Zhang Jia Jie (张家界) to Changsha (长沙)

This was a 8D/7N private tour arranged with Chan Brothers for two to go.

Yaah! This is the start of our avatar adventure.

Three days of exploring the karst mountains from the comfort of the Pullman hotel. We are at Wulingyuan and not Zhang Jia Jie city (an 45 minutes’s drive away). Located in the nexus of the various entrance to the national park, it is an ideal location which means we do not lose a lot of time on the road. Traffic can be notoriously bad, since throngs of local tourists will be vying for the same thing.

26th May
A wet day for us at Yang Jia Jie as we ascended the mountains and visibility was made worse by the torrential rains. Fortunately it was not a total loss.
Today’s a misty day and we drove for about 15 minutes Yangjiajie entrance3.JPG to the entrance to Yang Jia Jie. There are two major entrances to the park and a few smaller ones.
One of the entry points is very near to the Pullman and the exit for us today.
As usual the entrance was teeming with folks waiting to get to the cable car point.
Before we got on the cable car, we got a glimpse of how the forests look like in the mist. At the cable car point,
Misty Shuiraosimen1there are many food peddlers to keep the mass occupied before taking the cable car.
You can find cooked maize – one kind that we have not seen before – yellow and purple. Our guide bought some fried potatoes from one of the peddlers.
We waited here for a while, as the cable station only allows visitors to enter in batches.
This prevents over-crowding in the station itself. So we waited and took photos of the Karst formations that is barely visible.
Once onboard, it was just a seven minute ride up the Karst mountain table. Mist envelopes the Karst columns which we are suppose to view when we get to the top.
These Karst formations are not to be confused with similar structures made of limestone.YJJ cable car market5
↑ Hybrid of purple and yellow maize like what we saw in Peru. Fried potatoes. The taste was good except for the oil perhaps →
YJJ cable car market6
YJJ Cable Car Stn2 Cable car ride to YJJ2 Cable car ride to YJJ7
The sedimentary rock that these Karst formations are made of had been fashioned into these shape over eons. The elements, along with tectonic movement moved the rock in such a way that the columns remain standing.Cable car ride to YJJ3 When we got to the top of the mountain, more mist shrouded the area and it had started to drizzle. We did not know this was harbinger of what’s to come later.Cable car ride to YJJ1 Natural Great wall1The natural Great Wall was barely visible in the intense mist/fog. We waited for some time before there was a pocket of better clarity to view a silhouette of the ridgeline.
Made up of an adjoined number of Karst columns, the “wall” stands out as a ridge line in the foggy morning. Nearer to our look-out point we could see the needle like columns sticking towards the sky. On a clear day, we should be able to see out to a sea of mist with these columns sticking out, but not today!
Natural Great wall7Natural Great wall5 Pine trees hug the sandstone columns.Natural Great wall18 Natural Great wall22The columns appear to be moving as the mist sweep past!
Natural Great wall21Next stop was the Helong park, where views of a number of columns can be had.
But alas the mist had completely blanked out the entire area and all was left was a sea of white mist. What we were supposed to be able to view such as 云青岩and 砂岩峰林, we could only imagine.
Helong - Sandstone Peaks11Can barely see more than 20m ahead of us! We had a thought to stay on and wait for the mist to clear up. Some photographers had set up tripods and were also waiting. But our guide urged us on, suggesting that we try other vantage points. Helong - Sandstone Peaks18Helong - Sandstone Peaks12
Helong - Sandstone Peaks24 Number 1 natural bridge Walk to Bus transfer to Bailong
After repeated walking to the other view points, we gave up and headed off to lunch. After lunch we headed to Mount Tianzi, to view yet more of the Sandstone peaks. One small consolation is that we managed to get a photo of the First bridge under heaven – 天下第一桥 (middle picture above).
Bailong Elevator1Bailong Elevator4 With the fog not letting up we proceeded to the Bailong 百龙 elevator.
This elevator was opened in 2002 and spans ~330m in height though the digital display showed 326m.
This is the fast approach to getting down from the mountain and it affords a view of the Karst columns as we descended.
The view lasted merely 10-20 seconds as most of the elevator is descending through rock. Even in that short duration of elevator ride, we managed to capture some of the views (via video too).
Bailong Elevator6Bailong Elevator7
Bailong Karst column6 Bailong Karst column3 Bailong Karst column4
The view at the Bailong Karst column1 bottom was much better, as we can clearly still see the columns.
We walked to the Golden Whipping stream but it was raining so heavily that we headed straight for the “10-mile gallery”. Tomorrow we shall return to the stream…
Ten Mile Gallery7hope the weather is better then!
Ten Mile Gallery13 Ten Mile Gallery17 The “10-mile gallery” is a meandering valley within the mountains that affords views of uniquely shaped sand-stone columns. You can walk along the wooden trail to the end point, where the 3-sisters can be viewed.Ten Mile Gallery - 3 sisters3
Ten Mile Gallery3The alternative is to take the tram ride that brings you to the end point, which you need to pay extra for.
You can either walk back or take the tram for a reversed ride back. Ten Mile Gallery10The trams have sky windows for viewing, which is really useful as it rained on us heavily today. These set of 3 columns stand by each other and resemble 3 ladies facing in the same direction. Ten Mile Gallery - 3 sisters4In the mist today we are unable to see clearly the columns that are shaped into that of men, animals or super-natural beings.
Banana shaped column? Or something else? Let your imagination run free! This is just one of many strange ones that you can photograph, if only the mist was blown away!Ten Mile Gallery30
Even as it rained, the mysterious structures stand out!Ten Mile Gallery29It was a rained out day for us and we headed back to the hotel. Ten Mile Gallery45Shoes soaked through and rain coats thoroughly wet. We were like a pair of wet cats.Ten Mile Gallery43 The national forest of ~300km² cannot be done justice with just three days and it is a learning that we share for anyone else contemplating this trip.
Our view is to stay in Wulingyuan – now a bustling town with lots of hotels. Take 4-5 days, you never know if inclement weather will throw off the best of plans.
Do not combine this with other sights – perhaps with Feng Huang, but then time is the limiting factor.
Happy to come back for the overnight stay in Pullman hotel

