Houzis and Heights

Houzis and Heights is what comes to mind when I think of Zhangjiajie, my favorite place in China.  It is home to 1.4 million people (a small city in China), and features famous mountain ranges, waterfalls, massive land bridges, and various plan and animal species.  Fun fact: the movie Avatar was shot here! It is truly one of the most beautiful places that I have ever visited.

Being the last major trip, I took in China, I really wanted to get out and explore.  Only traveling in a small group with two of the people I was closest with allowed us to venture out and explore everything Zhangjiajie had in mind.  Lexi, Amelia, and I were three pees in a pod.

After a semester of traveling on a budget, we became pros at finding cheap airfare, obtaining great hostels near our various daily destinations, and nailing down a flexible itinerary. This trip was in the making to be the most amazing yet!

The adventures started before we ever left Shanghai.  In excitement Amelia got to the airport early, but Lexi and I on the other hand were a bit behind; having to wait for class to be over.  Cutting it short is putting it lightly.  On the bright side we got our exercise in as we sprinted to the other end of the airport to print tickets and then to security.  Amelia was beginning to think she was on her biggest adventure by traveling to the middle of Chine by herself.  To be feeling uneasy was an understatement.  Lexi and I made it before the doors closed, apologetic to the angry Chinese attendants waiting on us.

The flight got in pretty late, but we made the hour commute to Wulingyuan Scenic Area, the protected zone where we were staying, and eventually found our hostel.  The early wakeup was a bit tragic, but I can sleep when I am in America right?  Our main itinerary was going to be the iconic glass bridge.  It’s almost 1,200 feet off the ground and spans the canyon at a length of about 1,400 feet.  It’s actually the longest and highest glass bridge in the world.  We crossed the bridge to hike the canyon to a lake. It was pouring which left us with ponchos as the outfit of choice.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see the bottom of the canyon from the bridge.  We were nervous about slipping on the wet glass.  Never fear, they had booties with traction for us to be able to still explore the bridge and all its glory.

The rest of the hike was absolutely gorgeous!  There were stairwells that scaled the side of the mountain and took us down 1,200 into the canyon.

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Along the path we witnessed breathe taking waterfalls and rock formations that ran along the river that ran through the canyon. It seemed unreal and everything all around us was awe-inspiring.

In the afternoon, we headed to the hostel.  Just in time for some much-needed R & R as I was sick going into the trip.  The girls were off to see some monkeys in the surrounding habitat.

The Tianzi mountain was our next adventure.  Another day of overcast left us with disappointment and unable to the famous rock formations that ended up being marred with fog.  On the bright side, as we were trying to hide from the down pour, we discovered a little food shop where we spent the time playing cards, talking, and learning even more about each other. What seemed to be a loss at first, turned out to be a blessing in the end.

The sun broke in the afternoon, turning out to make the day perfect after all.  We bussed over to a different portion of the mountains that featured key landscapes from the movie Avatar.

Witnessing wild houzis (monkeys) for the first time was a memorable experience. They were fascinating to watch roam around freely.  Swinging from branch to branch with ease, sometimes carrying their babies with them.  I think they enjoyed us humans as much as we enjoyed them.  Every time people would pass by with food, they would try and steal it.  It was all cute fun and games until they started snagging things out of your bag.  At that point, we were over it.  Back to the hostel to refuel and refresh for our next journey.

On our last day, we went to the Tianmen mountain.  Tianmen is famous for its glass skywalks that hang off the mountain side 4,700 feet in the air.9s8w016oTX2t1OnFmlyf7A  Its cable car is the largest in the world at 25,000 feet with an ascent of 4,200 feet.  We were more than anxious to start our trip to the top. It turned out that we would ride a bus up the mountain and a cable car down. The second stretch of the bus ride was crazy.  We were traveling on a road that was about 7 miles long and featured 99 switchbacks.  Every turn you felt like the bus was going to fall off the cliff or hit into one of the busses traveling down the mountain.  Despite the seemingly reckless driving, the bus driver was unfazed by the circumstance.  Once at the top we hydrated, grabbed lunch, and then begin our hike to the top.

 

The trek up the mountain was crazy.  It took 999 steps at a 45-degree angle.  That didn’t even get you to the very top.  We had to take seven escalator rides inside the mountain.  The trek was worth it. The views were magnificent!

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Hanging off the mountain with nothing but a glass bottom so you can see the bottom was mind-blowing.  Even more amazing was the massive temple we visited located on the mountain.

Still being sick made hiking and the elevation hard.  My energy was zapped.  There was still so much to explore at the top, but just couldn’t make it to the top of the last hill.   I sat on a bench and drank a Chinese Vitamin Water while the girls made the final trek.  I figured in a couple of minutes I would feel better.  I was sadly mistaken.  Immediately I started having a hard time breathing and felt incredibly light-headed and nauseous.  A panic attack started to set in with no way of contacting my friends.  I began vomiting, felt my throat closing, and like I was going to pass out any second.  I tried to drink as much water as you possible could in that situation.  Throwing up started to help my feel like my body was a little more under control and I calmed down.  I was beginning to think I was going to die at the top of the mountain with all the Chinese people staring at me while they were trying to figure out what was going on with me.  Thankfully, the girls were back down from checking out the viewpoint as I was started to feel a little better.

On the way back, we took the long cable car ride down the mountain and then began our journey back to Shanghai.  The flight home was a bit of a trip.  Being exhausted from the day and being sick, I quickly fell asleep.  The flight experienced turbulence.  The girls kept waking me up thinking we were going to die.

In the end we arrived back in Shanghai around 1 AM, safe and sound, exhausted, and not looking forward to class the next morning.

This trip was remarkable.  The scenery, the people, and the experiences we had were extraordinary.  Hands down, this is one of my favorite places in China!  If I had to choose one trip that would rank the top of the charts with me, it would be this. The fact that I was able to spend it with two of my closest friends made it even more memorable.

 

Thank you for reading,

Riley