5 Safety Tips When Visiting ‘Avatar’ Mountains in China
James Cameron’s blockbuster movie Avatar made China’s Zhangjiajie National Forest Park a major tourist destination. However, the park’s beauty and importance dates back well before the movie, when in 1982 it became both China’s first national park and first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Set within the Wulingyuan Scenic Area, the park is home to the Heavenly Pillar, which became the inspiration for the film’s fictional Hallelujah Mountains. These mountains are famous for having thousands of vertical pillars, each being hundreds of meters tall. While the movie may have been fiction, the scenery captured on film is very much real and must be seen to be believed.
Of course, when traveling to any mountainous region, you have to make sure you’re well prepared and take necessary safety precautions during your visit. To help you, here are five safety tips you should consider when visiting the “Avatar” mountains in China.
Communication and Arriving Safely
Don’t expect English to be spoken or to be able to read English signage. Being in China, all the writing you are going to come across will be in Chinese. To ensure you get safely to where you want to go, pack a translation device or download one on your phone so as to help bus or taxi drivers know where it is you wish to go. You may also want to print out directions beforehand in Chinese which you can then easily hand over to a driver. You have the option of staying in Wulingyuan or Zhangjiajie city, but Zhangjiajie city provides more in terms of accommodation, western food, and shops. Note that staying in Zhangjiajie city does have the disadvantage of being about 45 minutes outside of the park, and you will need to take a bus to get to the entrance gate. You’ll find the bus station right next to the train station, and since the buses aren’t numbered, the best advice is to ask someone which bus you need to take by showing them the Chinese characters for the park gate. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is written as 张家界国家公园. Once inside the park, free shuttle buses will take you to the various highlights of the park, but once again it is wise to have the Chinese titles ready to express where it is you wish to go.
Hiking in the Mountains
While you can opt for the elevator or cable car to see many of the main viewpoints in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, you should attempt to at least try a bit of hiking to get off the main tourist routes. Of course, this option will require a bit of planning so as to know what you’re getting into. Make sure the trails you choose match your physical ability. Don’t attempt to hike difficult trails with steep gradients if you aren’t used to such challenges. Overexertion can lead to sickness or injury, and getting timely medical treatment may not be a simple task in such an area. Make sure you carry maps or some type of GPS device so as to not get lost, and carry a backpack with plenty of water and food. Wear appropriate hiking footwear and dress for it to be a bit cooler on the mountain. During the winter season, you can usually purchase special shoe ropes that are worn over your shoes to provide extra traction on the icy steps and trails.
Trails also become very slippery during rainfall, so be sure to tread carefully. Avoid bringing umbrellas and instead opt for a rain jacket. The trails are often crowded and using an umbrella only creates a hindrance where someone may get hurt. It is not a bad idea to carry a small First-Aid kit with you and be sure to carry extra doses of medications you are required to take in case problems arise where you might be stuck on the mountain. Of course, even the most prepared person can fall victim to injury or illness. Thankfully, there are plenty of medical insurance options in China for expats.
Watch Out for Monkeys
You can expect to see a lot of monkeys roaming around the park, and as cute as they may be, they can lead to some serious issues. It is fine to observe them, but never attempt to try and feed them or coerce them to come to you. Monkeys may carry infectious diseases such as rabies, and bites and scratches have been known to occur within the park. Secure all food items and valuable belongings, as the monkeys have been known to steal things. If an item is stolen, never try to chase after it since this can lead to injuries from the monkeys. Many times, the monkeys will simply drop items themselves when they deem them inedible. If monkeys become overbearing, assert your dominance by raising your voice and making yourself look bigger.
Dealing with Crowds
It is nearly impossible to avoid the huge crowds that flock to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. While the crowds aren’t usually a physical safety issue, they can cause a bit of mental stress. To avoid the long waiting lines, visit the park during off-peak season (Dec-Feb) or at least during the week if you are travelling during the peak season. It also pays to arrive first thing in the morning when the park opens so as to avoid the heaviest crowds. Opt for hiking on your own two feet as opposed to taking the elevators and cable cars which will put you right in the middle of the claustrophobic mess of crowds.
Carry Enough Cash
The peak season to visit Zhangjiajie National Park is between March and November. The cost of entry to the national park during this time is around 225 Yuan for each person. When it isn’t peak season, the price per person goes down to 115 Yuan. The price of admission includes entry to the park for 4 days and free use of the park’s buses. As well as this entrance fee, you will also need around 72 Yuan for each person to use either an elevator or cable car. Note that this fee is only for a one-way trip. Should you end up staying too late on the mountain trying to catch the sunset, you may end up missing the last shuttle bus down the mountain to the entrance gate, where you will then be forced to pay to use the elevator or be stuck on the mountain if you didn’t bring enough cash. You will of course then need to have enough for the trip to get you from the park entrance gate back to your hotel in the city.