Sichuan, China Jiuzhaigou & Huanglong 2002.05.25 - 05.29

Natural Beauty

The natural parks of Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong in northern Sichuan Province have high admission prices and lots of tourists, but the natural beauty is unsurpassed anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, many foreign tourists bypass these parks because they can't imagine they could be more beautiful than those in their home country. They are.

12 hours by bus from Chengdu's Xinnanmen Bus Station (adjacent the Traffic Hotel) is a pristine national park called Jiuzhaigou. Despite the distance, Chinese tour groups, limited access within the park, and high admission fee, Jiuzhaigou will dazzle anyone with even a moderate interest in nature preservation. Jiuzhaigou is the combination of crystal clear mineral waters stretching 30km long, lush green hills, and 5000 meter high snowcapped and glaciered mountain peaks. No place in the world have we seen such pure beauty; not in Yellowstone, not in Yosemite, not in Zion. To preserve this unspoiled land, many rules apply: walking is permitted only on roads and raised boardwalks, smoking is prohibited, and vehicles are limited to park buses and park maintenance trucks. Don't expect to trek the hills and climb the mountains. These are reserved for wildlife and are one of very few panda habitats. Still, the 30+ km long boardwalks are sufficient to keep the physically inclined walking through stunning scenery for at least 2 days. Most people use the bus network to quicken the pace.

Admission is ¥135 for Chinese and ¥115 for foreigners (¥45 with student card or proof of senior citizen age). An additional ¥3 insurance is waived with proof of international medical coverage. An additional ¥90 is for park bus transport. Food within the park is expensive and unappetizing. Carry water and lunch.

We spent one full day in Jiuzhaigou mesmerized by the shades of blue lakes and rivers. In comparison to most everywhere else humans have touched, the purity of Jiuzhaigou makes one realize the extent of world pollution and the cause of species extinction. Don't tell Potato Head about Jiuzhaigou. He'll probably open it for oil drilling and mineral extraction after calling the Chinese "Chinks" on international airwaves and repeating to the world that everyone should be more American. Despite Mr. Potato's domestic popularity, he's really an international disgrace and personally embarrassing.

Nestled in the opposite side of the same mountains as Jiuzhaigou is a 4km long stretch of gorgeous travertine terraces. The beauty of Huanglong far surpasses those at Pamukkale, Turkey and Yellowstone National Park. From the entrance (admission ¥110 or ¥40 with student card, plus ¥3 insurance that is waived with proof of international medical coverage), a boardwalk meanders through the terraces, climbing about 400 vertical meters across a 4km distance. Since the starting point is at 3100 meters elevation, some people have trouble catching their breaths on the walk. Even so, if coming from low elevation, keeping a slow steady walking pace while breathing deeply should negate the need for supplemental oxygen that bus companies pressure sell.

Direct buses from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou depart Chengdu's Xinnanmen Bus Station between 08:00 and 08:30. We couldn't find a bus from Chengdu to Huanglong. From Jiuzhaigou, a direct bus to Huanglong departs daily at 06:40. The bus route is southerly from Jiuzhaigou towards Chengdu. 14km north of Songpan, the bus turns off the main highway to cross a 3800 meter pass and descend into Huanglong. The bus reaches Huanglong at 10:00 and remains for the return trip at 15:00. Luggage is left on the bus while the passengers visit the travertine terraces. At 15:00, the bus returns passengers back to the main highway in time for a connecting night bus to Chengdu or taxi to Songpan. Accommodation in Huanglong is expensive, making this bus option very attractive to the budget traveler.

Submerged fallen trees are clearly visible in the pure mineral waters of Jiuzhaigou. This lake is named "Five Color Lake".
Water flows through an expanse of vegetation before gushing over a wide cliff as Nuorilang Falls.
Moss covers the rocks of Shuzhen Falls.
Seeming shallow yet deceptively deep, Wolong Lake is many shades of blue. A fully submerged large tree is evidence of the clear water's depth.
The travertine terraces of Huanglong.

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