Day 6 — Yellow Dragon Cave ...

6:59am seemed like a perfectly acceptable time for a HUGE marching band with drums and trumpets to be banging out the tune of happy birthday directly outside the guesthouse window. It continued until well after 9am. So much for sleeping in ... rather it was a 'two cups of coffee' kind of morning.

The weather was overcast and threatening rain. My knee was still sore but I had decided to trek on and ignore the pain. The two of us grabbed tea eggs and Youtiaos for breakfast and ate them on the 40-minute bus ride over to the Yellow Dragon Cave. The local bus cost 12RMB/59NT/CAN$2.19. After that, we hopped on the dirtiest bus ever, the number one, which cost 2RMB.

Things of note:

Although the cave is part of the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, the entrance fee is not included. The ticket was 103RMB/510NT/CAN$18.74 and totally worth it! Once inside, there is another section called the Labyrinth that costs an extra 15RMB — pay it! This part of the cave was one of the most impressive parts. I could only say 'wow, wow, wow' the whole way through. 

Unfortunately I couldn't get my flash to work (not sure why) so my images turned out a bit blurry. (see album on the sidebar)

The two of us spent three to four hours dawdling through this unbelievably impressive cave. It is no wonder UNESCO says it's the most beautiful cave in the world. Thankfully, it wasn't terribly busy, only in certain parts.

Again, our surroundings were out of this world yet people kept feeling the need to comment on the 'laowai' or foreigners. We noticed a lot of group tours where people were following someone with a microphone, head down, only to stop and look around when the guide told them to do so. It seemed such a shame and a waste of a mind blowing natural phenomenon.

The best part was going into the Labyrinth. Many were standing outside of the entrance, complaining about having to pay extra and fortunately, many refused. The two of us were the only ones down there and it was so quiet that we could hear ourselves breathe. It has got to be the quietest place in China.

On the way back on one of the local buses, some random passenger asked the bus driver to stop so she could pick up some fruit from one of the many tables selling fruit along the side of the road. She was picky about which three batches of grapes she wanted to buy and then began to price haggle, keeping the whole bus waiting for over five minutes. Really? WOW! Talk about selfish.

After getting back to Zhangjiajie City, the two of us ventured over to the train station to make arrangements to go back to Nanjing only to find out that it wasn't going to be easy. There were no plane tickets or train tickets so we were stuck booking a bus and then the high speed train. It was going to be at least a 15-hour journey back. We were stuck going first class on the high-speed train because there were no second-class tickets. Also we couldn't leave until Monday. Tickets going back on the high-speed train first class were 466RMB and the bus was 120RMB.

For dinner, we went back to the same restaurant as the night before. We ordered Kong Xin Cai and a beef teppanyaki style dish. It was spicy and delicious! As we were eating, I noticed that Dog Hot Pot was on the menu. Ugh.

What I did love about Zhangjiajie City was that the restaurants would clear the tables from inside and put them on the sidewalks outside. Most restaurants also set up small tables and hot plates that offered barbecued bits and bites. Everyone eats out on the busy, loud streets. It's great!

Knowing we were in for another day around the city of Zhangjiajie, we decided to end the night with a few cold beers. We weren't sure where the next day would take us but we decided it would be an easy day! 

Day 5 — Zhangjiajie National Forest Park ...

The day started off quite lazily. My knee was very sore so the first stop of the day was the pharmacy, where I purchased some medicine patches. I wasn't sure about hiking for the day, which bummed me out but as always, I decided to suck it up and walk it off. The weather was perfect, once again, and the day could not be wasted!

Best breakfast in Zhangjiajie
Food stall #4 was a guy selling homemade roti rolls for 7RMB/35NT/CAN$1.27. He added a fried egg and some spicy chicken that had been done up on a skewer BBQ style. It was simple but delicious. We went back looking for this guy over the next two mornings, but had no luck finding him again.

