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Hunan Province : National Park and Villages

8 Days / 7 Nights

Overview

Explore dream-like landscapes and discover a melange of minority cultures in remarkable Hunan province. Be enamoured by Zhangjiajie’s thousands of limestone karsts, climb through the surreal Zuloulong Gorges and see China’s highest waterfall. Venture through villages of the Miao and Tujia ethnic groups, learning about their unique traditions.

Trip Highlights

Hunan Province : National Park and Villages

Be inspired by mother nature

See the landscapes that inspired the sci-fi movie Avatar, trek through narrow gorges and gaze upon China’s highest waterfall.

Discover Tujia culture

Explore stilted riverside houses of the Tujia people, hear their mythical tales and -if lucky- witness their unusual traditional dance. 

Venture through Miao villages

See the colourful batiks and silver jewellery of the Miao and walk through villages showcasing their traditional lifestyles.

Itinerary

1

Beijing,Guangzhou or Shanghai - Zhangjiajie

Begin the Zhangjiajie tour with a transfer from Zhangjiajie airport to hotel. A guide and driver will be waiting upon arrival, providing transport into the city to the hotel.

Note: For the flight From Beijing, Guangzhou or Shanghai out to Zhangjiajie (dependant on the originating destination), the flight takes about 2.5 hours from Beijing or a little less from Shanghai.

The National Park at Zhangjiajie is now most famously known as the inspiration for James Cameron’s award winning Avatar. Being one of the most naturally stunning places in China, it’s obvious why! The National Park of Wulingyuan, which encompasses both Zhangjiajie and Tianmenshan, is a real life natural history museum. A visit to this site will allow exploration through the history of Chinese medicine, the cuisine of Hunan, and will even touch on religion thanks to the Buddhist temple at Tianmenshan. 

2

Zhangjiajie

Begin Day 2 early with a transfer to the main entrance of Zhangjiajie (about 30km/20miles from the hotel). Kick off the Zhangjiajie tour with a visit to the Yellow Stone Village (which reaches 1048 metres in height), from where  the majestic Five Fingers Peak can be seen.

Don’t be put off the by the crowds upon arrival; it’s possible to find areas of the park which are hidden away from the megaphones and tourist masses (who don’t stay in one place for very long anyways.) To top off the natural beauty, pay a visit to some of the waterfalls and limestone caves in the area.

Note: Even though the weather can be a little more unpredictable in the winter months, the dusting of snow on the mountain peaks only adds to the park’s natural beauty.

Lunch will be held in a restaurant near the main entrance, serving a number of local specialities. It’s important to know that xiangcai or chilli is often the base to most dishes from Hunan cuisine (one of the 8 main types of Chinese cuisine); if you don’t like spicy food, make sure to make it known!

Continue the day with a stroll along the Golden Whip Stream, providing another angle to enjoy the beautiful karst peaks. Adored by the Chinese, the peaks have been given a number of different poetic names, including the tallest which stands at 400 metres, known as the Magical Eagle Protecting the Whip.

For those who have been stuck in the megacities of China, this site will be a real treat. From the crystal clear streams and the pure air to the well maintained sites, it’s a fantastic visit. The wildlife in the park is also extremely varied: some may be lucky enough to spot a panther, a bear, or a pangolin, all of which inhabit the 350km2 national park. Be advised, if you bump into the monkeys of the park, be sure to not offer them any food!

The walk will last around 2 hours and will end at the Suoxi Valley Nature Reserve. From here, take either a tourist tram or go on foot to the Ten Mile Gallery.

Head back to the village in Zhangjiajie for the evening. 

3

Zhangjiajie

Begin Day 3 of the Zhangjiajie tour heading to one of the park’s biggest attractions – The Son of Heaven Mountain (Tianzishan). Ascend the mountain by cable-car and at the top enjoy views of Warrior Taming Horse Rock and the Western Sea, two of the most stunning mountain formations in the whole park.

