As every Chinese holiday comes around, the eternal question is always where to go? A lot of people recommend getting out of the country because the rest of China is on vacation at the same time, and going to any tourist, resort, scenic area in China means dealing with millions (no exaggeration) of other tourists.
I chose to ignore all that and took at trip to Jiuzhaigou in Sichuan, China. THe Jiuzhaigou valley is known as one of China’s most scenic areas and it is named for the nine Tibetian villages that used to be inhabited in the valley. Instead of me explaining all this – it’s probably easier to go right to the travel wiki article: http://wikitravel.org/en/Jiuzhaigou
So flew into town Saturday night just in time to get up early Sunday morning to attack the park. Very very helpful was the Tinker Photography Guide to Avoiding Crowds in Jiuzhaigou (link here!). I followed their plan of not buying a bus ticket the first day and hiking up.
Clear blue skies, no pollution, fresh air, trees, no people around – these are not common descriptions of China, but for the first 15km hike up to Nuoriliang it was empty and beautiful.
Tibetian Prayer Flags at river crossing.
Reed Lake – these are marshy wetlands
The amazing Nuoriliang Falls
From the Nuoriliang Tourist Service Center: Lots of tourist souvenir shops. Some mediocre food at all price levels (from 10 rmb instant noodles up to 138 rmb all you can eat buffets). Bus services up both sides of the Y valleys – one up to Long Lake, the other up to the Primitive Forrest. I took the one up to the left to Long Lake fist.
Multi Color Lake – the water color was amazing. SO CLEAR. The blue was almost not natural.
The paths down to Upper and Lower Seasonal Lake were boarded off, so I had to take the bus. One of the questions I got while I was up at Jiuzhaigou was how I avoided the crowds – I didn’t – but as much as I could I walked from place to place instead of taking the bus. Especially in the lower parts of the park, spaces between scenic areas were empty of people.
I got off at one of the Tibetan Villages on the way down; its now all souvenir stores.
Walked back down to Nuoriliang and as per the advice given on the Tinker Photography site, took the bus up to Arrow Bamboo Lake to start the walk back down via Panda Lake, Colorful Lake, Golden Bell Lake, Pearl Shoals and various waterfalls. It was possibly the most beautiful 8km in all of China. Here’s some photos.
Yes – I was actually here
An aside: several times when I got into conversations about traveling alone, as opposed to with friends or on a tour group, the first question I got asked was “How will you get photos of yourself?” When I was in Huanglong on the third day I was walking behind a group of girls walking slowly and one of the girls said “I’m going to go up ahead, you girls catch up later.” and her friend responded “If you’re not with us, you won’t be in the photos – how will anyone know if you were here?” It really reflected a common theme I’ve heard in my 7 years in China. Vacation is an opportunity for photo taking. Actually sitting and looking at the site in question isn’t on the agenda. The rush to get yourself a photo in front of it is. Perhaps this characterization is unfair for all Chinese tourists, but rarely did I see someone just sitting there admiring the waterfalls or lake or river. I sat by myself overlooking Nuoriliang Falls for 30 minutes on the second day on a secluded viewing platform – and the longest anyone was there with me was 3 minutes, and that was only because they were carrying two camera bodies and had to make sure to take photos on both of them.
Just pristine conditions
Really. For a national park in China, Jiuzhaigou was impeccably clean. The reason is that they employ an army of trash pickers, but honestly, I saw more people throwing away trash in proper receptacles and people smoking only in designated smoking zones than I would have expected. Is Chinese tourist behavior improving? Its hard to tell, because even if 30% improves, that’s still 1 billion ham handed tourists. But it felt like an improvement.
Such pretty water
The breathtaking Pearl Shoals Waterfalls
I took the bus down and out of the park and went back to my hotel. Day two in the park and day three in Huanglong coming soon.