Day 5 [Feb 13, 2016] The group decided to skip Mount Tianmen Scenic Spot (天门山) and head straight to our next destination, Fenghuang Gucheng (The Phoenix Ancient City), because of the super long queue required just to get the entrance ticket. I was told that only 10,000 tickets are sold daily but during that peak season, the number of visitors queueing up for the tickets is almost tripled. The group has to queue up for the ticket from 1am to wait for the national park to be opened, hoping to get the tickets (which in my personal point of view, it's not that worth it. But I would definitely revisit Zhangjiajie in the future for Mount Tianmen). I would say the traffic congestion is very severe to the extent that it would literally take our coach an hour to get in and out from a rest stop along the freeway. Jeez. I saw some people who parked their cars along the emergency lane to settle their urgent needs to go to the toilets. By the time we reached Phoenix Ancient City, it's already dinner time. Visiting this ancient city definitely gives a really good insight to the life of a village prior to the onset of modernisation. Undoubtedly, this village is considered as one of the two most beautiful towns in China. Its primitive simplicity and natural beauty are simply stunning as a traditional Chinese painting comes to live. The village consists of the traditional stilt houses that are surrounded with green fields and bridges over the clear water of Tuojiang River. I was told by my tour guide that the lifestyle here hasn't changed for centuries where its simple-hearted residents are hardworking. I was very sad to learnt that this stunning beauty is going to be just a memory soon with the pacing modernisation taking place. With the increasing number of traditional stilt houses being replaced by modern buildings, the culture will be gone. I really hope that the government would do something to preserve this ancient city and its unique culture of the minority tribal groups who lived here for generations. The view of the ancient city during both daytime and night is equivalently gorgeous, each exhibiting their unique beauty. Tips: There are plenty of bars and shops open until late for those who are interested to experience some nightlife in this ancient city.
Day 1 [Feb 9, 2016] The village of Shaoshan is the early home of the Chinese Communist Revolutionary Leader, Mao Zedong, commonly known as Chairman Mao. Born in 1893, Mao was raised in this mud-brick childhood house. I always find it interesting to visit a former residence of historical figures because I could grasp a sense of daily life of the great figure who once lived there. Since it was Chinese New Year, it is a week-long holiday in China and famous tourist attractions are undoubtedly crowded with both domestic and foreign tourists. You wouldn't believe how crowded the place was until you saw it with your very own eyes. It took me nearly an hour in the queue to get into Mao's former residence! Jeez! Tips: You gotta learn the "art of queuing". DON'T ever leave even a tiny space between you and your friends. Otherwise, people would just squeeze and push their way through, leaving you to fall far behind the line (p/s: It might be unbelievable for some, but it's true)
Day 1 [Feb 9, 2016] I really enjoyed the 5 - 10mins stroll from Mao Zedong Former Residence to the Mao Zedong Statue Square. Along the way, I get to see all sorts of local delicacies/ street food sold by the villagers. I reckon food is a really good way to get to know one's culture more. I saw the locals paying their respect to the golden statue of Chairman Mao with flowers and wreath. There was a granny who asked her grandkid to kneel down and bow before the statue of Chairman Mao as a way of paying his highest form of respect to the great leader of China. Actions do speak louder than words. These all simply showed how highly respectable Chairman Mao is among his citizens.
Day 2 [Feb 10, 2016] Mr. Li Junsheng is famously known in the artistic field for his work using eco-friendly materials such as sandstone, plants and other materials that can be easily obtained from Mother Nature. From far, his work looks like a normal traditional painting but as you get closer to it, I assure you that you will be stunned by the finest details of his work. Tips: Do visit the gallery if you are interested in new concepts of art :)
Day 3 [Feb 11, 2016] The Ten Mile Gallery is the natural art gallery, located at the foot of Tianzi Mountain. Visitors could choose to take a quick train ride or an easy trail to see the beauty of Ten Mile Gallery. I took the quick train ride that provides guided tour, explaining the peaks we see along the way. I love the way they named those peaks for example The Three Sisters. I was really amazed by the beauty of those peaks because it literally makes me felt as if I was walking in an art gallery exhibiting countless gorgeous sculptures.
