22 to 23 May 2017
There aren’t many places that take my breath away, but Jiuzhaigou (Nine Villages Vallley) national park is definitely one of them. Over the two days I spent there, I was in a continual state of awe at each stunning lake, waterfall and mountain view.
Throughout the park, which consists of three main valleys, there are more than 100 crystal clear lakes, along with mountain ranges, pristine forests and waterfalls. It’s one of those places where it seems like Mother Nature just had a seizure and decided to go totally overboard:
“Here’s a gorgeous blue lake. Let’s put another one here. And here. Add a dash of snowcapped mountains. And a waterfall. Oh I’ll throw in another waterfall here. Hmm, how blue can I make this water? The last one wasn’t quite blue enough, let’s go technicolour now.”
Instead of trying to describe just how beautiful it was, it’s easier to just let the photos speak for themselves (I promise, no filters or editing involved!):
Jiuzhaigou is a very popular domestic tourist destination and has thousands of visitors per day. The park is divided into three main valleys, forming a Y shape. Shuttle buses constantly run along each of main roads through the valleys, stopping at the scenic points. Getting on the bus is a fun exercise in dodging elbows, being shoved aside by elderly Chinese women, and avoiding being pushed onto the road to be run over by another bus. The main bus stops and view points are all pretty crowded and it’s hard to maintain a sense of tranquility and enjoy the natural scenery when there are people EVERYWHERE shouting, pushing, posing and taking selfies.
While it’s impossible to escape the crowds entirely (it is China after all, those 1.3 billion have to go somewhere!), it is possible to find little peaceful pockets away from everyone. And it’s a simple strategy: walk. Walk as much as you can! There are boardwalk paths connecting the entire park, and these are usually on the opposite sides of the lake to the road which makes it much more tranquil.
The vast majority of visitors follow a standard itinerary, which is to get the bus from the entrance up to the top of either the Rize or Zechawa valleys and then work downhill from there either by bus or walking. This means that later in the day, the scenic points closer to the entrance are all much busier than in the morning. We noticed this on our first day in the park, and decided that on the second day we would try to sneakily avoid this by walking from the main park entrance to the Visitor Centre – around 14km. It was a great decision. It was a slightly uphill walk but not steep or difficult by any means. It took us past several beautiful lakes, through a tranquil forest and past a temple. We saw just two other people in several hours of walking, and it only started getting slightly crowded again the closer we got to the Visitor Centre. If you have the time to spare, I can’t recommend this option enough!
While it’s doable to see most of the main sights in one day, we spent two full days inside the park, doing as much walking as we could and only using the bus when necessary. It was absolutely worth the extra time there to see everything as well as get away from the crowds. Even in the pouring rain, as we experienced on the first day, the lakes and waterfalls were gorgeous and the misty clouds over the mountains added a good dose of atmosphere. As an added bonus, the brightness of all the raincoats/ponchos/umbrellas highlighted the blueness of the water. But that was nothing compared to the following day when the sun come out and showed just how blue those lakes could be.
The only slight disappointment was that the lakes in the Zechawa valley were not yet full, as it was still early in the season. Throughout summer and into autumn, the water levels are much higher and the autumn leaves add some amazing colour. The famous Five Colour pond was slightly underwhelming, I must admit!
A few practical tips:
- Jiuzhaigou is not a cheap place to visit, with ticket prices in peak season costing 220RMB plus 90RMB for the shuttle bus – but in my view, it was worth every penny for the views.
- The park is really well maintained, with very little rubbish around and plenty of clean toilets. They really push the conservation message so people don’t tend to wander off the trail and risk damaging the environment.
- There is also ample signage in English so it’s easy to navigate even if you don’t speak/read Chinese.
- There are limited eating places, so it’s best to bring your own snacks and drinks if you don’t want to pay through the nose for a bottle of water and 2 minute noodles!
- At the Visitors’ Centre there are several restaurants serving buffet-style Chinese food ranging from 60RMB to nearly 200RMB per person.
After two days in this unbelievable park, it was time to move on and enjoy some other regional sights around Sichuan!