Chinese National Parks: Jiuzhaigou
We’ve crossed the official 2/3 point in our Chinese adventure and looking back on it, one of our best decisions was to prioritize traveling in China. Since Chengdu sits near the geographic center of the country and the airport is a major regional hub, we have over 100 direct flights from which to choose. Many of these are short (<2 hours) and frequent (many flights available per day), so we have found ourselves spoiled with options.
We haven’t gone outside of China for the last five months- all of our recent trips have been focused on exploring this beautiful country. As we did in the US, we’ve been visiting the biggest and most well-known national parks in China.
Jiuzhaigou (or “Nine Village Valley”)
This park is like a dream world. Two valleys converge into a third and the main draw of all three are the sparkling crystal clear blue lakes and waterfalls. The preserved fallen trees in the water add to the mysterious landscape and make you feel as though you’ve stepped into a different land, and everywhere you turn has picture-perfect images of mountains, trees and Pantone Aqua blue lakes. Apparently, the best time to visit is autumn, when the trees change color and add to the mystique. The best comparison I have to this feeling was our visit to the Yellowstone geyser area, which felt like a different planet.
From Chengdu, we took one of the most terrifying 45 minute flights of my life to get to Jiuzhaigou (Jo-jai-go). To give you an idea of the terrain between Chengdu and the park, even though it’s only 150 miles as the crow flies, the driving time is over 8 hours on a good day. The starting elevation of the Chengdu airport is about 1500ft, and the planes land at one of the highest elevation airports in the world at 11,300ft. All of these factors combine to make a flight that’s fairly notorious for being extremely bumpy, and I was certainly white-knuckled for just about all of it.
We chose to stay at a Tibetan homestay recommended by Lonely Planet called Zhuo Ma’s Homestay. It was the best decision of our trip and certainly a highlight of our time in China. Our adventure arriving into the airport and how we actually got to the house should really be the subject of a separate blog, it was all so comical.
We got up at sunrise to have salty fried eggs and Tibetan bread with yak butter tea, and got to the park at 7:00 am based on advice from friends. Thankfully, we arrived before most of the tourist groups and got one of the first buses up the valley and started the long, slow and beautiful walk back down the valley. This allowed us to really get into the park and see everything, though it did take most of the day to explore on foot. We ended up walking more than 25km (about 15 miles) that day, all downhill!
Here’s a link to our photos on Flickr. Yes, the lakes have giant trees preserved in them, and they are really THAT blue. What a gorgeous place, and seemingly unknown to those outside of China. Should you ever find yourself in the Sichuan province and you’re looking for some spectacularly unique scenery, head to Jiuzhaigou and be awed.