This was one of my first times in a rural area which also had Chinese tourists from all over. As such, many had never seen a foreigner before so they took lots of photos of me or yelled out that I was a foreigner or an American. This was relatively common in Shanghai in high tourist areas, however they were a little more reserved. This might be because so many people are learning Mandarin now so they do not want to draw attention to themselves when they point out foreigners. When I went travelling however, everyone assumed I couldn’t speak Mandarin, and my friend Sally (South Korean) was my Chinese friend. One person actually asked he if she was my personal tour guide.
The parks were incredible to look at, as can tell from the pictures. The people here were very lovely and accommodating. A grandpa and Grandma ran the hotel we were at. They had their Grandchildren over nearly every day so we got to play with them and talk to them. The boy who was about 6 years old was very cheeky correcting our pronunciation, teaching us new words and shaking his head at us saying we were stupid. It was quite amusing and humbling. God forbid this five year old heard me try to order a coffee when first arriving in Shanghai. The other child was a very cute toddler who only just learned to walk. Sally and I had lots of fun playing with him and his grandparents were very trusting. While at the entry of the hotel Sally and I attracted quite a few local residents over.
This trip was not extravagantly expensive, but it was not cheap. The cheapest aspect was the food and hotel we stayed at. Word of advice: If you are booking online make sure there is a picture of the bathroom. I was weary but my friend was unbothered and booked it at a very cheap price. Lets just say you could do all your bathroom activities (toilet, shower, teeth) standing in the exact same spot! Some may say it was a win but I was not impressed at the time! Now I laugh about it, but please learn from my mistakes.
The food was amazing! A word of advice when travelling away from the comfort of shanghai where people understand that white people think pepper is spicy. Always say ‘no spice’ buyaolade 不要辣的 Because their version of a ‘little little little bit of spice’ yidiandiandianlade 一点点点拉的 will blow your block off!
We met a lovely NZ couple at our hotel who were real life bloggers! Mario & Rachel are now full time travel vloggers. Find their video on Zhangjiajie and TianmenShan 天门山 (Sally and I featured) here and subscibe to their amazing channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJXXGB0yyS4 Rachel & Mario knew how to say hello and thank you in Chinese, very badly so Sally and I helped them with the pronunciation and translating for them along the way. They told us some funny stories which happened from cultural miscommunication. And they helped us navigate all the different parks as they had done much, much more research than us and had already been to one of the parks we visited.
Important Info for tiananmen: Pick a hotel in the town of Zhangjiajie close to the ticket booth and not close to the Zhangjiajie national park. To get to the ticket booth place you pretty much just look up and follow the cables down to the ground. You will have to line up outside, and then there is another line waiting for you inside! Bring your passport and Chinese student ID with you to purchase tickets. Foreigner student ID is invalid everywhere! This is because you are not contributing to the Chinese economy so why should you get stuff for free? Wake up early to take advantage of a smaller queue. The ticket office opens at about 7am, but the park doesn’t open until 8am. I suggest getting up early, buying a 2 liter bottle of water, going to the plaza and buying yourself some dumpling soup or fried bread sticks for breakfast, then heading to the line. Also take snacks with you into the park! They do not check and they charge top dollar inside the park. Make sure you dispose of your rubbish responsibly! After all this head to the ticket office
Price of tiananmen: This is why I said it wasn’t cheap. From March to November Adult Tickets cost 258 CNY. December to February tickets cost 225 CNY. These are for just one day! These kinds of “peak season” prices occur in most places in China. Students with a Chinese University student ID 158 CNY, seniors (60+) are also 158 CNY. Children under 1.2 metres are free of charge otherwise Children under 18 are half price of adult tickets. There are extra hidden costs later such as walking on the glass walkways – 5 yuan, taking the chair lift – 25 yuan. Bring lots of cash with you into the mountains as it is so expensive to buy snacks, water and meals plus the hidden costs. There are no ATMs up there.
Cultural take #1: The gate to heaven has 999 stairs. Why not make it 1,000 you say? This is because 9 is the most significant number for Chinese people. It is the royal number and very lucky.
Cultural take #2: Chinese take health VERY seriously. On the very last day when we were due for a 22 hour train ride to xi’an (would not recommend) I woke up feeling so unwell with the highest fever I have ever had, my clothes were wet, and I had a migraine which is super not fun when people in China honk so much. Sally dragged my to the local Chemist and they took my temp and told me I needed to go to hospital! Sally and I explained that we had a train to take and I could not go to hospital (imagine the bill too). I asked them for some drugs and they were really nice but still said I should go to hospital. Thankfully the drugs worked and my migraine went, but I still felt pretty doughy for about 2 days.
Cultural take #3: A lesson from the New Zealanders. Mario told us a very funny story about an encounter with a taxi driver after we mentioned that you only need to learn hand signals to understand how much money you need to pay someone. Mario and Rachel asked a taxi driver to go somewhere. The taxi driver was asking for 60 yuan and the NZs wanted to negotiate to 50 yuan but they kept going back and froth like a tennis match. Eventually the taxi driver gave them that ‘shakkas’ hand signal so Mario took that as home giving into the 50 yuan. Upon arrival he found that was not the case because the ‘shakkas’ actually means ‘six’ so he was reiterating that he wanted sixty yuan. Mario felt very bad because he became angry at the driver after thinking he was mislead.