It was unfortunate that the mist had come over the entire area. There was a low pressure system in the atmosphere and it has come to affect weather across most of southern China.

You win some and lose some too… that’s all part of the journey. Fortuitous that we had fleeting spots of clarity in which we opportunistically took some photos. Over the course of the day this added up and we still came away decently.

27th May
A great trip to the Huang Long caves followed by a quick stop back at the base of the Bailong elevator. Unfortunately the weather remains poor and we could not go up to the Karst mountains.
The fog/mist has not dissipated. Not much chance to see better. The morning view from the hotel was quite good, as the SilhouetteView from Pullman9 stands out well against the mist. The hotel is actually within such a short driving distance that we can be said to be right at the door step to the national park.View from Pullman12 View from Pullman10Today’s a late starter as we headed out only at 10am towards the caves at Huang Long.
Entrance shops at Huanglong2 Entrance shops at Huanglong3 Entrance shops at Huanglong4
Just a 10 minute drive and we got to the Huang Long caves.Grounds of Huanglong4
Before we get into the cave, we walked through an alley of peddlers selling everything from food to souvenirs. The area outside the cave has been transformed into a garden. The music hall is turf with grass on its roof to conserve energy.
Entry to the caves can only be via a guided tour that lasts two hours. The tour will bring us to the 4th level of the cave – about 140m deep and ~7.5km in length. It was surprisingly not cold in the cave though a light jacket should still be brought along.
Start of Huanglong4 Within the cave are stalagmites of various sizes drawing on the flow of water flowing down to the lowest level.
The cave is said to have a library, 2 rivers, 3 lakes, four waterfalls, 13 halls and 98 Galleries. There are two types of caves within the cave – dry and wet ones literally.
Start of Huanglong1
Some of the Stalagmites look like Organs in a church!Start of Huanglong7 The cavern is so large that it can accommodate large boats. We headed straight to the lowest level, where boats were waiting for us.
It was a ~20 minute journey, as we cruised under the awe of a series of huge caverns.
It is a river that we are cruising on – 响水河 which has a depth of 6-12m and is at a constant 16°C.
These caverns reach up nearly the full 140m and in some locations have waterfalls coming out of the limestone holes.
Getting off the boat at the end of the journey we begun the long ascent upwards.
Boat ride in Huanglong5Boat ride in Huanglong2
One of the first places we stopped was the Yellow soil slope, where the water has formed serrated pools like those in Pamukkale – called the thousand acre field 千丘田.  Next we proceeded to yet another cavernous area where thousands of Stalagmites and stalactites are in constant formation.More moonscape2 Yellow Soil slope5Yellow Soil slope7 Celestial Waterfall1The “Celestial” waterfall which comes in at a height of 27m
Pipes and organs1 Greatwall of stairs5 Greatwall of stairs7
The ascent up the levels of the cave is via stairways that had been decorated with lights.
From afar, they look like the Great Wall snaking its way up the mountain! Steep in some places and outright slippery on some steps, take care when walking up the path! Be careful also not to hit your head on the overhead stones as they jut out just over height level.
We came up to the Dragon King’s throne room, yet another cavernous area of thousands of Stalagmites. One of the largest (meaning broadest) single stalagmite is found here and colored red with the lights ↓
Dragon King Throne12The tallest stalagmite is called the “sea suppressing needle” 定海神针 at 19.2m and insured for RMB 100mlm! Wow and we wonder who will pay if it really breaks…
Estimated to have taken 60,000 years to accumulate its height, its highest
Sihouette of Stalagmites3points are said to be only Sihouette of Stalagmites4~10cm in diameter.
Golden Whip Stream2Finally emerging from the cave, we headed out for lunch full of hope that we may be able to catch some of the lost views from yesterday. After a hearty lunch we drove back to the golden whip stream (金鞭岩) with intent to go up the Bailong elevator. Golden Whip Stream4 Golden Whip Stream3However, it was reported that the views at the top were still shrouded in mist and it would be waste to take the lift up. Thus we decided to walk the stream. It goes on for a length of 7.5km.
The Golden Whip Stream is famous for its pristine water, verdant mountains, steep cliffs and serene valley.
Golden Whip Stream9As we walked the paths, we came across macaques living in the forests. They are said to be pests and the area deemed infested.
We turned back after walking for 20 minutes to head back to the beautiful views of the stream.
Golden Whip Stream26 Further up would be thicker forests and pathways obscuring the views of the Karst columns.
The idea of walking the stream is to view the various crags that resembles formations of human or animal form.View of Yuanjiajie4
The Golden whip is a very clean stream, as we found so many fishes in the stream!
We pretty much ended the day walking and taking repeated photos of the mountain columns that surround us.
Here a pond reflects very well the mountains on water that was still as a mirror.View of Yuanjiajie21
View of Yuanjiajie26There is also a Geo Park museum here where you can view how the region’s Karst mountain formation took shape over eons.
For us this had been another tiring day and it ended with a drive back to town and hotel.
A clear blue sky will really add some punch to the photo.View of Yuanjiajie24
Will miss the overnight stay in Pullman hotel

Tours within the limestone caves very well organized. We are impressed.

While there has been a lot of human induced changes to the caves (eg lighting, cabling, building of steps etc), it is good to know that it was not wholesale destruction of the cave’s character. We see evidence that there has been efforts to minimize this.

Today is really our “last chance” to see the karst formations on high. Our guide had been monitoring the situation since morning. He was in constant touch with other guides who are on the mountain side. Unfortunately the news that came was that the conditions are no different as it had been yesterday.

And so we move on. Perhaps this is a sign we need to come back again.

