Monday, August 26, 2013

Planning a Sichuan Trip

A friend announced in late July that she will be visiting Jiuzhaigou in October 2013. Yes, she is planning to visit the fairy land of Jiuzhaigou in Sichuan. She asked me for some suggestions on planning her ten day trip there and here are my suggestions, which I hope would also benefit other readers.

1.    Chengdu
1a.    Map of Traffic Inn Hostel and Xinnanmen Bus Station.
1b.    Map of Traffic Inn Hostel and Jinjiang Hotel Metro Station.
1c.    Recommended Hostel: Traffic Inn Hostel
The phone number is +862885450470 and the email address is It also has a website at You can read more here also.

Traffic Inn lies on Linjiang Zhong Lu (Zhong Lu = Middle Road). Its address is given as No. 6 Middle Linjiang Road ( 武侯区临江中路6号) in my hotel booking confirmation slip.  The gps location is Latitude 30.64513, Longitude 104.07270 (N 030° 38.708, E 104° 4.362).

Do not confuse Traffic Inn Hostel with Traffic Hotel.

Why stay here? It has English speaking staff, is close to Xinnanmen Bus Station which is the hub to all the attractions in Sichuan, is close to the restaurants and convenient stores, is easy to get a taxi at Xinnanmen Station side entrance and is close to a metro station (Jinjiang Hotel metro station).

(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)
1d.     Recommended Places to Visit or Do
The following are all in Chengdu. You only need about 1 - 2 hours at each place. Go there in the afternoon/ evening after you return from your outstation trips.
  • Stroll along the park beside Jinjiang River and soak in the atmosphere of Chengdu. It is also a good place to watch people.
  • People’s Park (人民公園) - Go there and have a feel of the Chengdu tea culture. I went there but did not stop for tea. I would make a rather odd figure sitting alone sipping tea. 
  • Wenshu Temple (文殊院) - It is famous, but temples being temples, I think you will have enough of the temples already. Anyway, go for the garden within the temple ground and the street food outside.
  • Chunxi Road (春熙路) - This is Chengdu's shopping district. I am not into shopping and did not come here.
  • Jinli Street (锦里街) and Wuhou Memorial Temple (武侯祠) - Jinli is an ancient street but because of the extensive renovations, it is more modern than old. It is also too neat and clean for me! Jinli Street and Wuhou lie side by side. Give Wuhou a miss. I find it boring.
  • Kuanzhaixiangzi (宽窄巷子) - Like Jinli Street, it is more modern than old. Go there if you have nothing better to do in Chengdu.
  • There are of course many other places like Dufu Cottage, parks, etc. but they were not in my own itinerary and so I could not recommend them.
1e.     Recommended Food   
My Chengdu friend in PNG (he has since returned to Chengdu) recommended a few must-eat food. However, I did not try them all, partly because I feel squeamish about some of them and because I did not know how to order them. This was what he wrote:
  • Intestine Noodle 肥肠粉 (Fei Chang Fen)
  • Rabbit Head兔头 (Tu Tou). This is a cold dish. Try it if you are not squeamish about eating rabbit.
  • Spicy Beef with Stomach Slice夫妻肺片 (Fu Qi Fei Pian)
  • Spicy Chicken Salad 棒棒鸡 (Bang Bang Ji) - also written as Bon Bon Chicken. Tasted ok. This is a famous cold Sichuan dish.
  • Zhong Dumpling钟水饺 (Zhong Shui Jiao)
  • Hot Pot火锅  (Huo Guo) - Tasted ok. This is the favorite dish of Chengdu folks and the representative Sichuan food.
  • Baked Meat Pie 锅盔 (Guo Kui)
  • Dan Dan Noodle 担担面 (Dan Dan Mian) - This was very good and highly recommended. It is quite famous too.
  • Pig Blood and Pig Inside 毛血旺 (Mao Xue Wang)
  • Boiled Fish with Chili水煮鱼 (Shui Zhu Yu)
  • Spicy and Pepper Bean curd 陈麻婆豆腐 (Chen Ma Po Dou Fu) - Numbing and spicy. I hate the numb feeling in my mouth. Give it a try. This is after all a very famous Sichuan dish too.
My friend forgot to mention Spicy Diced Chicken with Cashews/ Peanuts宫保鸡丁(Gong Bao Ji Ding). This is also a very famous Sichuan dish. Like Ma Po Dou Fu, I hate the numbing sensation.

