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China - Juizhaigou - the quiet side, hot food, local market

A quiet day into a beautiful valley, local bus to an even more local market, Tibetan/Qiang show


View Jiuzhaigou (China), Malaysia, Singapore Autumn 2012 & Netherlands beyond the typical tourist places & Wine Expeditions in France, Italy, Spain and Other Places on westwind57's travel map.

Attention: In August 2017 the magnificent Jiuzhaigou N.P. sustained heavy damage to the natural attractions, and has been closed. The park's official website does NOT mention anything about this. There is talk that it will be open in March or May 2018 again for tour groups only, and with a maximum of only 2,000 people per day. If I find updated info I will mention it in my forum topic ( link ).

The next day, we decided not to go to the National Park again but instead to venture around to some of the Tibetan villages and scenic spots around the area. We rented a taxi in the morning and had a talk with the driver to take us to some less touristic places.

From the village where our hotel and the Park entrance were (Zhangzhashen), we drove to the west, into the mountains to a quite elevated place, to a village called Zhongcha. It is an original Awa (sometimes written "Aba") Tibetan village of farmers that used to live from agriculture and forestry. Since the government has started to combat deforestation in the whole area, some accommodations for tourists are being built next to the original village.

Zhongcha village

Zhongcha village

Zhongcha village

Zhongcha village

Zhongcha village

Zhongcha village

Zhongcha village

Zhongcha village

The only thing missing are the tourists though. Tourists means Chinese tourists by the way, because in a little shop annex guest house the leaflets and booklets are in Chinese only. There is one place where you can rent a horse and go with the local people into the mountains. But not so many tourists will go here, because almost everybody is coming for a quick visit to the national park itself.

Zhongcha village - brushing a clean street, it reminded of Switzerland

Zhongcha village - brushing a clean street, it reminded of Switzerland

Zhongcha village - local people praying

Zhongcha village - local people praying

Zhongcha village - road work, the ladies with their brooms

Zhongcha village - road work, the ladies with their brooms

Zhong cha village, the mushroom sales lady

Zhong cha village, the mushroom sales lady

Many of the local people, especially the women, still wear traditional dress. People seem to live a calm and quiet life, and the contrast with the National Park is enormous. One of the first things that we saw was how clean this place is. We even saw women brushing the streets even though there was no litter at all. The road to Zhongcha is nice. It follows a little stream, higher and higher into the valley. When we got there, around 10 in the morning, the sun was out again, the air was crisp and the sky was getting blue.

We walked around, played table tennis against the locals and bought dried mushrooms from an old local lady. Mushrooms and peppers are dried in the open air, some of the houses had bowls of peppers on the roof, drying in the sun.

Zhongcha village - red chillies drying on a hot roof

Zhongcha village - red chillies drying on a hot roof


Zhongcha village - an international match

Zhongcha village - an international match


Zhongcha village - air dried local mushrooms

Zhongcha village - air dried local mushrooms

Bring sun screen when you go here. The sunlight is strong because of the altitude and the breeze makes that you would probably notice too late if you get sun burned. And especially for people like me, not blessed (anymore) with a full head of hair, bring a hat or a cap.

After an hour we drove off to a beautiful lake along the road to/from the airport, called Gan Hai. There is a parking place and you can walk from the road to the reed-filled lake, with a dramatic backdrop of the Minshan mountain range. Good place for some pictures. There are some traditionally dressed Tibetans selling local souvenirs and gem stones, but they are not too pushy. If you tell them something like "Xie xie, bu yao, bu mai", then they will not push and will giggle among themselves about the silly "lao wei" thinking that he can speak Chinese (I heard that, peepz...).

Near Zhancha, a scenic lake with reed with Min Shan mountains in the background

Near Zhancha, a scenic lake with reed with Min Shan mountains in the background

Near Zhancha, a scenic lake with reed with Min Shan mountains in the background

Near Zhancha, a scenic lake with reed with Min Shan mountains in the background


Near Zhongcha village

Near Zhongcha village

We got back in the car and drove back to the hotel, where we would have lunch. There were not many people in the village, most of them were in the National Park, and the atmosphere was very quiet now. Lunch was yak meat and other Sichuan food, quite hot actually.

