I spent a few weeks backpacking the immense country of China with my three friends from Hong Kong. We had just finished exploring the Tianmen mountain, and were off to see the rest of the sights of Zhangjiajie.
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We spent the morning booking train and plane tickets for our upcoming legs of the journey. After our 15 hour overnight journey on the Guangzhou-Zhangjiajie train, we decided a bit of planning ahead would be beneficial. With everything booked, we boarded a bus headed to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, a natural wonder we had heard so much about. Leaving behind our rooftop hostel in a bustling city, we’d be trading it for a thriving forest and towering mountains.
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A journey through several tunnels took us to the back entrance of the National Park. While we didn’t know it at the time, it would later make things difficult for us to get around. We purchased our 3-day tickets to enter the park, and journeyed in to find accommodation on top of a mountain.
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Within a short walk we were treated to beautiful flowers, monkeys, and pillars of rock that seemed to scrape the sky. When our fill of selfies and instagram-able photos had been taken, we made (by way of a map) for a cable car headed up the mountain. Speaking to it’s operators though, this cable car only took us to a lookout point, and nowhere near where we actually needed to go. With sunset approaching, it looked like we weren’t going to be staying inside the park after all.
The operator offered us an apartment just outside of the national park for a very low price, so we happily accepted and were driven back to the small village at the gate.
We spent the night checking out the local markets, taking photos of the distant mountains, and eating delicious Chinese food. What better way to spend a night with good friends.
Morning rolled around and it was time to get out and explore. 6AM, with our next train leaving in 12 hours, and our lives on our backs we set out on the hike. The first leg of the journey was a 2 hour walk along the “golden whip stream”, a small river that carved its way through the forest.
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Not more than an hour into the hike we encountered our first challenge; a fork in the road. We had the choice of continuing on a path we had been doubting for the last 20 minutes, or heading up an 800 meter trail up the mountain. Wanting to see at least some view before we left, we made for the mountain trail.
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The 800 meter trail, turned out to be a 2200 meter stair climb. Whilst making the climb, we passed tourists making their way down the stairs vocally impressed by our “choice” to climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator, or bus. Encouraging each other along the way, we made it to the top in under 2 hours. The air became cold, and the mist was starting to set in, but we had a brief ten-minute view on just how high we had climbed.
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Just when you thought the view couldn’t get any better, we reached the very top, and got to see the big picture. These mountains were said to be the inspiration behind those seen in the movie Avatar, and I can definitely see why. Though not floating, these towering pillars of rock certainly took your breath away.

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The rest of our afternoon was spent exploring the summits of the mountains (all connected with rock and steel bridges), and trying to see the sights that weren’t obscured by mist. With the time ticking ever closer to 6, we made for the world’s largest outdoor elevator and caught a bus to the main entrance, where we’d catch another bus back to the train station and on to our next destination.
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Our night was spent in sleeper berths on a train to Ankar – best decision ever. The train arrived at 7:30 in the morning, and I’m currently writing this on the train to Xi’An where we’re going to see the terracotta army. Later today we’ll catch a high speed train to Beijing – which I’m stoked for… More on that later!
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