Off the beaten track, China is trying to open this area up to tourism - it is difficult for Westerners, but beautiful!
Arrival - We arrived at our hotel in the middle of the night after a bumpy flight from Chengdu and a bumpier ride from the middle of town. Our van driver received a couple of cell-phone calls while in transit and tried to divert (kidnap?) us to a different hotel, but after a bit of an argument, and a firm Bú Bú (No No!) from Judi he took us on to the Pipa Xi Hotel. Only Mr. Tang Ming spoke English, all signs were in Chinese characters only, and trying to order from the all-Chinese menu was a a real challenge (we just pointed and hoped that what we got was edible), but we muddled through. The one surprise of the visit came the next night - the top Chinese Gymnastics Team came to Zhangjiajie for a visit and stayed at our hotel. They grabbed all of the management, as well as we 2 Westerners, and took the photos - hope the subversive monitors are not watching. Mr. Tang Ming was a great help and knowledgeable tour guide, click for his details.
Beautiful scenery - This was a wonderful scenic area that appeared to be set aside for Chinese tourists. But the scenery made up for all of the ordeals: tall peaks remain as the rest of a large plateau had eroded 1000' from its original height. Natural bridges have survived the onslaught of time and steep cliffs overhang the trails.
Rare Westerners - On the first day a cable-car took us, and hundreds of others, to the top of one of the peaks - where we were the only Western faces to be seen. The next day, we hiked 1000' up a nearby ridge, and met Sun Xiao-Feng and her husband, visitors from Northern China. We had a wonderful time communicating with them with a little English, a little Chinese, and lots of pointing, laughing, and pictures. Again, we were the only Westerners around.
Bao Feng - A picture on a brochure we had picked up in Singapore captivated us - a small boat on a clear lake amid steep hills. We chased that dream and found it at Bao Feng, a small lake in the mountains near Zhangjiajie, where peaks rose 500' from the water's edge as we tooled around in a quiet little boat. Unfortunately, we had to rush through this cruise on our way to an early rendezvous at the train station.
Tujia Folk Custom Village - Mr. Tang had provided us with information and advice during our stay, and recommended that we visit the 'museum' in Zhangjiajie City. This turned out to be a theme village, dedicated to the Tujia, a minority in group in China trying to preserve their culture. The buildings were all wood, no metal fasteners of any kinds and served as rooms for the attached hotel. The museum had a few interesting pieces of carved wood (they take roots and shape them into animals or other interesting figures) and few geological items (i.e. 'rocks'). During a performance of the 'Crying Bride' legend, they asked for volunteers from the audience for some parts, but avoided us - probably felt we wouldn't understand the instructions.
Next stop, Guilin on a train-bus combo.