March in China
I'm so glad Tom chose March for this trip. The countryside is covered with flowering trees.
After doing all his internet research, Tom chose two towns that were hard to get to on public transportation: Zhangjiajie and Fenghuang. To get to Z (my abbreviation), we had to take two trains and travel (for 20 hours) about three-quarters of the way around a circle of cities in southern middle China. To get to Fenghuang, we had a five hour drive on poor roads each way. Was it worth it? You bet!
Z is a new city, only about 25 years old, and seems to have been built as a jumping off point for the parks and “scenic places”. We stayed in the Dacheng Shanshui Hotel, which boasts 2358 rooms(!) and an interesting “food street” restaurant. Although we sometimes had to compete with hundreds of unruly guests for our buffet breakfast, we got personalized service, since we were the ONLY westerners in the hotel. It felt a little like being the exhibit in a zoo, but we’re used to that now. Actually, we did meet two other “western” couples – from Bombay. They were almost as strange as we were! The food street restaurant was an advantage – you are seated, then given hot tea and a plastic
Pretty amazing road.
charge card. You walk around to all the different stations (salads, noodles, breads and dumplings, vegetables, soups, meats) and point to a display plate, which has the name of the item, in Chinese of course, and the price. They charge the dish to your card and you pay when you’re done. Lemme tell you, there were some WEIRD things on those display plates, from chicken feet to duck tongues. However, we found plenty of good food and only made one mistake. We saw a big pot of shrimp and ordered some – we got the whole pot, enough for about 6 people.
This blog entry won’t be too long, as the words definitely can’t describe the beauty of this area. The whole area is called “Wulingyuan”, and it includes several parks and forests. The afternoon we arrived was foggy, but we went anyway to Tienmen Mountain in the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. To get even near the top of the mountain you take a 7.2 km (about 3 miles) cable car that’s divided into two runs. It was beautiful in the fog, but we couldn’t see much as we walked along the cliff-side path. It started raining and
On the way to Heaven's Gate
There are many turns on one's way ...
the chairlift we were heading for closed, so we turned around and went back to the cable car and down to the middle station. We then took a bus up a road with more tiny and tight hairpin turns than I’ve ever seen before to “Heaven’s Gate”, a huge natural hole in the rock mountaintop, reached by a steep stone stairway with hundreds of steps. Let me see … fog, rain, 1000 steep stone steps … did I go up? NO! Not even Tom did, especially since he would not have been able to see anything when he got there. We left and returned two days later in the sunshine. Holy mackerel –we missed so much the first time! This time, we didn’t go up to Heaven’s Gate on the bus, but spent the rest of the time walking the cliffside path. I even went out onto a glass extension, just to show Vivian that it’s real. This place was amazing, and anyone coming to China should make the effort to get to Zhangjiajie and the mountain.
I had the stomach flu in the Yang Shuo area and promptly gave it to Tom, so he spent one day
On this foggy day, many people left requests for blessings at the top of Tienmanshan.
in bed (sorry, dear!), while our guide and I went to Baofeng Lake and Golden Dragon Cave. The lake is at the top of a small mountain, reached by a long ramp – and a few stairs, of course. It was caused many years ago by an earthquake and is still and deep, surrounded by the mountain’s hills that are covered at this time of year with rhododendrons and azaleas. Thanks, Tom, for planning this trip in March – China is beautiful now. Golden Dragon Cave was only interesting if you’ve never seen a river in a cave, but it’s not as interesting as Tennessee’s Lost Sea.
The next day, Tom was better, though still on strike from Chinese food, and we went to two other mountain areas near Z: Yuanjiajie, in the northern part of the park, where you get to the top of the mountain on a VERY long glass elevator. It’s famous for its views and for a bronze statue of Marshal He Long, hero of the Chinese revolution. After lunch, we went to Ten-Li Village and looked at yet more mountain peaks from a mini-train. These places would have been spectacular, except that we’d
Hard to see, but the walk up is steep, slippery and has about 1000 steps.
already seen Heaven’s Gate.
On April 3, we took an exciting five-hour car ride to Fenghuang (also called the Phoenix Town). Luckily, we had a careful and sharp driver and we still had three VERY close calls. We also saw the results of two probably fatal accidents, one involving a tanker truck that dropped a wheel off the narrow road and flipped and one where a car ran into a tree, probably trying and failing to pass. Its flashers were still going, but the tree was embedded about three feet into the engine. Our driver insisted that we wear our seatbelts in the back seat of the very comfortable Buick minivan he drove.
Fenghuang is one of China’s ancient cities, built along a river and gradually adapting itself to its fate as a tourist town. (It’s also the ginger capital of China.) Katherine, our guide, told us that many of the residents do not like the invasion, and I can understand why. I would love to have seen the place without neon and crowds. It’s our favorite ancient place – check the photos.
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