Tag Archives: China

China Round Up Take 2

China is the first country that we’ve visited twice on this trip. Last time we were focussed around ancient China with the Great Wall and imperial sites in Beijing, the ancient city of Pingyao and all the archaeological sites near Xi’an, this time we’ve seen some of the country’s more recent history with the Bund in Shanghai and the Massacre Memorial and Presidential Palace in Nanjing. Even after two full months we’ve barely scratched the surface of what China has to offer and we’re certain that we’ll be back.

What photo takes you right back to China?

The highlight of our trip through China this time was our three day stay in Zhangjiajie with its breathtaking scenery.

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Summarise China in three words.

  • Populous – There are 1.35 billion people living in China but the scope of that never really hit us until we came here. Shanghai and Beijing each have around 20 million residents and some of the “smaller” cities we’ve visited (Suzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Wuhan) have 6-7 million inhabitants. To put that into perspective, it’s way more than any city in the UK other than London and even our capital has only 8.4 million.
  • Enormous – pretty much everything is on a scale that makes our jaws drop, from the size of cities to the dozens of apartment blocks being constructed on their edges to the massive sandstone karsts in the Zhangjiajie National Park
  • Delicious – we’d remembered really enjoying the food last time we were in China but it was even better than we remember!

You really know you’re in China when…

…you’re being jostled and barged when trying to get on or off a train or subway, or through a ticket gate. You know you’ve been in China for too long when you start to join in!

What one item should you definitely pack when going to China?

A good book and some films on your laptop or tablet to while away the hours you’ll spend on trains. China is so huge that it takes a long time to get from place to place which we don’t mind as we love the chill out time on the overnight trains.

Curious and confusing China

China can be a strange place to visit and there are plenty of things that depending on our mood made us either smile, frown or shake our heads in utter incomprehension…

  1. There is no such thing as personal space, people will shove and jostle and stand ridiculously close. Our assumption is that this comes from living in a place with so many others. This ignoring of others extends to stepping in front of someone’s camera, and watching films or playing games on the train with no headphones.
    Crowds in The Humble Administrator's GardenCrowds in The Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou
  2. You might see something that looks like a queue but it’s just a facade. For example, station staff are very keen to get passengers waiting to embark into an orderly line on the platform, but as soon as the train arrives it turns into a scrum which we stand back and watch. Seats are numbered and allocated so it’s not as if you need to fight for somewhere to sit…

    DSC00139‘Queue’ to get out of Beijing West station

  3. All bags need to go through an X-ray scanner at every railway and subway station. There are never enough scanners which can lead to massive pile ups and plenty of jostling, and we’ve seen people walk through without putting their bag in (completely ignoring the protestations of the operating staff). Apart from the obvious guns etc it’s unclear what they’re scanning for as there are no explanatory notices. We’ve seen aerosol cans confiscated but they don’t get them all as my hair mousse is always in my rucksack when moving between cities; we’ve sometimes been asked to take a sip of our water but most times carry through several bottles without comment; and once I had a penknife in my handbag which they noticed and asked to see before giving it back. Although people are scanned as well as luggage at railway stations they’re not on the subway so I don’t think it’s a very effective form of control if someone really wanted to get around it.
  4. Babies and toddlers are often dressed in trousers with a large hole around the crotch (and no nappy). To make matters worse, they are allowed to use the street as a toilet. An army of street cleaners do a pretty good job of cleaning up after this as well as the annoyingly prevalent habit of litter dropping.
  5. People, especially teenagers, are usually very nervous if required to talk to us. It makes it hard to ask for directions as we don’t know if we’re saying the name of where we want to go so badly that it’s unintelligible or whether the person we’re speaking to is so consumed by embarrassment that they’re not trying to make out our dreadful Chinese.
  6. Foreigners are an object of extreme curiosity and we routinely notice kids pointing us out to their parents, adults doing it a little more subtly and legions of cameraphones pointed in our general direction. Andrew likes to call them on it and if he notices someone trying to take a sneaky picture of us he’ll wave at them and then call them over and make them pose with us for the shot – we often heard them burst into fits of giggles as they walked away!

