China: Zhangjiajie

After spending a few days in the ancient city of Fenghuang, I decided to make my way to another highlight of the Hunan province, Zhangjiajie. On my searches about China, Zhangjiajie repeatedly popped up as being one of the must-see sights when visiting inland China. A 3 hour, 80CNY bus from Fenghuang got me to Zhangjiajie town at around midday, where I immediately jumped on a 2 hour local bus to just outside of the nature park.

The place is renowned for being the inspiration of the movie, Avatar.  Although nobody has actually officially declared that it was, allegedly the Chinese government offered a cash sum to anyone who could show them somewhere that bore a closer resemblance to the setting in the movie.


This is the entrance to the park. It’s not cheap; it cost 248CNY ($57 NZD) for a three day pass. They take your fingerprints so that you can’t give your ticket to someone else after a day or two.


The park is huge. You could spend 3 days here and still not visit every viewing platform or mini-village. You have to get your hands on a map and make a plan around what you want to see, taking into consideration the bus routes, cable car and elevator locations and estimated walking time on certain tracks.


The first day I was there it wasn’t great weather, so the chap at my hostel recommended a route which would save the more famous sights for the next day, which would be clearer. I did a hell of a lot of walking, around 70,000 steps and 290 stories in elevation over the two days if the phone pedometer was anything to go by.


This elevator incurs a separate cost but is a unique thing to do and eliminates a huge hike up one of the limestone pillars which would have killed several hours (I did hike up a couple of others, on which I hardly saw anyone else; most of the local tourists prefer to stick to the bus routes).


The whole park is full of these massive limestone pillars. On a foggy day you can only see the top of them, which is why the place is reminiscent of Avatar. There are loads of hikes you can do, painted different colours on the map to represent difficulty.


Wild monkeys run amok, and will steal any and all of your food and other belongings if you’re not careful.


I was done with stairs for the time being after those two days. Some of the climbs involve a couple of thousand steps which go straight up. I’d recommend getting a foot massage once you’re done, that shit was lush.


A huge natural ‘bridge.’

I think I’ve mentioned before how crazy the Chinese go over McDonald’s; they are everywhere, and usually rammed full of people. This one was right up in the middle of the park near a major bus route. That entire building is a McDonald’s. It was colossal, easily the largest fast food joint I’ve seen. I found it a bit of a let-down that they stuck one inside the park, but the world revolves around money, I guess.


In summary, if you’re heading to mainland China and are going anywhere near the Hunan province, definitely take the time to visit Zhangjiajie. It most certainly lived up to the hype. It’s not the cheapest thing you’ll see, but it’s especially unique and well worth the visit.



  • Bring good shoes!
  • Bring your camelbak if you have one. You can go hours without seeing somewhere that sells water, which is overpriced as you’d expect
  • Plan your route beforehand, and consult more than one type of map to eliminate misleading information about where routes connect. Try and talk to someone who’s been there beforehand to get advice on which way to go (thanks Aaron!)