A Travellerspoint blog

February 2015

Jiuzhaigou National Park: Beauty and Madness

semi-overcast 8 °C

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The next morning, we were up early enough and since it was so cold, for China, we waited until the sun went up. As we walked down to the park, we passed several Chinese tour groups. We managed to use our students cards at the admissions office to get a great discount. It was nice considering it was mandatory to pay for the bus in addition to admission.

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The bus took us all the way up to the top of the trail and played a movie in Mandarin about the park with English subtitles. Our attention was torn between that and the beautiful lakes, rivers and waterfalls on either side of us. Leaves had all fallen, hence the drastically low off-season prices, but the waters still retained vibrant colours and were abundant in nature.

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Using our map, we tried to walk up to Swan Lake but a woman started yelling at us and another Chinese man who we had initially followed. They hadn't posted anything in English or in pictures and there was nothing clearly marking it off. How were we to know?

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Instead, we joined the hoards of Chinese tourists walking down the narrow wooden walkways across Arrow Bamboo Lake. The walkways were scarcely wide enough to accommodate those who wanted to marvel at nature along with those who needed a picture to prove they had been there every five to ten feet. We didn't know what they'd ever do with so many pictures of themselves.

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We could understand why they wanted to be in at least one photo. To the North sat beautiful snow-capped mountains. The lake was quite calm and almost glass-like in appearance. The water stayed so cold that logs that fell in couldn't decompose due to lack of bacteria. We could see them sitting beneath the surface through the clear water.

The walkway reached the opposite site of the lake and to our good fortune, the masses of people thinned out. The ones who were still there had a similar walk the park goal to us so we all could move, occasionally stopping for stunning photos.

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The lake grew more greeny-blue as we walked toward Panda Falls: a moderately slippery area due to the moisture and droplets partially freezing on the boardwalks. The falls spanned quite far and we walked a few different boardwalks with care to see them. We posed for a few pictures with Chinese tourists as well which was fun. The walk did get slowed a fair bit by people constantly stopping to take their selfies with or without the strange selfie sticks.

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At that point, our walk came to an end as the park staff had barricaded the next path and we were forced to line up and hop on one of the buses. It was because of fire prevention. Apparently people couldn't control their smoking habits. On a weekend with thousands in the park, boarding buses wasn't the easiest task. We made it on the second cramped bus to my surprise and jumped off as soon as they'd let us.

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We visited Five Flower Lake, which featured different tones of blue and green in its water. Most of the lakes in the park were quite shallow, maybe five meters deep, fluctuating with the seasons. We found a nice quiet spot to sit and enjoy the rest of our Guilin pomelo instead of all the instant snacks and meals for sale. The hot water poured in the instant noodle soups and coffees did make our cold hands and feet envious though.

Our walk continued past Golden Bell Lake and to the remarkable Pearl Waterfalls. Initially, we crossed to the opposite side and went down a pretty relaxed staircase positively excited at the lack of tourists. Then we saw the sign for waterfalls on the opposite side of the river and soon found out that people had sought out the better view. There was still no complaining on either side though as every angle was remarkable.

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We followed the signs and were blown away by the tall and wide waterfalls along the whole walkway. Green moss gleamed in the sun. The park had a platform and tourist area at the most impressive section so we took another snack break there.

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The path got cut off again just before Mirror Lake. People were far less civilized at this stop, pushing like mad in the lines. Our backpacks got pulled and stuck as everyone tried to vie for a spot. Other people thought they could push everyone aside. Elbows were required just to stand your ground. I feared for the poor small children who could easily be hurt in the madness. Some parents had sat them on their shoulders. Ryan commented that cattle were better behaved than this group. We tried to understand that in a society where there were so many people, you did have to fight for resources and to get what you wanted, but this was too far. Our spirits weren't so high after that ride.

We got off the bus at a transfer point and after some closed off paths, souvenir shops and nearly giving up, we found Nuorilang Falls, smaller than the last but still impressive. They were a bit more chill in relation to tourist numbers. We kept going to Rhinoceros and Tiger Lakes, and past Shuzheng Falls to find more blocked off paths.

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We finished off with Shuzheng Stockade, an empty Tibetan village converted into tourist gift shops. They sold a lot of yak meat and products along with the standard tourist fare. They had a temple with cylinders that people spun for good luck and many stupas. There were also colourful flags hanging near the mountain backdrop.

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We caught the bus back with familiar pandemonium. At least there was a staff member or two there to manage it this time. As it drove the path back to the entrance, we saw a nice long uninterrupted walking path out the window, but we were to tired and frustrated with the whole bus ordeal to want to get off and risk fighting the crowds again. We'd also seen a lot of lakes and waterfalls that day. It was time for a rest.

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For supper, we found a local restaurant with a menu quite similar to yesterday's. I came armed with my Mandarin book to avoid having to pick meat out of my food again. We had potatoes and cold fungus, which was actually much tastier than it sounded. The mushrooms out there were rich in flavour although the texture reminded me of a jellyfish.

Posted by Sarah.M 16:42 Archived in China Tagged bridges lake china crowds waterfall sichuan jiuzhaigou Comments (0)

The road to Jiuzhaigou

sunny 15 °C

A decent bus ride away from Chengdu was the picturesque Jiuzhaigou National Park that Ryan had seen on the documentary Wild China. When we realized how close it was to us, only ten hours by bus, we booked tickets and set off on our journey.

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It wasn't that easy though to get to the station that morning. The local bus to the metro took much longer than we anticipated. The washrooms at the metro used the worst cueing system for their co-ed washrooms and I got cut twice even though I was at the front of the line so I gave up and ran back to buy the tokens. The ride seemed to take forever as anything did when you cut it that close.