After visiting the Son of Heaven Mountain, continue on to a spot that is far less visited: One Step To Heaven. Despite what the name suggests, this isn’t actually just one step to heaven, but more of a metal staircase which leads to a metal viewing platform. It does, however, offer amazing 360 degree views of the surrounding peaks. The viewing platform isn’t recommended for those who suffer from vertigo; it’s also suggested to wear sturdy shoes.

Beyond the breaktaking views, this region is also famous for its plethora of medicinal plants- crucial to both acupuncture and pharmacotherapy (traditional Chinese medicine.) In the surrounding area, a variety of stalls will be selling everything from ginseng to vials of snake venom. There will be an opportunity to meet up with a local ‘doctor’ for some insight into this ancient Chinese practice.

After visiting the Step to Heaven, pay a visit to the Corridor in the Sky, another fantastic view point. This tranquil spot is a perfect place to enjoy a well-deserved picnic lunch, depending on the weather.

Despite other regions of China where caves were home to religious ascetics, the west part of the Hunan province is well known for its caves… which belonged to bandits and thieves. During the tour, we will explore an old wooden house on the mountain top which belonged to a legendary bandit who called this region home.

End the day with a trip to the scenic Tianbo Mansions, accessed via a suspended wooden footbridge. Descend from the top by taking the Bailong Panoramic Elevator, which offers stunning views over the entire National Park.

Transfer will be provided back to the town of Zhangjiajie.

4

Zhangjiajie - Tianmenshan - Furonzhen

Today the Zhangjiajie tour starts very early with a trip out to the Heavenly Door Mountain or Tianmenshan, which we will ascend by way of cable-car. While the mountain is still part of the Wulingyuan national park, it’s scenery is worlds away. Unlike the other mountains, Tianmenshan is not really a peak, but rather a collection of karst formations that altogether are much more imposing. The journey up to the top lasts around 20 minutes and the views from the cable-car are spectacular. The surrounding rock formations are truly stunning and the mountain itself is almost like a natural cathedral. The top of the formation is over 1500 metres and dominates the whole of this region.

Continue with a stroll through Ghost Valley along the well signposted path, which includes a section of around 60 metres that has been turned into a glass bottomed walkway! The walk is at the top of an 800 metre sheer drop off; visitors will be provided with a pair of “special shoes,” which are particularly for those who come in the wrong style shoes (i.e. high heels.)

Lunch will be served at a vegetarian restaurant inside the recently restored Tianmenshan Temple, which has been a centre for Buddhists in western Hunan since the Ming Dynasty.

After the Tianmenshan visit, transport will be provided back to Zhangjiajie for the onwards travel to Furongzhen (the Hibiscus Town), a small town home to the Tujia Minority. This settlement is full of charm, and is a far cry from the more tourist-filled centres frequented by Western travellers.

Today there are around 8 million Tujia people who come generally from this region. The houses of Furongzhen, the main architectural interests of the town, are built on stilts alongside a river and next to a mountain. In addition to their unique architecture, the Tujia people are also particularly fond of dancing and singing, notably the “Waving Arms Dance” and a dance called “Maogusi”. Although the new town is of little interest, the old town is fascinating. It is built on cliffs and carved in two by beautiful waterfalls which fall into the adjacent river.

Transport back to the hotel for the evening. 

5

Furongzhen - Jishou

It is advised to wear a strong pair of shoes today, as it’s filled with a range of sporty activities (rafting in the morning and trekking in the afternoon.) Set off for Hani Palace (around an hour away from Furongzhen) where the Mengdong river pier can be found. From here we will embark on around 2 hours of rafting over a distance of 17 kilometres. Navigate the crystal-clear waters, passing by several waterfalls and limestone caves along the way (swims are an option!)

After lunch set off for the Zuolong Gorges, located just half an hour from Furongzhen. The afternoon’s walk is featured amongst these narrow gorges, which should take around 2 hours. Be immersed in pure nature: crystal water, small waterfalls, fresh air, luxurious vegetation, and very few people.