Sichuan food - duck feet soles with chillies

Sichuan food - duck feet soles with chillies

Sichuan food - yak meat, veggies

Sichuan food - yak meat, veggies

After lunch we decided to take a local bus to the main town of Jiuzhaigou Prefecture, nowadays actually on the map as Jiuzhaigou town, but originally called Nanping (about one hour drive east of the park entrance). The local people still use that name for the main town. The route to there follows the Baihe river, the same one that runs at the back of our hotel. Some parts of the route are like driving in a canyon, at other places the valley widens up more.

Just before arriving at Nanping town, there is another valley ending into Baihe valley. I was in the wrong side of the bus to take a picture, but for the ones among us interested in geo-sciences, this side valley is the typical U-shaped valley, formed by glaciers rather than by a river. In fact, the whole drive to Nanping is like going through a geology teaching book. It is very visible (and amazing) how some mountains have literally cracked and split by geolocical events by the millions of years that this has been an earthquake-prone geological hotspot. From the bus you can see some dramatic examples.

Nanping town is a local central little town, inhabited by mostly Han people and people from a different minority (Qiang), which can be seen as they look and dress differently from the area of Zhangzhashen. We were lucky, it was market day in the streets, so we strolled around for a few hours.
The people were very friendly and clearly not used to foreign visitors. When we walked through the streets you could see them wonder something like: how did they end up here? The market was clearly not for tourists, and also not like a flee-market, focusing on souvenirs or nostalgia. It was a market for the local people.

Nanping Town market - healthy stuff

Nanping Town market - healthy stuff

Nanping town

Nanping town

Nanping town - be careful...

Nanping town - be careful...

Nanping Town market - very expensive medical roots

Nanping Town market - very expensive medical roots

Nanping Town, very expensive rare kind of medicine roots - remotely related to ginger

Nanping Town, very expensive rare kind of medicine roots - remotely related to ginger

Nanping Town - cow stomach

Nanping Town - cow stomach

We found some interesting things like local bread resembling naan bread being made along the street and a lady making shoes to order. And much fruit, local gingers and in one side street we found the meat market selling many different parts of animals, with a specially wide range of cow stomach varieties.

Nanping Town market - a street bakery

Nanping Town market - a street bakery

Nanping town - interesting stuff at the market

Nanping town - interesting stuff at the market

Nanping Town - the friendly shoemaker lady

Nanping Town - the friendly shoemaker lady

By 4 p.m. we made sure to get on the bus back, because that evening we would visit a Tibetan dance performance and we didn't want to be late. At the bus stop, there was a very energetic young lady (it turned out she was the "conductor") who made sure everybody got on the bus, paid the tickets and got passengers' bags stored between the seats or next to the bus door. We could not believe how many people and how much stuff were loaded before we were ready to go.

Then there was some drama. Next to the bus there was a young girl, maybe 15 years old, apparently saying goodbye to her parents who were going back to a village, while the girl was probably there to work. That's what my friends gathered from the conversation. She was in very upset and in tears and we felt really sorry for her. Later we saw that the father and mother got off the bus only two villages further away, maybe at half an hour's drive. But it confronted us with the fact that what we looks like a short distance in our way of travelling, seems to feel like far away for some of the local people.

Shortly after we drove off we noticed that a military guy in the front seat suffered badly from motion sickness. The lady conductor took initiative, telling the driver at each bus stop to wait, so that the soldier could get out of the bus and throw up along the road. We felt sorry for the Red Army guy but we admired this very vocal young lady; being in control over the whole situation and still being quite considerate, by allowing the soldier to stand in the front of the bus with a plastic bag, keeping the door half open so that fresh air would blow in while we were driving.

My friends told me that consideration like this would be hard to find in more "civilized"(?) places of China, where they probably would simply kick him out of the bus, and drive on without him.

Back to Zhangzhashen we dropped our things at the hotel, picked up the tickets for the show from the bell boy, and walked to the Shangri-La performance hall, some 10 minutes down the street. At this time it started raining and we realized how lucky we had been with the weather during the last two days!

The show was not much to talk about for the quality of the sound and the originality of the performance. On the other hand the enthusiasm of the people made good for that. One funny situation happened, when people were asked on stage to participate in a ritual that originally was designed to win the heart of a lady and the right to marry her. It was some sort of a funny rope-pulling contest. Four young men from the audience participated, and of course the presenter asked the name of the one who eventually won. His name caused confusion, and hilarity as well, because his name translated as Stay-One-Night. Interesting to see how parents give a name to their children; and in this case maybe even more interesting to know why...?