    IMG_3881.JPGClockwise from top left: this girl’s T-shirt says “I’ll be shy” and she was until we made her come to say hello; papped while eating our dinner; I’m not sure why this girl felt she could drape herself over my shoulder; waiting in a queue we had nowhere to hide

  7. Chinese railway stations are more like airports – the waiting area is a huge open space with numbered gates to the platforms. These are usually opened about 10-15 minutes before the train is scheduled to leave which leads to a scrum (see point 2) to get through the ticket check.

    P8128650.JPGWaiting area at Hangzhou East station

  8. Spitting and hawking up phlegm can be heard everywhere on the streets. To be honest the only time it makes us smile is when we remember Mum’s look of disgust which got progressively stronger throughout her two week stay with us last year!
  9. Beer is unbelievably cheap – often less than £0.40 for a 600ml bottle (just over a pint) even in restaurants.

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  10. In South Korea we noticed that young couples often dress in matching outfits (same T-shirts, matching coloured shorts or jeans) which seemed strange enough. In China we’ve noticed families often have matching outfits, for example a mother and daughter will be in exactly the same dress, or even both parents and their child.
  11. Whilst in Asia we’ve learnt the fine balance of caution and assertiveness that is necessary to cross the road safely but we have been constantly bemused in China by the prevalence of zebra crossings with green man lights where cars and motorbikes either just whizz through or park across the black and white lines!

    DSC00003

  12. Much to my surprise, vinegar is a more commonly offered condiment than soy sauce.
  13. We really appreciate when an effort has been made to translate things into English but there are times when the translated text is not so helpful. Menus often feature literal translations of the very poetic sounding names of dishes but give no clue as to the contents. And occasionally the translation leads to more questions than answers as with this sign which we saw in Zhangjiajie National Park:

    P8229601.JPG

  14. Stairwell lights in apartment blocks are controlled by noise sensors. We first noticed this when we stayed in Wuhan but it was also true of the block we stayed in Beijing. When the external door swung shut as we left it would bang and turn the lights on so we learnt to stamp our feet if we were in the dark fumbling with the apartment door – so much for not disturbing your neighbours!

Chengdu, China

Chengdu is the capital city of Sichuan Province, and made it into our itinerary for the sole reason that back home, my favourite Chinese take-away dish is Sichuan crispy shredded beef.

Status of Chairman Mao in Chengdu, China

Chengdu is home to the largest statue of Chairman Mao in China, which probably means it’s also the largest statue of Chairman Mao in the world

We arrived with two missions, upload the monumental amount of photographs we’d taken in the previous 3 days in Zhangjiajie, and more importantly seek out what is, to my mind, the second best dish in all of Chinese cuisine1.

Upon our arrival, we found that our hostel had a free walking tour of Chengdu and after a surreal detour to see a temporary exhibition of 102 Doraemon figures (why?) our tour took us through the central food court area where our guide stopped to recommend the shredded beef.. bingo!

Szechuan crispy shredded beef, UK style

Sichuan shredded beef as presented in the UK, Mmmmmm ;o)

Szechuan crispy shredded beef, Sichuan style

Sichuan shredded beef as presented in Sichuan. Very different, and oh, wait, my mouth is on fire!

Sichuan cuisine is well known for its spiciness. The region grows its own varieties of the key ingredients used in many of its signature dishes, but one thing we didn’t know before we tried it was that Sichuan pepper has a numbing effect on the mouth. Our guide said this is so you can eat more of the spicy-hot Sichuan chillies. And in case you needed help eating more, the dish is brazenly garnished with Monosodium Glutamate, or MSG. It’s sounding a little less tasty now, isn’t it?

After pushing most of the MSG to the side, I can report that the real thing is very spicy (almost rivalling the Korean pot noodles we had in Mongolia), and from the few mouthfuls I remember before I started perspiring and lost the sensation of taste it was excellent.