Tiny local restaurant #4 was for a quick lunch at the same place we had grabbed breakfast noodles the day prior. A little girl works there with her family and she is quite the server. She would make suggestions and once we decided on our order, she would recommend things that would compliment our meal. I had decided on delicious dumplings that came in hot, spicy soup. It was more than I could eat and only 6RMB!

We set out just after lunch and headed on a city bus (10RMB) for a 45-minute ride over to a quieter section of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. It starts in a beautiful forest with a variety of tall green trees that reminded me of the forests in British Columbia. There is a stream that we slowly walked along and although it was quite busy in this section, it was not nearly as busy as yesterday.

Things of note:

There were tons of wild moneys around these parts and flocks of magpies that looked very similar to the ones in Taiwan.

We hopped on a free bus that took us over to one of the other gondolas in the park. It is called 黃石寨 (Huang Shi Zhai) Cableway. Two ways was 118RMB/584NT/CAN$21.50. It was a quick ride up but absolutely stunning. This cable car goes in between the pinnacles ... so close that it seems one can put their hand outside the gondola and touch the pinnacles as you go by.

The walk around the top offered remarkable views and the best thing about it was that there were hardly any people up there including loud sellers. It made for an enjoyable, quiet walk in nature. This particular spot is away from the big expensive resorts, so perhaps people don't come over to this section?! Either way, there were zero complaints as we had the park to ourselves ... along with the monkeys!

Local restaurant #5 was on the main road near our guesthouse. We ordered a potato dish that is quite popular in China called Tu Dou Si. It was so good that I vowed to try it at other restaurants along the way. Taiwan needs to get on this dish and put it on their menus! We also ordered a beef dish with tons of spicy chilies. I was beginning to see that ALL of the food in China is amazing!

Dinner was followed by a couple of cold beers and an early bedtime. My knee needed rest as tomorrow would prove to be another day that involved a lot of walking! Sweet dreams were had of amazing adventures!

Day 4 — Zhangjiajie National Forest Park ...

Three-day park pass: 245RMB/1210NT/CAN$44 (admission validated by fingerprint)

Set out early to find perfect weather! We grabbed some noodles (4RMB/20NT/CAN$0.71) near our hotel and then hopped a local bus for the 45-minute ride (12RMB/59NT/CAN$2.14) over to the main entrance of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

The shuttle buses within the park are free and convenient. We hopped on one, making our way over to the Bailong elevatorIt was 72RMB/355NT/CAN$13 one-way. Once on top of the mountain, one can wander for hours to enjoy the views. The park is absolutely superb! I walked around in a state of awe most of the day. (images in the album on the right)

Things of note:

There wasn't much signage around the park and the maps that were available were not terribly accurate. It was a bit difficult to navigate your way around at times.

What is known as the "Avatar Mountains" is obviously the most popular part of the park as there were thousands and thousands of people. Most were on a group tour, which meant there were guides with microphones shouting everywhere.

Thousands and thousand of tourists
The amount of people trying to sell you stuff or charge you to take pictures (some with your own camera) and stands selling drinks and souvenirs was overwhelming. Ladies selling cucumbers and tomatoes were every few meters sitting around the trails in the park. It made it very hard to enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature, to be honest. It was ridiculously noisy and there was constant pushing.

As if the noise from the yelling and microphones wasn't enough, there were elderly ladies selling whistles (1RMB) everywhere. I believe every little kid had one, which added to the already excruciating noise.

There was a HUGE McDonalds inside the park; like, three or four McDonalds put together to create a monstrous one — gross.

Rather than take the cable car down, we decided to walk. It's a 5.8km walk that consists of uneven stone steps all the way down. My left knee was throbbing by the time we got to the bottom and this unfortunately slowed me down to a hobbling pace for the remainder of the trip.

Tiny local restaurant #3 was at a tiny shop two doors down from the guesthouse. We had Kong Xin Cai, delicious Gongbao Jiding, scrumptious Mapo Doufu and, of course, a nice cold beer ... or two! Unfortunately this little restaurant was closed for the remainder of our time in Zhangjiajie otherwise we may have eaten here the whole week.