2.    Recommended Attractions outside Chengdu
Before flying off to Chengdu, keep yourself fit for the long walk at Jiuzhaigou.
  • Jiuzhaigou National Park (九寨沟) - This should be the highlight for all visitors to Chengdu. See the separate section for Jiuzhaigou below.
  • Huanglong National Park - I did not go there, mainly because there wasn't any public transportation to Huanglong. There was also no accommodation in Huanglong. With a big group, sharing the cost of a van makes it lighter on the pocket.
  • Leshan Giant Buddha (乐山大佛) - This is the largest Buddha in the world. Impressive. Don't miss it. Either climb it or view it from the river. I would suggest that you hire a van to Leshan Giant Buddha, leave your luggage in the van and climb the hill to see Giant Buddha. Then take the same van to Baoguo Village and spend a night or two at Teddy Bear Hotel.
  • Emei Shan (峨嵋山) (Shan = Mountain) - If you are buying your bus ticket at Xinnanmen to Emei Shan (the city, not the mountain), make sure that the ticketing officer does not issue you a Meishan (嵋山) bus ticket. Meishan is a totally different destination. On reaching Emei Shan (city) take a taxi to Baoguo Village. Buses going to the three Emei Shan (mountain) bus stations of Wuxian Gang, Wannian and Leidong Ping depart from Baoguo Village bus station. Recommended hostel: Teddy Bear Hotel in Baoguo Village. Read this post from Teddy Bear Hotel
  • Dujiangyan (都江堰) and Qingcheng Shan (青城山) (Shan = Mountain) - You can do Dujiangyan and Qingcheng Shan on the same day. Take the metro (= MRT) to Chengdu North Railway Station. From there, take the CRH high-speed train to Dujiangyan. Go to the bus station which is just outside the train exit. Do not be tempted by the cheap offers from the female touts waiting there. Take the public bus to Dujiangyan. The CRH train/ bus station setup at Qingcheng Shan is similar. Read more here
  • Panda Research Base & Breeding Centre (成都大熊猫繁育研究基地) - This is after all the home of the cute panda. You cannot miss this. Take a taxi and go early before the feeding time at about 8:45 a.m. Besides the panda, you can find the red panda (firefox), swan, koi, peacock and rose garden within the centre. You can spend half a day here.
  • Sanxingdui (三星堆) Museum - This was in my itinerary but I decided to skip it after considering all the hassles of changing buses. Sharing a van with your group members should make it convenient to go and bring down the cost.
  • Luodai Ancient Town (洛带古镇) - Go if you like old towns and if you still have the time. There are also a lot of tasty snacks sold here. You can still see locals selling stuff the old ways and dressed in their everyday attires. I much prefer Luodai to Huanglongxi Ancient Town. Half a day here is good enough. Buy your bus ticket at Xinnanmen.
  • Huanglongxi Ancient Town (黄龙溪古镇) - Although it is billed as an old town, there is not much "old" traces left. It is more modern than old. Skip it, unless you have nothing else to do.
3.    Jiuzhaigou National Park
3a.    Overcoming Altitude Sickness
I do not really know whether Hong Jing Tian is effective or not. Y, a native of Sichuan, advised me to take it. Indeed, I did not feel any headache while I was in Jiuzhaigou but then again, 3,099 metres elevation at Long Lake or 2,929 metres at Primeval Forest may not have the negative effect on me. On the way from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou, the altitude actually reaches 3,505 meters above sea-level at its highest elevation. That is higher than Vietnam's Mount Fansipan (elevation 3,143 metres). Prevention is better than cure, so I bought myself Hong Jing Tian and took it two days before the trip to Jiuzhaigou.

3b.    To Fly or Take a Bus?
Is it better to fly or take a bus to Jiuzhaigou? I think you should at least take the bus once. The journey will take 10 hours with a slow driver and less with a Formula One driver overtaking other vehicles on mountain roads. The route between Chengdu and Jiuzhaigou is quite scenic. You will pass through Wenchuan, Songpan, etc. The bus ride is very comfortable. If you are prone to travel sickness take a travel sickness pill or two.

If you decide to take the bus to Chengdu from Jiuzhaigou, make sure you buy the bus ticket on the day you arrive in Jiuzhaigou. Print out the accompanying photo below with the ticket office name on it and show it to the taxi driver. Getting bus tickets during the peak season in October is bound to be difficult at the last minute.