Upon reflection (and a bit of time to regain feeling), I think I enjoyed the authentic Sichuan shredded beef in Sichuan more. The dish at home is often covered in a gloopy, glutinous sauce, whereas the dish in Sichuan (after the removal of the MSG) feels lighter and, well, cleaner, if that’s not a strange thing to say given the aforementioned topping and the numbing sensation.

Thankfully, there are plenty of things to occupy our other working senses in Chengdu..

Aidao Nunnery Lunch

The Aidao Nunnery, Chengdu, China

The Aidao Nunnery, small and very tasty!


Having read that it was possible to eat with the nuns at the Aidao Nunnery, we headed there with time to spare before the 11:45 commencement. Not sure of where in the Nunnery it took place, or at exactly what time, we only knew for certain we were in the right place because of the amazing vegetarian smells coming from the kitchens around the back.

11:45 came and went, but just before 12:00 we saw a few people helping themselves to two bowls and a pair of chopsticks, so sheepishly we did the same and followed them into the large hall at the right of the complex.

Vegetarian lunch at the The Aidao Nunnery, Chengdu, China

A budget banquet in a bowl! Our vegetarian lunch consisted of umpteen different and delicious dishes and a bowl of rice

After a short prayer (and a little guidance from one of the friendly servers), out came the food – vat after mouth-watering vat was presented and scooped into our bowls until they were almost overflowing.

The food was delicious, plentiful, some of it was spicy, and there were 2nds, 3rds and even 4ths on offer! Best of all, it cost an embarrassingly low ¥5 – that’s just 50p!

Oil lamps in the Aidao Nunnery, Chendu, China

Beautiful bronze goblets being used as oil lamps

Afternoon tea in the People’s Park

The Shao Cheng Tea House in The People's Park, Chengdu

The Shao Cheng Tea House in The People’s Park, Chengdu. Of the 5 tea houses in the park, we chose at random and just happened to pick the cheapest one!

Allow me to preface this with a warning about tea ceremonies in China. There are a number of stories where foreign tourists are approached in the street by 2 Chinese students who, with excellent English, make small talk and then invite them to take part in a traditional tea ceremony. The tourists do indeed receive tea, but are locked into the building until they pay over £100 or more per cup (and we’ve heard stories that run into thousands of pounds or dollars).

There must still be money to be made in this scam as we were approached twice while in Shanghai, the second time the invitation was to the Shanghai International Tea Festival (which does exist, but had finished some 2 months prior). The approach was the same: “would you take our photo please? Thank you, where are you from? etc..”

Locals playing Mahjong in one of the tea houses in The People's Park, Chengdu, China

Locals playing Mahjong in one of the tea houses in The People’s Park

While tea ceremonies are for very special occasions, drinking tea is even more ingrained in the Chinese culture than the British. We have seen so many Chinese tourists wandering around with what look like water bottles full of tea leaves, and they routinely stop to top them up with hot water – indeed, the only drinking water flight-side that we saw in Beijing airport was from a boiler for just this purpose!

As if I need present more evidence, Chengdu’s People’s Park has 5 tea houses. We chose one at random, and were seated at a table next to a delightfully peaceful pond in an enclosed courtyard with only the sound of mahjong tiles and tea cups being placed on the large stone tables.

Waiting for Tea in the People's Park, Chengdu

Julie and I waiting for our tea to arrive

We each chose a different teas from the small, worn, laminated card which thankfully was in English, and soon our tea sachets arrived together with two small cups and a single, large thermos-like canister full of hot water for us to top up our tea with.

Julie's jasmine tea in The People's Park, Chengdu

Julie’s jasmine tea. The price per cup includes a seemingly unlimited supply of hot water, and we agreed the 3rd or 4th cup was just about the right strength


We spent a very enjoyably relaxing 3 hours in the tea house, at which point the tea was just about the right strength. Had we not been seated next to the fascinating Jeff from California who teaches English to Chinese teachers (and reminded me a lot of my Dad – hi Dad!), the hours would have dragged as there’s only so much mahjong you can watch everyone else playing when there isn’t anyone to explain how it works!

Leshan Buddha – the biggest Buddha in the world

The Leshan Buddha, the biggest statue of Buddha in the World

The Leshan Buddha, the biggest statue of Buddha in the World (notice the people in the top-right of the photo for a sense of scale..)