Once we got off at the metro, we conveniently used the wrong exit based on my intuition and ended up at the local bus terminal instead of the long distance. We ran down the road and across a parking lot to finally reach the right spot with seven or eight minutes to spare. There was finally a washroom as well with a much shorter line-up. I even managed to board the bus before it started to drive away this time.

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The drive itself was quite remarkable when we weren't going through tunnel after tunnel and I silently hoped there wouldn't be an earthquake. The architecture in the villages changed from the traditional Chinese mixed with modern that we had seen so far. Buildings in the mountains became more rectangular in nature and the roofs had right angle triangles at the corner, almost like a castle. Some homes were white and had a design in brown or red painted on near the roof.

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We neared Tibet and this was as close as we were going to get without needing a permit. It showed in the colourful flags that climbed the hillsides or descended from the tops of the white and gold stupas in town. There were dome structures as well as fluffy yaks tied up for tourist photos.
The towns closer to the park featured dark brick buildings with flat roofs that made us feel like we'd entered a town from the middle ages. There were even watchtowers. It would have been worth it to find a tour, bus or drive on our own so we could stop and visit a few more of the towns to explore.

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We did stop for lunch where I was blown away by the selection for vegetarians: crispy tofu, eggplant in tasty sauce, fries, garlic cucumber, bean sprouts with noodles and the only one I didn't care for was the vegetable with cilantro. Since it was buffet style, I tried them all. I had to eat quickly since I spent half the time taking pictures since I assumed they'd have little for me to consume. They had meat fare as well, but I enjoyed my veggie heaven. Ryan had a few bites but still wasn't feeling a hundred percent.

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The bus stopped at random places and tried to let us off early. We declined since we needed the bus station as our landmark to find our way. Our brains wouldn't be flexible. Another passenger helped us get off at the right place and after 20 minutes of walking uphill with our bags (perhaps getting off early wouldn't have been the worst thing) we found the Angeline Hotel.

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We had booked it online and judging by the prices they had posted in their lobby, serious bargaining was required to get from their posted 600 for a double room to the 160 we were paying for it. It seemed nice with a chandelier and Tibet-style flags coming down from the fourth floor. All the reviews had ranted about the chilly dorms on the roofs so we spent a little more reserving a double room inside the building which had heat, a hot shower and was reasonably nice. It even had a plug in the sink to get laundry done. We couldn't ask for much more, except maybe a more vegetarian supper. It wasn't not too fun picking the meat out of my noodle dish, especially when its tiny and shredded.

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Posted by Sarah.M 15:03 Archived in China Tagged food park village national highway long drive sichuan vegetarian jiuzhaigou medival Comments (0)

Sichuan Opera

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Later that night, we thought we'd take in the Sichuan Opera. After a fair bit of research yesterday and consulting people, we found one that was close enough to where we were staying. It was a tea house in the swanky Intercontinental hotel complex. We walked around the complex first, a bit intimidated, then decided to go inside and pretend that we didn't stick out like sore thumbs, just long enough to get directions and marvel at the holiday decorations. The guys at the front, dressed in uniforms, helped us without issue.

Still then, we managed to get lost and had to consult another host at a restaurant who spoke little English, but recognized the name Shunxing and mimed the directions for us. As we walked up to the carpet leading to the tea house, a group of uniformed musicians picked up their instruments and provided a soundtrack for our arrival. We were greeted by a friendly hostess after that.

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The restaurant was nice with wood panels carved into nice designs and different sections to make the place seem huge. It looked too expensive to eat in, but we got ushered to the back to see the opera performance area and to pick our front and center seats. We went exploring to find a cheaper restaurant that also had an English or at the very least picture menu, but found little except an Italian place so we went back to the tea house.

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We split an eggplant dish and rice that was almost reasonably priced, but Ryan's appetite still hadn't returned. It had a good rich sauce with that famous Sichuan heat. Other than taking a really long time to come out of the kitchen and our waitress disappearing conveniently as we wanted to pay before the show started, it was a nice experience.

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Our front row table was nice and they even brought us tea and sweet snacks. The first act featured dancers with long feathers coming from their heads and colourful outfits.

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Ryan's favourite act was a woman performing shadow puppets with her hands. She had an array of birds and animals to mimic to the gentle music. In one shadow puppet, she managed to even incorporate her pony tail and it was quite impressive.

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An acrobat came up next to juggle and twirl various items like umbrellas with her feet while lying on her back.

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Dancers with flowing green sleeves who performed as if they were scarves.

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An intense tea pouring demonstration featured a man and woman who would spin long beaked kettles without spilling a drop. They managed to perform for around five minutes to show their skills.

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Next came a play in Mandarin and from what we could discern, there was a marital dispute happening and the husband had to perform different ridiculous requests from the wife like balancing objects on his body. He was a bit cheeky about the whole thing but she wouldn't let him get away with slacking off.

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A woman played music for us that nearly lulled us into sleep. It was beautiful, we had just had a really long day visiting pandas.

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The final act was my favourite, the face changing opera. The whole show was less an opera and more a display of cultural performances. For the final one, the loud group of Chinese people behind us ended their show-long conversations to be captivated as well.

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The actors and actresses wore bright colourful cloth masks. If you've seen Chinese face masks, you've probably seen them before. The different colours and patterns indicated different personality traits or emotions. The music was loud and epic as the performers would quickly turn or twirl to reveal a completely different mask while the previous had vanished. They continued to change faces as the show went on to the audience's delight. By the very end, the performers came into the audience and people were ecstatic to be in pictures with them. We were too tired to fight for our chance before the opportunity vanished, but one masked woman did thank us for coming.

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Posted by Sarah.M 03:16 Archived in China Tagged china opera shadow face lost sichuan changing teahouse puppet Comments (0)

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