This place is amazing and I may have to repeat this, as I've heard this several times, photos don't do this place justice. The scale, the dimension, how each layers of rocks move in parallax is just astounding.
In case you may now know, ZhangJiaJie is used as an inspiration for the Hallelujah mountain you on the popular flick, Avatar. This place has become so popular among the Chinese that they even created a photo shoot section with the statue of the Great Leonopteryx (Avatar's flying monster).
Before I decided to travel to ZhangJiaJie, I did a research and saw hundreds of people cramped into the balcony near the cliff, and I was expecting the same experience but to my surprise, there were almost no people when I was there (17 - 21 Jan 2014). January is the coldest month and the temperature ranged around 0 - 7 degree Celsius which may have played a great role in this, but I am glad I went during the low season, because as you can see from my photos, I had the whole place to myself. The national park is huge and I can always find solitude at every corners. One caveat from traveling during the winter is that cheap hotels don't usually have a heater, so prepare layers of cloths.
It took me 2 days to cover almost all the areas (missed only 2 because I got lost :-( ), while opting for a walk most of the time. There are several routes you can take. You can either walk up/down the 3 hours trail (which I recommend) or take an elevator/cable cars up. By walking the trail, you will likely encounter more beautiful hidden gems without having to go through the crowds. The landscape is amazing throughout the trail so don't worry that it may get boring.
Navigating here is not too hard even though, almost everything here is in Chinese and I don't speak any of it. There are free buses almost every where that will deliver you to each scenic spots and there are several of them so manage your time wisely.
NOTE: This place is confusing at first (not many English information available) but you will get the hang of it if you learn about these tips:
ZhangJiaJie is a city which situated in the Hunan province in China.
ZhangJiaJie city and ZhangJiaJie national park (where the Avatar's mountains are) is not the same and they are not near each other as well. 45 minutes drive between the two.
WuLingYuan is a small town which situated right at the entrance of the ZhangJiaJie national park, so this is a good place to stay when visiting the park.
In the ZhangJiaJie national park, there are several hostels you can stay overnight. No need to go in-out everyday.
Tianmenshan mountain is not in the ZhangJiaJie national park. The entrance is through the ZhangJiaJie city via a cable car, so spare a day or two to stay at the ZhangJiaJie city.
Grab a map from your hotel. It will be your savior when asking for direction from the locals.
Don't expect people to speak English, not even simple words.
Save and cache your Google Maps' of the area before you come so you can use it offline.
If you have Google Translate install on your phone, download the Chinese and English language packs so you can translate between the 2 offline.
Bring layers of cloths if you come during the winter. Cheap hotels don't have heaters.
If you are planning to visit this, here is my basic itinerary: (I'll be writing a more detail blog post over at BucketListly blog so stay tuned)
Landed in ZhangJiaJie from Ghangzhou, got picked up by the hotel and went to WulingYuan town. The drive was about 50 minutes and costed me 150 Yuan. Slept at Tu Niu Hostel (Biao Zhi Men) (146 Yuan per night).
Woke up at 6:30 and went out at 7 AM. The hotel was right next to the gate, so it took me only 5 minutes to reach the gate, bought a ticket (248 Yuan) and on my way to the national park.
I took a free bus that was outside the gate to the cable car area (first stop) and bought a one way cable car ticket (64 Yuan) up to Tianzi mountain walked around the area for several hours.
At 12, I took a bus to the hostel I planned to stay overnight on the mountain called Mango international hostel (100 Yuan per night), put all my things and went out to explore the upper area more (One Step to Heaven, Tianbo Mansion, No.1 Natural Bridge etc.)
I slept at the hotel for a night, woke up at 9 and start my way down the Golden Whip Stream trail. You can opt out of the walk and go with the Bailong elevator but I do not recommend this as you will miss a lot of beautiful scenic spots.
The walk took me 3 hours, and as I planned to visit the 10 Miles Gallery on the other side of the national park, I realized that the bus line doesn't connect with each other. Turns out, If I want to see this I will have to walk back the same trail and go in the other direction to reach this scenic spot. I decided to drop this area and went for the HuangShiZhai mountain instead.
I took the cable car up, walked around the mountain for an hour (The Front Garden scenic spot here was breathtaking!) and headed down.
As I walked out the gate of the national park, I saw a bus stationed at the entrance. I asked the driver by pointing out where I need to go (ZhangJiaJie city where the airport resides), fortunately this bus will take me right where I wanted to go for 12 Yuan, which is way cheaper than taking a taxi.
45 minutes drive, and I arrived at the ZhangJiaJie railway station. I walked around a bit to observe the city and crashed at the hotel called Vide Hotel in front of the cable car station of the Tianmenshan mountain, where I will be heading next.
The next morning, I went to the cable car station at 8:30 right when It just opened and got a cheap winter ticket to the national park.
Unfortunately, since it was winter, the middle cable car station which should lead me to the Tianmenshan heaven's gate (999 stairs through a huge hole in a mountain) was closed so I had to stop at the top station instead and spend my day there.
I walked around every single area in the mountain following a pretty thorough map and english signs and ended my trip at around 5 PM.
I went to the airport (30 Yuan taxi) and headed back home.
I hope you enjoy these little tips, and if you are planning to visit yourself, don't hesitate to ask me in the comment below. :)