Jessica, whom Teachers For Asia placed as a teacher in a public school in Shenzhen, China last year, describes how a note in a travel book sent her off on a quest to discover Zhangjiajie in Hunan Province. The setting for the Avatar movie did not disappoint….

A week before I came to China, my best friend gave me a Lonely Planet: Discover China book with handwritten tips about China. Stuck in the front of the book was a note that said “Unmentioned…Zhangjiajie- best place in China.” After I did more research, I found out it was the location that inspired Avatar and I immediately added it to my travel list.

Fast forward six months and I was on my way to Zhangjiajie, located in Hunan Province. We arrived late at night and were driven across what could be described as the bumpiest road to ever exist. We were dropped off at our hotel, and I instantly noticed the quiet. After living in China for six months, I had come to realize that there are very few times where you can have a moment of silence. At that moment, outside the hostel, it was completely quiet.

We woke up early the next morning to start off on our “Avatar adventure.” Because it is China, I was expecting that Zhangjiajie National Park would be filled with tourists. And it was. In order to see the Hallelujah Mountain from the movie, we had to squeeze our way past hundreds of tourists along the paths and fight them again while trying to find a space near the edge, all while the groups were chanting “Hooooooo!” We gave it about thirty minutes, hoping the area would clear out a bit but it never did. Not exactly the idyllic place we had seen in the pictures. So we angrily snapped our photos of the famous mountain and walked past a mass of tourists trying to take selfies while riding an Avatar statue.

One positive thing from our first day was the fog and mist that hangs around Zhangjiajie in the spring. It really gave the amazing views a special and mystical feeling to them. I really felt as though we were looking at the cloud covered mountains from Avatar. And it felt a whole world away from Shenzhen. Let me tell you, from someone who grew up around the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, I’m rarely impacted by mountain ranges. But these karst mountains were unlike anything I’d ever seen before – and a sight I would never forget!

We finished our day in a typical fashion by getting lost and having to be rescued. The hostel we were staying at ended up being in the middle of nowhere and since it was also off season, there was no one else to be found in the small village we were staying in. That combination led to an unplanned nighttime walk and a lot of hand gestures to get a local to call our hostel. Needless to say, we were exhausted by the end of day one.

On the second day, we decided to head to a different part of the park where we could get a view from below. In the area of the park with the Hallelujah Mountain, we were up very high, looking down at these karst formations. We were hoping it would be a new perspective. We were rewarded in more ways than one because this ended up being the part of the park where apparently no tourists were headed. We spent the day walking trails and wandering along rivers in the middle of these towering mountains. It felt like we were looking at a whole different landscape from the day before. And it was quiet. There were barely any tourists, and the ones who were in this part of the park seemed to be there for the same reason that we were – to enjoy the peace and quiet.

Zhangjiajie was everything I could have hoped for and more. The landscape was amazing, and the park gave me a much needed mountain fix. But the best thing about my weekend trip to Zhangjiajie was its peace and quiet. In a country that seems to move so quickly and is so focused on what is next, this seems to be a rarity. Even though we had to constantly fight tourists posing for their next selfie, it was a nice break from the hustle and bustle of Shenzhen and made me feel refreshed.

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