The sun is shining bright, signaling the arrival of the summer. For students, that means three months of relaxation and rejuvenation with mindless activities such as sleeping in, hanging out with friends and, especially for me, traveling.
A year ago, my sisters and I flew to Zhangjiajie in China. The trip was advertised at an unbelievable price of $99 per person, excluding international airfare. This basic travel package included three meals a day, five nights of double-occupancy hotel stay, and tour bus for the entire trip. However, you guessed it, dance shows, shop, and tipping the tour guide, the bus drivers, additional attraction tours, and entrance fees were all extra. The final cost wound up to about $350 per person, still very cheap. Here are the pros and cons of this $99 package.
- Four-star hotel stays
- Authentic Chinese cuisine
- Comfortable mid-sized tour bus
- Inexpensive compared to other travel plans
- Itinerary is largely planned out
- A couple of hours of shopping every day at designated stores (eg: tea, jade, silk, Chinese medicine) is mandatory. You will feel pressured to buy something, even though you are not obligated, since the tour guide gets a cut of what you spend at the stores. Therefore, the scenic route will be rushed and shortened.
- Tipping the tour guide and bus driver at $10/day per person is required.
- Extra attraction tours may be added because the majority wants it.
- Chairman Mao Zedong’s Square and childhood residence
- Tusi Castle – Visit this Chinese minority race’s residences and villages. Get a taste of their culture such as walking corpses, and the custom of loud crying before wedding.
- Tianmen Mountain National Park
- Skywalk (walk on a see-trough glass floor built along a hanging cliff, wearing shoe covers and experiencing the thrill. This is absolutely not for the faint hearted.)
- Cableway up the mountain is the longest cable tramway in the world. The view along the way is breathtaking.
- Tianmen Mountain Cave – There are 999 steps leading up to the Mountain Cave. Walking up the steps is like walking to heaven. In 2006, Russian pilots did an acrobatic show and performed a stunt of five airplanes flying through the naturally formed stone hole.
- Zhangjiajie National Forest Park – Located in the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Wulinyuan Scenic Area in China’s Hunan province. A miracle in nature!
- 3,000 pillar-like mountains that shoot into the clouds. Trees and other vegetation grow on the rock formations. The scenery is like a Chinese traditional painting coming alive.
- A lofty mountain range whose summits are shrouded in mist and peak in grotesque shapes into the heavens.
- The Hallelujah Mountains in the 2010 Oscar-winning film “Avatar” in the fictional world Pandora were known to be inspired from Zhangjiajie.
- Bailong Elevator – The tallest elevator in the world, which takes tourists down a giant rock more than a thousand feet.
- Huanglong Cave – The largest underground cave in China. Explore and take pictures of stalagmites, stalactites, curious columns of a variety shapes that are strangely wonderful in a kaleidoscope of colors.
- When you travel, try to avoid Chinese holidays, as the population of 1.38 billion who gets a deep discount of the entrance fees will crowd attractions everywhere. It will be crowded, and you may not get wonderful pictures of landmarks. The wait could be more than a couple of hours just to get a cable car. Here is the link to help plan your trip accordingly: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/essential/public-holiday.htm
- Bring your own toilet paper. Be prepared to squat when you use the bathroom.
- Bring bottled water. Tap water is undrinkable
- Prices are heavily negotiable, easily up to 90% off, when shopping
- Bring an umbrella or raincoat in case of rain in Zhangjiajie
- Know how to use chopsticks to eat at restaurants.
- Know a bit of Mandarin to communicate with others
- Keep hotel business card (in Mandarin) on you if you get lost
- Bring some medicine in case of stomach upset.
For more pictures, please watch the YouTube video below: