Jiuzhai Valley is better known as Jiuzhaigou (or “nine village valley”) for the nine Tibetan villages dotted along its length.
Located in Sichuan’s Min Shan mountain range, on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, it’s famed for the brightly coloured pools, gentle waterfalls and karst landscapes.
The whole park covers 72,000 hectares and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.
Beyond the spectacular scenery, the park is home to 220 species of birds along with numerous endangered animals and plants, so has also been made part of the World Biosphere Reserve.
Jiuzhaigou Visitor Tips
Entrance fee: 220 to get in, plus 90 to use the buses. You could get away without paying for the buses if you’re willing to walk, but it’s a minimum of ~30km to the ends of the two valleys and back.
Don’t arrive between 7.30 and 9.30am as that’s when the tour groups arrive. Tickets go on sale at 6.30am. We arrived at 7 and it was already busy but not too bad. The following day we arrived at 9.30am, which was a little quicker, but the ‘low quality crowd’ had turned up. Instead of orderly queues there was a lot more pushing and shoving for the buses.
We arrived later the second day as the sun didn’t really peek over the top of the valley until after 10am, so the colours didn’t appear at their best.
The park is Y shaped so do one branch each day. The Rize and Zechawa valleys flow from the south and meet at the centre of the site where they form the Shuzheng valley, flowing north to the main entrance. The meeting of the valleys is a bus terminal and food hub.
I’d strongly recommend taking the bus to the far end of one of the valleys and walking back down the hill.
Most Chinese tourists will start at the gate and keep getting on and off the bus to go up the hill. As detailed below, bus queues are quite violent, so the easy walk down minimises the time spent queuing/jostling.
There’s not much to eat or drink in the park so take all food and drink. Huts inside sell instant noodles, but they’re not a very good brand. Hot water is offered at all of the numerous toilets.
The walkways are very slippery, particularly near the waterfalls so wear decent shoes be aware that it can get chilly at altitude, particularly once the sun is below the ridge of the valley.
Take lots of camera memory and batteries – there are photo opportunities everywhere.
If you’re flying in, be aware that Jiuzhai Airport is all the way back near Songpan, midway between Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou, so there’s a 2-hour, 200rmb taxi ride over the mountains to reach the national park. There is a full spectrum of hotels nearby, from hostels to a five-star Sheraton.
The reality of Jiuzhaigou
No matter how you might normally prefer to behave, you have to leave any manners at the front gate or you won’t get beyond the first bus stop. Everyone will try to shove past you in the queue. Push back and nobody seems to mind or be insulted. Instead you’ll be treated with a little more respect. All very un-British.
I had to chuck one guy off the bus for throwing a punch at H. He was nearly two feet shorter than me, so didn’t offer much resistance. Usually this is a bad idea in China as a crowd can form and physically attack the foreigner whether or not they’re in the wrong. This guy was drunk and annoying everyone, including his own family, so I got a few approving nods instead.
By the time we got back to the lower reaches a sizable detachment of soldiers had been called in to calm the queues.
They were failing horribly, which is usually a signal that it’s time to leave.