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Hiking Jiuzhaigou National Park

With comments by Vicky in Bold/Italic

jiuzhaigou park

With comments by Vicky in Bold/Italic

After a miserable three days (during which I rushed to the bus station everyday to plead with the attendant to switch the ticket to the next day) in Chengdu feeling like a shell of a human being, I mustered up the strength to board an 8 hour bus to Jiuzhaigou, (that’s pronounced jo-jai-go) a national park in China and UNESCO world heritage site.

I had mixed emotions.

On the one hand, we had heard absolutely amazing things about this place. So as not to spoil it, I didn’t Google anything beforehand (a great excuse to do nothing). I wasn’t sure what to expect, but according to people I barely know but trust purely because they are Chinese, it would be unlike anything we’d seen before. Great.

On the other hand, I was still recovering from some unknown ailment that had taken me out of commission for the last three days. (we still don’t know what this vague sickness was, but I imagine it was simply Dave’s way of punishing me for all the temples I dragged him to in Japan). Although bus rides generally do not require much effort, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to withstand eight hours of twisting, turning, and no bathroom. Not great.

Enough was enough though, and laying around in the hostel in Chengdu seemed only slightly preferable to laying around in a hostel in Jiuzhaigou. So off we went.

Throughout all of China it really felt like it was just me and Vicky. Sure, we had some nice Couchsurfing hosts, and ran into a few people in Yangshuo, but for the most part we were on our own where ever we went. As a result, I was pleasantly surprised to see a handful of young, English speaking foreigners on the bus undoubtedly heading to jiuzhaigou. Maybe they’d want to be friends?

It was middle school all over again.

This presented an uncomfortable situation, as there was an overwhelming pressure for me not to embarrass myself during the bus ride (i.e no puking, because no one likes that). I was going strong up until about hour seven when I started to feel a bit woozy (most likely induced by hours of staring into a computer).

All I could think was “Don’t be that guy. If you vomit, no one will want to be friends with you.” Sure, someone else in the back of the bus had already “broken the ice”. And sure, they say that “two’s company”, but this wasn’t the type of company I was looking for.

These deep thoughts ran through my head for about an hour, when, eventually, the bus came to a halt. Phew.

We all exited the bus and quickly realized that we had booked the same hostel (hostelbookers FTW) (quick translation FTW= for the win, even I did not know this one). After we arrived, however, we quickly lost touch, and it wasn’t until the morning that we all ran into each other again (purely by accident). As fate would have it, we were going to spend the day together exploring the anxiously anticipated Jiuzhaigou park. (with one of the girls speaking beginner Chinese we were determined to stick with her).

Jiuzhaigou Park

Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve

Walking through the park reveals a multitude of natural miracles; deep blue lakes, waterfalls, rock islands. You just don’t see this stuff in nature, well, unless you go to Jiuzhaigou (the colors…just look at the colors). Then you do…but nowhere else!

Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve

It was cold. The kind of cold that only comes from 3 km elevation and November in China. As usual, I was casually dressed in the same thing I’m always dressed in – a few T-shirts, a sweatshirt, a bathing suit, pants, and a few pairs of boxers. Stubborn? Maybe. Stupid? Assuredly. Warm? No.

jiuzhaigou National park

We spent two days and three nights at the park, exploring it with a fine-toothed comb. After not puking on the bus I had the much needed confidence to befriend the other foreigners – a Dutch couple on a gap year and four Israelis post military service. Sound like the beginning to a joke?

jiuzhaigou National park

The Israelis, being a group of four and hence having the majority, persuaded us to not buy a bus ticket (80 yuan – $13) on the first day to see if we could hop on a bus, unnoticed, at a later stop. The park is huge and without a bus you pretty much can’t get anywhere. We, of course, fell flat on our face – no buses picked us up. Luckily, we still had a second day at the park to make up for lost time. The Israelis, originally only planning to stay one day, joined us on day two as well. Surprise, surprise.

jiuzhaigou National park

On our last night, our hostel owner was kind enough to purchase the bus tickets back to Chengdu on our behalf. However, what he considered bus tickets were, in actuality, pieces of paper with random writing on them for which we paid $25 each (this screams scam if you ask me). He instructed us to wait on a random corner at approximately 630 AM, holding these pieces of paper – the bus would magically know to pick us up (I was skeptical).

