Wonderland on Earth, dreamlike scenery, masterpiece of nature. It should be a real gem of Sichuan province – Jiuzhai valley. I couldn’t wait to get to this mysterious place and see one of the most beautiful places on our planet….
WHERE IS IT
Jiuzhaigou valley lies in the north of Sichuan province and it is part of Aba Tibetan and Qiang autonomous prefecture. It is well known and popular place among Chinese tourists and that’s why we decided to visit this place in winter time, specifically on Christmas 2015. We couldn’t choose better time. Chinese don’t have any holidays during the Christmas and cold weather also helped decrease number of visitors.
HOW TO GET THERE
We first flew to the Sichuan’s capital city Chengdu and then change to another flight to Jiuzhai Huanglong airport lying 3.450 meters above sea level. The flight took only about 45 minutes and we had great views on snowy mountain tops.
Huanglong is just a small airport with few flights a day. There is a transfer services to hotels near Jiuzhaigou scenic area. All you need is buy a ticket. There was only one counter selling the tickets so it was quite easy to find it. Transfer is provided by local drivers with minivans. After buying a ticket we were led to one of the minivans, told the driver name of our hotel, took a seat and waited until the van is full of other travelers. We naively thought that the driver will take us to the hotel but it would be too simple. So the driver (and couple of other drivers with their minivans) took us to a service station which was about 1 km from the airport and let us all get off the car. There were another cars waiting for us and we were divided to these cars and then continued to our hotels. I really don’t know what was it about but who cares, its just Chinese way of doing things 🙂
WHERE TO STAY
There are many hotels nearby the gate to Jiuzhai scenic area. So you can easily walk from the hotel to the main gate. But we stayed in InterContinental paradise resort and we didn’t regret. Beautiful mountain hot spring hotel in the middle of nowhere. Rooms were amazing with just a small issue – there was no decent heating only air conditioning. Outside temperature was somewhere between – 5 degrees during the day to – 15 degrees in the night. We sorted this out by putting some more electrical heaters into the room. This hotel is a bit further away from the valley but totally recommended.
Next day we took a taxi to Jiuzhaigou scenic area. As the map of the area and so as the tour guides promised kilometers of natural hiking trails, we decided to buy a two days ticket and enjoy all day hikes on fresh air. The park is divided into two parts. If you look on the map it actually looks like ”Y” shape and our basic plan was to hike one part the first day and the second part the next day. But a disappointment came soon. There were kilometers of wooden hiking trails but almost all of them were closed! There are buses going to the lakes and everything works strongly Chinese way – the bus take you to the lake, you jump off the bus, take a million selfies, jump back into a bus and go to another lake. So you don’t really need two days, it’s possible to make it in one afternoon!
We were disappointed but as we already bought two days ticket we didn’t want to give up and decided to hike the trails anyway. There was a fence but we jump over it. It was quite obvious that the trail wasn’t used for very long time (if ever). Some parts were missing or were badly destroyed and not very safe to walk. Besides that the trails often led just along the road with high frequency off smelly diesel buses.
It’s such a shame but unfortunately this is typical for many Chinese national parks. Chinese people are lazy to walk.
I still recommend to visit this place. The nature itself is really amazing. All the lakes have crystal clear emerald water, the waterfalls are stunning (especially in winter time when the ice creates various of shapes). This whole area is also really worth to visit for its unique Tibetan culture and I can’t forget to mention the food which is absolutely delicious!
There are couple of other places to see. The second most popular is Huanglong scenic area where we wanted to go after visiting Jiuzhaigou, but there was some heavy snowing the night before and the park was closed due to bad safety conditions. Instead our local driver took us to Mounigou park. Small but absolutely beautiful place with almost no people. We were lucky. It was freezing but sunny day and light breeze blow out the fresh snow from tree branches. I felt like I was in real wonderland. Mounigou park is about 140 km from Jiuzhaigou toward the Huanglong airport and it’s definitely a must see place!
TIP: If you decide to visit Jiuzhaigou I recommend to buy one day ticket and go in low season. One day ticket includes bus ride. If you buy two days ticket you must buy a new bus ticket for the second day (which we found out on the second day).