Sunday, August 6, 2017

Hunan Trip

After a great month visiting family and friends in America we returned to Tianjin two weeks before the start of school.  We had planned it this way to allow a little bit of travel before getting back to work. One of the great pleasures of living in China is how much we have to explore. In our first year we saw some of the best known sites, the Forbidden City, The Great Wall, The Terracotta Warriors, Shanghai Disney. But there is still an enormous amount we want to see.

Luo Ayi started working with us when we arrived last July and we have been incredibly fortunate to have her. She cooks, cleans, does the laundry and shopping, helps with the kids. While we were gone she went down to Hunan Province where her family lives. Our plan for the week was to start by visiting her and then going up to a national park in Zhangjiajie often associated with the landscapes in the movie Avatar.

The trip started a little roughly as we got to the airport, made it to our gate and saw the flight was delayed with no new time. Several other flights had also been cancelled. We have been told this happens because the Chinese military controls all the air space so civilian flights are at the mercy of the military. Irish and I found some massage chairs and we waited for around 90 minutes jumping every time they announced another cancellation. Then suddenly, with no warning, they said our flight was boarding and away we went.

Seasoned travelers, getting good at passing the time

Arriving in Changsha, the capital of Hunan (and birthplace of Mao Zedong), Luo Ayi was waiting at the airport with a driver to take us back to her home in the town of Yuanling, a four hour drive away. When we got there we met her son and his wife and their two daughters, a ten year old and a new baby.  From there we checked into our hotel, got some dinner as Augustine lost the fight with jetlag and then called it a night.

jetlag wins, but the noodles were so good.

On our second day Luo Ayi came to our hotel with her granddaughter and her mother. The eight of us got into two cabs and went out to the country for a hike. From the cabs we took a ferry across the river and started a very very long hike up stairs into the woods. It was hard to complain about the stairs or even act tired since Lou Ayi's mother is much older than us and she seemed to be doing alright.

so many stairs

halfway up, so sweaty

like a boss
The walk was beautiful. We went through a small village, kept climbing until we came to the top where the side of the trail dropped off hundreds of feet over a cliff. Frightening heights would become the theme of this trip. Working our way back down we passed through some temples, returned on the ferry and went back to Luo Ayi's for dinner.

one step forward and it is a long drop

The next morning we said good bye and got on a bus for another four hours to go to the town of Zhangjiajie. From there it was an hour cab ride up to the area near the Zhangjiajie National Forest.

Part Two- Zhangjiajie

We were in the town of Wulingyuan on the east edge of the national forest.  We stayed at the Maosao Inn which turned out to be a nice place, not the Crowne Plaza, but a big step up from a lot of guest houses we have stayed at over the years and with very helpful staff. It had a big pool in the middle of it which was all the kids needed.

really all the kids need on any vacation we go on.

view from the roof of the hotel

A little worried about crowds, we got up early the next morning and got to the ticket gates right when they opened at 7:00. There were a lot of tour groups but the whole thing was surprisingly well organized. We got our tickets with no wait at all and then when we went into the park there was a large group of buses and English signs saying where each one was going.  We found one that would go to the big glass elevator and we were off.

The elevator itself is kind of ugly, a big piece of technology stuck to the side of a cliff, but it made things very easy. We rode up to the top and suddenly we were in the middle of the views we had read about and seen pictures of.

looking over another terrifying drop off

We found that there were trails that would each lead to another bus stop and we would get on the bus, go to another part of the park where we would follow more trails and see more unbelievably pretty scenery, and then eventually get to another bus stop. Along the way we talked to some students from Qingdao who wanted to practice their English, stood in pictures with people who asked us to, and had a really nice time. Eventually we came to a cable car and rode that down to a lower level where we walked through the woods and came to to the west entrance on the opposite side of the park. From there we hired a van and went back around to our hotel.

The next day we went to the glass bridge over the Grand Canyon of Zhangjiajie. It is a new attraction that opened just last fall and then closed a few days later as the crowds were even bigger than expected. They seem to have gotten things sorted out since then. We read a few mixed reviews of it online and nearly talked ourselves out of going but in the end were really glad we went. It is about an hour away from the park so we hired a driver and to beat the crowds got up early again leaving the hotel by 6am. This was the way to do it, again no lines at all and by 7:30 we were at the bridge wearing our protective shoe coverings with me facing my fear of heights.

After crossing the bridge there was a long walk down to the valley bottom which was scarier than going over the bridge. The stairs seemed well built, structurally sound, but they just hung from the side of the cliff. As long as I was not worrying about the long long drop though the views were great.

more people taking pictures of my children

On our last day we checked out of the hotel, went back to the town of Zhangjiajie, dropped our luggage off at the bus station and went to visit Tianmenshan. 

When you buy your ticket you have to choose if you want to take the cable car up and the bus on your way down, or bus up cable car down, it turned out they were both pretty interesting ways to travel. We chose to start with the cable car and it started out scenic, then got pretty intense. 

scenic cable car ride

more intense part
again, so high u

At the top of the mountain was a new test of my anxiety around heights, we were so much higher than anywhere else we had been, capped off with a much smaller glass walkway with over 4000 feet below it. I was substantially more frightened by this walkway than the big glass bridge. Still we all made it through. 

the glass walkway around the cliff

We ended the day by taking the bus down the road that they advertise as having 99 turns. This is the view of the road from above: 

Red Bull hosts a race down the road, below is a video of it. Our drive was not as fast. 

After that we had another four bus ride back to Changsha and a flight the next morning back to Tianjin.  

And now here is the video Irish made of the trip!  : 

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