OUR recent trip to China’s Jiuzhai Valley National Park (Jiuzhaigou) started on a terrible note.
The flight from Hong Kong to Chengdu was delayed by a black rainstorm, which caused a plane to veer off the runway at Hong Kong International Airport. We sat in the lounge for five hours, then another agonising four in the plane — which was full.
By the time we landed in Chengdu at 8pm, we had missed our connecting flight to Jiuzhaigou. I was starving, traumatised by the full flight (I have claustrophobia) and badly in need of a wash.
To make matters worse, there were no more flights to Jiuzhaigou that night; a road and train journey was out of the question. We were doomed.
Frustration and fatigue are a terrible combination, and tempers frayed as I ranted about being dragged into the mess.
But it is tough times that bring couples together. We made peace; I culled enough long-lost shreds of Mandarin from my memory to speak to various airline representatives, booked us on a flight the following morning and secured basic accommodation for the night.
We stumbled into bed, us versus the world.
The next day, my husband and I finally arrived in Jiuzhaigou, only to be greeted by — you guessed it, more rain.
“But we made it,” I said, clutching his hand.
The holiday had finally begun.
Cleanest spot in China
The world’s most populous country (1.38 billion), China is synonymous with crowds. It is also massively polluted; studies suggest that the
country’s dirty air (in part, thanks to its economic boom) contributes to 1.6 million deaths annually.
But step into Jiuzhaigou and you will be floored by its startling — or should I say sparkling — difference to the rest of the country, and the ability to escape the marauding crowds.
Located in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan province, Jiuzhaigou opened for tourism in 1984, and was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1992.
Jiuzhaigou (Nine Village Valley) refers to the Tibetan villages scattered in the parklands. Local folklore has it that the valley was created when a jealous devil caused the goddess Wunosemo to drop her magic mirror, a present from her lover, the warlord god Dage. The mirror dropped to the ground and shattered, forming 114 turquoise lakes.
Jiuzhaigou also boasts forest ecosystems, narrow conic karst land forms and spectacular waterfalls set in the magnificent mountains.
I have visited Yosemite National Park in the United States, Mount Kinabalu in East Malaysia and Jade Mountain in Taiwan, and dived in some amazing places including Palau, Sangalaki and the Maldives, but I must say it was the first time I gawked — yes, gawked — at water.
For my husband, who lived in Guangzhou for a year and has travelled all over the country, Jiuzhaigou is hands-down “the cleanest spot in China”.
Its ethereal lakes are absolutely mesmerising, so crystal-clear I could see the bottom. And at different lakes at different times, and from different angles, the colour seductively slipped from turquoise to azure to jade to cyan, teasing my eyes — and winning my heart.
Think of Jiuzhaigou, which spans over 72,000ha and reaches a height of 4,752m above sea level, as three valleys arranged in a Y shape; the Rize and Zechawa valleys flow from the south and meet at the centre of the site where they form the Shuzheng Valley.
The most time-efficient way to see the park’s most spectacular sights is to take the free shuttle bus to the end of Rize and/or Zechawa, then hike downhill via the park’s 70km network of boardwalks.
Don’t miss Wuhua (Five-Flower) Lake, the pride of Jiuzhaigou and the park’s ultimate technicolour showstopper.
My eyes could scarcely believe the million shades of the leaves on the lakefront, interlacing like threads in a length of brocade.
If this is what it was like in late spring, I could only imagine how unbelievably beautiful it would be in autumn.
While no pandas have been spotted at Xiongmao (Panda) Lake in years, visitors can’t help praying for a lucky sighting of these endearing animals. But the surrounding mountains and the air of serenity more than make up for it.
Other popular stops in Jiuzhaigou include Arrow Bamboo, Grass, Swan, and Mirror Lakes as well as Nuorilang Falls.
Besides the stunning natural landscape, Jiuzhaigou also offers some 220 bird species as well as a number of endangered plant and animal species, including the Sichuan golden monkey, the Sichuan takin and numerous orchids and rhododendrons.
Many visitors make the best of their trip by combining Jiuzhaigou with a trip to Huanglong Valley, which is a three-hour drive. Because of our flight delay, we did not have enough time to make it there.
But after being thoroughly captivated by Jiuzhaigou, we know there will be a return visit — just the two of us, hand in hand.
We flew from Hong Kong to Chengdu on Cathay Pacific, and caught a Lucky Air flight to Jiuzhaigou. Other domestic airlines that ply the Chengdu-Jiuzhaigou route include Air China, Hainan Airlines and Sichuan Airlines.
- To avoid the crowds, choose a hotel near the park entrance (such as the Sheraton Jiuzhaigou Resort), and get to the park as early as possible.
- Buy your ticket in advance, at self-ticketing machines near the entrance and in some hotels.
- Food options in Jiuzhai Valley National Park are expensive and limited. You are better off bringing your own food. There are many stores just outside the park selling buns and light snacks.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.