28th May
The morning was spent cruising Bao Feng lake before we headed out via the mountain roads to Feng Huang. A day and night walk in the ancient town was followed by dinner and rest.
The day started with a drive to nearby Bao Feng寶峰lake.
The lake is formed from the dam up of a gorge, resulting in the lake with an average of 72m depth.
While you can walk, it is easier to take the bus to the lake from the entrance.Bao Feng Entrance1
Bao Feng Entrance3It was a nearly 30 minute wait for the bus. At the pier, Bao Feng Entrance6a number of pleasure boats prepare to take on us tourists as we disgorge from the buses.
The lake is about 274 hectares in size according to local literature and about 2.5km long. We did not see mandarin ducks as mentioned in the literature but saw black swans.
Bao Feng Lake Cruise5Black swans were probably waiting for someone to fee them. Bao Feng Lake Cruise7Bao Feng Lake Cruise8 Bao Feng Lake Cruise10It was a slow and calm cruise and the morning air was very fresh.
Bao Feng Lake Cruise9 Bao Feng Lake Cruise12 Bao Feng Lake Cruise13
The cruise itself took about 30 minutes and was a roundabout journey on the lake. As we sailed along, we enjoyed the scenic views of the Karst hills that surround what was once a valley. Halfway into the cruise, we would come up to a house where a local Miao lady (or Gent) will sing for us.
The saying here goes if you are able to sing in duet well enough against the Miao lady, you can take her home. Conversely if you lost…you need to stay and perform 9-years of labor. What kind of labour you ask?
Bao Feng Lake Cruise21Bao Feng Lake Cruise25 Bao Feng Lake Cruise27This is suppose to be a pig head that has only half his face left! Bao Feng Lake Cruise33Bao Feng Lake Cruise28
One of the legend is that 猪八戒 had been peeping at the fairies bathing in Bao Feng Lake.
The formation in the photo is said to be half of 猪八戒’s face, after the fairies slapped himBao Feng Lake Cruise36
Bao Feng Lake Cruise40← In the photo, you can also see the silhouette of a peacock, with its feathers flowing behind it .
While we did not have time to climb, the views from the peaks especially at Yingwo Stockade Village would have been great.
Bao Feng Waterfall1
Waterfalls dot the entire region as it is usually a humid area and rains come frequently. The area is said to experience up to 200+ days of rain per year!
After lunch, it was a road trip in the mountains to reach our destination of Feng Huang. This road trip took us via route 73 on a south-westerly direction towards 古丈, said to be a tea specialty region.
Road to Feng Huang1 Road to Feng Huang4 Road to Feng Huang7
Road to Feng Huang9 Road to Feng Huang16 Road to Feng Huang25
Road trip rest stop4 Road trip rest stop2 We also passed through the city of 吉首(Jishou) on the way to Feng Huang.
 ← Along the way we passed by smaller villages. The small road afforded us views of rural China. One of the most interesting on this road trip is the rest stop we made.
Road trip rest stop5 The toilet is definitely not one to be proud off and this little stop was frequented by load of tourists looking for a stretch. Our driver was also taking the opportunity to wash the car, which had picked up a lot of dirt in the road trip.
The road to Feng Huang was also an eye opener.
Road to Feng Huang28
