Hiking Zhangjiajie’s Grand Canyon 大峡谷

Happy Pi Day everyone! Let’s all think about how many digits of pi we have learned to memorize. (It’s a lot!)

Part of the package we purchased with our visit to the social-media-famous glass-bottomed bridge in Zhangjiajie was a hike through 大峡谷, the “Grand Canyon”, not to be confused with the famous Arizona canyon!

Let me just say that this was one of the most terrified I have ever been on a hike. The path down is called the Sky Ladder and is composed of narrow, slippery, wooden steps that were just so steeeeeeeep. My legs were wobbling so hard as I gripped the banister to avoid falling. My knees were literally knocking against each other and I was sweating really hard despite how cold it was outside.

So be careful! From the Sky Ladder, you can get a great view of the One Line Sky, where two ridges come veeeery close and you see just a sliver (or a line) of sky between them.

DSC02768DSC02772 (1)

I took kind of a long time to recover but it was a really cool view. (Looking down was precarious though!)

From there, we could look up and see the glass bridge we had just visited before seeing a very nice little waterfall!


At this point, I started to feel really daunted by the prospect of walking down the rest of the way down the mountain, and luckily I didn’t have to! There is a stone slide that you can slide down (for an additional charge). You sit your butt on a little pad so you don’t get butt burn, since it’s not polished to a smooth shine. This is a good thing, because honestly, you don’t want to be slipping down that slide that fast, especially with the risk of flying off the slide and tumbling down a cliff. You also have to wear gloves to protect your hands on the sides of the slide so that you don’t burn your hands, again, on the unpolished stone. In fact, gripping the sides is a good way for you to slow down or stop if it’s too fast, too furious for you.

I also got a chance to take a little zipline down, but this is more for fun than to save any time or climbing down, as it’s not a very steep zipline and it is not too long. But if you like ziplining, it should be worth the fee!

The tour of the Grand Canyon concluded with a boat ride through the river, where we saw this amazing blue water. I kept thinking blue lagoon as we quietly motored through this peaceful, serene river scene.


Can you believe the color of this water???

Also, this is going to be very random, but all along the path were these little messages that… really made me worry about the mental state of the person who wrote them? They started out innocently enough…

“The beauty of valley and forest can be destroyed by the pickers of flowers and branches”

But then we got to these signs and… well… is this person okay? Is the mountain okay??

“You have enjoyed what you should, so leave the rest to me.” Um, okay?
“Though I am ugly, I am gentle and good at doing housework, such as collecting the wastes.” (CONTEXT: These are trashcans, apparently this one has a Tinder bio ready to go.)
“Look at the beautiful sceneries, the clean environment, and watch my eager eyes.” Eager eyes…??
“[Woo] If you are willing, let me be close to you and I’ll understand you.” Erm… who? Is this still the trashcan talking to me? The mountain? How close are we talking?
“You ask me how much love I’ve given you. Then how much do you love me first?” This was the one that freaked me out and I literally felt bad about being a bad… significant other… to the mountain?
I love clean so much that I am even willing to devote myself to beat the weight of your abanndon presents.” I’m not sure what you’re trying to say right now.

Started talking about physical activity, ended with these giggles.

What are your favorite scenic mountain hikes? I’ve done just a small handful now, but I am finding myself enjoying them more because I do love nature walks so much. (If only hikes didn’t burn so much…)

I’m just about wrapped up my China recaps and I have a lot of fun stuff to share with you all soon, including my recent trip to San Francisco!

The World’s Tallest + Longest Glass Bridge (Zhangjiajie)

