Jun’s birthday is in the middle of July. To celebrate it, we decided to get away from Shenzhen after having been isolated here since the end of January. COVID-19 cases in China had diminished for the majority of Mainland China. We felt with proper precaution it would be okay to travel to western Hunan. The area is sparsely populated and most of the sights were outdoors.
With that in mind, we booked our hotels and flights and prepared ourselves for the trip. Since I’m a foreign national living and working in China, I had to take a COVID-19 test valid for the week of travel. Two days before we were to leave, I went to the nearby hospital and took the test. I got my results the next day—negative—and was ready to leave Shenzhen.
Jun and I met at the airport after work and we were soon on our way to Zhangjiajie in northwestern Hunan province. When we arrived at Zhangjiajie airport, I was escorted out of the plane to provide my health and contact information because I was a foreigner. The process went smoothly; it did require different health codes specific to Hunan province. Soon, though, Jun and I were in the car he ordered to take us to our hotel in Wulingyuan.
At check-in, we found out that our room was upgraded. The room was spacious and comfortable. By this time it already was early morning. We were both tired and quickly took showers and got ready for bed. We were both soon sound asleep.
The morning of our first day started with us looking out the window and watching it rain heavily. We were a bit disconcerted that the rain would hamper our visit to the Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve of the Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area.
We took our time getting ready. After breakfast, we decided to just go and explore. We had a general idea of how to get there. We left the hotel and walked to the entrance of the park. Health and security were enforced. We had to go through the different stages of checks before we got into the park. Then when we did, we randomly hopped on a bus and went on our journey.
The bus took us to the 10 Mile Natural Gallery. By the time we got there, the rain had cleared and we were able to see the surrounding sandstone pillars. As we walked along the trail the weather started to turn again. When we started our ascent up the mountain, the rain started to pick up and obscured our views of the surrounding area.
By the time we got up to Tianzi Pavilion, everything was covered in rain and clouds. We were a bit disappointed, but we decided to enjoy the hike and accept that we would only see rain.
As we were going down, though, the rain stopped and the wind picked up. The clouds started to move, and we began to see more of the stone pillars. Eventually, we started to see more and more of them. We were excited and enjoyed the views. The serendipitous moment made it even more special! The landscape is truly amazing, and we could understand why these mountains inspired the landscape for Avatar.
As we were going back down, the clouds started to come back in and covered everything in a thick fog. We were lucky we were where we had been to see the stone pillars.
After we got back down the mountain, the weather cleared a bit more and we were treated to the beauty of this part of the park before catching the bus back to the entrance.
Because we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, Jun and I decided to get an early dinner and found a local restaurant nearby. The food was amazing. The service was even better; they drove us back to our hotel!
We rested and enjoyed our hotel room for the remainder of the evening. We even ordered some ice cream from room service before going to bed.
Our first day ended up being special. Jun mentioned that even if we saw nothing the next day, he would be happy with our trip.
On our second day, we decided to start from Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in the southern part of the Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area.
When we got there it started to drizzle as we walked around the area towards the buses. We ended up taking two buses to Yangjiajie. From there we took the cableway up to the top. While there, we walked around a bit and saw the Natural Great Wall. At first, it rained heavily, but then it turned into a drizzle.
By the time we got to the next bus stop, the rain had stopped. This bus took us to Yuanjiajie. We spent most of our time that day here. We walked along the Enchanted Terrace, which is the area that inspired Avatar. The clouds started to dissipate and we got to see some amazing views. Because of the pandemic, there were fewer people here than normal. We enjoyed walking around at a leisurely pace and not have to deal with crowds.
Once we reached the end of the Enchanted Terrace we took another bus to Bailong Elevator. The elevator is built on the side of a mountain. It’s the tallest outdoor lift in the world at a height of 326 m (1,070 ft). The bottom part goes through the mountain, while the top part is exposed to allow people to see the surrounding area. Normally there would be long lines and waits, but we just walked up to the entrance and waited five minutes for the elevator to reach the top before getting in and going down to the bottom. The ride itself took only a few short minutes. From there the views were pretty impressive. Looking up at the elevator put into perspective how high up we had been.
After looking around the area, we took our final bus to the same entrance we had used the previous day. We essentially made a circle of the park.
When we got back to the hotel we cleaned up a bit and went down to have afternoon tea. It was a nice way to relax away the afternoon.
When we were done we rested a bit before dinner. Jun found a local restaurant online that he thought looked good and we soon found our way there. It’s a family-owned restaurant. They were friendly and provided us with additional dishes on the house. The people in this area were wonderful and hospitable. Some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
We went back to the hotel and enjoyed a relaxing evening in our room before calling it a day.
Our day started with a bit of trouble as we were checking out. There was an issue with the agency and the hotel in terms of payment. It took the rest of the day to resolve through instant messages and phone calls. It was annoying to deal with, but it ended up being okay.
We didn’t let this issue affect the rest of the day. Jun and I took a shared car to first visit the ancient town of Furong, which was founded by the ethnic Tujia people, one of the non-Han Chinese ethnicities. It’s a quaint town with a waterfall at the end of the village. There was hardly anyone there. We took out time and leisurely wandered around the streets before we left.
We took another shared car first to Jishou so we could change cars again to get to our final destination of Fenghuang. Our second driver was a lovely man who became our impromptu tour guide. Jun asked if he would be interested in driving us first to the Southern (Miaojing) Great Wall and then to Fenghuang. He agreed for a reasonable price and we were soon on our wall to the Great Wall. Like the more famous Great Wall in northern China, this wall was built for protection during the Ming Dynasty. The part that is open to the public as an open-air museum is well-maintained. By the time we arrived there, only a handful of people were visiting. We essentially had the whole place to ourselves to explore. We were lucky we went in the late afternoon as it was a hot day. The views of the surrounding land from the top was quite nice. The rain from the previous few days had cleared up the sky and everything was crisp and clear.
When we finsihed our tour there, our driver took us to Fenghuang where we settled into our hotel. We cleaned up a bit and got ready to go out. We went for a bit of exploring around the ancient town before having dinner. Dinner was a nice affair; typical Hunan food from this region.
After dinner, Jun and I went for a walk to enjoy the lighted structures along the river before we went back to the hotel for the night.
While it was a long day, we both enjoyed it, especially when Jun learned that the payment issue was resolved.
Our last day of vacation had us first wander around the river. We found a noodle stall and had breakfast there. We both enjoyed our meal and felt ready to continue our wandering around Fenghuang.
We ended up just wandering the streets. One thing that was interesting about Fenghuang was that the old town wall is still in place in some parts while in others it had been torn down. As we continued our walk, we decided to get some drinks at a café near the river. We enjoyed relaxing in the river breeze and enjoyed not having to do anything. Finally, it was time for us to go back to the hotel to get our things and head to the airport.
We took a taxi. Our driver drove quite fast and got us to the Tongren Fenghuang airport earlier than we had anticipated. When we got there, we learned our flight was delayed. While we waited, I edited some photos and read my book.
Soon we were on the plane and on our way back to Shenzhen.
Jun and I had a wonderful trip! We enjoyed being able to get out of Shenzhen for a bit. We came back more centered and ready to get back to this new normal.