Road to Feng Huang29 We are witness to the Road to Feng Huang27 seeming endless construction of high-ways and train viaducts. It is said these viaducts will link Zhang Jia Jie with Changsha and also with Feng Huang.
With high speed rail planned on these routes, it is envisioned to be possible to make quick trips to these destinations in the future.
Finally we arrived at Feng Huang and started our tour of the ancient town.Feng Huang old city day2  Feng Huang old city day7Feng Huang old city day4 Feng Huang old city day10Feng Huang old city day11
Built along the river, this town which attained world heritage status and retains Ming and Ching architecture. The cobbled streets are now home to numerous shops and watering holes (bars and pubs) + Silver ornament shops.
Feng Huang old city day22 Feng Huang old city day33At its lowest point, you can walk across the river on stones. Taking a photo in the middle of the river is a novelty afforded by the low water level.

Feng Huang old city day23We are at the North gate tower walking back to the East gate.
The ancient town walls remain intact and snake along a part of the river. A walk along the wall is a great way to view the town and the shops and important buildings in the ancient city.

A walk along the wall is a great way to view the town and the shops and important buildings in the ancient city. On both sides of the walls are the two storey houses with a phoenix like curve to its roof.
An iconic view is the river with the Wan Ming 万名 pagoda as you make your way further along the river. You can see that some of the houses along the river retain the use of stilts to hold up the structure.
Feng Huang old city day29
Feng Huang old city day34See the difference in architecture that sites side by side. Feng Huang old city day35Feng Huang old city day38 Feng Huang old city day41Most these houses in stilts are now rebuilt.
Dinner in Feng Huang1 After dinner it was time to walk the ancient town again, this time in the night and also to help work off the excess food that we have been consuming.
The lights come alive in the evening as the neon lights turn on to welcome the “night cats” 夜猫 to party the night away.
Night in Old Feng Huang1
Night in Old Feng Huang3 Night in Old Feng Huang4 Night in Old Feng Huang23
Night in Old Feng Huang11See the man washing his clothes in the river? Juxtapose! We happen to be here when the university break takes place and lots of young people visit.
We can see so many bars, cafes and pubs where young people party away.Night in Old Feng Huang13
Night in Old Feng Huang31It was so bright that we need no flash for the photo! At the north bridge, we viewed the entire river from both sides, all lit up. Can’t imagine that this “old town” is so happening!
Night in Old Feng Huang33 Night in Old Feng Huang41 Night in Old Feng Huang48
The ancient wall is also decked out in neon lights highlighting the profile of the structure.
The final stop for us today was a quick visit to a local Silver shop. The Miao is said to be famous for filigree silver jewellery, similar in kind to what we have observed in other cultures.
Silver Merchant 3 Silver Merchant 1 Silver Merchant 2
Unfortunately the price of these ornaments are high and not worth buying. At RMB34/g, it was 10x the spot price, so too high a premium. Not a place to buy that engagement present…
Overnight stay in Fenghuang garden hotel – there should be better places…

Baofeng lake (寶峰) is ok to visit but probably not for too long.

