"Greatest Adventure in Jiuzhaigou Valley”
I just learned that Jiuzhaigou literally means “Valley of Nine Villages” after the 9 ancient Tibetan villages located within the park. Seven of the villages are still populated today with a total of around 1000 permanent residents. Heye, Shuzheng and Zechawa villages located along the main roads cater to tourists, selling food, drinks and crafts. Jiuzhaigou National Park is a nature reserve located in northern Sichuan province famous for its picturesque almost surreal crystal clear lakes, multi-tier waterfalls and, stunning mountain views. Jiuzhaigou is home to two of China’s most treasured endangered species; the Giant Panda and the Sichuan Golden Snub-Nose Monkey. It’s one of the most visited sites in China with 5,000 visitors in 1984, 200,000 in 1997 and 2.5 million in 2007.

Visiting the park takes time and money. That was why we decided to hire a guide from World Heritage Network and they arranged everything for us, transportation and hotel accommodation too. According to our friendly guide, Steven, who also spoke good english, most visitors stay at one of the 20,000 hotel rooms located in the town of Jiuzhaigou and visit the park by day utilizing the tour bus. The frequent buses are an efficient way to see the park as you can hop off, take a picture and jump back on. The park is comprised of three main valleys or “arms” in the shape of a letter Y, the park entrance is at the base of the Y. The lower part of the park is Shuzheng Valley, at the fork in the road Rize Valley is to the south west and Zechawa Valley to the south east. The plan for the trip was to hike the Shuzheng Valley on the first day and secure a room in Shuzheng village; the second and third day would be spent hiking the Rize and Zechawa Valleys.

The hike through Shuzheng Valley was more challenging than we had anticipated but rewarding as we were able to enjoy the tranquility of the park as the buses whizzed by. As we followed the Zechawa River, we first came to a beautiful clearing of wild flowers which of course we had to run. We continued hiking and came across Reed Lake, a 1375-meter long reed covered marsh. We continued on the main road to Sparkling Lake and to the crystal clear string of 18 lakes fed by the Shuzheng waterfalls. We finished off the day withNuorilang Waterfalls, the widest highland waterfall in China and its string of 19 lakes.

The next day, our guide took us to Rize Valley and we hit all the picture perfect sites along the way. Some of the most memorable spots were Swan Lake, Five Flower Lake, Mirror Lake, Panda Lake and Arrow Bamboo Lake, the main filming site of the Jet Li movie Hero. We then took the bus through Zechawa Valley visiting Long Lake, Five Color Pond, and the Zechawa Village.

Jiuzhaigou is by far the most beautiful place I have ever visited. Exploring the park on foot and having a local guide to guide you along the way so you won’t get lost is a must within the park that made it a memorable experience. We experienced Jiuzhaigou the proper way, off the beaten track and off the tour bus from group tours. Go for private tours where you will get total privacy and comfort, go for World Heritage Network and hire their local guides, you will never regret it. Thanks a lot to Rorne for making our trip to Jiuzhaigou the most memorable trip we ever have.
... by Allison Kocinsky, California, USA 

A guide for westerners who want to explore Jiuzhaigou. 
Go with World Heritage Network!”

I have learned that for westerners, you don't actually need to buy a packaged group tour to Jiuzhaigou and probably should avoid it as much as you can. Better opt for private tours where you will enjoy total privacy and comfort with your own guide. I had seen in a group tour, some tourists are forced to follow the crowd wherever the tour guide dictates to go even though not to their likings. They also use large tour buses and operate on extremely slow schedules. Luckily, we engaged World Heritage Network and they provided us first class friendly local guide named Amy who spoke great english and comforted us with private transportation to the park and back to our hotel after the park visit.

