China, Zhangjiajie: Beautiful scenery but beware of local scams
Zhangjiajie is more commonly known to people for the place where Avatar was filmed. Do you remember the “Hallelujah Mountains”? In 1982, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park became China’s first national forest park. Notable features of the park are the pillar-like formations which can be observed throughout the park.
In November 2017, two friends and I embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Zhangjiajie to see the magnificent landscape and scenery. We took a non-guided trip and decided to explore the place on our own.
How to get there from Singapore?
We took West Air (China), a low-cost airline based in Chongqing, China, from Singapore to Chongqing. Back then there were other options to fly from Singapore to Chongqing, and Singapore Airlines was one of them, but we decided to go for a cheaper option. We took an overnight flight and the flight was okay, nothing much to rave about.
The next day, we landed in Chongqing and we took an 8 hour bus from the bus terminals to Zhangjiajie.
Surrounding of the bus terminal in Chongqing.
Started on a wrong footing
The bus ride from Chongqing to Zhangjiajie was smooth and pleasant. We had random chats and I spent most of my time listening to music and sleeping. However, the nightmare started when we arrived and got off the bus and suddenly lots of locals, syndicates, started crowding around us and asking where are we going to. As we needed a cab to get to our destination for the day, they told us that it is impossible for us to go there as local government has restricted all inbound travel without special permit. They recommended us a place to stay for the night before we continue our journey the next day.
Feeling helpless, we reluctantly agreed and the driver took us to a nearby 3-star hotel. At the 3-star hotel, the receptionist asked us our plans for the whole trip. After showing us a package for a one-night stay, she brought out a whole bunch of brochures and told us that it is impossible for us to go and see the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park alone as we needed someone who is authorized to bring us. This is where we started thinking, are all these people in cahoots??
Nevertheless, having not done our proper research and due diligence, we agreed on the most basic and affordable tour package (~CNY 1800). We bargained for a discount by saying that we were students as one tip that I learnt from my early days travelling to China is to always bargain when appropriate. Always.
This was not the end of the scams
On the next day, a tour guide who came in a shabby car, picked us up and at that point, we thought we are going to be finally able to start our Zhangjiajie sight seeing proper. But, this was only the start of it… He brought us to another “office” which was about 10-15 minutes drive from our hotel and told us that the package that we had “bought and signed” does not include entrance fee, food, and transportation fee. At that point, we were like what is going on??? My friends and I argued the hell out with him, but could not get past his pushiness. In the end, we paid a further ~CNY 600 as we just wanted to get over this hurdle.
Start of our Zhangjiajie National Forest Park tour proper
After all the drama and everything else that were sorted out, we finally made our way to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. I must say, the place is indeed breathtaking and just as what I have always dreamt of.
Before officially entering the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park!
Took a cable car up into the mountains.
Notice how the scenery changes to become more “dreamy”. Very surreal feeling.
We went during the winter period so it was nice and cooling. Though there were several foreign tourists, but the bulk of it were actually local Chinese tourists from other parts of China. Apparently, some of local Chinese tourists told us that they have been scammed in a similar fashion as well. What a dog-eat-dog world.
Us having a good time vs us feeling bummed over all the drama and unnecessary expense.
Random store in the Forest Park.
Signage of the viewing deck of Tianzi Mountain.
Despite a less than pleasant start to the trip, we managed to enjoy some beautiful scenery. More pictures for your viewing pleasure below.
Beautiful scenery all over.
Fog, cliffs, mountains.
A good company beats everything.
Other activities that we did include cross the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge and also hiking up the Tianmen Mountain which consist of 999 steps.
Conclusion: The less than ideal overall experience did not cause me to lose my interest in appreciating the beauty of China. I will be back in future to explore other parts of China. Also, to avoid such unfortunate events happening to you, you can either follow a reputable tour group or book from well-known websites like Klook, Lonely Planet, or Travel China Guide. This will save you a lot of hassle and money, and give you a great peace of mind.
Anyone has experienced similar situations in Zhangjiajie or other parts of China? Leave a comment below.
P.S. if you would like to find out more about the commonly used travel scams all around the world and prevent yourself from falling prey to it, do check out and support Travel Scams, which is the largest community built database of tourist scams and key travel safety issues globally, with 1,777 travel scams and 1,684 user stories shared on 101 countries.