KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
• Get your Chinese Visa before travelling
• Hotel: Sheraton Jiuzhaiguo
• Guide: Micah
• Duration: 5 nights
• Month of Travel: August
• Early = Fewer Crowds
• General Visitor Information: Ticketing, hours, prices
FLY OR DRIVE?
Most flights are routed through Chengdu. From here you can decide to fly direct to Jiuzhaiguo or drive/take a tour bus from Chengdu. Many tours start and return in Chengdu to incorporate a visit to the panda reserve.
DAY ONE – NATURE RESERVE
Our young and energetic guide picked us up in the hotel lobby at the Sheraton Jiuzhaiguo at 8:30am for our tour of the ‘Valley of Nine Villages,’ otherwise known as Jiuzhaiguo Valley Nature Reserve. Although you can purchase tickets at the hotel, we went to the Nature Reserve so we could get the student discount. Tickets were about RMB560 per day. After paying, we worked our way through a large crowd (only to find out the 7,000 people visiting that day was small) to the buses going up the hill.
We started at the Primeval Forest where Micah shared the various types of trees, particularly pointing out the arrow bamboo. Jiuzhaiguo had a large logging operation until it was closed in 1978, with the reserve opening just six years later complete with a panda reserve and kilometers of hiking trails.
Continuing our stroll in the fresh breeze down the main path led us to Swan Lake as well as the most famous lakes, Five Flower and Peacock Lakes. One highlight is having a chance to put on traditional Tibetan costumes. It is hard to resist such an easy jump into local culture with such a beautiful backdrop.
There are various lunch options throughout the park including kiosks at various lakes with instant rice and candy. There is a main café complex located at the fork in the park. But because we were feeling more adventurous, we dined at a local village. We feasted on freshly cooked fried rice, green vegetables and tried dried yak meat made in the tiny kitchen. Other popular dishes such as potatoes, barley and coffee with yak milk or yak butter (the original bullet-proof coffee!) are typically ordered. We finished our first day by walking around the village for a little while and taking the bus down to the entrance. We arrived back at the hotel about 4pm for a rest and dinner in the main restaurant.
DAY TWO – NATURE RESERVE
Our second day started with a lovely buffet breakfast in the main restaurant at the Sheraton, followed by meeting up with Micah in the hotel lobby. We promptly departed for the park to tour the left fork. The vastly, well tended trails, fresh water and air mesmerized us.
Micah shared with us local edible berries that were sweet and yellow. Apparently there are factories that press the juice of the berries on these trees, but it must take an entire tree to make one glass of juice, the berries are so tiny. We both enjoyed the tart yet sweet delights as we walked past turquoise waters to the main waterfall of the park called the Nuorilong Waterfall.
DAY THREE – ZHONGCHA VILLAGE
After a 30-minute drive into the hills, we landed in Zhongcha village for horseback riding. Turns out what I thought had been donkeys were actually short, strong horses. Whilst Micah handled the arrangements, I took time to admire our unique view nestled in between two very old villages as well as the score of women hand-embroidering sashes and dresses with skill and dexterity. Embroidery at this level is a gift bestowed from the mother to child and is an honoured part of the culture.
Soon enough, we mounted our horses for an ambling ride up through the village to a clearing of prayer flags and a stupa. The locals brought flags for us to hang, paper to throw and incense for the stupa. Micah showed us what to do, and we partook in the event with pleasure! We continued on the ride towards another clearing in a field where other horses were grazing. There were so many unique, beautiful and radiantly coloured flowers. It was hard not to spend the whole time just taking pictures of the area’s natural beauty. The field had a remarkable feature that brought travellers from around other villages…a fountain of youth. A natural spring ran through the bottom half of the field with individuals travelling from afar to drink from the stream and improve health. Filtration wasn’t necessary as the water is naturally clean, and local Tibetans are not concerned with contamination from animals.
At the beginning of our ride, Micah cautioned us both. The one rule we were told to follow, “Don’t walk towards the rear legs or backside of the horse. You will get kicked.” After about 1.5 hours, my knee started to bother me so I got off to walk the rest of the trail. I thought I was walking far enough from the horse, but I felt a sudden sharp pain to the outside of my foot. I still don’t know how the horse managed to get his foot around my body to step on my toes, but I was lucky the force of the stomp left me with a bruise, as we were hiking into publicly forbidden places the next day.
At the end of our two-hour trek, Micah told us some locals invited us to lunch in their village home, to which we happily and hungrily accepted. To start, we were offered Jan’ak, the butter salted black tea. The drink was a very salty wake-up call. Our three-generation hosts continued to prepare a great feast of meat and vegetables. We filled our bellies leisurely, and as we left Micah remarked we were the first westerners ever in the home. Hopefully we made a good impression. We weren’t allowed to pay for the kind meal offered to us, so I gave the children what I could…colouring pages from our meditative-art book that we had picked up in the airport. We finished our day at Zhongcha by admiring the homes, the tall stalks of barley and beans drying on trellises and the million dollar view.
DAY FOUR – HIKING IN THE ZHARU VALLEY
We spent our last day hiking in the forest, only accessible by booking ahead to ensure a guide. All hikers going off the wooden-trails must have a guide. Shockingly, we were able to book a guide at the last minute through Micah’s connections in town. We ended up with a guide that didn’t speak English, but Micah was able to translate everything. We meandered past tall billowing trees, a few snakes sunning themselves on a rock, seasonal houses far from civilization and ancient stone homes in varying degrees of collapse. We learned about edible flowers, mushrooms, hiding places of monkeys and other animals, as well as enjoying good company. We ended the three-hour walk with a lovely meal cooked by several women in the warming hut at the beginning of the trail. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on obtaining a guide, hiking and camping in the valley.
Overall this was an excellent and unique trip. If we were to plan it again, we might combine Chengdu with Jiuzhaiguo. If you wanted to be efficient, touring the reserve and horseback riding could be done in two or three days. To book the guide and go hiking or camping in the forest, make sure you book at least three months in advance to ensure an English-speaking guide. The beauty of Jiuzhaiguo cannot be underestimated, and can truly only be enjoyed by experiencing its natural and cultural beauty in person!