The biggest Daibutsuden or Buddha house in the world is in Nara, Japan, and even if it stood at at its original size instead of the current ¾ it still wouldn’t accommodate the largest Buddha statue in the world – the 71-metre (233 ft) giant seated Buddha of Leshan.

A very easy day trip from Chengdu on public transport, we arrived expecting just the main event and found a park of caves, statues and pavilions on the mountaintop that the Buddha is carved into.

The Leshan Buddha, viewed from shin-level

The Leshan Buddha, viewed from shin-level

The route starts level with the Buddha’s head, and narrowly twists back and forth as it descends to the small viewing platform at its feet. Niches along the way are carved with Buddhist motifs, and the changing perspective means the queue moves slowly because there’s always another photo to take!

Julie at the foot of the massive Leshan Buddha statue

Julie at the foot of the massive Leshan Buddha statue

The passageway out was longer than the descent down, and brought us out at the south gate and an unexpected highlight of the day – the Mahao Cave Tombs Museum..

The tunnel-like cave tombs of the Eastern Han dynasty nobles in the Mahao Cave Tombs Museum

The tunnel-like cave tombs of the Eastern Han dynasty nobles in the Mahao Cave Tombs Museum

The Mahao Cave Tombs museum is quite small having only 2 rooms of artefacts, but the main attractions are the wonderfully lit cave tombs themselves. These tomb caves date from the Eastern Han dynasty (AD 25-220) and were built to house the remains of local nobles.

Sichuan Opera

The curtain call of the Sichuan Opera in Chengdu

The curtain call of the Sichuan Opera in Chengdu

A few years before we set off on this trip, I’d seen a short film about face changing opera, where the performers would change their masks so quickly that it was unperceivable to the watching audience’s eye. Having forgotten the name, I had originally recalled this as being a Chinese art, but when we didn’t find it on our first trip to China, I thought it might have been Japanese. Both China and Japan have an opera style called Noh, and while this does involve mask changing, the changes are done between acts or scenes. Imagine my delight when we arrived in Chengdu to find a sort of cabaret performance that culminated with Bian Lian – the very mask changing performance I had hoped to find!

Bian Lian performers in the middle of their piece

Bian Lian performers in the middle of their piece

The show we saw is clearly designed for tourists with Chinese and English introductions, a giant electronic subtitle board that almost kept pace with the action, and distinct set-piece acts very much like a mini caberet or variety performance.

The highlight for our hostel-organised group was undoubtedly the Bian Lian. Saved for last, 7 artists came on stage and wowed the theatre with their skill and speed. One, after the typical wave of the arm or slight head turn to trigger the change, almost dared us to see how fast he was by looking straight at the audience and simply giving a little skip – we didn’t blink and we still missed it. Audacious, unbelievable and spectacular.

Bian Lian performer with an extra 5 masks

As well as ‘normal’ Bian Lian mask changing performers, there was a puppet Bian Lian, and this performer with 6 synchronised masks!


1 What’s the best Chinese dish? Peking Duck of course!

A Homage to Steamed Buns

One of our favourite street foods in China are steamed buns (包, bāo in Chinese) and scarcely a day went by on this trip when we didn’t have them for either breakfast or lunch. They’re cheap (around £0.15 each), served fresh from the steamer and easily portable so good for a picnic lunch.

P8198933.JPGStacks of steamers outside a steamed bun shop in Wuhan

The most basic version is a plain piece of steamed dough which is good on the side with a meal but mostly we got the filled buns. There are a variety of fillings, our favourite was a pork mince version which was like a juicy meatball encased in the soft dough. Others include a beef version, spinach and tofu, pork mince with a hard boiled quail’s egg or sweet varieties like red bean paste or custard (a favourite of ours but not available everywhere).

