Hiking and biking in China: Zhangjiajie, Xi’an, and Beijing

Posted on June 18th, 2013 by BreAnn

From the amazing forests and scenery in Zhangjiajie that inspired the set design in “Avatar” to the incredible Great Wall of China, James and I hiked, biked, and walked our way through the Chinese cities we visited. We both love to be active, so we were pleased to have a wealth of opportunities for outdoors activities in many of the places we traveled to in China. Here is a summary of the cities we visited in May:


Yangshou, China

In addition to a lot of walking around town, we biked a ton in Yangshou, through the beautiful rolling hills. It was a wonderful 7 days, (April 22-29)  [To read more about those adventures, click here.]
[To see photos from Yangshou, click here]


Zhangjiajie: Avatar-land!

Zhangjiajie, China

When I was researching places to visit in China, I had read about the amazing forests and hiking trails in Zhangjiajie National Park, but very few non-Chinese tourists visit here. Not only is it hard to get to (best way is to take a long 17-25 hour overnight train), but virtually NOBODY is able to speak or read English here, so you’re pretty much on your own.  Oh well…  that sure didn’t stop us! 🙂

We spent 7 nights total here (April 30 to May 7), and it still wasn’t enough time to cover the whole park. We were hiking all day, almost every day… Heart pounding, steep climbs, and some of the most amazing views we’ve ever seen! The forests and landscapes are SO memorable here that when the film director, James Cameron, visited this National Park years ago, it actually became the inspiration for the “dreamworld” type set design on his movie “Avatar.” In addition, wild monkeys live throughout the park, and we got lucky one day when a huge pack of them happened to be traveling through the forest along the path we were hiking on!  [Click here AND here to see two awesome videos of these monkeys!!]

Overall, I highly suggest a visit to Zhangjiajie National Forest for some challenging hikes and incredible views of a lifetime!

[To see photos from Zhangjiajie, click here]


Biking on the old wall in Xi’an

Xi’an, China

Xi’an (pronounced “shee – an”) is a pretty well preserved city in China—it’s actually one of the OLDEST cities in China with more than 3,100 years of history! The city still has a HUGE stone wall surrounding the center area, along with many watch towers and vantage points. We were excited to find out that it was possible to bike ON TOP the wall, completely around the whole city! So, of course we spent a day doing just that. Funny thing though: The bike rental place required a hefty deposit for each bike, and we only had enough for just one. So, what did we do? Rented a tandem bike, haha. It ended up being a really fun and adventurous day of biking and sightseeing around the city from up high. [Click here to see a fun summary video of our biking day in Xi’an!]

Besides biking, we had quite an enjoyable time in the city in the 7 days we were there (May 8-15), eating some stir-fry noodles and rice from street vendors [see video of our food experience here], watching a night-time water light show at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda [click here to see a video of it], and checking out the Muslim quarter of town. There is a pretty large Muslim influence in Xi’an, so we were pleased to try out some yummy new foods in this area, such as a deep-fried sandwich of bread, all kinds of veggies, and pork. This influence has also brought BREAD to the city, so that was a bonus for us, since we had been pretty bread-less for the past month or so.

And OF COURSE—A trip to Xi’an is also not complete without a trip out to see the great Terracotta Warrior Army! This is what Xi’an is most known for nowadays, as it is an incredible collection of 8,000+ sculptures from 210 BC that were discovered only 50 years ago. We spent a whole day traveling to and visiting this great discovery, and it definitely was a sight to see. However, I have to say . . . if you even plan to go here, don’t look at TOO many photos beforehand, as we felt that it was somewhat underwhelming seeing it in person after having preconceived thoughts of what it was going to be and look like from photos we saw online!

In the end, Xi’an is a wonderful city to visit, for many reasons other than the Terracotta Army (which is usually the only reason people visit), and would recommend you visit it too!

[To see photos from Xi’an, click here]


Beijing, China

We spent almost 10 nights in Beijing (May 16-26), and kept pretty busy the whole time! Spent a day at The Forbidden City and Palace Museum, visited Tian’anmen Square, Temple of Heaven, a few nice parks, enjoyed a lovely hot pot dinner with an old friend of James’ (from college), went out to bars two different times with the great girls that we met in Hong Kong (Lara and Pia), and had a delicious meal of Peking Duck. In addition, we experienced one of the

Would you like to eat a scorpion or silkworm? Ick!

more interesting food markets in Beijing, the Donghuamen Market, where you can sample (meaning: EAT) strange delicacies such as scorpion, silkworm, millipede, grasshopper, spider, and more! (Read more about some of these scary snacks and what they taste like here.) We weren’t motivated or brave enough to try any of them, and instead ate some basic Chinese wrap thing (ooooh, exciting, I know! haha….)

And the highlight of our Beijing trip: we hiked the Great Wall of China!  Instead of forking over a ton of money to get stuck on a tour with a bunch of other tourists, we thoroughly researched how to do it on our own schedule, using public transportation, for HALF the price!  Plus, we had a lot more time to walk the wall on our own pace, stopping at numerous locations to snap photos all over the wall. [See a summary video of our whole day trip to the wall here.]  We were REALLY lucky that day, as the weather was perfect and the sky was BLUE (which is rare: the sky in Beijing is usually white most of the time), and even though it was a bit hot outside, we still had a really great time. On the way down from the wall, we chose to take the fun slide route, where you sit on a little wheeled cart and zoom down the mountain on a metal slide! [see video of the slide here.] Fun fun!

We really enjoyed Beijing, overall, but were excited to move onto Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, etc.) after 6 weeks in China. Note: Sadly, we ended up skipping the Shanghai area, due to lack of time, flight schedules, and the bird flu epidemic in that city, but we were anxious to move onto the next country!


[To see photos from Beijing, click here]



5 responses to “Hiking and biking in China: Zhangjiajie, Xi’an, and Beijing”

  1. Ann says:

    I still can’t get over the amazing clean and beautiful days you had to get those shots in Zhangjiajie and Beijing! How awesome!

    Would you ever go back to China or was one trip enough to last a lifetime?

    • BreAnn BreAnn says:

      Yea, we got lucky with the weather… well, most of the time. (it rained a few days in Zhangjiajie, but we muscled through!)

      Hmmm… not sure about China. As of now, we say “probably not”, mostly because there are sooooo many more places in the world we want to visit, but I guess only time will tell! 🙂

  2. LaToya says:

    Hello! My bf and I will be travelling to China for three weeks in October. Xian is one of the cities we will hit. I’m wondering where you stayed while there?



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