However, there are some hiccups during the trips that I would like to share. I reckon it would be wise for you to visit Zhangjiajie during the off-peak seasons because the huge crowd is definitely a nightmare, especially when you are in a queue. (Queue rage I would say. Haha). I couldn't say for others, but for myself, I absolutely received cultural shock when I was in my first queue of the trip. Some would literally squeeze and push their way through the tiniest space possible to get to the front of line, so do be aware of that. It's definitely not a pleasant feeling to have waited in the line for an hour and get cut along the way. There are some common "tricks" I've encountered. For example, the person will be calling out to "someone" they know who is in the front line and just squeeze their way through, or pretending to be on phone with someone who is in the front of line and waiting to meet them. They can be creative so stay alert! :) If you go in a group of 4 or more, try to form a "human shield/ human wall" to avoid being pushed and squeezed through. Don't stereotype because even elders and kids do cut you too.
Seasons to avoid:
1. First week of Chinese New Year (CNY) - Need to say more? It's public holiday with a week-long celebration! This is the first year that the government of China has offered free toll on freeways in this week for 7-seater cars or smaller. So there are a large amount of families taking this great opportunity to travel domestically. Please be mentally prepared for traffic congestion almost everywhere you go. Most of my road trips that were supposed to be just 3 - 4hrs were actually stretched to 7hrs or even more. Jeez. Bad time to visit, really.
2. 1st May - Labor Day, which is also another peak-season for domestic travel I heard.
3. 1st October - National Day. Similar situation to CNY since they have a week off to celebrate their National Day.
Although there is significant improvement in hygiene since I first visited China in the 90s, it is still considered as an issue for me personally during this trip. In public toilets, it is not too surprising to find some "treasures" or "jackpots" in some of the loo or someone using the loo and leaves the door unlocked. Ladies, please be mentally prepared to do lots of squatting when you are there because the public toilets I've used throughout my whole trip are squatting toilets. And for those who are having periods, please be mentally prepared that it's going to be challenging to get changed in the loo. It is their practice to dispose tampons, sanitary pads and TOILET PAPERS (Yeap! TOILET PAPERS, you didn't read it wrongly) into the basket provided instead of the toilet bowl. So, it's kinda normal if the toilet does give out some odors.
A side note. There are a list of websites that the Great Firewall of China has shut down, such as Facebook, Google, Youtube, Instagram, Twitter etc. So it's advisable to download a VPN app prior to your visit. Netpas is a pretty good app that gives you 200MB free data on your first download. Here's the list of websites that has been blocked in China: List of websites blocked in China
Setting the hiccups aside, I would conclude that this trip is undeniably a lifetime experience with countless picturesque attractions. The naturally formed peaks, cliffs and rocks in Zhangjiajie National Park is ABSOLUTELY impressive and DEFINITELY worth a visit once in your life. It was also a great opportunity to spend quality time with family and friends over Chinese New Year. My favourite destination from this trip is definitely the Phoenix Ancient City. I just love the serenity and simplicity there, which serves as a really good escapade from the hectic city life. The quality of air in both Zhangjiajie and Phoenix Ancient City is good and fresh too ;) It's really a shame to have picked the peak season to visit this beautiful place, that the group had to leave out Mount Tianmen from our original itinerary. So, I'll definitely be back for Mount Tianmen in the future :)