Luis’ phone alarm went off at eight o’clock but we didn’t attempt to get up until about twenty past. Once up we slowly got ready left the hostel at tne past nine. We caught a taxi to the bus station again and found the bus with ease. The journey took about fifty minutes but we were dropped somewhere random in wulingyuan downtown. This was situated by the far east side of the mountain. We wandered for a while, occasionally spurred on by the few signs directing us towards the ticket station. We eventually went into a hotel and asked where it was and thankfully five minutes later we found it. We bought tickets and got onto a bus that would take us into the mountains!! The ticket system here is quite sophisticated because you have to link the card to your fingerprint! This is done because the ticket is valid for four days and means the company don’t lose out on money, and so tourists can’t sell them on to others.
The National Park has its own bus system that is included in the price of the entrance ticket. So we caught a bus up to the ‘白龙电梯’ Bailong Elevator and we were wowed when we reached our destination. The pillars of rock and mountains towered around us, and it was incredible to see an elevator attached to the side of one! We bought our tickets and headed to the entrance. After queuing for a while we were in. Sadly with the amount of people we didn’t stand by the glass (one side is glass for everyone to look out of). In a way that was a good thing because I can’t even look out the elevator on the Eiffel Tower let alone the tallest elevator (attached to rock) in the world!
It was a beautiful view from the top. None of the pictures do justice and aren’t depth perceptive enough to really show how high up we were. We followed the path along the mountainside and arrived at a bus station. From there we went to ‘袁家界’ Yuanjiajie station where the was a walk that took us along to see the mountains that were filmed for the film Avatar, “the Hallelujah Mountains”. My favourite part was walking along this short metal bridge because the view was fantastic and I was scared beyond belief. The bridge had one long panel running through the middle of it and grates either side that meant that you could see down into the gorge. Eeeesh. I have definitely been facing my fears of heights here!! The Hallelujah Mountains were awesome. It is just incredible to look out at these various pillars of rock and mountain peaks that are covered in vegetation. I stood there mesmerized at how this landscape was formed, how some has eroded, some hasn’t, and that there is so much vegetation on the pillars!
On Thursday we had a group photo with a Chinese family (at their request) and funnily enough ran into them on the Friday too. So everytime the little girl saw me she exclaimed, “I see you again!” – “见面了！” which I felt was perfectly appropriate having the set from Avatar and the use of “I see you” in the film! 😉 I saw them for a fourth time when we arrived at the World’s First Natural Bridge and asked for a photo with her and her older sister. It is adorable and I will treasure it forever! XD
The path took us to yet another bus station and this time we headed to the main peak: Tianzi Mountain. As we hadn’t had lunch, we were pretty keen for the alleged McDonald’s at the top… Alas, luck struck again. One, it was so cloudy and hazy we didn’t get a good view. Two, on that exact day McDonald’s was not open. Luis was distraught. I was just surprised that the rumours were true! So we quickly caught the next bus back down and headed to a cable car station. The rest of the afternoon was spent getting back to Zhangjiajie. We arrived at around five – absolutely starving – and did the one thing a desperate westerner would do (and don’t you laowai’s say otherwise!): McDonald’s at the bus station. Awful I know but my stomach was grateful!
On Friday night, two Danish girls stayed in our hostel dorm. They were lovely to chat to and gave us a bit of information and advice about going to Kunming, Chengdu and Jiuzhaigou in the summer. However they were pretty loud sorting themselves out and leaving between seven and eight the next morning… So our Saturday started slowly. We left at half past nine and walked to the bank for Luis to get some more money out. We passed a lady selling dumplings and I instantly went over and had a look. They looked yummy so I bought two. I was happily shocked to find that it was only one yuan for two! In Suzhou and Hangzhou it was four yuan for two at least! I was definitely coming back to buy more on Sunday morning. We caught a taxi to the bus station and ended up going into the supermarket to buy snacks. After only having one proper meal yesterday we were a bit more aware of having food to eat in the park today.
The bus station was a lot busier as it was a weekend. Our bus filled up in seconds and off we went! It was quite drizzly when we arrived so Luis decided to buy another poncho. This was an upgrade to his last one as it had buttons and was made of a stronger plastic! Still quite a hilarious look though. We caught the cable car up the ‘黄石寨’ Huang Shi Zhai (Yellow Stone Village). It wasn’t really a village but rather a big loop round with lots of views… Unfortunately it was soooo cloudy! We were just seeing white! It was lovely to go for a leisurely stroll. Instead of paying for the cable car to take us back down, we headed down the path that took us all the way down the mountain. It took us just over an hour and a half to reach the bottom! Many, many, many steps… we had already walked eight kilometres (for the whole morning) when we reached the halfway point. I was extremely happy that we hadn’t planned to walk up!!! People were struggling… At the bottom we followed the path round to the Golden Whip Stream. We decided to buy something from the street food stall, Luis bought some potatoes and I bought these round fried buns. They were not delicious though. The Golden Whip Stream was beautiful. Not only was it an easy walk compared to the ones we’ve faced over the past few days, but also the clouds had lifted to reveal the mountains towering above us. It wasn’t raining either so wahey!! We were back in Zhangjiajie around five o’clock and headed to the train station to pick up our tickets for the journeys to Yichang and then back home to Ningbo. Since Friday morning Luis has been craving a KFC so we went on a hunt too. We assumed that there could be one by the train station but we were wrong. With no KFC in his hand, we had to get a good dinner! We decided to go for street food and found a stall that made stir-fried rice. It was a good meal and a heck of a lot healthier than western fast food..! On Sunday night I managed to crash early and fell asleep around ten o’clock. Luis had been sat reading the football scores and I surprised myself by dozing off… I obviously needed a twelve-hour sleep! I’m getting old!