Zhangzhazhen - the Tibetan/Qiang show

Zhangzhazhen - the Tibetan/Qiang show

Zhangzhazhen - the Tibetan/Qiang show

Zhangzhazhen - the Tibetan/Qiang show

On the way back from the show, we strolled at the night market next to the hotel, admiring in particular the food stall where they sold rabbit heads, duck heads and other interesting stuff, before we went back to the hotel after another interesting day.

Zhangzhazhen - it's just chicken

Zhangzhazhen - it's just chicken

Zhangzhazhen - rabbit heads

Zhangzhazhen - rabbit heads

Zhangzhazhen - it's duck heads

Zhangzhazhen - it's duck heads

Posted by westwind57 13:36 Archived in China Tagged mountains snow local nature bus river china valley countryside show quiet sichuan tibetan jiuzhaigou nanping qiang zhongcha dance_performance Comments (0)

China - Jiuzhaigou N.P. in Sichuan - a multicolored jewel

Treasures for the eyes and the camera, once you have left the crowd and chaos at the entrance behind you


View Jiuzhaigou (China), Malaysia, Singapore Autumn 2012 & Netherlands beyond the typical tourist places & Wine Expeditions in France, Italy, Spain and Other Places on westwind57's travel map.

Attention: In August 2017 the magnificent Jiuzhaigou N.P. sustained heavy damage to the natural attractions, and has been closed. The park's official website does NOT mention anything about this. There is talk that it will be open in March or May 2018 again for tour groups only, and with a maximum of only 2,000 people per day. If I find updated info I will mention it in my forum topic ( link ).

Today was going to be the day that I had been looking forward to, and the reason was Jiuzhaigou National Park. I am going to keep the text short, the pictures should speak for themselves.
• Located in the very north of Sichuan province.
• UNESCO World Heritage status since 1992, and the status of World Biosphere Reserve since 1997
• The park spreads over a total area of 720 square kilometers around valleys, which on the map look like an upside down "Y". In the middle of the park, near Nuo Ri Lang waterfalls, the Rize river and the Zechawa river come together to form the Shuzeng river. The Shuzeng river forms the joint part of the "Y" and streams into Baihe River.
• Elevation between 2,000 and 4,500 meters. The entrance is at the lower end of the valley, where the.
• The rivers find their sources in the Min mountain range (Minshan), and both flow through their respective valleys forming many very colorful lakes (due to the minerals, different algae and the vegetation in the lakes), waterfalls and rapids.
• The slopes of the valleys are forested and often very steep.
• Jiuzhaigou means Nine Villages Valley, referring to the nine Tibetan villages in the valley.
• Seven of them are still inhabited by the original people (Awa-tibetans and Qiang people).
• The entrance gets very crowded before opening and it’s a chaos. Once inside, it is fantastic hiking. Yes, there are people, but real crowds only on a few places.
• High frequency shuttle bus system with many stops. Comparable to Grand Canyon N.P.
• For visitors it is not allowed to stay overnight in the park, due to environmental concerns and to reduce the risk of forest fire.
More details after the pictures.

Juizhaiguo - the chaos at the entrance, but there will be a reward

Juizhaiguo - the chaos at the entrance, but there will be a reward

Juizhaiguo National Park - the Tibetan village inside the park

Juizhaiguo National Park - the Tibetan village inside the park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

The park has become a very popular tourist attraction for the Chinese, and the tourism industry focuses on Chinese speaking tourists mostly. There are a few western hotels, including Sheraton resort, and (further away) an Intercontinental resort and a Holiday Inn.

Relatively few tourists from western countries have found their way to this remote area, partly due to the long road drive from Chengdu. The only alternative is a flight to Jiuzhai Huanglong airport. Very few people in the hotels, shops etc. speak English, and if you travel on your own not speaking a word of Mandarin, you may have a hard time getting around in the area. A few words of Mandarin (or just an honest try) will do wonders with the people in the hotel, the village and the park. Most of them are patient, very friendly and smiley and will try to help you. However, the National Park has an excellent website with good English translations and information, and also plenty of documentation available in the visitors’ center.