About a year ago, I started seeing videos and articles on Facebook about how there was going to be a new tourist attraction built at Zhangjiajie, amidst the mountains that inspired the scenes of Pandora in Avatar. In August, the longest and tallest glass-bottomed bridge in the world opened to visitors. I definitely did not think this was something I’d ever do. I visited Zhangjiajie several years ago, and it was really beautiful but quite a strenuous hike. China has been building a lot of attractions for the sole purpose of attracting tourists, and I didn’t want to positively reinforce that cycle.
Yet there I was, putting little shoe covers on over my feet and looking at the to scale diorama of the bridge and the canyon below it.
Here’s my experience with the record-setting glass bridge in Zhangjiajie.
Planning ahead would be best when it comes to visiting this Facebook-famous attraction.
  • You can reserve tickets online a day in advance, and this is, I believe, the best deal you can get on the tickets. We got ours from a tour agency on the way up, and they sell tickets at the door at the highest mark-up.
  • While the mountains are always a little misty, and the pollution is difficult to escape, the view on the bridge is more impressive on a clear and sunny day. We got clouds, so maybe that’s why I didn’t feel as much vertigo.
  • If you have a large bag (larger than a purse), you will be asked to check it – for a fee – at the concierge at the front.
  • You cannot bring your large camera in and will have to check that as well.  You can, of course, bring in your phone. I had my little camera in my pocket and had no issues with bringing it onto the bridge, but there were zero folks with larger cameras like DSLRs out on the bridge; I was the only person using not my phone camera to take photos.
  • Food is also prohibited on the bridge.There are a lot of little stands that sell food, so leave yours behind as they don’t want to attract too many critters onto the glass!
  • Don’t wear stilettos. You will not be allowed to wear them onto the bridge, as Force = Pressure / Area and the tiny area of your heel is very dangerous.
The English portion of the rules on the bridge
Once you arrive in the visitor center, you will receive a pair of shoe covers to keep the glass flooring dirt-free. They are mandatory, so don’t worry about getting that #shoefie or #selfeet (??) photo on the glass – you will be wearing those stylish covers on your feet. Just make sure you wear comfortable shoes if you choose to hike (more on the canyon hike below).
Mine were a wine red but I’ve seen a lot of different colors online! And yeah, that’s a pretty steep drop…
The glass bridge in Zhangjiajie spans the Grand Canyon, not to be confused with the famous canyon of the same name in Arizona. It measures ‎430 meters (1410 feet) long, ‎6 meters (20 feet) wide, and ‎300 meters (984 feet) high, making it the world’s longest and tallest glass-bottomed bridge in the world as of now.
DSC02743 (1).jpg
In the front is the pane of shattered glass, upon which several tons are resting to demonstrate the structural integrity of the bridge and each pane that makes it

Stepping out on the bridge, you get the briefest sense of vertigo. I think that because we came on a rather overcast day, it wasn’t as bad because you didn’t have as clear of a view of the bottom of the canyon. The glass starts on the cliff, so you aren’t immediately stepping over a 1000-foot drop. Rather, you start on the rocks of the cliff, right beneath your feet, walk on some treetops, and then before you know it, the glass is only separating you from the earth and water hundreds of meters away.


There is a limit as to how many people are allowed on the bridge at any given time, and most of them congregate near the beginning of the bridge. Construction is not yet complete on the other side, so as of now, the front is the entrance and the exit; there is no through traffic on the bridge just yet.


At some point, they are planning on setting up the bridge for ziplining and bungee jumping, which I think is insane but whatever gets people’s blood pumping! If you’re looking for a quieter kind of thrill, I think the views here are pretty dang good.

With or without pollution, there is always a mystical mist drifting through the mountains in Zhangjiajie…

You’ll notice a lot of folks laying on the ground for their photos (like the selfie that was requested of me above) and trying to capture the drop below the glass. If you really want that to be clear, go on a clear day. The overcast day makes for moodier photos where you can only clearly see the drop below you in your shadow, as the reflection of the cloudy sky is very bright in the glass.

Here’s a shot of our teen tour guide, and you can see that her shadow shows the cliffs behind her most clearly

This was a lot of fun to visit in person, and so soon after I saw viral videos about this attraction online! I do wish we had sunnier weather, but with how bad the pollution has been in China, sunny clear skies are becoming increasingly rare.

Is it worth a visit? Maybe, once. It is super hyped in those videos, but honestly, the scariest thing was the dude stomping and galloping on the panes, causing the entire bridge the wobble. (Can you keep a secret? I would have only been a little distressed if someone pushed him off the bridge…) Also the hike through the Grand Canyon was terrifying but I’ll talk about that in the next one!

Would you visit this bridge? I would definitely recommend visiting Zhangjiajie in general, as it’s a gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage site with breath-taking views and mountains.
Have you ever walked on glass-bottomed bridges before?
I don’t know of any other ones, and this one just became very famous!