Pick a hotel in Jiuzhaigou in your tour, of which there are many. We stayed at the Sheraton which is pretty nice, although not great. The advantage is that it is clean, modern and you have a chance of being understood if you speak English. Their restaurants are clean and somewhat posh, with western pastries and such for kids or those who need a break from the spicy local food. You can easily book a room through the Sheraton internet website from anywhere in the world. We heard rumors that you could stay overnight in the park in one of the Tibetan villages, but were not able to confirm this. Anyway, it didn’t seem that enticing as the villages were quite rudimentary and there would be nothing to do at night and not many eating options. Without the park buses at night and no taxis, you may not be able to get from the villages to the scenic spots. By the way, the Paradise resort, which is supposed to be a 5-star hotel (but see the reviews), is a few miles outside of town, far away from the restaurants and the park entrance.

From your hotel get to the park entrance by 7:30 am to beat the huge bus crowds. (If you are on a pre-packaged bus tour, you’ll arrive at the same time as most of the 20,000 other visitors.) One little-known fact is that the tickets are actually good for 2 days: the day of purchase and the next day. But to be valid for re-use, you must get your picture taken and placed on the ticket. This procedure is to prevent people leaving the park and giving their used tickets to a new visitor for re-use. I don’t think the 2-day validity or procedure is printed on the ticket or made clear on any of the signs. Another benefit of having your picture on the ticket is that it gives you the chance to leave the park during the day and return later that same day. You really need a tour guide to the park who speaks good English as park maps and brochures are in mostly in chinese and generally not self-explanatory and you need a guide to do all the translation for you in terms of reading them or when you require to converse with the locals. 

Everyone must ride the official internal park buses – in general there are no private buses, cars or taxis within the park. You first board in a huge bus corral at the entrance complex. You just get off where you want to and walk to the next bus stop and get on any bus to the next site you want to visit. After the initial crush of 20,000 plus visitors getting up the valley, the wait at any bus stop usually will be a couple minutes if there isn’t a bus already waiting there. If the seats on your bus are filling up, just don’t board that one and wait a minute for the next one where you’ll be first in line to get on. As there is a lot of walking in the park, any opportunity to sit down is welcome. In the morning, the park administration assigns buses where to go depending on where the crowds are on the mountain so you won’t be able to select where you initially end up. 

This won’t be a wilderness experience during peak tourist times. According to our guide, you are required to walk only on wood boardwalks, along with thousands of other visitors. There will be a feeling of being part of the “Long March” rather than a hike in the woods, but the unique scenery will make it worthwhile. There are many restroom facilities (mostly port-a-potty quality) and drink vendors with bottled water or sodas. At some bus stops, there are parked buses that are basically rolling rest rooms. These are better as they have water to wash your hands.

At the very top of Zechawa Valley is Long Lake. This scenic spot is very beautiful. There are signs there for a walk that can be taken further up to the “primeval forest” but don’t bother. It just slogs uphill through the woods to the middle of nowhere, at which point you turn around (after you catch your breath – the altitude is about 3,000 meters) and come back. There are no views along that trail. Better to hop the bus to another of the lakes. A good strategy is to take the bus to one of the higher lakes and walk down from lake to lake until you get tired. 

At the end of the day, there’s another crush of people to get down from the valleys. One hint: some (or all?) of the buses don’t go all the way down from the upper reaches to the bottom directly. Instead, they stop at a bus line/traffic jam midway down and take 20 minutes to get to the head of the line before taking off for the bottom. We noticed that some guards that were going off duty got off the bus when we hit the traffic jam. We figured out later that they just walked to the head of the bus line and got on a bus that was ready to leave for the bottom. Back at the park entrance, you can go to the main parking lot where there will be dozens of taxis lined up waiting to take you back to your hotel. Thank God, we have our own private transport away from queing with the mass ill-mannered chinese tourists. Our guide, Amy, was a great plus for us in this tour and if you ever visit this place, get a good local guide like Amy from World Heritage Network, it really not worth the hassle by travelling independently especially in China. Pamela Gillins, Sydney, Australia