinese on the bus.

It was on this bus ride that we learned just how rustic toilets can get.  (A warning to our delicate readers: the next few sentences are definitely about toilets.)  We had already discovered that standard toilets in China are as follows: a squat toilet, BYO TP, which may or may not have a sink, which almost never has soap.  This includes toilets in nice areas.  The one exception were our toilets at the hotel.  (THANK GOODNESS.)   However, the squat toilets at the one stop on our locals-bus had the added bonus of lacking doors or walls between squatters, and only small bricks separating the holes in the ground.   Lovely!  I would rather go in the woods.

We rolled in a town called Huaihua around nightfall.  Unfortunately, the town was not even in our guidebook, and we had no access to internet to book accommodation after our quick decision.  Then there was the unfortunate fact that we don’t speak any Chinese – we had learned that few people speak English in outside of tourist areas of China, even at our hotels.  We had been getting around with a combination of help from our hotels and a translator application on the iPhone.

Stumbling off the bus to a street that was completely shut down at 7 pm, we were suddenly surrounded by a group of Chinese people who all seemed to want us to come with them.  We were feeling a bit overwhelmed when suddenly we heard a meek, “Hello, do you need help?”  A young Chinese couple had come to our rescue.  They guided us out of the excited mob and towards a hotel.  They even helped us check in, as no one at the hotel spoke any English.  Jen was so appreciative that she hugged the girl, who almost certainly did not appreciate the physical contact.  The hotel was actually pretty disgusting, but overall we were still happy to have been helped.

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Extremely grateful to our saviours in Huaihua, bringing us to a hotel after getting off a bus  in a Chinese city that sees almost zero tourists

We made it onto the train station the next day (On our own!  Victory!) and boarded a train for Jumanji.  It was on this train that we experienced the trash and other small kind acts from our fellow passengers mentioned in the last post.

Pretty views of mountain countryside en route from Guilin to Zhangjiajie, via Huaihua.
Along with the pretty views comes the not so pretty interior of the “hard seat” class – no trash cans, but people did come by to sweep up every so often
Talking with some of the locals from Huaihua to Zhangjiajie was fun, here a young Huaihuan entrepreneur explained to Jon his business.

Jumanji was all that Pinterest promised it to be, and more.  Spires of karst limestone in deep valleys, including the spire that supposedly inspired the mountain in the movie Avatar.  We climbed up 3,878 steps (according to our guidebook) the first day, to incredible views of the formations in the valleys below.   We also soared through the spires on gondolas and watched the valley wall as we descended on a 335 meter glass elevator.

We walked around, and quickly learned what it must be like to be famous, because at least once an hour, Chinese people would request to take photos with us.  It would usually start with one group pose which would turn into many other arrangements with their extended friends and family.  Other times, folks nearby would see the photo session and want to have their own photo series with the random Western couple at the park that day.  Occasionally other Chinese people would randomly snap photos of us as they walked by: sometimes covertly, other times not.  A couple of times, we would request photos of the event as well, if we were feeling especially amused by our new-found paparazzi.   Although we have been asked to be in random photos before, the frequency of our paparazzi in Jumanji was astounding.

We had two other interesting cultural experiences in Jumanji – pushing grandmas and kids doing their business in public.  The first, pushing, usually involves shoulders etc in crowded areas, but in the particularly beautiful viewing platforms and while attempting to get on a bus, we experienced the two-hand push of grandmas.

The second, pooping kids, starts with holes in the crotch of small children, usually under the age of 4.  It’s common for children of this age to have the entire crotch of their pants open from front to back.  We learned what this was for when we saw children doing their business on the sidewalk, on the street, or wherever they had to go.  It could be into a bag, onto newspaper, or directly onto the ground, whether number one or number two.

We ended the time in Jumanji (alright, Zhangjjiajie National Park) amazed by both the views and the cultural experiences.

Late dinner at the Huaihua hotel restaurant – language was a barrier, so honestly we weren’t sure what some of the food was 🙂
Chinese breakfast served by an older gentleman in army fatigues each morning, who seemed to be yelling at us (no English of course), but had a heart of gold and became a highlight of our stay at our hotel in Zhangjiajie City.
Delicious dinner at a Zhangjiajie City restaurant – we didn’t realize plates came “family style”, but we were happy to take leftovers home 🙂
Lively street where our hotel was in Zhangjiajie City.

Now onto big city living, Chinese style – Shanghai and Beijing (with some 2,000 year-old warrior action thrown in-between).