Day 3 [Feb 11, 2016] Visitors are given two options to reach the Yuanjiajie Scenic Area, i.e. from the Golden Whip Stream via Luanchuanpo to the Back Garden, or take the Bailong Life. The Bailong Life is a 330m-high glass lift that was built on the side of an enormous cliff in Zhangjiajie National Park. The feeling is absolutely amazing to be in the World's Tallest Full-Exposure Outdoor Lift. When I reached the peak, the scenic view seriously left me speechless. ABSOLUTELY STUNNING! The view where high mountains surround the giant rocks and peaks that rise from deep valleys. The Southern Sky Pillar is definitely the highlight in Yuanjiajie and an attraction that you wouldn't want to miss out because it was the inspiration for the "Hallelujah Mountains" we saw in the Oscar-winning movie, Avatar :)
Day 4 [Feb 12, 2016] At the entrance of Yellow Dragon Cave, there is a distinctive building that serves as a theatre for the Yanyu Zhangjiajie Show. I reckon it is a pleasant experience to take a stroll to the cave with all those scenic views. Taking a guided tour in this karst cave has been amazing because of the stunning view in there. I was left speechless to see underground waterfalls, underground rivers, pools and an underground lake in a cave. The guided tour also includes a boat ride down one of the underground rivers. Tips: I have visited numerous karst cave and this is the best so far. Its route has been properly paved with tiles. I reckon it's really friendly for both kids and elders to visit this beautiful cave.
Day 7 [Feb 15, 2016] The day started off with a visit to the Hunan Embroidery Centre. Originated in Hunan province, Xiang embroidery is known as one of the four great embroidery styles in China. Layers of vibrant-coloured silk threads are embroidered on a transparent chiffon silk to give visual effect (an almost 3D effect) to the work. Animals, people and landscapes are the common subjects used in Xiang embroidery. One of its distinctive characteristic is that the subject usually looks alive and the most famous work is the Tiger. Besides that, the artistic value of Xiang embroidery is definitely lifted by its famous two-sided work where each side of the transparent silk chiffon exhibits a different image. ABSOLUTELY IMPRESSIVE!
Day 7 [Feb 15, 2016] Jiandu Museum is the place that gives you an insight to the life of ancient Chinese society before the invention of paper. Only until the late Eastern Han Period when paper was introduced, the ancient Chinese society recorded information such as politics, economy, military, culture and geography on bamboo slips and wooden tablets. These bamboo slips and wooden tablets date back more than 1,700 years ago. Unearthed since 1996, the Jiandu Museum currently holds approximately 100,000 bamboo slips and wooden tablets. Some of the bamboo slips and wooden tablets were very well-preserved that the words inscribed on it still can be read. Tips: If you are a postcard collector, I would definitely recommend you to buy a postcard from this museum. The material of the postcard is made of wood with some famous Changsha's landmark craved onto it, which is something special to add to your collection ;) It costs 20RMB
Day 1 [Feb 9, 2016] It is free to visit the Mao Zedong Musuem. This is the place where Mao's teacher, Mr. Zou Chunpei resides and also where Mao received his early education - the foundation that shaped him into the founding Father of the People's Republic of China. This well-maintained old building exhibits some of the poems and calligraphies written by Mao.
Day 2 [Feb 10, 2016] Without doubt, Zhangjiajie is the highlight of this Hunan tour and it is definitely way too crowded. Yes, please do expect heavy traffic congestion. The walk in Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon is lovely, exciting and enjoyable (visually yes but physically, I guess it depends. Haha). The walk started off with pretty steep stairs under your feet of about 1600++ steps. It's optional to finish the 1600++ steps because halfway down there would be a GIANT SLIDE FOR ADULTS! YASSS!!! You would need to purchase a ticket before going down the lengthy rock slides, where you will be given a pair of gloves and a piece of cloth to wear around your butt (guess no one want to continue their trail walk with a hole in their pants right? lol). When you reached the bottom of the valley, a 4km trail walk awaits you. I would say it is definitely worth it to walk because you get to stroll along the picturesque trail with countless streams, waterfalls, cliffs and caves. Halfway through the 4km walk, there is a Flying Fox where you would need to purchase another ticket and kind of cut short your 4km walk. It was so gorgeous that I just keep on snapping photos along my way that I don't even remembered walking that far. I would say it is a MUST to hop on to the canyon cruise. The scenic cruise is DEFINITELY worth it. I literally felt that the cruise brought me into a magical planet of its own :) Tips: It's a MUST SEE attraction!