It was easy to crash early after a long, exciting day. We planned to head back to a different part of the park the following morning. The owner of the hotel said the weather called for rain. I slept with my fingers crossed hoping to awake to more blue skies!

Day 3 — Tianmen Mountain ...

One-day mountain pass: 240RMB/1175NT/CAN$43 (guesthouse discount)

Out of the hotel around 7am to find the sun shining and the skies blue. The weather couldn't have been more perfect! The owners of our guesthouse weren't up at this early hour but their twelve-year-old daughter was and insisted on walking us over toward the cable car station.

Food stall #3 sold yummy Youtiao at 2RMB/10NT/CAN$0.36 each. This was breakfast, along with some fruit from one of the local markets.

Tianmen Mountain is absolutely stunning! I can't even begin to put it into words nor do I feel the images in the album on the sidebar (see right) do the place any justice. If there is one place to add to your bucket list, this is most definitely it.

The cable car ride up is said to be the 'longest passenger cableway of high mountains in the world.' The cableway is 7,455 meters, has an ascent of 1,279 meters and the highest gradient is 37 degrees. Once on the mountain, one can spend hours and hours and hours checking out the sights. We covered all the trails shown on the map here.
Things of note:

Leaving at 7am in the morning means one only has to wait about a half hour to get into a cable car. A guest at the hotel said he went around 10am and was stuck in line for two and a half hours.

It's an extra 5RMB to walk across the see through platform. It wasn't terribly exciting due to the mass amounts of people on it.

There is a ski lift up on the mountain to save some walking time. It's 25RMB/one-way. We took the lift but realized we missed a lot of the sites, so we hiked back and forth.

While being in one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to, it was quite strange that tons of people were pointing and repeatedly saying 外國人 (wàiguórén) meaning foreigner. Words cannot even describe the surrounding beauty and yet we seemed to be the spectacle. Really? After awhile, my travel partner and I started calling back 中國人 (zhōngguórén) meaning Chinese person. It seemed most appropriate and caused the finger pointing to stop in most cases, but not all.

Bathrooms are terribly stinky all over china and most are, of course, without tissues. Line-ups don't exist, especially in the bathroom. People push past and if the bathroom has no door, no problem. Women and children drop their pants and crouch right in front of you. Thanks for sharing!

Tiny local restaurant #2 was a restaurant on the corner of the alley of where we were staying. We had been gone eight hours and barely had anything to eat. The server gave us an English menu, which means higher prices according to my travel partner, Tom, who ordered and paid for dinner. The food was quite delicious with the exception of the intestines that had been ordered by accident. Eeek.

Image: Charles Liu @ the nanfang
What I found interesting and what I later learned happens all over China is that every restaurant you go to gives you set dishes wrapped in plastic, like this image here. This is done to show that the dishes have been sterilized. If restaurants are doing this all over China (every place I went to for two weeks was) think of the amounts of plastic being used for this alone.

Most local restaurants will give you hot tea and a plastic bucket upon your arrival. One would think the tea was for drinking but this isn't the case. After you remove the plastic from your place setting, you are to rinse the items with the hot tea and then discard the tea into the plastic bowl. This way you know your dishes are clean. Interesting.

After filling our faces with delicious food and some cold beers, it was time to take a rest and get to bed early as the next day would prove to be another big one!

Taking note of China — Day 2 ...

Sign on the high-speed train

6:10am came quickly but for a brief moment in the wee hours of the morning, China was actually quiet. It was a taxi to the Metro and the Metro to the high-speed rail station for a five-hour journey from Nanjing to Changsha in Hunan province, traveling an average of 250km/h and over 300km/h for the last hour!

Things of note:

Costa Coffee at the high-speed rail station in Nanjing has the most excellent muffins ever!

Development is going on all over China. Communities of Hong Kong tall buildings (40+ floors) are being built everywhere. I wonder who is going to fill all of these apartments? I was blown away by the development.

