This whole trip to Chengdu (成都) was originally made in order to visit one of China’s most famous tourist attractions: Jiuzhaigou (九寨沟). Whether you know it or not, you have seen pictures of Jiuzhaigou. Every tourist brochure, every book on China, and even parts of Jet Li’s Hero (英雄) all have photos (film) of Jiuzhaigou. Originally, I was going to throw this in with the Chengdu post, but I figure it is important enough (and more importantly, picture-laden enough) to warrant its own post.
From the beginning: After exploring Chengdu for a few days, the good folks at Sim’s Cozy Garden Hostel, of whom I honestly cannot say enough good things about, helped us book a three day/two night trip to Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong (黄龙) (another popular tourism site). It was quite expensive, but because we made absolutely no effort to pre-plan our trip, the 2500RMB/person we spent did in fact end up saving us some money. We took a forty five minute flight in (as opposed to the allegedly brutal ten hour bus ride)and stayed at a decent ‘3 star’ hotel about eight minutes from the park entrance. We ended up getting in around 6PM, which totally sucked as that counted as one day and one night of the trip. Felt like a big time jip, but whatever.
The tour was completely in Chinese, with every person except three Australians, two of whom were fluent, being ethnically Chinese people. At first this was a little unnerving, but one of them spoke some English, and we actually ended up getting fairly close.
I find it funny. I always had this view of the Chinese to be a lot more stoic and badass, for lack of a better word, than the average american. Yet, the ladies accompanying us on the trip bitched to high hell about everything. In a weird sense, it actually made me feel more at home, because they sounded like every other calabasas/newport woman that I have had to deal with throughout my years. They complained about not having enough food, about it being too cold, too hot, too noisy, too quiet, to windy, too bumpy, too comfortable, and everything else in between.
But this post is not about the people, it’s about the land. To be honest, Jiuzhaigou looks gorgeous. In the pictures, at least. In reality, it is still stunning, but it is definitely marred by the govenrment’s commercialization of the valley. Jiuzhaigou is China’s answer to Yosemite. And Disneyland. It is a Y-shaped park, with the parking lot and the ticket office at the long part of the Y, and the two valleys containing the beautiful scenery making up the prongs. Jiuzhaigou, which translates to “Valley of Nine Villages” (in effect) has, you guessed it, nine villages with around 150 families of Tibetan minority peoples living there. They are the only people allowed in the park overnight. For the rest of us, the place is so developed that it almost detracts from the charm. The entrance to Jiuzhaigou looks very much like the entrance to Disneyland. You park, line up in the Disneyland-like queues to purchase your ticket, enter the park where they scan your ticket (the machine even chimes like Disneyland) and then you walk a few feet to board the shuttle which takes you to the main main entrance of the park. Like Disneyland. Once inside, the shuttle takes you up to the top of one of the valleys. The nice nature sounds are interrupted at regular intervals by the sound of the shuttles driving up and down the park roads, but honestly, after living in Shanghai, the few minutes of nature in between the diesel engine sound are more than worth it.
We were taken up to the top of the southwestern prong, up to the Primeval Forest.
After photographing the forest, we hiked down to Swan Lake.
When I say ‘hiked’ it is not in the American sense. Jiuzhaigou actually is full of boardwalks that people are made to walk on. There is officially nobody allowed off of the boardwalks, in order to preserve the area. In fact, you can walk the whole park without actually touching the ground. It is a very Chinese approach to preserving the place—making pathways which grossly detract from the natural aura in order to preserve said natural aura. Anyway, we followed the boardwalks down from Swan Lake to Panda Falls, to Panda Lake, to Five Flower Lake, and then to the Pearl Shoal Falls, then back to the main entrance for buffet lunch, which was delectable. Best food we had the whole trip.
We then took the shuttle up to the southeastern prong of the park. Up at the top is Chang Hai (长海), which, given the unique beauty of the rest of the water in the park, was actually pretty forgettable.
We then headed to one of the most famous parts of the park: Five Color Pond. This pond, I have to say, is gorgeous. The colors are unreal. Honestly, it is beyond words, so I will let the photos speak for themselves.
After spending some time enjoying the scenery of Five Color Pond, we decided to call it a day. Evidently, the weather agreed, because it started pouring about a quarter mile away from the bus stop. We finally boarded, and were heading to the entrance when we realized there was one last waterfall to check out. Seeing as how we paid 2500RMB for the views, we got our lazy asses up, off the bus and into the rain. The falls, called Nuorilong Falls, are (yawn) gorgeous.
Finally, we got back to the main entrance, looked around a few of the local peoples’ shops, and headed home.
Finally, we got out of Jiuzhaigou. That night, we paid an extra 150RMB/person to have a yak dinner at a traditional Tibetan minority village-type thing. The food sucked. The decor was cool though, and they sang some pretty cool traditional songs:
After returning home from the dinner, we ran through the shower, and went to bed, because the trip to Huang Long started with a 4:30AM wake up call the next morning.
Huang Long is a four hour bus ride from the hotel, up a windy unpaved road that, especially with all the construction it is undergoing, would never in America have traffic allowed on it. It is barely one way around many turns, with the mud road eroding away to cliffs on one side. We passed at least ten other buses on the way up. The thing is, I don’t even think twice about this type of stuff in China. In the states, I would be noticeably (for me) uneasy, but it seems that Chinese drivers are so used to always being close to dead that nothing phases them, therefore nothing phases me as a passenger. While this might not be the most cogent train of thought, after sitting in that first taxi ride from Shanghai Pudong Airport to the HuaDong Shifan Daxue Foreign Student Apartment, with the taxi driver driving 110 mph on the wrong side of the road, there is nothing to fear from drivers in China.
Like usual, I digress. Thanks to the noise-canceling headphones, the trip was a lot more bearable for me than for anybody else (owned). Since we had three o’clock flight back to Chengdu, we had about an hour and a half to run up and down Huang Long, in the rain. Evidently, the most beautiful part of Huang Long is at the very top, but I wouldn’t know because I never made it up there. Oh well, gives me an excuse to go back. Mom, dad, if you pay I’ll take you around. Anyway, not much else to say about Huang Long, except:
After arriving back in Chengdu, we spent a few more days relaxing at Sim’s, eating the only good hamburgers I am sure we will ever find in China, and hanging out with Jaff and Dan. The flight to Beijing leaves tomorrow—more updates then.