My 3 Must-Eat Meals in Changde

Following up on my must-eat meals in Beijing, where my mom’s family has been living for the past 30 years, it was only right that I tell you about the foods I needed to eat in my dad’s hometown of Changde 常德. Again, this does not encompass all of my favorite foods or Changde’s specialties, but here are the 3 foods I did not want to leave Changde without eating:

  1. Changde beef noodle soup
  2. 油粑粑 youbaba, a deep-fried doughnut
  3. Fish that I caught myself

1. Changde beef noodle soup

Changde is actually quite famous for their 牛肉米粉 niurou mifen, beef rice noodles. The noodles themselves are very distinct and difficult/impossible to recreate outside of Changde. (For similar reasons to why it’s difficult/impossible to recreate authentic NY-style pizza outside of New York – people attribute it to the water.) The noodles are the perfect consistency and absorb just enough flavor from the delicious soup without getting waterlogged. The soup is hearty and beefy without weighing you down and, in traditional Hunan style, it has a kick! (Hunan province, like Sichuan, is famous for spicy food. The big difference is the lack of the peppercorns that numb your mouth and/or cause extreme pain!)


This is officially my brother’s favorite breakfast food of all time, despite the fact that he usually tends to prefer more Western cuisines. We ate these noodles almost every single morning for breakfast with a splash of vinegar and relished these big bowls of soup and noodles and beef every single day we were with our family in Changde.

If you visit Changde, you must get a bowl. It is the most famous food out of Changde and one of the famous foods out of Hunan province.

2. 油粑粑

There is no direct English translation for this, but you baba roughly comes out to oil cake. If you are familiar with 油条 youtiao, fried crullers, then 油粑粑 will be a familiar food. It is a deep-fried ring with scallion bits throughout the dough and definitely not a health food. I also don’t see these in Beijing, and, as I understand it, this class of fried pastry is fairly unique to Hunan. I like these savory ones that are crispy and fluffy for eating on their own or dipping into my beef noodle soup.


They also make sweet 粑粑 varieties, and I would frequently hear street vendors with speakers advertising these while seeing kids running after them. It’s one of those foods that is really simple that just remind me of being in my dad’s hometown, eating breakfast with my family, who would tell me to not eat so much fried food…

3. Fish I caught myself

Since my grandmother’s passing, I always stay with my aunt and uncle when we visit Changde. My uncle is super passionate about fishing. He goes nearly every day, and whenever I show up at his place, there is fish that he caught on the table. The last time I visited China, he was drying scores of little fish for us to munch on as soon as we got in from the airport!

My grandfather also used to really love fishing, so every time we visit Changde, my uncle will take us to his spot to try our luck with the lines. I have come to enjoy how meditative fishing is, even though the weather wasn’t great the morning we went. It’s relaxing to sit and wait and slow down, which is really difficult for me and my racing thoughts to do.


Unfortunately, I did not catch a fish this time around. I almost got one but it got away. 😢 My brother caught a fish and my uncle caught enough to make up for it, and we were still able to come home with freshly-caught fish for dinner. It always tastes a little better knowing that you had to sit and wait and be rewarded for your patience. (And, in my uncle’s case, his skill!)

The food in Changde is really good and very different from the food in Beijing. Hunan is considered a southern province while Beijing is in the north. While it sometimes takes a bit of adjusting after eating a lot of northern-style food, I always have a great time eating when I visit my dad’s side of the family and the foods above are a big part of that.

Again, I cannot stress how grateful I am to have such amazing family that feeds me so much delicious food, whether they make it themselves, bring it home for me, to take me out to eat it. And I feel so fortunate that this amazing cuisine is part of my heritage. Eating is a big way that Chinese people connect, and it is instrumental in helping me reconnect with family members I haven’t seen in years. Nothing bridges the awkward gap created by time quite like sharing a delicious meal.

Have you ever been to Hunan before? If so, what are some of your favorite foods from the region?
What regional foods do you love, for China or elsewhere?
Hunan and Changde are known for their own variety of stinky tofu, but I just cannot bring myself to eat it, I’m sorry! It smells too stinky! (And I know, I know, the smellier the tastier, but I just can’t eat it after smelling it.) Frogs’ legs is also a dish I always see when I come back to Changde, and I refused to eat them for about 15 yeares after I rescued a frog to keep as a pet! I’ve had to acclimate over several years to the spice levels in the food in Changde, but it’s so worth it.