The enchanting Jiuzhaigou Valley
May 14, 2016
Jiuzhaigou is located in the northwestern Sichuan Province, approximately 435 km far away from Chengdu. It takes part of the Min Mountains on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, and it belongs to the Aba Tibetan Qiang autonomous prefecture.
How to get there, best time and cost
It’s possible to get Jiuzhaigou by car, bus and plane but not by train since there is no rail road station in Jiuzhaigou and adjacent cities.
By Bus: Jiuzhaigou is reachable by long distance bus only if you are in Sichuan Province, I mean Chengdu and Chongqing. From/to Chengdu there are only 2 buses per day and it takes around 10 and 12 hours (it costs around 145 RMB single ticket), whereas just one bus from/to Chongqing (a little more expensive, 185 RMB single ticket) 13 hours.
By plane: you can catch a flight to Jiuzhaigou-Huanglong airport from every main airport in China, (even if from some city such as Xi’an, there are flights only on high-season) and abroad from this countries: Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand. The flight ticket from Chengdu is around 950 RMB and you can fly with this companies: Air China, Sichuan Airlines, Hainan Airlines, China Eastern and South China Airways. You can book your ticket on cTrip, the China’s largest online travel agency. Huanglong airport is about almost 2 hours from the Park entrance, so you have to catch a taxi (200 RMB) or the bus shuttle (50 RMB per person).
Cost: this is the worst part guys, Jiuzhaigou is one of the most expensive national parks in China. Total price for 3 days inside the Park, including the Green Bus” transportation is 220 RMB, 110 for students, and free entrance for children no taller than 1.3m in height and seniors over 70. I don’t know if this information is reliable, but a friend of mine told me about this year the National Park management has introduced a new fee for the Green Bus, around 90 RMB per day.
Best time to go: When is the best time to visit Jiuzhaigou? In every season this place is breath-taking and wonderful…it only depends on you, even if you should take in consideration a couple of things: during the low season, usually from the second half of November to the second half of March, the large parts of the wooden trails are impassable and closed so it’s impossible to hike around the trails. I highly suggest you to go in April just like me, nice weather and good temperatures (they varies between 13C(55.4F) and 21C (69.8F)), all trails are open, and it’s not so crowded, the perfect conditions to live this place in the middle of the nature.
Jiuzhaigou, that literally means “Valley of nine fortified villages” for the nine Tibetan villages within its boundary, is with no doubts one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. This enchanting Valley is a natural reserve with a fairyland landscape of alpine mountains and coniferous forests, encircled by crystal-clear lakes, impressive waterfalls and magic green and purplish pools in an amazing scenic area which is considered as an open-air museum. Its mountains reach altitudes from 2,000 m (6,561 feet) to 4,300 m (14,107 feet) and it preserves an important ecosystems of forests that provide the perfect habitat for numerous species of plants and animals such as the giant panda and the gnu goat. Not only was recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 and included in UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve from 1997, but also it was awarded as AAAA Class Scenic Spot in China and a Green Globe 21.
The road trip to and from Jiuzhaigou was an odyssey…but guys…trust me…this place totally worth it 🙂 .
I catched a long distance bus from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou early in the morning. I prefered to take the first bus of the day since I wanted to arrive as soon as possible to my destination. The road trip was really really boring, to spend 12 hours in a bus it wasn’t in my plans, in particular the last 4 hours, where the road was almost destroyed and the bus driver was totally crazy driving like Hamilton close to the precipice…it was one of the few times that I’ve believed I was going to die… Anyway, during the road trip I had luck to meet a group of very nice chinese guys that offered me to share a room with them to save money, and in fact it was cheapest to share a room than a bed in a dormitory (Look at uTips). During the long bus trip we had plenty time to know each other telling anecdotes about our travel experiences…you know, we are storytellers 🙂 .
Once we arrived in Peng Feng Cun 彭村丰, a small village built along the river and located at the entrance of Jiuzhaigou scenic area, we started to look for our hotel before the night falls. Peng Feng Cun is really small and most of the hotels and hostels are banded together in its little center, Nevertheless we prefered to book the rooms in a Hotel (Uncle Jiang’s Family Guest house) as close as possible to the National Park entrance to be advantaged the day after. We left our backpacks and we begun to visit this picturesque village…we bought all the supplies we needed in a Super Market (inside the park is extremely expensive), we had a very good chinese barbecue dinner in a small restaurant in the main street, extremely spicy for sure, since we are still in Sichuan and finally we attended to an amazing Tibetan dance show…really characteristic.
The Jiuzhaigou scenic area usually open at 8 A.M., so the day after we woke up early to beat the crowds…just the time to have a quick breakfast and we headed toward the main entrance. Although it was so early, exactly 7:15 AM, a sea of chinese people was going to the National Park as well and I’m not playing a joke on you if I say that it was difficult to reach the main entrance with my backpack, it looked like a multitude fans going to a Rolling Stones concert…terrifying; Jiuzhaigou ticket entrance is 220 RMB, 35 € more or less, a little be expensive for a National Park, but you know… the budget is always limited for backpackers, but in this case I knew it worth the bother.
