Jiuzhaigou (九寨沟 or Jiuzhai Valley, as it is referred to in English) is Sichuan’s star attraction – a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts millions of visitors each year. Tourists gaze in awe at the emerald pools, picturesque waterfalls, and verdant forests.

Jiuzhaigou National Park

My trip to Jiuzhaigou took place in July. I’m mentioning this because Jiuzhaigou is known to be beautiful in all 4 seasons, but you might like to know that my pictures are from summer. Stay tuned for travel tips at the end of this blog post!

Now, without further ado, enjoy my photo dump of Jiuzhaigou!

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It was slightly drizzly that morning

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Nuorilang Falls

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Jiuzhaigou Travel Tips

Getting There

My friend Sanna and I traveled to Jiuzhaigou from Chengdu by bus, which took around 9 hours. There were frequent rest stops, where you can stretch your legs, use the restroom and buy some snacks. Remember that you are traveling through a region that is not very developed, so don’t expect fancy or modern restroom facilities. There is a 1 CNY charge for restroom use, so prepare some change! The restrooms are the trench-style (if you don’t know what I’m talking about… *evil cackle*), and there are no doors 🙂 If you’re American and used to privacy in restroom situations, you’ve been warned! (Although honestly, it’s not really a big deal.)

Lodging

There is no lodging within the park, but you will find plenty of options in the area around the park entrance called Pengfeng Village. We stayed at the Friendship Hostel – I highly recommend staying here because the owner, Robbie, is so kind. He speaks English well, and he is really committed to making sure that you make the most out of your trip to Jiuzhaigou. Robbie hosts nightly information sessions on Jiuzhaigou, in which he reveals GREAT insider tips on how to save money and time, which of course, I will share with you below 🙂 It’s worth paying attention to his orientation session because he will let you know of seasonal occurrences (such as dried up pools) and whether or not you should skip certain areas.

We booked tickets to Jiuzhaigou and our tour package to the Fairy Pools through the receptionist, AND there was pickup/drop-off from the bus station and Jiuzhaigou entrance. Sanna and I booked a double room (so I can’t speak about the quality of the bunk rooms). We actually decided to stay one more night than originally planned, and the owner went out of his way to accommodate us by calling the person who booked the room for our last day and asking if he would be willing to switch rooms. So all in all, I highly recommend you give the Friendship Hostel a go!

Avoiding the Crowds

The key to getting the most out of your Jiuzhaigou trip (or a trip to anywhere in China, really) is to understand the difference between domestic and international visitors.

Chinese Tourists prefer:

  • Vacationing with a tour group
  • Having everything pre-planned (meals, lodging, itinerary)
  • Taking pictures at famous sites

Foreign Tourists prefer:

  • “The road less taken” and going off the beaten path
  • Unique travel experiences
  • Not afraid of “roughing it”

Why is this important to understand? Chinese attractions such as Jiuzhaigou typically receive far more domestic visitors than international visitors. (In case you didn’t notice, there are a LOT of people in China. A lot.) So, if you want to avoid the crowds, do the opposite as the Chinese tourists do!

Bus or No Bus?

Jiuzhaigou is shaped like the letter Y, with the entrance at the bottom. There are hop-on-hop-off busses that run from each point of the Y to the entrance. Getting on a bus requires a bus pass (an extra fee). The “recommended route”, which pretty much all of the Chinese tourists follow, is:

  • Get on a bus at the entrance
  • Take the bus all the way up to the top of one of the Ys
  • Walk down to Nuorilang Falls (located at the junction of the Y)
  • Take the other bus to the other point
  • Walk down.

This way, it is possible to see everything in the park in one day (and the park is rather large!)

Of course, if Chinese tourists are doing this route, you should consider doing another route to avoid crowds. This is what Robbie from Friendship Hostel recommends for foreigners:

  • Skip the bus at the entrance, and start walking
  • Once you get a few stops past the entrance, drivers don’t check for bus passes anymore. So get on a bus if you want.
  • Follow the Chinese recommended route/do whatever you want

This way, you avoid the biggest roadblock, which is the line to get on a bus at the entrance of the park. (Also, you can get away with not paying the extra fee for a bus pass… not that I would officially endorse that or anything like that. 😉 )

Safety

My iPhone clocked around 27,000 steps during my visit. My legs felt like they were about to fall off at the end of the day… Although I found walking to be totally worth it, don’t forget that Jiuzhaigou is 2000m above sea level. Some people will feel the effects of the high altitude. Take it easy and don’t be afraid to take the bus – it comes frequently and there are stops along all of the major attractions, so you won’t miss out on anything if you choose the bus over walking.

Food

I bought a sandwich from my hostel and packed it with me, and I highly recommend doing the same unless you want to pay for an overpriced instant self-heating meal.

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Instant self-heating meal

The self-heating meals come in a small red box, as shown above. Inside, there is a heat pouch. After activating the heat pouch, you leave it in the case for a few minutes while it warms up your rice/whatever else is in your meal.

There is a buffet restaurant near the Y junction and a fast food restaurant near the entrance, but for the most flexibility, I recommend packing a lunch!

Conclusion

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Jiuzhaigou! I’m happy to see that China has not only preserved the natural beauty of Jiuzhaigou, but has also made it accessible to everyone. The bus system is efficient and allows even the elderly to navigate through the large park with ease. The views are truly breathtaking, almost surreal. I highly recommend making a visit if you are ever fortunate enough to be in the area.

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