IMG_3885.JPGSteamed buns (clockwise from top left): steamed bun; mince pork filling; in Chengdu we found a version which was pan-fried after being steamed; the different fillings are identified either by a different crimping pattern or, as in this case, with a small piece of vegetable to mark it

IMG_3875.JPGMe buying steamed buns on the way to the Airport Express for our final breakfast in China

How To: 3 days in Zhangjiajie, China

Here’s our guide on what to see and how to see it in the Zhangjiajie National Park.

If you don’t like reading or following long, detailed instructions, you can do what we did and simply book a room at Zhangjiajie Yijiaqin Hotel, and the owner Shi Wan Tang or his daughter will plan your days for you!

Overview

Zhangjiajie National Park, the highlight of our second tour of China

Zhangjiajie National Park, the highlight of our second tour of China

Pronounced “Djang-Jar-Jay”, the Zhangjiajie National Park is stunning, and well worth the effort to see should your plans take you even remotely close, or even if they don’t.. ;o)

The city has a small airport, but we arrived by overnight train from Wuhan via YiChang, and although it is a little out of the way there are lots of trains passing through so it’s well connected and easy enough to get to.

Day 1 – Tianmen Mountain

Map of Tianmen Mountain

Map of Tianmen Mountain (source: Natural Arch and Bridge Society)

The easiest of the sights to visit is Tianmen Mountain. It’s south of the city and easily reached on the longest cable-car journey in the world from a station right in the centre of town (and one block away from the Zhangjiajie Yijiaqin Hotel!)

Tianmen mountain cable car

Tianmen mountain cable car, the longest in the world at almost 7.5km


Tickets cost ¥258 return (about £26/$42), and the journey takes about 30 minutes. Aim to get to the cablecar station around 07:15 (yes, AM) – the first car leaves at 8am, but if you turn up just after 8 then your queuing time will quadruple to 2 hours. At least.

Fearless Julie on the glass walkway

Fearless Julie on the glass walkway


On the top, take an anti-clockwise route along the edge and you’ll arrive at the entrance to the Glass Walkway – a section of the path that juts out of the karst with a glass bottom so you can shit your pants see all the way to the forest below. There’s a small extra charge for the Glass Walkway of ¥5 return (about £0.5/$0.8)

There’s a selection of food stands at the north near Tianmenshan Temple, and south-east near the cablecar station. While the bottled water is cheaper in the city, it’s not much more expensive at the top. There are plenty of toilets too.

Tianmen Cave

The “999” steps up to the natural Tianmen Cave (it’s not quite 999 steps, but it is pretty steep!)


After taking the cliff’s edge path all the way around, take the cablecar halfway back to the middle station, and after a short wait take the free bus to the foot of the Tianmen Cave. There are 3 restaurants here and it looks like there’ll be more opening soon on the same underground level as the toilets.

From where the bus drops you, climb the 999 steps to walk through the hole where Alain Robert, the “French Spiderman” had climbed to the top and back unaided in 40 minutes – see if you can find the bronze cast of him climbing up the wall!

From the cave, head back down the 999 steps, take the free bus back along the twisting valley roads and then the cablecar back to the city.

Day 2 – Huangshi Village

Huangshi Village Map

Huangshi Village Map (source: Zhangjiajie Tourism)

Another early start, again to beat the cablecar queues, but as it’s about an hour to the cablecar you need to be at the Zhangjiajie central bus station no later than 7am.

Pay on the bus, so after passing the x-ray bag scanner, walk straight through the bus station toward the buses, and once outside turn left then follow the fence as it turns right 90° then left 90° and it’s the second gate on your right, but you’ll be spotted by the helpful ladies at the desks and waved onto the right bus! (they’ll assume, correctly, that you’re heading for Zhangjiajie National Forest Park Entrance)

Boarding the bus from Zhangjiajie bus station to the National Park entrance

Boarding the bus from Zhangjiajie bus station to the National Park entrance

The bus costs ¥10 (£1/$1.60) and takes 45 minutes to reach the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park entrance, where you’ll need to buy either a 3-day or a 7-day pass from the ticket windows to the left of the path, which are ¥248 (£25/$41) or ¥298 (£30/$49) respectively. You get a nice plastic entry card which you can keep as a souvenir, and when you pass through the gates you need to touch it to the gate and offer a thumb or finger for the scanner.