We got up really early for breakfast in the dining room of the hotel, a huge round room, with a fully Chinese style breakfast buffet. There is coffee (sometimes, and not bad), and the usual "orange juice", which is not juice at all, but luke warm tea with orange flavor. And except for boiled and fried eggs, the food is almost only Chinese food, quite decent though. I was getting used to it, although still craving for the fresh pressed real orange juice that I hoped to find some time later on the trip.

Juizhaiguo - dinner in Qian He international hotel

Juizhaiguo - dinner in Qian He international hotel

What we found there, was a huge mass of people already waiting in front of the office. And when the military men, who assist in controlling the crowds, opened the glass doors of the ticket office, total mayhem broke loose. A collapsing fence in a soccer stadium full of hooligans looked like children's play, compared to the troup of hungry wolves that tried to be first at the ticket counters. The soldiers needed to use force to control the situation and closed the glass doors again, leaving hundreds inside the office like sardines in a can, and many more people outside, ready to raid the next time the doors would open.

Somehow my friend bravely managed to get inside, and after quite some time came out with the tickets. The entrance fee in the season is quite steep: RMB 220 per adult person per day for entrance, and another RMB 90 for using the hop-on-hop-off bus system (which is highly recommended). In the low season (winter, starting in November) the prices are considerably lower. In the low season is possible to buy two days' tickets, which require a passport size photo.

It is possible to visit the three valleys and the main attractions in the park in one (full) day. But if you want to really take your time for hiking, or if you are a nature lover or an avid photographer, you may want to allow yourself two days (or even more). However, the hop-on-hop-off bus system is very adequate and practical, and enables you to really visit a lot of different highlights of the park in one full day.

There are roads (for the buses) and a big system of paths and boardwalks along all the three rivers and all the lakes, waterfalls and rapids.
The place in the park where the two rivers flow together to form Shuzheng river, is a hub with change points for the buses into Rize and Zechawa valley, restaurants, shops and other facilities. There are toilet buildings along many of the boardwalks and the signage is quite good (also the English translations). Maps are available in the visitor centre near the entrance.

Once we were in the park and on our first hop-on-hop off bus, there were still loads of people but it was not chaotic anymore. We would see crowds of people throughout the day at the most scenic places, but on the other hand, there were long stretches of the boardwalks that were quiet.

With so many people around you won't see much wildlife along the main paths. For that you would have to follow the few hiking paths that divert up into the mountains. However, the main attractions of the park are the rivers and the lakes and waterfalls, and in autumn (like now) the color of the foliage often reflected into the lakes.

The famous colors of the lakes have everything to do with the vegetation (algae and water plants) in the lakes, the minerals that are feeding them and the reflection of sky colors. Lakes and other scenic spots have interesting names like Rhinoceros Lake, Five Coloured Pond, Swan Lake, Tiger Lake, Arrow Bamboo Lake and Waterfall, Pearl Shoals and Pearl Shoal Waterfall, Panda Lake, and others, and at the top of Rize Valley there is a primeval forest called Virgin Forest.

Along the valleys there are several Tibetan villages that you can visit, but some are quite commercialized. It is adviseable to bring drinking water, snacks etc. especially if you intend to hike a lot along the paths and boardwalks. These boardwalks are well maintained and sometimes go up by long series of stairs, so a reasonable level of fitness is required.

Posted by westwind57 11:35 Archived in China Tagged mountains lakes snow rivers nature bus china autumn sichuan national_park colors crowd foliage tibetan jiuzhaigou tibetans awa aba qiang Comments (0)

China - Juizhaigou - Flight to a very, very elevated airport

Breathtaking views, and thin air after landing


View Jiuzhaigou (China), Malaysia, Singapore Autumn 2012 & Netherlands beyond the typical tourist places & Wine Expeditions in France, Italy, Spain and Other Places on westwind57's travel map.

Attention: In August 2017 the magnificent Jiuzhaigou N.P. sustained heavy damage to the natural attractions, and has been closed. The park's official website does NOT mention anything about this. There is talk that it will be open in March or May 2018 again for tour groups only, and with a maximum of only 2,000 people per day. If I find updated info I will mention it in my forum topic ( link ).

