China Blog #2 - I'm not sure if I bought a pen or marker… Pen, Okay!
Our trip continued after the 14th hour, 90 degree seat cross-China train journey, with people loudly talking into 3 in the morning.
Our first day in Zhangjiajie was spent gaffing around looking for our hostel, and telling tour operators "buyao / buyong". In no time, we found our international youth hostel, a wooden house on top of a building - very cool. Checking in and settling down, we rushed right back out of the door to avoid burning daylight. The group of us bought some tickets for the world's longest cable car (just shy of 8km) and took the journey from the city up the mountain.
Huge mountains emerged from the mist as we were tugged onward and ever ever upward. The downward views were vertigo inducing, and the views were incredible, even with the thick cloud cover. After a 30 minute journey we arrived at the top station. Our first stop was the glass bridge we had heard so much about. A path winding around the side of the mountain lead us to the "glass plank walkway" where we paid 10 Yuan and donned special cloth covers for our shoes. Without the mist it probably would have been even more impressive, but looking straight down the side of a cliff between your feet was still pretty scary.
Our next stop was the highest point on the mountain; a lookout pavilion / overpriced restaurant. I was enjoying the silence and serenity up there for the brief amount of time we were there - cold, brisk and silent - it was perfect!
With daylight running out and the last cable car at 17:40, we headed halfway down the mountain and caught the thirty-minute eco-bus up to the "stairway to heaven". The bus trip was terrifyingly beautiful; winding around kilometre-high cliffs, narrowly avoiding hitting other buses on blind curves.
I'm not sure how many stairs were were at the stairway to heaven, but I'll tell you it's brilliantly named; after I got to the top, I was almost certain I was going to drop dead of exhaustion.
I decided that I wanted to climb all the way up the 500+ stairs without stopping, and boy did doing rounds on the RLS in DeCew help me. The view from the top was stunning (as always) and there was a stream of water droplets flowing down from the top of the 200m arch. It felt like I was chilling in Minas Tirith (Lord of the Rings reference).
The rest of the day was spent wandering the streets of ZJJ, grabbing food from street vendors and enjoying the smokey hazed that deeply filled our lungs with carcinogens. I'm not saying pollution in China is 'bad', just that at times it hurt to breath.
Waking up the next morning our plans were entirely different than what actually happened - but isn't that the fun of traveling? The morning was spent booking train and plane tickets.
With everything booked for the rest of the trip, we boarded a bus to head into Zhangjiajie national park - where we were spending the night. Once passes were purchased, after some touch and go, we settled into our accommodation, explored the park a little, saw some monkeys, ate a fantastic chinese meal and made plans to get up early and hike around the next day.
6AM, with our next train (sleeper this time) leaving in 12 hours, and our lives on our backs we set out on the hike. The first leg of the journey was a 2 hour walk along "golden whip stream", a small river that wound around a canyon surrounded by towering pillars of rock and trees. Alas! Our first challenge - a fork in the road! One way along our proposed destination, the other an 800 meter length trail up the mountain… or so we thought.
The 800 meter train turned out to be a 2200 meter b*tch of a hike. After about an hour and a half, and lots of fighting, we reached the top. Along the way, numerous old people (after catching the bus/elevator that we didn't know about) complimented us for taking on the mountain.
Just when you thought the view couldn't get any better, we reached the very top, and got to see the Hallelujah mountains - the inspiration behind the mountains you see in Avatar; and boy does the park take advantage of that. You can get your picture taken with the banshee's, or buy pictures of Jake Sulley, etc. etc.
We spent the afternoon checking out other sights - but by that time a giant cloud covered the park - and you couldn't see 10 feet in front of you. We caught a bus back to the city, but not before riding the world's tallest outdoor elevator (which wasn't too special, just a regular one with a bunch of people taking pictures).
Our night was spent in sleeper berths on a train to Ankar - best decision ever. The train arrived at 7:30 in the morning, and I'm currently writing this on the train to Xi'An where we're going to see the terracotta army. Later today we'll catch a high speed train to Beijing - which I'm stoked for… More on that later!
After a 4 hour train ride to Xi'an we jumped on a bus and headed 40 minutes out of the city to catch a glimpse at the terracotta warriors. We didn't get to spend much time here, but it was definitely worth seeing.
The warriors themselves weren't that impressive, but definitely something to check out because of their history. We got a cab to Xi'An'Bei train station (Xi'An North) and boarded my first ever bullet train!
As I write this now, the train is traveling 296 km/h and regularly goes over 300. The scenery is a blur, but you don't even feel like you're moving. We'll reach Beijing by 11:30 tonight. As much as the other trains in China suck, the high speed "G" series has got Canada beat by a long shot. I don't think the train is a maglev, but who can complain at 300 kilometres per hour on land.
Tomorrow we'll be checking out the great wall - if everything goes as planned!