An hour-long morning flight brought us from the ancient Chinese capital Xian to the southern part of Minshan Mountains (岷山), a transitional area where the flat Sichuan Basin meets with the Tibetan Plateau. Geologically it is right on the vaultline between the Yangtze Plate and the Qinghai-Tibetan Plate, and is therefore prone to earthquakes. Ecologically it is the habitat for the endangered golden snub-nosed monkeys and giant pandas. For travelers, it is an famous destination for two of China’s scenic attractions: Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝) and Huanglong (黃龍). At 8:15am, we landed at the Jiuzhai Huanglong Airport, a highland airport (about 3400m above sea level) opened in 2003 to serve the constantly growing demand of tourism. We hopped on a minibus outside the airport for Jiuzhaigou. The bus ride took a little over an hour, traveling through villages, mountain passes, and valleys. Just as suspected, the minibus dropped everyone off at a village parking lot some 10 minutes of drive away from Pengfeng Village (彭豐村), where the main gate of Jiuzhaigou National Park and our guesthouse were located. A bunch of taxi drivers came over as if hawks saw their preys. Despite the rain, we pushed away the drivers and attempted to find our own way to Pengfeng. We walked into the adjacent village (don’t even know the name) and asked around. We eventually flagged down a car whose driver (a guesthouse owner) was willing to drive us to Pengfeng for a small fee. By the time we reached our guesthouse Friendship Hostel in Pengfeng, it was almost noon.
It didn’t took us long to refresh ourselves and began our afternoon adventure into Jiuzhaigou National Park. It was a 20 minute from our guesthouse to the park entrance. It was rainy and chilly and hardly visitors were entering the park this late in the day. We bought the admission ticket excluding the shuttle bus fare as we wanted to do some hiking in the area close to the park entrance, while leaving most of the park highlights for the next day. It was a slippery hike in a wet afternoon, but we had the trail pretty much all by ourselves. Our plan was to walk as far as we could and get a taste of the park. Along the Shuzheng River, in the remaining time of the day before the park closed, we covered the lower half of Shuzheng Valley (樹正溝). Despite the rain, we had some tranquil moments on the trail until reaching the area between Bonsai Shoals (盆景灘) and Sparking Lake (火花海), where apart from the magnificent turquoise lakes and scenic waterfalls, we also had our first experience of the horrific tourist crowds, which unfortunately, was also what Jiuzhaigou is well known for in recent years.
Winding through valleys and passes, the airport bus passed by a kitschy welcome sign of Jiuzhaigou in the middle of nowhere.
Snow was already present at mountain passes on our way to Jiuzhaigou.
At noon, we finally reached Friendship Hostel at Pengfeng Village. We chose to stay at Pengfeng because of its walkable distance from the park entrance. Despite simple, the guesthouse had a causal and welcoming atmosphere.
We reached the visitor centre and ticket office of Jiuzhaigou National Park at about 1pm. It was rainy and chilly and we were a little tired from the early morning flight, but our hearts were excited.
The trail along Shuzheng River was mostly consisted of boardwalk paths.
The hike was wet and sometimes slippery, but we felt like we were the only visitors for the first two hours.
Out of the nine Tibetan villages in Jiuzhaigou, seven are still populated. Closest to the park entrance, Heye Village (荷葉寨) is also one of the biggest. As we approached Heye, the rain began to recede.
Heye Village (荷葉寨) was the first village we encountered. Houses in Heye were still decorated in Tibetan style.
Village houses of Heye Villag (荷葉寨).
From Heye Village, we continued to walk along Shuzheng River until reaching an area with a number of small lakes, including Bonzai Shoals (盆景灘), Reeds Lake (蘆葦海), Double Dragon Lake (雙龍海), Sparkling Lake (火花海), and Sleeping Dragon Lake (臥龍海). Despite the gloomy weather, we had our first glimpses of Jiuzhaigou’s crystal clear turquoise water.
Water plants were clearly visible in the crystal water.
At Reeds Lake (蘆葦海), the reeds can grow as tall as human height.
Drying reeds on racks near Reeds Lake (蘆葦海).
Winding boardwalk along Reeds Lake (蘆葦海).
A Tibetan roadside shrine with colourful prayer flags.
Bird enthusiast taking photos of an eagle with a professional telephoto lens.
With water coming from two opposite ridges, one of the highlights of our day was Sparkling Lake Waterfalls (火花海瀑布).
Looking down the turquoise water of Sleeping Dragon Lake (臥龍海) from the zigzag boardwalk on the higher ridge.
Small waterfalls at both sides of the boardwalk from one lake down to another were virtually everywhere in the Sparkling Lake (火花海) area.
It was almost 7pm when we returned to Pengfeng Village. We opted for a recently established restaurant of Chongqing cuisine for dinner and retired to our guesthouse after a brief visit to a small grocery shop. As we hoped for a good rest in a rather cold night, all we could wish was some fine weather in the next morning.
Our posts on 2016 Xian and Jiuzhaigou:
DAY 1 – NIGHT ARRIVAL, Xian, China
DAY 2 – QIN EMPEROR’S TERRACOTTA ARMY, near Xian, China
DAY 2 – BIG WILD GOOSE PAGODA (大雁塔), Xian, China
DAY 3 – HAN YANG LING MAUSOLEUM, Xian, China
DAY 3 – SHAANXI HISTORY MUSEUM, Xian, China
DAY 3 – GREAT MOSQUE (西安大清真寺) AND MUSLIM QUARTER, Xian, China
DAY 3 – MING CITY WALL, Xian, China
DAY 4 -FIRST GLIMPSE OF JIUZHAIGOU (九寨溝), Sichuan (四川), China
DAY 5 – ARROW BAMBOO LAKE (箭竹海), PANDA LAKE (熊貓海) & FIVE FLOWER LAKE (五花海), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 5 – PEARL SHOAL FALLS (珍珠灘瀑布), MIRROR LAKE (鏡海) & NUORILANG FALLS (諾日朗瀑布), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 5 – LONG LAKE (長海) & FIVE COLOURS LAKE (五彩池), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 5 – RHINOCEROS LAKE (犀牛海), TIGER LAKE (老虎海) & SHUZHENG VILLAGE (樹正寨), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 6 – ASCEND TO FIVE COLOUR POND (五彩池), Huanglong (黃龍), Sichuan (四川), China
DAY 7 – FAREWELL JIUZHAIGOU & XIAN, China