After we got the main entrance, we had to queue for 20 minutes to get our ticket, and 15 minutes to catch the Green Bus. You surely are wondering what the “Green bus” is? well…it’s the means of transportation inside the scenic area, and since the National park is really huge, you need to catch this bus every time you want to move from one scenic spot to another; the green bus frequency for each stop is around 5 or maximum 10 minutes, it depends on the season you visit it.
In my other post The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda breeding (click to see the related post) I created an itinerary to facilitate your visit inside the park and make you fully enjoy the experience. Also for this post I’ve created an itinerary MAP that gives you the useful tips where to start visiting this enchanting place.
Maybe you don’t know, but chinese people is quite systematic, they strictly follow the rules and the ordinary itinerary step by step. So, what do I suggest you to avoid the mass? Easy…beginning from the end of the “normal” itinerary, and in this case I mean from “Premival Forest” or “Long Lake” (as I marked on the MAP above) following each scenic spot until the main entrance, in this way you’ll be able to avoid annoying tourist groups and the crowd.
As I mentioned before, Jiuzhaigou is really huge but in my opinion you can visit all the park in just one day…but if you want to take it easy, in the fullest sense of this word, you can stay in one of the 9 Tibetan villages inside the park, even if at the moment only 3 are inhabited. These Tibetan villages are really suggestive and authentics…the biggest and most popular is Shuzheng followed by Heye and Zechawa, all located along the main paths. We booked a room in the remote area of Shuzheng, less touristic and more rustic, where the Tibetan inhabitants don’t speak english ( and they have no comforts in their houses, so no TV, internet, clean bathroom, hot shower etc. but the experience is absolutely the best. The price in a shared room is 100 RMB/night per person, with a tasty typical Tibetan dinner included.
As I told you before we started our Jiuzhaigou experience from “The Primeval Forest: (原始森林 Yuánshǐ Sēnlín)” which is the last part fo the normal tour. Snowy peaks, including the famous blade-shaped Sword Rock (剑岩 Jiàn Yán), surround the forest and create an amazing winter fairy tale atmosphere. As you can see from the pictures is usual for women renting traditional costumes for photo shooting just in front of the Sword Rock.
With an average depth of 14 m (46 ft) the Panda Lake (熊猫海, Xióngmāo Hǎi) was one of my favourite spots in Jiuzhaigou, a beautiful lake with different shades of blue and green, and a peculiar wooden path that run along almost the entire lake. Tibetan people used to see Giant Pandas come to this lake to drink water, and even if much time has elapsed from the last sighting, this place is breath-taking.
Located at the head of Zechawa Valley, the Long Lake (长海, Cháng Hǎi) is the biggest and deepest lake in Jiuzhaigou Valley, it measures 7.5 km (5 mi) in length and up to 103 m in depth…really, really huge and impressive. The legend says there is a giant monster hidden in the middle of the lake…something like the chinese Loch Ness.
If the Panda Lake was one of my favourite spot, the Five Flower Lake is absolutely the best one I’ve seen in the entire Jiuzhaigou, no wonder if this place is considered the “heart” of the valley. The backdrop in this peace of the valley is outstanding, green and turquoise-colored waters with ancient fallen tree trunks…these waters were so clear that I had the desire to dive into…what a place guys
Just close to Five Flower Lake we find another top spot: The Pearl Shoal Waterfalls (珍珠滩, Zhēnzhū Tān). The falls drops 21 m in 310-metre-wide and Alpine mountain in background, providing a great and breathtaking scenery. It’s called “Pearl Shoal” because from the distance the cascade creates a noise that looks like a shoal of pearls draped from the top of the waterfalls.
I want to give a special thanks to my chinese friends to come along this experience with me. Thank you guys 🙂
Try to find someone to share a room in a hotel in Peng Feng Cun, it’s cheaper than hostel and more comfortable for at least one night, so this solution is not so bad :).
There are a lot of places in Jiuzhaigou so you gonna take a lot of pictures. My suggestion is to use a good powerbank (you need it) and for sure a good camera such as a Reflex and in particular a GoPro or similar so the fish-eye and grand-angle lens are necessary to take wonderful shots.
Remember your Student Card and Passport to get the half price ticket for students. Don’t try to show other kind of documents or bothering them because is useless…trust me, I tried many times to get the discount but I didn’t get anything.
If you intend to stay inside Jiuzhaigou more than one day I suggest you to book a room in a Tibetan village from your hostel/hotel outside the national Park…Tibetan people don’t speak english, and try to explain you want a room for the night can be really frustrating.
Withdraw your money before to arrive in Jiuzhaigou. In Peng Feng Cun and inside the Park there is only one ATM of “Agricultural Bank of China”. I had problems with my italian credit card, so maybe is better don’t take the risk to stay there with no cash.
As usual in other parts of China, I was the only foreigner inside the park. So don’t worry if all the people is looking at you or someone ask you to take a picture with them…that’s normal for chinese people :).