Despite our extreme doubts, it worked (though for a few minutes there we were worried, as we saw bus after bus pass us without even a moment’s hesitation).

All and all, it was, as they say “worth it”, despite the freezing cold temperatures, hostel with no heat, and 8 hour bus ride (there and back).

jiuzhaigou park


To get to Jiuzhaigou National Park you can take an 8-10 hour bus from Xinanmen Station in Chengdu. The bus runs everyday at 8am with tickets costing 147 yuan (145 on the way back). Make sure to have “please stop at China Travel Hotel” written down and show this to the bus driver so you get dropped off by the Qinke hostel)

We stayed at the Traffic Inn Hostel which is right next door to the bus station in Chengdu.

In Jiuzhaigou we stayed at the Qinke hostel, when you arrive just call the hostel and someone will come to meet you.

To get to the park from the hostel either take a bus (from where the Chengdu bus dropped you off) for 5 yuan per person or hail a taxi (unmarked car is 20 yuan, and metered taxi was 16 yuan)

During peak season April 1 to November 15, one day tickets cost 220 with a bus pass costing 90 yuan

During off peak season November 16 – March 31 tickets are 80 yuan with a second day ticket available for 20 yuan. Bus tickets are 80 yuan per day.

There are wooden trails throughout the park but during off peak season many of these are closed due to “fire hazards.” This results in you having to walk along the paved driving road or having to take buses from sight to sight

The park is shaped in a Y with two different valleys branching off. The walk from the park entrance to the tip of the two valleys takes 3-5 hours (depending on if you take the trail or the road). Since the trail was closed we had to take the road for parts of it.

At the tip of the two valleys is the Nourilang Falls, definitely worth seeing. From there you will have to take a bus to either valley.

We spent two days in the park, without purchasing a bus ticket on our first day we walked up to the tip of the valleys (took us 5 hours) to Nourilang Falls and were able to take a bus back to the entrance.

They do not check bus tickets within the park but there is a risk that you will not be able to get on at the entrance and therefore will have to walk a few hours to be able to catch a bus.

On the second day we took a bus all the way up to the end of one of the Rize valley and walked down where we could or took buses back to the center point. From there we took a bus to the end of the Zechawa valley.

You could try to see the park in one day though it would be rushed. If you are limited on time and can only see one valley make sure to see the Rize valley.

Food options are limited in the park so stock up on fruits, muffins, crackers and water by the hostel (there is a strip with restaurants and convenience stores).

Ask the hostel owner to organize bus tickets back to Chengdu. Our bus left at 6:20 am and took 9 hours but dropped us off at a different bus station in Chengdu and we had to take the subway back to our hostel.

For more info there’s a website for the park.

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4 Responses to Hiking Jiuzhaigou National Park

  1. Very interesting post, my partner and I are going on a world tour and we are planning to get to China in August / sept. Jiuzhaigou National Park is one of the stuff to do on our list but the 7 hours bus ride puts us off. I have read in many forums that this road suffers landslides very often and is quite dangerours ! Since we will be there in August, still in the rainy season, I am quite scared of floods / landlsides… What was your impressions of this road ? does it look dodgy / unsafe ?

    sebastien January 31, 2014 at 1:03 PM Reply
    • We were there in November so the road was in fine condition at that time, though it was fairly windy at times and we did start to get a bit of motion sickness. We honestly tried to sleep through most of the ride though. The park itself is incredible though and worth the full day bus ride each way. Do check and ask about landslides though — if it is a bad time of year to go there you might want to skip it.

      Vicky March 15, 2014 at 1:29 AM Reply
  2. I’ll be visiting in Oct where autumn is believed to be where the park is at its most colourful with leaves of all hues and shades. I’ve been searching for some good hostels near the jiuzhaigou park entrance that’s within walking distance. Read a few horror stories about the supposed YHA hostels on tripadvisor but oh boy, it does worry me. Seems like the 5 stars hotels are the only way out, but considering I’ll be spending abt 2-3 nights there, this option will burn my pocket deep! Where did u stay when u were there? Some advice on this would be highly appreciated.

    tour jiuzhaigou February 15, 2015 at 2:41 AM Reply

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