I never heard of Jiuzhaigou until shortly before this trip. But it is one of the most scenic areas in China, in the very north of Sichuan province. By road it is about 450 kilometers north of Chengdu in a sparsely populated area, where originally the Awa people (sometimes written as Aba) are living, who are very closely related to Tibetans. Actually, it is not very far from the eastern border of Tibet.

It is possible to travel from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou by bus or car, but it will take 8 to 12 hours. There are a few different routes. Some of the roads may be in repair, because of landslides. caused by heavy weather and sometimes by earthquakes. It makes a lot of sense to inquire about the road conditions before deciding which route to take.

The more expensive alternative is flying to Jiuzhai Huanglong airport, the third highest airport in China at an elevation of almost 3,500 meters. Many flights go there from Chengdu (and some from other cities) on a daily basis, but due to its position, the risk of flights not going on time or being cancelled is quite high. Also, the flights are not cheap, unlike many other flights in this part of the world. Due to limited time we decided to fly. We were lucky with a delay of 55 minutes only.

The airport is close to the village of Songpan, and is served by China Southern, Air China, Sichuan Airlines and other regional and local companies. It has been built and expanded to serve both the scenic areas of Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong. The flight from Chengdu takes about one hour. Unless the sky is completely clouded, the view from the plane on approaching Juizhai Huanglong airport is totally spectacular. I can use many words to describe it, but let the attached pictures speak for themselves.

Flight to Juizhai Huanglong airport

Flight to Juizhai Huanglong airport

Flight to Juizhai Huanglong airport

Flight to Juizhai Huanglong airport


From the airport, many buses and minibus companies are available for transport to Juizhaigou national park (about two hours driving) and to Huanglong National Scenic area (about one hour). This kind of transportation is cheap, we paid RMB 45 per person (about Euro 4.50), but beware: the minibuses only will leave until they have passengers filling up the last seat. So it may happen that you have to wait for a while before the minibus leaves. There are dispatchers who try to recruit passengers and make sure the buses get filled up.
The road to Jiuzhaigou National park and the villages around it, is very well maintained and runs through a beautiful area. From the airport on the top of a rim of mountains, it goes down into the valleys, where you will see yaks, Tibetan horses, people in traditional Tibetan dress, remote villages and a spectacular mountain and forest scenery.

Song Pan - hotel complex built as an ancient village

Song Pan - hotel complex built as an ancient village

Juizhaiguo - yaks along the road

Juizhaiguo - yaks along the road


On the way to Zhangzhazhen - Tibetan horsemen

On the way to Zhangzhazhen - Tibetan horsemen


Juizhaiguo, arriving at Zhangzhazhen village

Juizhaiguo, arriving at Zhangzhazhen village


After 2 hours we arrived at our hotel, Qian He International Hotel, almost next to the Sheraton Resort, and about 1.5 kilometer from the entrance of Jiuzhaigou national park, another UN World Heritage, and rightfully so.

Juizhaiguo - the river flowing through Zhangzhazhen

Juizhaiguo - the river flowing through Zhangzhazhen


The village is lively, and clean. Even though many young people from other parts of China work here, the local people seem to be in charge, and they are all proud of their scenic area. Things are well maintained generally, there are shops catering to locals, tourists and even some bar areas along the river. Traffic in the village is busy with many buses, taxis and private car offering taxi services as well. Outside of the village, roads are quiet and almost always very scenic.

Juizhaiguo - dinner in Qian He international hotel

Juizhaiguo - dinner in Qian He international hotel


That evening we had dinner in the hotel, about which I will write a review, and ventured to buy tickets for visiting the National Park the next day.
However, they don't sell tickets ahead, so you will have to get there in the morning (open from 7 a.m.) to get tickets. Be prepared to deal with crowds when buying the tickets. Especially around 7 a.m. it may be a total mayhem. There seems to be a way to order them online and pick them up at the second floor of the ticket office on your visiting day. I could not find confirmation of this on the internet, but if you can, then this seems to be a better idea than struggling yourself in the chaos to buy tickets. After dinner we called it a day and went to sleep early, waiting for our visit to the national park, the next morning.

Posted by westwind57 11:10 Archived in China Tagged mountains snow road_trip flight airport river china sichuan songpan altitude tibetan jiuzhaigou tibetans awa aba jiuzhai_huanglong Comments (0)

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