Just an hour and 15 minute flight from Xi’an, in the north of Sichuan province, lie two breath-taking natural sites you must see before you leave China: Jiǔ Zhài Gōu (九寨沟, Nine Village Valley) and Huáng Lóng (黄龙, Yellow Dragon). Last month, over National Week, I braved the crowds to take my parents to these UNESCO World Heritage sights, hoping to give them a glimpse of just how beautiful China is. I wanted their memories of China to be of its colorful natural wonders rather than its grey concrete jungles. Mission accomplished. My father, who’s traveled to more than 100 countries, said he’s never seen so much natural beauty in one place.
Jiu Zhai Valley National Park is filled with forests, lakes, rivers, ponds, marshes, waterfalls, and streams with an incredible array of colors. The mineral-filled water is crystal clear and glowing blue at the same time. Jiu Zhai Gou park is shaped like a Y, each arm extending through the valley towards the beautiful sights deep within. Buying a green bus ticket is necessary, as the park is too big to navigate by foot. These hop-on-hop-off buses allow you flexibility and provide videos with English-subtitled information about the sites. Bus to the end points of the Y and bus/walk your way to the axis, then bus up the other direction. Some stops are close enough to walk between, especially the lakes on the eastern route. Although tens of thousands of people visit daily, you can still find moments of quiet and spots to yourself if you take the paths less travelled. Plan to spend the whole day (approximately 12 hours) at the park.
Huang Long National Scenic Reserve is a much smaller park, but with very interesting scenery. Water cascades down the sloping hill between small pools, each pool a different shade of blue, green, or yellow. Ride the cable car up the mountain, walk through the forest and then down the valley to see the main sites. Clearly marked signs and sidewalks will guide you through the one-path park.
Both Jiu Zhai Gou and Huang Long are breathtakingly beautiful anytime of the year. Each season brings new colors and wonders: flowers, sunshine, autumn leaves, snow and ice. Low season prices drop by 2/3rds. Jiu Zhai Gou and Huang Long were two of the best maintained parks I’ve been to in China with excellent walking paths and many green-toilet bathrooms. Although the prices are steep, the views are priceless and the photographs are stunning. It’s hard to believe just how beautiful water can be until you’ve seen it for yourself.
Day 1: Fly from Xi’an to Jiu Zhai Gou Huang Long airport to arrive midday. Take the airport bus to Huang Long where the driver will wait for 4 hours for you to tour the park. Continue on by airport bus to Jiu Zhai Gou. Check in to your hotel and walk to the park entrance to buy your tickets for the next day. (Next day tickets sold starting at 4pm). For dinner enjoy a Tibetan dinner at Abu Tibetan restaurant. Buy snacks tomorrow’s trip.
Day 2: Get up early, check out, and get to Jiu Zhai Gou by 6:30 or 7am. Spend all day exploring. Leave the park in the late afternoon and go directly to the airport.
Airport–> Huang Long–> Jiu Zhai Gou: 120RMB
high season (Apr.1 to Nov.15)
ticket: 200RMB (100RMB for student/over 60 years old)
cable car: 80RMB up, 40RMB down
low season (Nov.16 to Mar.31) ticket: 60RMB (30RMB for student/60+)
Jiu Zhai Gou:
high season (Apr.1 to Nov.15)
ticket: 220RMB (110RMB for student/60+)
low season (Nov.16 to Mar.31)
ticket: 80RMB (40RMB for student/60+)
We recommend Wang Jun Yun (王军云), a local Tibetan driver. He provided us with excellent service, was always on time, helped us get the best deals while shopping, and safely drove us from site to site. Very reasonable prices. Space for 4 passengers. Chinese only, no English. Call to inquire: 187-8376-1345