Continue the day’s outdoor discovery with the Red Stone Forest, which opened its doors at the end of 2011 and is still almost unknown to the western general public. The various rock formations of the region change from a purplish red when the weather is fine to a brownish red when it rains. The stones have also taken on some peculiar shapes during millions of years of erosion; the guide will be happy to explain the uniquely named formations of the site.

Leave for Jishou (around 90 minutes away) and spend the night in the “old town.”

6

Jishou - Dehang - Fenghuang

Begin the morning heading off for Dehang, around 40 minutes from Jishou. En route is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world, a modern infrastructure project that has become the pride of the local authorities.

Upon approaching the Dehang karst formations, nature will begin to expose its raw beauty. Finally reaching Dehang, soak in the little labyrinth of wooden-housed paved streets surrounded by giant karst formations. Elderly inhabitants wear traditional Miao clothing and the locals still draw water from the wells, located next to old arched bridges. [View into Dehang]

Follow the train tracks towards one of the highest hills in the area, and begin the walk towards the summit. It takes about an hour to climb the stairs to the top, which ultimately provides some spectacular views. Upon reaching the top, take a short calming pause to soak in the incredible panorama encompassing Dehang.

After descending to the bottom, follow the snaking route alongside a brook and paddy fields where the ever-welcoming Miao people go about their daily business. Retirement being almost non-existent in China, people of advance years working into their old age will be seen. If there is any individual struggling, please don’t hesitate to offer help!

An hour’s walk will be rewarded upon arrival at the Liusha Waterfall. At 216m high, it is considered to be the biggest waterfall in China. Dropping spectacularly into a pool bordered by the majestic karst hills, it gives the impression of being inside a natural stadium… without the spectators.

If weather permits, enjoy a truly enchanting picnic next to the waterfall. Afterwards, return to the village and set off for Fenghuang (2 hours to cover the 80km/50 miles depending on the traffic.)

Spend the night in one of Fenghuang’s traditional hostels.

7

Fenghuang

Begin the day with an exploration of the town of Fenghuang and the Zhangjiajie national park, inhabited by a mixture of people from the Tujia and Miao minorities whose wooden houses on stilts are alongside the river Tuo. Despite the town being quite popular with Chinese tourists, there are still some cobbled streets that enable one to get away from the crowds: see hairdressers conducting their business, smell the overpowering mixture of spices coming from traditional restaurants, taste the famous candied peanuts, or, for the more adventurous lot,  there are always the local delicacies of dried pork or even rat…

The morning will be dedicated to visiting the city’s major sights: the ochre city walls, the North Gate Tower and famous Rainbow Bridge, the house of writer Shen Chongwen, and the Three Kings Temple, from where the layout of the town can be fully taken in.

Lunch will be followed by a free afternoon to stroll around town, a somewhat traditional pastime in Fenghuang. This will also be a final opportunity to shop for gifts or souvenirs in the many small modern and older shops of the town.

For those interested, spend the evening getting acquainted with the local bar district or perhaps even a bit of karaoke!

Overnight in a traditional hostel. 

8

Fenghuang / Zhangjiajie / Beijing / Xi'an or Shanghai

Wrap up the Zhangjiajie tour with transport (provided) to Zhangjiajie airport for the departing flight (around 200km/125 miles away, taking approximately 6 hours depending on traffic).

Important Information

Our services include:

  • Accommodation with daily breakfast at selected hotel
  • The meals mentioned on itinerary including one glass of soft drink(Coke, Sprite, Mineral water or local beer) per person per meal
  • English-speaking local guide
  • Land transportation by private air-conditioned vehicles
  • All admission fees at attractions mentioned in the itinerary

Our services do not include:

  • Meals did not mention on itinerary
  • Camera/Video entrance fee
  • Visa for China or Vietnam
  • International flight arrival and departure
  • Early check in and late check out
  • Drinks, laundry, telephone calls, tip, insurance… and expenditure of a personal nature
  • Any services other than mentioned
  • Visa for China 

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