“This had better be worth it”.
The thought crossed my mind more than once. The road to Jiuzhaigou was paved with excrements, urine and other bodily fluids. Luckily I’m the kind of girl who LOVES a good culture shock – OK sometimes not exactly while it’s happening but ALWAYS when I look back at it afterwards – and I honestly wouldn’t change a thing if I were to do this trip again. And on top of that, the views made me forget about this sensorial ordeal in an instant!
GETTING TO JIUZHAIGOU
I came from Langzhong, a godforgotten town where even the receptionist at the hotel didn’t speak English. Well, a ‘town’ in China still has at least 80.000 inhabitants, so it’s all relative, but clearly all roads didn’t lead to Langzhong – nor to Jiuzhaigou for that matter – and getting from the one place to the other involved a couple of changes in our means of transportation.
It started with a 5 hours’ bus ride from Langzhong to Chengdu. It was a decent bus and everything went perfectly. Well, that is until the woman sitting behind me made her child pee and shit in the trash bucket right next to me. Just. Like. That. On top of an empty dried beef package that was still in there from the trip before ours…
After all the spitting and staring I’d already witnessed since my arrival in China, my first thought was that it was yet another local thing, but this – who would have thought – even the Chinese didn’t seem to appreciate it. A few of them even told the bus driver, who got up to talk to the woman about it. OK great, so than you’d think somebody would have picked up the damn bucket and thrown it out of the bus, right? Well, guess again… the bucket kept on stinking right under my nose during the whooooole ride. MMMMMmmmmmm!!!
Arriving in Chengdu 5 hours later with no sense of smell left, I started looking for a taxi to the airport. I hadn’t quite understood the way they indicate that the taxi’s reserved, so I first stood there for a while waving at all the taxi’s that drove by, not understanding why none of them stopped even though they were empty. Another Chinese thing, I thought… Well no, this time it was just Belgian stupidity 😉
Anyway, I finally understood how it worked and decided to walk away from the bus station, where I quickly found a taxi and about an hour after arriving in Chengdu, I was at the airport. Having more than 2,5 hours before my plane was planned to take off, I went to look for something to eat. It didn’t take long, the airport is tiny and the only place selling food was a KFC. PERFECT for a vegetarian! I ordered some french fries and for the sauce it was either ketchup or sweet and sour sauce. The sweet and sour sauce wasn’t an option – for reasons I guess are obvious – but you have to know I HATE french fries with ketchup and I think it would be time all Belgians gathered together to tell the world that French fries are supposed to be eaten with mayonnaise!!! And maybe it would be time we finally start calling them Belgian fries, too! 🙂
Anywayz, after this delicious meal I sat down on some of the only empty chairs near the gate, without paying attention to the fact they were close to the garbage bin. Because, well, nobody was going to shit in the garbage bin at the airport, right? There were toilets right down the hall! I hardly sat when the moment arrived.
You know, that moment where you thought you’d seen it all… but than you find out that actually no… you haven’t.
Let me start by reassuring you: nobody shit in the garbage bin… But it did turn out the spitting isn’t just an outside thing. Nope. It’s not. They do it inside, too… But not on the floor, no, that would be to gross. Nope, instead of spitting on the floor, they spit… right, in the garbage bin… And let’s be honest, what’s the use in spitting if there’s just a bit of saliva comming out? That’s just a waste of energy! No, it’s much better to go searching for that slimy stuff that comes from deep down in your throat, squirm and make loads of disgusting noises while digging it up and than chraa-puh spit it out, right next to that stupid Belgian tourist…
I was so disgusted I felt like vomiting my French fries and the ketchup right in that same garbage bin but I managed to keep it decent and luckily we found some other free chairs far away from everything that looked like a possible spitting/shitting/peeing place. Although in China, apparently you never know…
My plane was delayed more than 4 hours due to bad weather and I seemed to be the only person from the whole plane that managed to stay calm and just stay seated. I was also the only European… Coinsidence???
All the Chinese people were standing around the desk, nearly agressing the stewardess who was just trying to keep everybody informed and give us some food. Most of them stood there for the whole 4 hours, pushing and screaming. Another Chinese thing, I guess…
I landed around midnight and it was freezing! At this time, of course there were no more busses, so I had to take a taxi. It was still a 1,5 hours’ drive to my hostel near the entrance of the park and I finally arrived there at 1.30 am, after a crazy ride. You know, one of those where you tell yourself “maybe now would be a good time to call my family to tell them I love them, just in case…”
VISITING JIUZHAIGOU NATIONAL PARC
The next day, I got up early, because that’s what the guidebook said. “Get to the park as early as possible to avoid crowds”. Well it turned out the guidebook was wrong. The busses full of Chinese tourists get there early, too, but I found an extremely simple way to avoid the crowds once inside the park. Keep on reading, I’ll tell you about it right away!
Jiuzhaigou national park is located in the Min mountains on the edge of the Tibetan Himalayan Plateau, at heights between around 2000 and 4700m above sea level. Jiuzhaigou literally means “Valley of 9 villages”, because there were originally 9 Tibetan villages in the valley. Today, 7 of these villages are still populated by a total of around 1000 people. What makes it so magnificent is the multitude of bright colored lakes, impressive waterfalls and breathtaking views.
It is without doubt one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
The valley covers a surface of over 700 km², so it’s impossible to see everything in one day without taking the bus for some parts of it. There’s a road from the entrance in the north to the visitor center in the center, that crosses Shuzheng Valley (around 15 km) and then splits up in 2 sections. The bus actually stops before the visitor center and you have to walk a bit from there. It’s beautiful but there’s so many people all you can do is just follow the crowd as they slowly walk on.
Click here for a map of the park.
From the visitor center, I decided to take the bus to Long Lake in the southeastern section first. This section offers less view points but the ones at the end of the road were worth a visit according to our guide book. The guidebook wasn’t wrong this time! Five-colored lake is gorgeous and its name is definitely well chosen!
I took the bus back to the visitor center and continued to Virgin Forest, which is the final point of the southwestern section, at about 18 km from the visitor center. I walked back as far as I could towards the visitor center from here and managed to get almost halfway. This seemed so logical I didn’t even have to think about it, but it actually turned out to be the best strategy to visit this magnificent place. Because you know what?
Chinese people don’t walk…
They just hop on and off the bus and only visit the 4 or 5 view points along the road! There’s a wooden path so you don’t even need a map, just follow the path as it takes you along the most breathtaking places – and feel like you have them all to yourself! Seriously, we did not see more than 10 other people during the whole time we were walking…
I’ll let the pictures do the talking from here. I left the park just before closing time, so it’s absolutely doable in 1 day. If however you want to do more hiking, a 2 days’ stay would be better.