KFC and McDonalds are everywhere and I ate at KFC for the first time in many, many, many years. Unfortunately, the pickings were extremely thin at the high-speed rail station in Changsha. KFC seemed the lesser of the two evils. We ordered four pieces of chicken and two orders of fries only to be told one piece of chicken per person. What? We were starving but made it work as we were scheduled on a four-hour bus ride that was leaving shortly.

People were still unashamedly staring and again, I had yet to see another foreigner. Little kids would run up out of nowhere, stop dead in front of you and stare with mouth gaping open.

What should have been a four-hour bus ride turned into seven hours due to a vast part of the highway being closed. Bonus: passed through many rural towns of China. Not so lucky in the fact that the bus driver didn't stop once for the first five hours of the trip. Note: there was no bathroom on the bus. Thankfully I hadn't had much to eat or drink that day, although I can't say the same for my travel partner who drank a big tea before getting on the bus.

Food stall #2 was a pit stop along the highway. I ordered another one of those pita things from yesterday. Not freshly made and only 5RMB/24NT/CAN$0.89. It wasn't nearly as yummy but considering we were on the side of the highway and I had barely eaten all day, it wasn't bad.

Hotel room in Zhangjiajie
It was after 9pm by the time we got to our hotel. The owner walked over to the bus station to pick us up. He and his wife were extremely helpful throughout our stay. The name of the hotel was Yi Jia Qin Hotel and it was 64RMB/311NT/CAN$11.35 per bed/night. Our room had two single beds with our own bathroom.

After 14.5 hours of travel from door to door, I was exhausted. The next morning called for another early start to beat the crowds waiting to take the gondola up to Tianmen Mountain. It was early to bed after an evening beer!

Taking note of China ...

The City Wall of Nanjing or 南京城墻
The first day of China was awesome! I arrived at the airport with a pack on my back and another on my front. Also fresh in mind were plenty of new places to see.

Things of note over DAY 1:

Nanjing Lukou International Airport does NOT have free wireless Internet. Really?!

People understand me when I speak Mandarin but I was having trouble understanding what was being said due to some strange accents.

The Metro system is much like Taipei's: easy to use, clean and cheap. The biggest difference was the noise level. Examples: boys playing video games with the sound turned up to the max. Men and women screaming obnoxiously loud into their mobile phones as if this were the only way the person on the other end would hear.

People were blatantly staring but to be fair, I had yet to see another white face.

Food stall #1 was located just outside one of the Metro stations. For 10RMB/49NT/CAN$1.78 you get a freshly made pita type thing that is baked in front of you. Spicy beef that has been sitting in a sauce for who knows how long is diced up finely with cilantro and green peppers, also right in front of you. So fresh, so delicious and SO spicy! This was an excellent introduction into the next two weeks of wonderful food!

Rundown electric bikes and scooters flew silently about the streets. People LOVE using their horns but not the lights at night because it runs down the batteries.

It was dusty and sort of third world like.

Tiny local restaurant #1 was a dumpling shop run by a family that lives upstairs. They have a huge variety of dumplings like chicken and mushroom, pork and bok choy, pork and celery, pork and Chinese sauerkraut, egg, etc. They offered chilies and vinegar as a sauce, which was a bit strange.

Boats running along the Qinhuai River near Fuzimiao
I got my first glimpse of the famous tourist spot in Nanjing called Fuzimiao or 南京夫子廟. Made a note to go back upon my return to Nanjing.

China was loud and exciting, which made it hard to get a good night's rest. Knowing that day two involved a 6am wake up call didn't make it any better. The one thing that kept running through my mind was that after many years of being on my 'to see' list, I had finally made it to China!

A small look at China with stories to follow ...

Yet more pinnacles around Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

Some crazy critters hiking down from the top of one of the pinnacles

Beautiful dragonflies

Caught this little monkey hiding out in the trees

A small look at China with stories to follow ...

Heading to the top of Tianmen Mountain around 8am

Walking along the transparent pathway showed that it was a long way down

Red prayer ribbons were found everywhere on one side of the pinnacle