Although I haven’t been to many places, few of the ones I’ve visited are as magnificent as the landscape of Jiuzhaigou, 九寨溝. But boy was it a long, hard road to get there. After the Sichuan earthquake in 2008–clocking in at a magnitude of 8.0–many of the roads were still impassable.
Unfortunately, the main expressway was essentially destroyed after the earthquake and the remaining route to 九寨溝 was a winding, 5-hour long rock, sand, and potholed obstacle course. I’m talking one-way travel here. My advice: strap yourself down to your seat and if you’re one of those lucky people who can sleep on jittery buses, you’re set. I was forced to endure jerking, jolting, and lurching–hitting my head multiple times on the bus window–all the while needing to use the restroom for the longest 5 hours of my life. Learn from my mistakes!
What was also slightly unfortunate was the weather–rainy, slightly chilly, moist, and cloudy. But in spite of the lack of sunshine to illuminate the valley, the vibrant colors of Jiuzhaigou’s lakes and rivers nevertheless shone through. Jiuzhaigou Valley sits on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau and multi-level waterfalls, lakes, and snow-kissed peaks stretch across its 180,000 acres and through elevations of 6,600 to 14,800 ft.
The name, 九寨溝, literally means “nine village valley” and takes its name from the nine Tibetan villages running along its length. Famous inhabitants include the giant panda and golden snub-nosed monkey, both of which are nearly impossible to spot due to the massive tourism at 九寨溝 .
Our first stop was the welcome center: a 3-storied bazaar of food, Tibetan tapestries, clothing, and Yak-bone combs and dining wares. The lobby of shopping was a kaleidoscope maze of colors. And of course, some Engrish in good humour found in the women’s bathroom: “the disposable hygienic chamberpot sits in the gasket paper”. Meaning? I have no clue.
Jiuzhaigou is absolutely worth 2-3 days of visiting; however, given the 10-hour travel time roundtrip, it’s more feasible to make it all happen within a day. There sadly aren’t places for visitors to stay within the park. Our tour group was given less than 3 hours to explore what we could of the park and it was rather pitiful. I wish I could jot down a list of what lakes and waterfalls to visit, but in all honesty, each is worth visiting. Whatever you see will be worth it, no matter how much time you have or how much you saw.
Our day in Jiuzhaigou was cut short by a 90-minute lunch. Had we not been traveling with a tour group, I would have definitely forsaken lunch to see more of the park!
Fooooood! Potatoes, naan/sesame bread, and lots of meat. I forget what we had as vegetarians, but not much.
Also, be sure to get yourself some 紅景天 [hong jing tian], an herb called “rhodiola rosea”, if you tend to get altitude sickness. Which could be very likely given that most aren’t accustomed to hiking at 10,000ft+. Tibetans consider it to be a sacred herb and grows mostly in harsh, cold climates.
My mom and I bought two bottles preemptively and it actually helped with a lot of my motion sickness. They’re a pretty popular tourist necessity, so don’t worry about being stranded with altitude sickness in Jiuzhaigou Valley.