Ask among your friends about vacationing in China. See what they say. The first thing people will mention is the air pollution. They will say its bad.
Yes and no.
Los Angeles used to have very bad air pollution also but even in the bad old days you could get away from the smog by driving an hour or so away from the LA basin in any direction. Even during those most air polluted weeks of the 1960's and 70's the rest of the western United States had perfectly clean air. Same situation in China. The mountain ranges in particular have no serious air pollution. Shennongjia is like Vail Colorado in terms of its distance from serious air pollution. The bad urban air pollution is both downwind and hundreds of miles away.
There's a lot of mountains in China. Americans imagine crowded congested cites surrounded by rice fields with some hills in the background. In reality, nearly half of the land mass of China is thinly populated or totally unpopulated mountains. Yes, much of China is empty of humans.
The ancient China experience is in the thinly populated mountain ranges. It's the experience that makes Americans feel like they've landed in a galaxy far, far away. That's where the Yerens live and that's where human villagers still do things the old fashioned way, thankfully. Thankfully because the lowland cities are so modernized now that you won't get a good feel for life in 5,000-year-old China like you will when press deep into those mountains and hang you around there for a while.
The brand spanking new airport in Shennongjia, one of the best thinly populated mountain ranges in China, receives daily commerical flights connecting from San Francisco. It brings the journey up to western travelling standards. The trip takes less than 24 hours now with two brief connections in China (Beijing/Shanghai and Wuhan). That's a big leap forward compared to how it was before 2015.
Before 2015 the trip took 3 days and required a long long dirty bouncing 3rd-world bus ride up a trecherous slippery muddy mountain highway. The reward for the trip was a quaint resort town from which you could comfortably explore the surrounding mountains. That nice scenic resort town is still there and but now you don't have to suffer to get there.
China does impressive things when it comes to building new airports in remote areas. No earth moving project is too daunting for them.
For the new airport in Shennongjia more than 7 million pounds of explosives were used to blast the top off a mountain to make flat ground for a runway.
Chinese people generally support the building of these new airports. It makes them feel like they're re-discovering and opening up vast forgotten corners of their own county.
The airport / port building in the South China Sea (Spratly Islands), for example, seems like territorial expansion from the outside, or at least it is characterized that way, but from within China it appears to be justifiable development of their own territory. They're not going to let that part of the territory sit in limbo indefinitely, never to be developed. If China doesn't develop those shoals then no one else will. Daunting construction projects are their bailiwick.
Moreover, the Chinese don't appreciate a western power telling them what to do with their own territory, or coordinating resistance with nearby countries, or making their own access to potential oil/gas reserves vulnerable to international sanctions down the line stemming from some unrelated issues like Taiwan or Tibet. They're not going to let that happen, and neither would America if it was in the same position, especially if potential strategic oil/gas reserves were involved.
The West fails to appreciate the major concession recently made by China: Their assurance that they will never expand their territory in any direction outside their claims in the South China Sea. That's a profoundly meaningful statement and one that can be relied upon indefinitely. In modern times China has never engaged in territorial expansion or military conquest, especially when compared to other major powers around the world, so it's ridiculous for outsiders to drum up paranoia about a new Domino Effect in Southeast Asia.
China's drive to open up their own frontier is behind their push to develop scenic highways also, the likes of which are common througout North America but still relatively rare in China.
China has clearly been influenced by American scenic highway projects like the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Appalachian mountains. They are currrent building or completing several scenic highways in various mountain ranges. Those projects are yet another way to open the vast landscapes of their own frontier.
The photo of the elevated highway on the left is part of the newest scenic highway in Hubei Province. Does it look familiar?
American and Canadian business people who do meetings in China will often say they never feel relaxed in China and would never vacation there, but that's usually because they don't give themselves any time to adjust to the serious jet lag before diving into business meetings in the sensory overload world of the big cities.
When you fly to the opposite side of the planet you need to do nothing for the first 2-3 days except walk around in the sunshine for a few hours each day and then sleep a lot and drink lots of water so your body clock can adjust. Unless you do that you will feel like you're recovering from the flu the whole time you are there.
The same malaise feeling will affect you regardless of whether you are in China or on the Gold Coast of Australia. It's the other side of the planet from America so it's the extremes of jetlag. After those first three hazy days you can begin to enjoy China, so it's important to arrange a stay for at least 10 days.
An extended stay is an eaiser pill to swallow in China because hotel rooms are cheaper. Comparable accomodations cost roughly one third of what you'd pay in the West. A hotel that would cost $150 per night in America will cost $50 per night China if you are outside the big cities.
Down the mountain from the airport in Shennongjia is the nicest little ski resort town in China: Muyu. It has the feel mountain towns in the Swiss Alps.
Muyu has lots of little restaurants and bars and shops. It gets crowded during the brief ski season but it's quiet during the rest of the year. The ski resort nearby is very popular in Winter.
The big cities across China all suffer from overcrowding and traffic congestion and air pollution. Muyu has none of those problems and never will.
Because of the new airport and the nearby ski resort, Muyu is destined to become something like the Vail Colorado of China.
If you're a builder of upscale ski cabins in America you could not go wrong by building a few spiffed out cabins in Muyu.
American-style luxury ski cabins like those in Vail Colorado or Jackson Hole Wyoming (see photo on left) do not exist in anywhere in China at present but they would surely command top dollar if they were built near ski resorts.
In the USA there are 481 ski resorts. In Canada there are 174. In China there are 70. Skiing is growing in popularity in China as a family vacation activity but travelling to the ski areas in China is very different than in the West. In China most people travel to ski areas by bus because there are no other practical alternatives. Those bus rides can take several days from the big cities. Skiing wouldn't be very popular in America or Canada if it usually required long bus rides.
