An integral part of the adventure of Jiuzhaigou is the getting here. If you’ve plenty of money then you’ll fly there from Chengdu, or Chongqing, or whatever your previous destination was. If you’ve time on your hands and less money, you’ll take the bus.
We took the bus to get there and then to save time getting to Chongqing, we flew.
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We’d first discussed Jiuzhaigou with a student we met on the train to X’ian. It was he said, the most beautiful place, but it was hard to get to and in the heat of summer we wouldn’t enjoy it. It was best in late September and October. Well, we figured, it was early September and in our quest to stay out of cities and enjoy the national parks, hugely expensive though they were, Jiuzhaigou was firmly on the list now.
Tickets were acquired from the Chengdu Xinnanmen Bus Station for 145 Yuan each and we arrived for our 07:40 bus in plenty of time. Four morning buses head to Jiuzhaigou from the bus station between 07:00 and 08:00 plenty more unofficial ones tout for your business outside the bus station. No signs in English on the bus, and the registration plate didn’t match like it did on our little pink bus from Hekou to XinJie, but 07:40 was printed up there and no one stopped us getting on the bus.
We had no idea how long our trip was going to take, but we’d figured that all bus journeys have stops where you can buy food, so because we’d loaded up on the IHG award points free stay and free breakfast before getting to the bus station, we had no need to buy food for the journey.
Oh hindsight, where were you?
First of all, there were a lot of stops. We stopped at least every 2 hours, more like every 90 minutes. One time we stopped twice in 45 minutes. It was pretty comfy. For a 9 and a bit hour bus journey I mean. Way more comfortable than a 7 hour hard seat train journey for instance. But the stops. Urgh. It could easily have been about an hour shorter.
The first stop is the best one. There is fruit, noodles, toilets that cost 2 Yuan each and an obligatory woman with a portable speaker screaming at you about what is for sale. The next stop was the lunch stop at a restaurant in the middle of nowhere, where none of the Chinese tourists ate. So neither did we. There were toilets there too. These were 1 Yuan each. And no that didn’t give you paper, just a channel hole in the floor and a door that didn’t shut.
It was several more stops later that we gave in and bought the “undefined meat on a stick from the bbq” – four sticks for 10 Yuan. Not memorable.
We were driving blind. My iPhone had died in Chengdu. The iPad maps didn’t update, so we truly had no clue as to the route the bus was taking or where we were. Signs appeared randomly. We saw signs for Huanglong National Park, then Songpan and then signs for Jiuzhaigou, which spread out a long way. Then what looked like the entrance gates to the National Park… Based on the number of folks tottering out of it… This was around 5:45pm, the park closes at 6.
Then the bus station. And we were there. Or here. Well you know what I mean.
15 minutes later, we’d fought off the vendors trying to sell us a bus to Huanglong and those showing us a picture to their hotel. And we were at the gates to the National Park, buying a ticket for the next day, which I highly recommend. Skip the morning queues and throw them the staggering 310 yuan the night before. Moving on we’d skipped by the Tibetan restaurant where they sing to you after the meal and found our non-English speaking hostel, paid our deposit, climbed up to the third floor on the outdoor carpeted stairs (ewww) and collapsed on the king-sized bed in the huge out-dated room.
The 6am alarm was not pleasant, but at 310 yuan a day with the park opening at 7am we weren’t going to waste any more time than we had to.
There were lines. To go through the entrance and then to get on the buses. The 310 yuan fee includes the free buses inside the park and you DO need them, it is a big park.
“Does this bus go to the mid station?” We asked.
“Yes, but it goes straight to the top” was our yes but no but answer.
The park is shaped like a letter Y, with the entrance at the bottom, mid park the park divides and up to the left you go to Long Lake, the right goes up to the Primeval Forest. We’d got on the bus that was heading up to the right.
There are a myriad of sights in the park, none of them very close together, some of them linked by miles and miles of boardwalks, our struggle, we thought was going to be how much we could see in one day, because we neither had the financial nor the time budget to come back tomorrow. If there’s one thing that’s not a given in a Chinese National Park, then that’s peace and quiet. In a country with 1.35 billion people, chances are that there’s going to be a lot of folks in one place. But only one other westerner that we spotted today, and he was doing the same as us, over taking, fast hiking, trying to get as much seen and done as possible, while the Chinese sauntered, usually three abreast. For small people they take up a hell of a lot of space on a not very wide boardwalk.