3c.    Accommodation in Jiuzhaigou
Initially, I thought of looking for a hostel only upon my arrival in Jiuzhaigou. However, Y advised me to book a room before I arrived. She said that it could be difficult getting a room during the peak season. The hotel rate was very high, until the last week of October. At that time, the price offered by Starway Snow Lotus Hotel had dropped to the level of the budget hostel and so I decided to take it. The down side was the staff at Starway could not speak English and it was two kilometres to the park entrance. Therefore, I have no recommendations to make on where to stay in Jiuzhaigou (more precisely, Zhangzha Village)

3d.    Recommended Scenic Spots in Jiuzhaigou.
If you have two full days (7:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.), you can cover all the major lakes and waterfalls. Start your day at either Primeval Forest in Rize Valley or Long Lake at Zechawa Valley. If you don't have two full days, then take the Rize Valley first and cover the rest with whatever time left you have. You need to walk a lot to take in the sights.  

(Click to enlarge)
Buses will not simply stop because you flag them down. They stop to drop off/ pick up passengers only at the bus stops.

My suggestions:

Rize Valley
  • Primeval Forest - don't spend too much time here. Walk to Grass Lake, and on the way you will catch your first glimpse of the colourful stream. Take the bus if you are short of time.
  • Grass Lake - Average scenery.
  • Swan Lake - Average scenery. Take the bus to Arrow Bamboo Lake.
  • Arrow Bamboo Lake - if the water is calm and the sky blue, you would be able to take very beautiful photos of the lake
  • Arrow Bamboo Falls - Don't miss this.
  • Panda Lake - Average scenery
  • Panda Falls - Don't miss the fall.
  • Five Flower Lake @ Five-Colored Lake @ Colorful Lake @ Peacock Lake (not to be confused with Five Color Pool, which is near Long Lake at Zechawa Valley). This is the most beautiful lake in Jiuzhaigou. It was drizzling when I was there. The water and the sky was less than perfect for photography but the pictures still turned out alright.
  • Pearl Shoal - Beautiful scenery
  • Pearl Shoals Waterfall - Don't miss this. I missed this because I walked along the road-side trail. Instead of making a similar mistake, walk on the jungle-side trail.
  • Mirror Lake
  • Nuorilang Falls - this is one of the grandest falls. It lies 210 meters to the center of the "Y", i.e. the Nuorilang Central Station/ Tourist Center. Try to make it to Nuorilang before 3:30 p.m. I reached there when the sun was right behind the waterfall and it was very difficult taking good photos. Use the road-side trail.
Zechawa Valley
  • Long Lake - It is quite nice but taking photos during late morning (about 11:00 a.m.) is frustrating because you will be pointing your camera right at the sun. That is the time when it rises above the mountains in the horizon. It is better to come earlier in morning or go late in the afternoon. Walk to Five Color Pool.
  • Five Color Pool - The water is amazingly clear and blue. It is incredibly beautiful but if the sunlight is too strong, the reflection will make it difficult to take good pictures. Take the bus to Zechawa Tibetan Village.
  • Zechawa Tibetan Village - You can't avoid coming here because you will be asked to alight here by the bus driver (during mid-day only??). Walk to Nuorilang Central Station/ Tourist Centre.
  • Nuorilang Central Station/ Tourist Centre - Here, there is a huge building housing restaurants and souvenir stalls. Buses going to the different valleys are not centralised in one spot at this station but at different bus stops within the station ground. Take the bus to Shuzheng Lake/ Tibetan Village and give Rhinoceros Lake and Tiger Lake a miss.
Shuzheng Valley
  • Rhinoceros Lake - Give it a miss, whether you have the time or not
  • Tiger Lake - Give it a miss, whether you have the time or not
  • Shuzheng Tibetan Village - If you have never been to a Tibetan Village, spend a little time here. You will also find that most of the houses have been turned into souvenir shops. Cross the road to Shuzheng Lakes.
  • Shuzheng Lakes and Waterfalls - Do not miss this. Walking from the lakes to the falls is a really amazing experience. The water crushing over the many small falls is amazing and beautiful. The main Shuzheng Waterfall is just average in scenic beauty. Take the bus to Sparkling Lake.
  • Trail between Sparkling Lake and Double Dragon Lake - Walk along the path linking the jungle- side trail and the road-side trail and you will be rewarded with the gel-like look of the water flowing down from Sparkling Lake to Double Dragon Lake.
  • Double Dragon Lake to Reed Lake - If you have the time, walk along the jungle trail from Double Dragon Lake to Reed Lake. The walk is quite long and the scenery slightly above average at certain portions of the walk. There were not many people on the trail when I was here.
  • Reed Lake - during autumn, the tall reed has all turned brown.
  • Bonsai Shoals - average beauty and the last stop.
You can read more about Jiuzhaigou here, here and here.

Happy Jiuzhaigou trip and post lots of photos on FB when you are there!