Once inside the park, follow the path (and the crowds) and you’ll reach Oxygen Square in about 5 minutes. Take the road to the left and after about 100 metres there’s a bus stop on your left where you can take the free bus to Huangshi Village Cableway. The bus takes about 5 minutes, or if you want to walk to the top there’s a path from Oxygen Square which will take about 90 minutes.

If you took the bus, buy your ticket for the cablecar at the windows to the right of the stairs which is an extra ¥118 (£12/$19) return. We arrived here at 09:00 on the dot and the queue was about 30 people so we were on our way in about 10 minutes!

I think it’s better to get the backward-facing seats, because you can turn around and have unrestricted views of this spectacular journey, like this:

Huangshi Village Cablecar

View from the cablecar up to Huangshi Village – it’s short, but it’s our favourite because of the dramatic scenery passing between the karsts

On the top, turn left and take the cliffside path clockwise around the top as the views will just keep getting better and better. It took us about 2 and a half hours to circumnavigate but we’re slow as we take a lot of photographs. There are some snack stalls (we can recommend the fried potatoes) and toilets on the top to the east of the cablecar station, and if you want to walk down there’s a route that’ll take about an hour that starts near the cablecar station.

View from Huangshi Village

Just one of the many stunning views from Huangshi Village

Note that there are monkeys on Huangshi and if you’re carrying a bag in your hand they will try to snatch it from you – quite aggressively too – because they’ve learned that people carry their food that way. We had our food in our rucksack and the monkeys weren’t interested at all.

Monkeys stealing tourists' lunch

Beware: monkeys will go through any bags you carry in your hand!

Back at Oxygen Square which has a few statues and a nice garden, we took the Golden Whip Stream walking path, which comes with the same warning about carrier bags and mischievous monkeys.

The trail was busy with bunches of tour groups that were mostly going in the same direction, and the trees and karsts provide welcome shelter from the sun. There are plenty of toilets along the 3 hour walk, and there are a couple of food stalls too.

Golden Whip Stream walking path

The Golden Whip Stream walking trail can be busy at times. This is a rare narrow section of the trail

The trail ends at “Water Winding Four Gates” where you catch the free bus to the Wulinyuan entrance to the National Forest Park. As the trail ends the road opens up. Take the road to the right and look for the big buses and the bus station queue. Check with the driver that they’re going to Wulinyuan, and it’ll take about 30 minutes with 2 possible stops along the way. You’re at the right one when you see a massive pagoda.

Wulinyuan Park entrance pagoda

The pagoda that greets you at the Wulinyuan Park entrance. You’ll be seeing this again tomorrow..

Leave the park to the right of the pagoda, and stay on the footpath to the right of the road. After 300-400 metres you’ll see a beat-up old bus or two waiting for you – you want bus number 1. It’ll cost ¥1 or ¥2 (£0.20 /$0.32) to go about 3 blocks to the Wulinyuan Bus Station (which you could walk to if you prefer), then take the bus back to Zhangjiajie (“Djang-Jar-Jay”) which takes 45 minutes and costs ¥12 (£1.20 / $2).

Day 3 – Tianzi Mountain, Tianqiao, and Heaven Pillar (Hallelujah Mountain)

Map of day 3: Tianzi Mountain, Tianqiao, and Heaven Pillar (Hallelujah Mountain)

Map of day 3: Tianzi Mountain (circled top right), Tianqiao and the Heaven Pillar (Hallelujah Mountain, circled middle-left)

Day 3 starts by retracing our last steps from the end of day 2. It’s another early start – maybe even earlier as our destination is the biggest and busiest of the karsts in the park.

Quick recap: Get to the Zhangjiajie central bus station no later than 7am, preferably earlier if you really dislike queuing. Again you pay on the bus, so after passing the x-ray bag scanner, walk straight through the bus station toward the buses, once outside turn left then follow the fence as it turns right 90° then left 90° and it’s the second gate on your right, but you’ll be spotted by the helpful ladies at the desks but make sure to tell them you want Wulinyuan or they’ll point you at the wrong bus!