Day 1 [Feb 9, 2016] The tour continued to Changde after a quick lunch in Shaoshan. It was around 2 - 3hrs drive via the freeway but traffic was pretty congested so I don't really remember how long it took for our coach to reach Changde. After a heavy dinner, it was a really good idea to do a night tour to the Changde Poetry Wall. Due to severe flood issue in the past, a 3km flood wall was built along the Yuan River downtown. This wall was covered in a variety of poems mostly from the ancient China. The wall holds the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest wall with engraved arts. Before leaving the park, I saw the local releasing Hung Ming Lantern to the sky, symbolising good luck in the new year.
Day 4 [Feb 12, 2016] The Charming Xiangxi show is one of the 3 grand folk shows in China that consists of strong distinctive ethnic feature of the minority tribal groups in Hunan. The show perfectly integrates traditional folk tales, songs and drumming with modern music and acrobats. I love how gracefully the dances have been choreographed. Among al the performances in the 90-minutes show, I find the Wedding Lament (Tujia Kujia) unique and interesting. Kujia, literally translated as Crying Marriage, is the custom of Tujia's marriage where the bride had to weep and cry before, during and after her wedding day in order to set off happiness of the wedding via falsely sorrowful words. Days later after her wedding, female family members of the bride like grandmother, mother, sisters and aunts have to join in the crying custom. In the older days, the bride is considered a poorly cultivated girl if she fails to cry at the wedding and that would make her a laughingstock of her village! After the indoor performances ended, audience will be invited to a bonfire in the open air. That is when your adrenaline starts rushing. The Qigong performance is absolutely the highlight of the Charming Xiangxi Show. It is definitely soul-stirring and exciting when you see the Qigong master walk back and forth on a gigantic sharp knife...BAREFOOT! Tips: Before the indoor performances begin, a famous calligrapher from Zhangjiajie wrote beautiful calligraphies on stage, auctioning his freshly done work to the audience. The money will be donated to build a school for kids living in this poor area. With tourism being its main source of income, Zhangjiajie overall is still considered as a relatively poor village. So help out if you could! Anyway, art is priceless :)
Day 4 [Feb 12, 2016] Locally known as Tu Si Cheng, was a palace for the Tujia royalty (one of the minority ethnic groups in China). It now serves as a museum to exhibit the rich culture and customs of the Tujia people. The palace is a 9-storey Tujia style building, which is a Stilt building (locally known as Diaojiaolou). It holds the Guinness World Record of "The World's Highest Stilt Building". Being a fan of cultural studies, I reckon it's totally worth a visit to this gorgeous historical palace that proudly exhibits the Tujia's military, farming, architecture and local food culture. Tips: You've got to watch a knives juggling show performed by a Tujia performing artist aged 75. Of course, tipping him if you adore his performance by the end of the short show :)
A long bus ride via Huaihua and Jishau brought us closer to the yet undiscovered Chinese treasure, Fenghuang. This ancient walled city has large arched stone bridges, narrow walled alleys, and Miao people selling their crafts while boats drifted down the river. We stayed in a little family guesthouse, 3rd floor, with a balcony overlooking the river. Only the sound of the river and flutes would drift up to our rooms.
Day 7 [Feb 15, 2016] The Du Jiang Tower is built to commemorate one of the greatest Chinese poet from Tang Dynasty, Du Fu. The tower serves as a museum to house the works of numerous notable people whose hometown was Changsha, such as the famous Tian Han who is the lyrics author "March of the Volunteers" (the national anthem of the People's Republic of China). The view of the Xijiang River from the top of tower is really gorgeous. The tower offers a 360° view of Changsha city, stretching from the nature side of Changsha (the Xijiang River) to the urbanised city centre with high-rise buildings and to a side of the downtown Changsha with some old buildings.
Day 3 [Feb 11, 2016] This is the last stop of Zhangjiajie National Park's tour. You could walk around and enjoy the serenity in the national park. There are people singing and playing musical instruments and selling some traditional street food of the Miao's Tribe. #becausefinedinningistoomainstream Tips: Plenty attraction spots for you to visit in Zhangjiajie National Park. Plan your route well so that you would know which bus, the eco-friendly bus provided by the park, to hop on to. Buses are frequent but it's the queueing that takes up time, especially it's peak season.