My friend Sanna and I had planned a visit to Huanglong National Scenic Reserve for our second day in Jiuzhai Valley, but we were convinced by the hostel owner to consider another option -Shenxianchi (神仙池), or the Fairy Pools. Both offer similar scenery, but Huanglong is larger and more well-known (read: more tourists). Upon hearing that the Fairy Pools would offer similar views but with less people, we were sold. After trekking around Jiuzhaigou the previous day, we didn’t want to do much walking, anyways, so a smaller, more intimate area to explore sounded like a great idea. We arranged a tour through the hostel, which included a driver and tour guide for the day.
Like many of the tour guides and drivers in the area, our tour guide was Tibetan. He was easily one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met in China, and he really made the trip a pleasurable experience! We had a small tour group – myself, my friend Sanna from Finland, a young man from Germany, another Chinese-American women, and an elderly Israeli couple. Unfortunately, our tour guide didn’t speak English, so he would speak in Chinese, and everyone would look expectantly at me and the other Chinese-American girl for a translation. Eventually, the other girl took over because everyone realized how poor my Chinese comprehension is 😦
The car ride to the Fairy Pools from Jiuzhaigou took around 1.5 hours and involved traversing winding mountain roads. The view of the mountainside was breathtaking!
We took a short break at a small Tibetan village area, where we took pictures with the colorful Tibetan prayer flags. It was a slightly drizzly day, so the kind tour guide insisted that I take his umbrella.
During the bus ride to the Fairy Pools, our tour guide told us a little bit about Tibetan culture. Tibetans are nomadic people who raise yak and other livestock. Their yak provide meat, milk, fat (butter), hair (that is made into blankets or clothing), and are used for transportation. Tibetans will even follow behind the footsteps of yak to avoid hidden sinkholes in the ground. It’s no surprise that Tibetans are highly reliant on yak, and therefore, Tibetan people can be found where yak can be found – usually at high altitudes, in harsh climates that make it difficult to grow vegetables. Our tour guide warned us that many visitors become confused while driving through the mountains because of the high altitudes. He recommends that you always hire a Tibetan driver, since the Tibetans in the area are used to the high altitudes and can navigate through the winding mountain roads without a problem.
There are several distinct Tibetan tribes, and they vary somewhat in terms of customs and traditions. For example, some of the tribes are patriarchal, while others are matriarchal. When receiving guests, Tibetan will present visitors with a ceremonial scarf, which symbolizes goodwill.
Finally, we arrived at the Fairy Pools.
The fairy pools cover an area of around 2000 square meters. It’s not large, which honestly was a welcome relief, having spent my whole day walking around Jiuzhaigou Park the previous day.
The low-hanging clouds over the alpine forests contributed to the mystical, almost dream-like mood of the Fairy Pools.
My favorite part were these beautiful terraced travertine pools. Doesn’t it look like a place where fairies would come out to bathe? 🙂
The Tibetans believe that the water that flows here is pure and sacred. In fact, our tour guide went over and splashed some of the water onto his face.
Shoutout to my ridiculously nice tour guide! He actually insisted on carrying my backpack for me halfway through our trip, even though I obviously had no problem carrying it myself. He even gave me his umbrella and let himself be rained on.
Like at Jiuzhaigou Park, the Fairy Pools feature several ponds and lakes that are a brilliant shade of turquoise green. Although the lakes look very shallow, they are actually on average 5-15 meters deep, and can actually get up to 25 meters deep. This presents a danger to small children who fall or jump into the lakes without realizing how deep it actually is.
After our visit to the Fairy Pools was over, we piled back into the bus and headed back to our hostel in Jiuzhai Valley.
Inspired by our Tibetan tour guide, my new friends and I decided to try a nearby Tibetan restaurant for dinner.
During the dinner, there was a short performance, where a man sang a traditional Tibetan song, then presented all diners with a ceremonial scarf! (It’s fake/touristy, of course, but we still felt like it made a nice souvenier.)
This restaurant is known for offering authentic Tibetan food. Unfortunately, the menu is quite pricy. Luckily, the restaurant owner, having been an international student himself, is sympathetic towards students. They offered us a set meal for a special price.
I really wanted to try yak butter tea, because I saw signs for it everywhere and it seemed to be a local specialty that I wouldn’t be able to try anywhere else!Because Tibetans live in high altitudes, they need to consume high-fat foods and drinks to be able to withstand the harsh climates. When we inquired about the tea, however, we learned that it is quite expensive. To our surprise, the kind and generous owners gave us all a cupful of yak butter tea to try for free. Like Mongolian milk tea, it’s slightly salty, thick, and has a strange flavor that I was not used to.
If there’s one thing I learned about my trip to Jiuzhaigou, it is that the locals here are some of the kindest and most generous people that you will meet in China! The scenery and natural formations in Jiuzhai Valley are awe-inspiring, but it’s the amazing people I met here that made this trip so special. I can’t wait to be back one day.