Our train on Sunday was at 16:20 so we chose to have a day wandering around Zhangjiajie. It is not a very big city at all. We left the hostel around eleven and headed towards a pagoda we had passed in the many taxi rides to and from the bus station. We walked down some backstreets; some were filled with people selling fresh vegetables and cooked dumplings. I bought a baozi and it was the best so far! It had the perfect dough to meat ratio XD The pagoda was situated on a hill and there were a lot of steps up! We ended up not seeing the pagoda up close because there wasn’t a clear path to it however we climbed (around) 260 steps up to a monument. It was quite cool. We spent the rest of the time walking in the centre, we went into a fresh food market, and also found a KFC for Luis! Happy days! Soon enough we were on the train to Yichang. It was an old slow train that was laid out like the trains in the UK that have the rows of chairs facing each other in sixes or fours. We were sat next to a student who studies at Yichang University and opposite three women. It turned out one of the women taught English in a private school in Yichang. We spent the journey either studying or chatting to them. It was really fun! I love how it’s so easy to have a chat here. Especially when they realise that we study Chinese too. It is very common for buses to stop around nine o’clock in China, which is quite frustrating at times. Our train arrived after the buses stopped and we were pretty nervous about taxis because we didn’t want to be ripped off again. Amazingly, Chris (the student) offered to help us to get there and ended up taking the taxi with us just to ensure we got there safely! He was sooo sweet. We were so grateful! The hostel was basic but good. We were excited to have a private room again. However Yichang was a bit colder than the previous places had been so it was quite chilly at night! Especially since I didn’t bring any warm pyjamas with me except for my nightie. When we checked in one of the staff spoke to us about possible tours. We wanted to see the Three Gorges Dam and the Three Gorges Cave. He was very friendly and gave us information for a half day trip to the Three Gorges Cave and we decided to do it. It meant we had to get up early but it saved us faffing about and wasting the one day we had. Once we were in bed we realized that this was going to be a tour in Chinese… Oh gosh! XD
The next morning we waited at a bus stop not far from the hostel at eight o’clock sharp. The small coach eventually appeared and off we went! It stopped to pick up more people and off we went. The journey wasn’t long at all and soon enough we were walking in the direction (of what we hoped would be) of the caves. It was wet and hazy but it was a pretty walk. The Yangzte River is HUGE. We also went through the White Horse Cave on a boat. This tour also included going on a fast boat to get to the Three Gorges Cave. Even though it was chilly, it was really fun to do! The main cave was actually tiny! It was more like a big hole in the mountainside with many traditional Chinese characters.
After seeing the Cave we asked the tour guide how to get to the Three Gorges Dam. The coach dropped us off at a bus station (that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere) with coaches that took tourists to the Dam. However the whole trip would be 120 yuan. Luis didn’t want to do this and I did agree that it was a lot for just a dam. So we had a peek at the normal city buses but none took us to the Dam. I have to admit that I wanted to see it because we were there so it seemed silly not to. Luis wasn’t fussed and in hindsight, we could have just walked around Yichang city… But instead this Chinese man started chatting to us and offered to take us. There were two other Chinese boys – who were also students – that were trying to get to the Dam too. We agreed… The man ran off to get his car. When an old white Citroën appeared… I started to despair slightly! It started off being 15 yuan for the journey each. The other two boys were getting on a boat back to Yichang from the Dam that was going to cost 160 yuan and I swear at one point Luis was going to kill me… In the end it was 100 yuan each for the taxi ride and boat back. I think this was a win compared to paying another 75 yuan! Still… lesson learnt! XD The boat ride was nice but it was freezing as the other passengers opened the windows to get good pictures of the scenery. At one point Luis spent a good fifteen minutes talking about all the food he missed. The poor thing. I felt so bad for making him go through all this! It was good but as Chris had told us; “it’s just a dam”.
At four o’clock we arrived back in Yichang but we hadn’t arrived back in the main part of the city! The boat docked in another place that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. We walked past a few piles of coal and up through a battered building. It was really nice to have met the two Chinese students. They were really friendly and we did chat a bit in both English and Chinese. We headed to Wanda Plaza together because Luis and I were pretty starving! Then we went our separate ways. The rest of the trip was good. We had a ten hour train journey home. I did study the whole way even though I feel like I got nothing done! It was good though.
Now back in Ningbo.. even though I’m off to Nanjing for a quick trip this weekend. Then it is crackdown time for revision and exams in May.
Hope everyone is well!
PS. there will be more pictures on this post when they decide to behave and upload. Only one would work! The Chinese internet makes it impossible sometimes….