After hiking down Tianzi Mountain in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, we still had some evening hours left, so we went to Huanglong Cave (Yellow Dragon Cave). This cave system is part of the UNESCO World Heritage designation and is very accessible from Wulingyuan. We just had to ride a city bus (route 1) for about 20. We didn’t know what to expect at the caverns, but having been to Chinese caves before we had an idea of colored lights, people touching formations, and loud groups. And, that’s what we got.
Going into the Cave
Entering the cave is done in large groups of more than 100 people following a tour guide with hip-mounted speaker. Naturally, we hung back after going in for the group to get ahead. Unfortunately, another group entered very quickly on our tails and we were sandwiched between loud hordes.
The cave opens almost immediately into a very large space. That is one of the impressive things about this cave system, many of the rooms are vast halls. However, there are few formations such as stalactites or stalagmites. While they may have been harvested, it appears that many may have been damaged by cave-ins, which there is ample evidence for all around.
After a few large spaces, the groups led to a point with water. In fact, they have dammed a small underground stream to make more of a river. This is where you board boats. I had never been on a boat inside a cave before, so this was kind of exciting. We had to wait a while to get on a boat, but then we were whisked off to the far end of the caves passing a carved dragon head that everyone excitedly oohed and awed over.
At the docking location, we again had to follow a large, bumbling mass of people led by a tour guide with loud speaker. It only soured the experience.
Living Cave No More
This cave could be spectacular. Unfortunately, man has gotten his greedy hands on it and has ruined it. I’m not just talking about the people who blatantly disregard the signs saying don’t touch the formations (this damages the formations by putting oils on the stone and stopping or diverting the flow of water that creates them) or the people who sneak a smoke inside. I’m also talking about the diversion of water in several locations and the building of infrastructure in the middle of massive formations.
Soon after getting off the boats, the tour leads to a massive hill that should have been flowing with water that was trickling down from the ceiling. However, the water has been diverted by the concrete path and other things causing much of the formation to be dry.
A Garden of Stone
Towards the end of this tour, we had managed to avoid the group as best we could getting behind and in front of other groups all along the way. This is also when more cave formations are experienced including a garden of spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. Some of them are several meters tall. This was the best part of the caves. The groups had thinned a little and the scenery was more spectacular.
Outside the Cave
The area outside the cave is an interesting tourist area. Like many of these places in China, there are shops to be found. Unlike many of these places in China, there is much more including some lovely gardens, art installations, and educational exhibits.
If you have the time, a meander through the area can be lovely. One of the highlights is to see the endangered giant salamander, which is indigenous to this region. The water wheel art is also very fun to watch.
Huanglong Cave shouldn’t be at the top of your list when in the Zhangjiajie area, but if you have time, it may be worth a visit. They allow the last group to enter the cave at 6:00 p.m., but you can stay in the cave until 9:00 p.m. This is a good option when you’ve finished in the national park and want something to do in the evening.