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Get as close to ‘Avatar’ world as you ever will, in China

Rayhan Dudayev
Rayhan Dudayev

Adventurer, member of the University of Indonesia's Mapala organization

Zhangjiajie  /  Thu, April 19, 2018  /  10:50 am
Get as close to ‘Avatar’ world as you ever will, in China

Scenery at Tianmen Mountain (JP/Rayhan Dudayev​)

Hundreds of huge rocks under a gloomy sky welcomed our van as we left the Zhangjiajie train station in China.

The vehicle, carrying eight people, took us to the small village of Zhonghu, where we headed for our hotel near the Zhangjiajie National Park.

This was the inspiration for James Cameron’s Avatar, a science fiction movie set in a distant future, where humans colonize the lush, colorfully psychedelic planet Pandora.

Included in UNESCO’s global geopark list, the Zhangjiajie National Park is known as one of the best tourist destinations in China.

It is a magical place, where dreams become real, people say. Well, after three days, I couldn’t disagree.

What to do in Zhangjiajie

Zhangjiajie entices the tourist to a number of magical places, such as the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, the Yellow Dragon Cave, the Tianmen Mountain and the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge.

Visitors arriving by train or plane can start their adventure at the Tianmensan cable car station, which is located a few kilometers from the airport and just a few hundred meters from the train station. For 258 RMB (US$41), visitors can enjoy the longest cable car ride in the world, which will take them Tianmen Mountain in 30 minutes.

At Tianmen Mountain, several destinations can be seen in a day trip, such as the great heaven door named Tianmen Cave, Tianmen Temple, the glass Skywalk, the 99 Bends and a cliff-hanging walkway. After the beautiful attractions at Tianmen Mountain, visitors can move on to Wulingyuan district to enjoy the forest ambiance near the national park.

A cable car takes visitors through the heart of the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.A cable car takes visitors through the heart of the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. (JP/Rayhan Dudayev​)

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

Recognized as China's first national forest park, the Zhangjiajie National Park measures 4,810 hectares and boasts fantastic scenery, including towering sandstone pillars, peaceful streams, lush forests and wild animals.

To explore the entire park, visitors will need at least two days. For an entrance fee of 248 RMB they will get a card to access the park for four days, including free bus services.

From the park’s West Gate, we have two options: going to the Avatar's "Hallelujah Mountain" or to the Gold Whip Cliff. If the weather is not clear, it is better to choose the second option, as the visitors can enjoy the forest and the stream from the Gold Whip Cliff path. Trekking along this path, while monkeys provide entertainment, it will take 2-3 hours before visitors reach the Bailong elevator, one of the icons of the park. The path affords scenic views on Camel Peak (a stone pillar shaped like a camel) and Yellow Stone Village, a mountain village consisting of the Trail in Fir Woods, the Imperial Edict and the Precious Box, the Needle Peak, the Southern Gate to Heaven, and the Five-Finger Peak.

Monkeys and other animals make for interesting encounters in the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.Monkeys and other animals make for interesting encounters in the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. (JP/Rayhan Dudayev​)

For the second day, or when the weather is clear, Halleluyah Mountain will be a perfect place to visit. Hallelujah Mountain is named after the floating outcrops of Pandora, as its middle is often lost in the clouds. Visitors will soon find a metal suspension bridge, giving a view down to Heavenly Pillar, called the Avatar Hallelujah Mountain, since the movie was produced and the top section featured in its trailer.

To reach the Avatar Hallelujah Mountain from the entrance gate, visitors can opt for the cable car, which will cost 76 RMB, or hike freely around 2-3 hours before reaching Yangjiajie. Around 50 minutes from Yangjiajie, visitors will find the best views on Halleluyah Mountain and Tianzi Mountain, must-see places where one will find that stone pillars like those of Avatar really exist.

Yellow Dragon Cave

Yellow Dragon Cave (Huanglong Dong)Yellow Dragon Cave (Huanglong Dong) (JP/Rayhan Dudayev​)

One of the main attractions not to be missed is the Yellow Dragon Cave (Huanglong Dong), a well maintained and sublime cave. The cave is adorned with geological phenomena such as two underground rivers, two pools, four waterfalls, 13 large halls, 96 galleries and hundreds of thousands of stalagmites, columns, stalactites and other formations.

The best thing to do in the cave is cruising the Music River that runs inside it, as it offers a sensation of adventure. The Huanglong Dong Scenic Area is beautiful not only underground, with the gallery of water mills is also very entertaining.

Scenic view in Zhangjiajie National Forest ParkScenic view in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (JP/Rayhan Dudayev​)

Additional information and tips

  • Avoid visiting during Chinese public holidays as there will be a lot of visitors.
  • There are three halal food restaurants outside the national park, two near Zhangjiajie Station and one near the West Gate.
  • Come early, as there will be a lot of people during peak hours (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
  • Bring your own food, as the dishes sold in the park are quite expensive.
  • Stay for the night near the Tianmen Mountain Cable Car, as visitors need to queue one hour before the station opens.
  • Accommodation around the National Forest Park is relatively cheap and include facilities like Wi-Fi, hot water, air conditioning and free drinking water. (dev/kes)


Rayhan Dudayev is an adventurer, a member of the University of Indonesia's Mapala organization and a researcher on maritime policy and law. He is passionate about diving and reading. Check out his Instagram at @rdudayev.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.