I am absolutely stereotyping when I say that a Chinese tourist joining a tourist hiking trail is a funny (and irritating) thing to watch. They just step out, launch themselves into the melee, walk half a dozen steps and then either slow to the speed of a snail or stop. They stop too at the top step on a staircase, or a series of steps. If there’s a gate or a narrow area, that’s where you’ll find a group of them. It’s the equivalent of driving fast onto the motorway, accelerating away in third or fourth gear, getting into the outside lane and then slamming the car into first.
Some of the boardwalks were closed in the park, which meant that we actually saw all that we possibly could see in that one day. We hiked from Bamboo Lake down to the Central Bus Station, grabbed a tray lunch of random dishes with rice, sitting in the courtyard and then hiked down to Mirror lake, where we and four other couples were the only folks doing this. That was peaceful, quiet and very pleasant. Arriving at the Nuorilang Waterfall, the symbol of Jiuzhaigou, while the hordes of folks was a shock, wandering through the Pearl Shoal Fall was amusing in watching your regular Chinese tourist read that signs that told them what they were NOT supposed to do (go off the trail, smoke in a National Park, play with the water and so on) and then just get right on and do it.
We then took the bus up to the top left of the Y and Long Lake, where there is a Long Lake, and of course the obligatory vendors where you can buy food, toilet paper and random crap, although I didn’t spot any Chinese swords. Disappointing, we were in the market for a Chinese sword.
Then as the boardwalk down to the central bus station was closed, we were on the bus again. The bus drivers here could definitely be a bus driver on the bus to Shangri La but at least here there was very little traffic coming in the opposite direction.
At mid station, we gave up on the buses and headed for the boardwalk to head out of the park. Maps are scarce, the map we’d bought from the vendor outside for a princely 5 yuan, may have been of Jiuzhaigou, but didn’t bear much resemblance to the trails available. There are signposts throughout the park, showing how far you have to go and where the nearest bus stop is. Distances, I feel were as the Chinese Crow Flies. Which would be in a straight line, not in the direction that the trail went. I don’t believe it has ever taken me an hour to walk 2km on flat ground, but that’s what the sign said..
It was a long old hike out of the park, a little way on the road, mostly on the boardwalk and we limped out just after 6pm, after taking 3 and a half hours to do the lower part of the park. We saw no one on that lower part. No one walking, but buses on the other side of the river, loaded up, heading home. That’s what you should do if you want peace and quiet, the views are not spectacular, but you’ll see the views of the falls, hear the steady rush of the river and just enjoy the park.
The 20 minutes back to the hostel was a long, long 20 minutes walk but we had a lie in planned for the morning, our driver wasn’t due until 9am, and we were heading to the Huanglong Scenic Area and then onto the airport, nestled in the hills at 3,500 metres for our flight to Chongqing.
Jiuzhaigou is often compared to Yosemite, but there’s very little similarity – other than the fact that there are two valleys, perhaps Yosemite Valley and Hetch Hetchy. Yosemite for me is incredible, and Jiuzhaigou is spectacular, but nothing beats driving through the tunnel into Yosemite and that view of the valley, or rounding the bends at Glacier Point and seeing Half Dome, surrounded by clouds, and waterfalls.
It is truly glorious, even on a dull day as you can see..
- Where we stayed in Jiuzhaigou – Lvye Inn
- Read our Common Sense Guide to VPNs – and why you need one, especially in China
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in China
If you like visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites, then our guides to these Chinese World Heritage sites will be useful
- How to Visit Huanglong National Park [the Yellowstone of China]
- Discover Xian’s Terracotta Army
- How to Visit Kunming, Shilin and Dali
- How to Visit The Great Wall of China – [Independent Public Transit Route]
- The Forbidden City of Beijing
- The Historic Center of Macau
- Jiuzhaigou National Park
- Huangshan National Park and Sacred Mountain
- Wulingyuan and the Zhangjiajie National Park
- The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries
- Tiger Leaping Gorge
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