We had a very interesting drive towards Feng Huang historic town. The “rest stop”, if it even can be considered one has one of the best example of contrasts in China. On the one hand we have beautifully lit up Feng Huang, but out along the roads the toilet is anything but…

The crowning glory of today has to be the “historic” old town. Well, so much’s changed we do not know which part remains historic. Yeah the ramparts and the buildings are all new. The neon lights in the evening was actually overbearing, though we have to admit it is good for photos. One thing we did miss out on was the boat ride on the river. Having arrived too late, the last boat departed as we arrived. Bummer!

29th May
Today’s a road trip to ChangDe for stop at the Liuye lake and poem wall before getting into
ChangDe Wall of Poem5ChangDe Wall of Poem1Poetry in motion, walking along the wall of lyrics? ChangDe Wall of Poem18Today’s a long drive via the expressway towards first Changde 常德. Here we stopped at the Poem wall, where a large collection of famous poems from the different dynastic eras are carved on stone.
The lake itself is not impressive and this is but a stopover towards Willow lake 柳叶湖.
Liuye Lake1Liuye Lake2
The walk at Willow lake is uneventful and the only thing we noted was the large number of apartments built by the water front! Wonder who are buying them? Same observation in the small towns we drove through. Surely at some time the bubble will burst. Changsha InterContinental room3 Changsha InterContinental room2
The highlight for the day was arrival at the hotel InterContinental in Changsha. We were upgraded to a junior suite due to a shortage of deluxe rooms with King sized beds!
We then set about to explore the hotel and views of the confluence of 3 rivers here in the city. The city is said to be shrouded in perpetual state of mist and fog most of the year…or so we were told by the hotel associates.
View from InterContinental Changsha1 View from InterContinental Changsha4 View from InterContinental Changsha5
Dinner at Zhi Wei Xuan 2 Dinner at Zhi Wei Xuan 3 Dinner at Zhi Wei Xuan 7
InterContinental Tea room 4InterContinental Tea room 5Dinner was at the local restaurant where we had a mix of Cantonese dim sum and local (meaning Hunan) dishes. It did not come cheap but the quality was superb and we had a great dining ambience. Strange thing though, we seem to be one of few customers here. After hearty lunches and dinners for the last 6 days, it is good to be able to have a controlled meal!  We visited the tea room where Suan sampled and purchased some tea – 金骏眉.
Overnight stay in Intercontinental Changsha, to extend if you can!

We consider today to be really uneventful.

The lake at Changde is unimpressive for us. Sure there was a long corridor of great Chinese poems carved onto black stone. If one is illiterate, then it does not matter. Not that we Anglophiles will be able to really decipher the hidden meaning of the poems anyway.

Ending in the laps of luxury of the Intercontinental is always welcome. Not that the trip had been tiresome, just nice to be back in the comforts of modern living!

30th May
An easy day at the hotel followed by the 4-hour flight home. Great weather enroute and nice photos from the plane window.
InterContinental Jnr Suite4After a late morning slumber, we checked out and headed to the airport. As usual, be early not because of customs but because of the crowd. The drive took nearly an hour as it was the long weekend (China celebrates Children’s day on 1-Jun) and everyone seems to be driving out of the city!
Flight MI951, ETD 1255hrs for Singapore

And so this ends.

We did not get to photograph Suan with the needles in the sky.
It was wet and misty.
Crowds (hordes we should say) were everywhere.
Many were not so polite too as they elbowed their way.
Would we consider this a great journey?

If we could re-plan this, we would probably fly straight into Zhang Jia Jie. You can do this via domestic flights from quite many Chinese cities. Sure it would cost a little more. But then we would spent more time there. We would have been earlier and caught the last days of the good weather (remember road trip sunny?) before the drizzle comes. Then the views would be there! And all will be well.

But we would still not be able to change the last part from Feng Huang to Changsha.
Heard of the high speed rail. But if you look at photos of how jammed pack it is to get a ticket and onto the train, you’d probably reconsider.

Well, journeys are about memories. Learnt from it.
Take into consideration for the next journey to China.

Start over again.

May 2015

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