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Wulingyuan
If you don't know this area, it's probably best to have a guide or you can waste a lot of time and miss a number of scenic views. We used the Zhangjiajie Tour Club http://www.explorezhangjiajie.com over a 4 day time frame. They set us up in two different hotels so a lot of time was not wasted by driving. Wulingyuan is an enormous area consisting of several different parks and even though both of the hotels were in Zhangjiajia, there was about a 45 minute drive between the two of them. The plane flies into Dayong as the name of the airport on my ctrip reservation but this is part of Zhangjiajie. At least in May, there is only one flight a day going in from Chengdu and it arrives around 8PM. Andy from the ZJJ Backpacking Club and Mr. Hu, their driver picked us up from the airport and took us to the Sunshine Hotel - about a 45 minute drive. The following day we took about a 2 minute drive to the cable car ride up Tianmen Mountain. From reading the reviews, it appears there are a lot of choices from this point. We walked a pretty easy hike to the Glass Plank Walkway and on up to Tianmen Temple. From there we took another cable car down to the bus which is an experience on it's own. 99 hairpin turns on a very small road with busses and cars and construction equipment all using it but it's breathtaking. The bus drops you off at the foot of Tianmen Cave which is a natural hole in the mountains. From there you do have a hike to get to the cave called the 99 Steps to Heaven. Totally worth it for the view. You can find utube videos of the Russian and Chinese airplanes doing stunt flights through the opening and Jeb Corliss flying through it with his wingsuit. That night they took us to the Fox Fairy show at the foot of the mountain with Tianmen Cave in the background. The show was designed by the director who did the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremonies. The colors are amazing. The music was wonderful. The words just don't translate well into English but that part really wasn't needed to enjoy the show. If nothing else, it was absolutely worth seeing the mountains backlit as part of the ending scene.
The rest of the important sites for Wulingyuan were on the other side of Zhangjiajie so the Club moved us to the Pullman Hotel about 45 minutes away. There was much more to do here. Our second outing was to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park and Golden Whip Stream which was only a few minutes drive from our new hotel. It was an easy hike for several hours with some rain but the mist just added to the spectacular views. Small macaque monkeys are all over this park and appear used to tourists. We did take the short cable car to the top but the mist was so thick here that we could not see the mountain formations. That night, we went to the Zhangjiajie Theater that is directly adjacent to the Pullman Hotel and watched two shows. The first was inside the theater and showed a lot of the local ethnic populations with acrobatics, dancing, music - it was wonderful. When it was over, the outside show had just begun with more feats of strength and some comedy that didn't need any translation. Our next day was at Zhangjiajie Great Canyon and it took about 1.5 hours to drive there. There were a lot of stairs here and a lot of waterfalls and even a long stone slide you could go down for an extra fee (it was fun). Andy took us to the new shopping area that is being developed by the river. It was an easy 10 minute walk from the hotel. Not much open during the day but it comes alive at 7PM with shops, bars and outdoor entertainment. Our final day was also in the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park at Yuanjiajia - the Avatar mountain (Tianzi). Jaw dropping views. You start by bus and there are two choices. Andy knew that most everyone wants to go up the Bailong Elevator to start and that would have a 2-3 hour wait for a 2 minute ride (most of which is behind cement). So we started with the bus that takes you to the cable car - a 5 - 10 minute wait to get to the same spot as the elevator. He then chose several of his favorite areas of the park for us to walk to - all easy hikes. You can either use the free busses in the park but the line for these can be 40-60 minutes at each stop or you can rent one of the private minivans for about $10 USD and they will take you to all the hiking areas you want and wait for you at each site. We chose the minivan. One stop was a town set up in the park with the ethnic minorities showing silver making, beekeeping, weaving and other similar trades. A lot of nice silver jewelry for sale here. After a few more stops with our minivan driver, we were let off to go DOWN the Bailong elevator and there was essentially no line for this. At the bottom the view is as spectacular as elsewhere in the Park. A National Forest Park pass is good for 3 days. I cannot say enough good about the job that Andy and the ZJJ Backpacking Club did to pick and choose what they felt we would like best. They set up the trip depending on your requests (a lot of walking, just a little walking, etc). Unless you know this area and speak Chinese, find a guide to take you around but do come to Zhangjiajie. I want to come back during the fall (but not October or any of the official Chinese holidays). Some guide at the park did note the the crowds have dropped since the new premier took over this year. He's stopped all government workers from using government money to pay for their personal vacations as they were doing in the past. That's good for us!

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