The new airport in Shennongjia makes the area much more desireable as a vacation destination. It will eventually transform the whole real estate scene around Muyu and serve as a model for other potential airport locations in other mountainous parts of China.
Food in China
It would be foolish to judge Chinese food by your experiences at all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets in America. That would be like judging northern Italian cuisine based on your experiences at pizza parlors.
Food in China is different from food at Chinese restaurants in the US. It's also different cuisine in each different province, but it's always good and fresh. They won't eat it otherwise. It is safe for you to eat in almost any restaurant, especially in Muyu. You are no more likely to get sick from restaurant food in Muyu than America. The same cannot be said for all countries in Asia.
Americans need to anticipate certain customs in rural restaurants in China ... certain things you never see in American restaurants. In China you might see an animal being killed right beside the dinner table. That's a thing. The restauranteurs sometimes do that in front of you to prove the meat is fresh. They expect you to be pleased about it. Many American women will have trouble maintaining their composure in these situations.
Note to American women: Many of you, not all, but many ... compulsively point and squeal with delight whenever you see pets. Do not do that in rural restaurants in China. The animals visible to restaurant patrons are not pets. No, they are menu items. So if you get visibly excited about any live animal or fish in a dining room ... your excitement may be reasonably misuderstood or it may provide an arguable excuse for butchering the animal quickly to finalize the deal before you figure out what's happening ... in a situation where there's a total language barrier and you can only conduct sales transactions through gestures and voice tones.
MOST American women have never had this particular experience that women in Asia have often. American womean have never selected a live animal to be killed and butchered right in front of them. When this is shown on a TV in America, American women will avert their eyes. They simply won't watch it, so most have never seen it happen at all, certainly not in their presence. Chinese people won't believe that an adult women has never seen that before. They won't understand what all the emotion is about.
If you have companions who want to see China but they don't want to spend their nights in a misty forest they can do different things around Shennongjia while you snoop around inside the reserve. There are many developed tourist sites around Shennongjia and in other parts of Hubei Province. Many relate to ancient China which is what most foreign tourists come to see. Several of the tourist sites around Shennongjia have suspended walkways, stairs and rope bridges like the land of the Ewok in Star Wars.
Shennongjia provides an old-school China experience that big cities can't provide. Most impressive is the imposing monument to Emperor Shennong surrounded by a traditional tea plantation run by workers in period clothing.
The fondest memories most people take away from Shennongjia are their encounters with golden snub-nosed monkeys. There's a field research station where visitors are allowed to feed the monkeys by hand with baskets of nuts provided by the staff.
Golden monkeys live wild on the mountain slopes but they will hustle down the mountainside when they hear baskets of nuts being shaken by the staff at the field station.
There's obviously no problem with microbes passing between different species because these feedings by human visitors has been going on a long time with no problems. Multiple monkeys climb all over visitors and sit on their shoulders and play with their hair. You can feed them and let them climb all over you too. It is an enchanting experience that you'll never forget and it will endear you to China forever.
If you're wondering weather admiration for China is a naive or unpatriotic sentiment somehow, consider that Donald Trump unabashedly admires and reveres China after having traveled there several times. Trump oftens uses China as a rhetorical baton to illustrate practical political and industrial wisdom. And he sure likes to swing that baton a lot.
Many ask whether Yerens could be simply an oversized offshoot of the golden monkey line. The thought occurs to visitors when they see some of the paintings depicting Yeren faces. Some of the faces in those paintings look similiar to golden monkey faces.
But those paintings are not witness drawings. Rather, they are based on loose descriptions that leave much to the imagination of the artist.
Yeren could not be a golden monkey offshoot because Yerens do not have tails. All the eyewitnesses who have been questioned are very clear about that. The Yerens they saw definitely had no tails. No tail means the Yeren is an ape rather than a monkey.
Hire an Assistant
The biggest difficulty a foreigner will face in China is the language barrier. The average person in China speaks not one word of English. Even the word "English" will not be understood by most people. But there is at least one English speaker at the front desk of the bigger hotels in Muyu 24 hours per day. That person can take your hotel reservation by phone in advance and arrange just about anything you might need. You may need to have a reservation booked at a hotel when you apply for a tourist Visa to enter the country for the first time.
You should strongly consider hiring your own personal tour guide/intepreter for at least the first few days so he/she can obtain permission for you to be inside the nature reserve after dark. The hotel can find someone for you but if you want to be selective about who you hire then you should connect with someone beforehand via the Internet. Plenty of young interpreters around Wuhan (college kids) advertise their services on the Internet. Here are some them:
Or ... you can hire all of them for $609 per day, according to my calculator, until you figure out which one(s) you get along with best.
Round trip airfare to Shennongjia from San Francisco is $1200 - roughly the same as a flight from San Francisco to Paris, but then much, much cheaper once you arrive. A standard room in the best hotel in Muyu (the International Hotel) runs $50 per night. The smaller hotel across the street costs only $25 per night.
You will need a passport and a tourist Visa to enter China. Since 2014 the Chinese government has made the tourist Visa process very simple for Americans and Canadians. They will automatically issue a 10-year re-entry Visa so you won't have to repeat the application process for a long time.
You can submit a tourist Visa application directly to the Chinese Embassy and pay the embassy fee (~$150), or hire a private agency to help you through the process for an additional $100 or so. You will find several helper agencies by Googling China Visa.
The video below shows more of the golden monkeys and scenery of the Shennongjia.
As an American or Canadian bigfoot researcher, you won't feel that your trip to China was unsuccessful if you don't get photos of a Yeren, because you will surely make fast friends with some type of primate there : )