Zhangjiajie & Wulingyuan
Zhangjiajie (张家界), or Wulingyuan (武陵源) as it is also known, is a karst scenery area of more than 264 sq. km in the northwest of Hunan province. Zhangjiajie was renamed from the previous Dayong for the proud-earning site--Zhangjiajie Forest National Park (张家界国家森林公园), the first national park in 1982. And later, the park, together with the Suoxiyu scenic area (索溪峪) and Tianzishan scenic area (天子山) was called Wulingyuan Scenic Area and included in the UNESCO natural heritage sites in 1992. This scenic area used to be less known to the foreign travelers and its fate as a destination often missing on the foreigners' China travel list was completely changed by the dispute real shooting or inspiration of the floating mountains in the 2010 hit movie--Avatar.
Wulingyuan, boasts its amazing concentration and variety of quartz sandstone pillars, ravines and gorges, limestone caves, as well as the misty subtropical forest with rare plant and animal species. Zhangjiajie Forest National Park in the southwest part, also known as the China's Yellowstone Park by the foreigners, features the touristy Golden Whip Stream Route (金鞭溪) and Huangshizhai (黄石寨) hiked by over 3800 stone steps or cable car (additional fee required) as well as the Avatar's Hallelujah Mountain (former South Sky Pillar). Suoxiyu, neighboring Zhangjiajie National Forest Park scenic area (索溪峪) has its highlights—Ten Mile Gallery (十里画廊) with the most spectacular valley karst formations and controversial cliff Bailong elevator(百龙天梯, extra fee required) to have an easy bird's-eye view of the valley. Tianzishan scenic area in the north part of the Wulingyuan offers peak cluster and the natural bridge, karst caves, etc. Yangjiajie (杨家界) in the north of Tianzishan (less treaded by the group tourists) always beat the hikers and self-tourists with its otherworldly splendor.
The through ticket to Wulingyuan Scenic Area is steep RMB 245 covering the admission and insurance and eco-vehicles (7:30 am-7:30 pm) between the spots (other sights or activities in the parks, cableways and sightseeing elevator, etc. charge extra fee). The ticket is valid for two-day tour and cannot be shared since the fingerprint entry is required. From 25th April, 2010, a week-pass ticket at RMB 298 has been issued for those want more time to cover this large area. The two-day ticket purchaser can also extend to the week-pass ticket by just making up the price difference.
Out of the 5 entrances, Zhangjiajie National Park Entrance (the south entrance to the main forest park), Wulingyuan Entrance (east of Suoxi Lake) are the two main busy access points to Wulingyuan Scenic Area. Tianzishan Entrance in the north is the further access point.
Zhangjiajie is at its best in April and October. National holiday like the Chinese Spring Festival (usu. late Jan or early Feb, weeklong), Labor Holiday (the first three day of May), Summer Holiday (late Jul to early Sep) ,and October National Holiday (first week of Oct) are among the most heavily-touristy time.
Phoenix Old Town (凤凰古镇), 220 km away from Zhangjiajie, is a nice leisure addition for those with loose schedules. Direct shuttle bus is available twice daily, or you can also transfer via Jishou (吉首) by frequent trains or buses (3-4 hrs) and then bus (1 hr) to the old town.