The minibus to Wulinyuan is about 45 minutes and costs ¥12 (£1.20 / $2). You’ll likely be dropped just outside Wulinyuan Bus Station, and there’s no need to go into the station itself as the No. 1 bus will pick you up from the same spot and take you pretty much to the Park Entrance.

Wulinyuan Park Entrance Pagoda

The massive Wulinyuan park entrance pagoda

Head straight to the massive pagoda, the turnstiles are inside to the right, and the free park buses leave just beyond the gates once you’re in the park.

Get on the free park bus, but check with the driver that they’re stopping at “Tianzi” as they might point you at a different one. It should take about 15 minutes to reach the Tianzi Mountain Cableway. We got here about 08:45 and the long queue that had already formed took 90 minutes to reach the front! Get here as early as you can, but be prepared to camp out as the cablecar starts running at 09:00. It costs ¥67 (£7/$11) one-way.

Tianzi Mountain cablecar queue and journey

Tianzi Mountain – the queue you’re trying to avoid by getting there earlier than we did, and the fantastic cablecar journey you’re queueing for

At the top there’s a free shuttle bus that takes 5 minutes to go from the Upper Cablecar station to the Helong Park stop, where you’ll find a big map of the area at the top of the steps to Helong Park. The steps take you to a row of souvenir shops and of all things, a McDonalds. Yep, even here you can buy a McFlurry. Follow the path to the left which should be signposted Tianzi Pavilion.

Tianzi Pavilion is about an 8 minute walk, and this Helong Park area is a criss-cross of paths to little sights including the grave of Marshal He Long, a decorated General who now has an enviable view from his final resting place.

There is a path down from here along Wolong Ridge that includes a ride on the park’s short train, which drops you about half-way between Water Winding Four Gates and the Wulinyuan entrance gate. We didn’t take route so I don’t have any more details.

Once you’ve seen all the sights at the end of all the little winding dead-end paths in Helong Park, retrace your steps north back to the road and follow it west where you’ll find a row of stalls mostly selling food. Just beyond you can pick up the bus again and take it all the way to Tianqiao. Again, check with the driver that the bus is going to Tianqiao, and the journey should take about 30 minutes.

You’ll find Tianqiao stop to be a busy, manic mess of people and food and souvenir vendors. We didn’t see any signposts, so we just took the most obvious looking alley between the souvenir stands to the right of the bus park. The trail takes a long, winding route over and then past “Greatest Natural Bridge” and a few more named viewing spots before you reach the most famous sight of the park – Heaven Pillar – otherwise known as Hallelujah Mountain from the 2009 film Avatar.

Heaven Pillar (aka Hallelujah Mountain)

The now famous Heaven Pillar, otherwise known as Hallelujah Mountain in the movie Avatar

Once you’ve taken plenty of photographs, including a few of you on the back of a Mountain Banshee, continue on towards “Enchanting” where the path forks. Right will take you to the “Back Garden”, left will take you to the Enchanting bus stop, where you can catch the free, 8 minute bus to the top of the Bailong Elevator – a giant outdoor lift with amazing views of the valley as you descend into it. Don’t forget to buy your ticket from the ticket office where the bus drops you off, as it’s a 5 minute walk to the elevator itself! Tickets are ¥72 (£7 / $12).

Bailong Elevator

The thrilling Bailong Elevator which has a tunnel exit almost as long as the ride up the mountain!

At the bottom, you’ll find a bus stop right outside the exit that will take you all the way back to the Wulinyuan entrance, which takes about 45 minutes. From there it’s the same trip back to Zhangjiajie as yesterday.. leave the park to the right of the pagoda, and stay on the footpath to the right of the road. After 300-400 metres you’ll see a beat-up old bus or two waiting for you – you want bus number 1. It’ll cost ¥1 or ¥2 (£0.20 /$0.32) to go a couple of blocks to the Wulinyuan Bus Station (which you could walk to if you prefer), then take the bus back Zhangjiajie (“Djang-Jar-Jay”) which takes 45 minutes and costs ¥12 (£1.20 / $2).