Tuesday, October 25, 2011

8 days travel itinerary to Jiuzhaigou, Huanglong, Songpan and Chengdu

Dates of travel : 15-22 Oct 2011

For purposes of this post, I am writing my advices/views for those planning a trip to Jiuzhaigou/Huanglong and Songpan. The photographs will be posted separately.

Day 1  15 October 2011
Arrive at Chengdu International Airport via Air Asia D7 2622 1340 hours
Immediate transfer into Jiuzhaigou. Information on Jiuzhaigou can be obtained from http://www.jiuzhai.com/
Bus journey 3pm to 1am total 10 hours including washroom stops and one dinner stop. Total distance approximately 480km.
The private transport need to be prearranged before arrival. For public transport to Jiuzhaigou, they leave early in the morning before 8am from Xinnanmen Bus Station(新南门车站) and Chadianzi Bus Station (茶店子车站)
Overnight at Uncle Jiang Family Guesthouse - http://unclejiang.at.webry.info/ RMB 190 for 2 persons per night
We stayed for 3nights here and the guesthouse is 15mins walking distance from the Jiuzhaigou Park Entrance. They serve breakfast at 6am and packed lunch can be arranged. The rooms either have heater or have a heated bed. Nice clean sheets with spacious rooms.
Note that the nearest hotel to the park entrance is Lantian Hotel and the Guesthouse which is just next to the park entrance is Heye Guesthouse. I do not know the conditions of these places. Be very certain when you book for accomodation in Jiuzhaigou the proximity to the park entrance as most of them say its within walking distance but this information may not be correct.

Day 2 16 October 2011
Entering into Jiuzhaigou the entrance fee is RMB 220 + bus fare RMB 90 + insurance RMB 10, total RMB 320 per person. Ticketing office opens at 7am and they have ample counters to handle the crowd.
The bus is a hop on hop off type but these are a few advices from me: (they did not check the bus ticket when we hopped on the bus. So for risk takers, you may choose not to buy the bus ticket?)
1. Make sure the bus you hop on is going the way you want. The buses have specific stops and would not stop at any other places
2. For example if you wish to go to Arrow Bamboo Lake - you need to take the bus that heads to the virgin forest and then change bus to come down. ie, the bus will go to the end of the right fork and then only come down which you may stop along the way. So make time for this bus ride (20 mins from entrance to the virgin forest and 10 mins from virgin forest to Arrow Bamboo Lake)

My walking route: (This whole journey would take approximately 9 hours with most time spent from Arrow Bamboo Lake to Pearl Shoals Waterfall)
- Bus ride into the virgin forest to take some pictures
- Change bus to head back down to Arrow Bamboo Lake (There is a outer and inner walking path - take the inner one as it has less people)
- From Arrow Bamboo Lake walk down to Pearl Shoals Waterfall
- From Pearl Shoals Waterfall walk to Mirror Lake carpark and take the bus Nuorilang station (not the waterfall) which is at the centre of the Y
- From here, walk upslope and you will come to a bus station on the left that you may take to Long Lake.
- Take some photographs then hop on the bus again and get to Five Coloured Pool
- From Five Coloured Pool, take the bus back to the entrance of the Park
It is recommended to pack a walking lunch as there is only one place to eat inside the Park which is at Nuorilang Visitor Centre and buffet is served at a specific time. The choice of buffet costs RMB 40, 60 or 80 per head.

Day 3 17 October 2011
Another day in Jiuzhaigou National Park
My walking route : (This journey will also take approximately 9 hours)
- Bus ride to virgin forests (right of the Y fork) then change bus and come down to Mirror Lake - Note that you need to be at Mirror Lake by 9am before there are ripples in the lake. Once there are ripples, there is no mirror anymore (this happens when the wind blows and create ripples in the water affecting its "Mirror" effect)
- Bus ride to Nuorilang Waterfall
- Walk from Nuorilang Waterfall to the next bus station and take it to Tiger Lake (For Shuzheng Waterfalls)
- Walk from Tiger Lake on the outer trail to Double Dragon Lake and cross over to the inside trail
- Walk from Double Dragon Lake back up to Shuzheng Lake
- From Shuzheng Lake take the bus back to the entrance

Day 4 18 October 2011
Today we departed at 6am from Jiuzhaigou to Huanglong. On the way to Huanglong, one can see a snow capped mountain called Xuebaoding. Also there will be 2 stops along the way for you to enjoy the scenery. The drive is unique as one has to drive round a mountain to arrive at Huanglong.

The entrance fee to Huanglong is RMB 200 + Cable car one way (up) RMB 80 - It is recommended to take the cable car up and then walk down all the way. This will take approximately 6 hours, unless you spend extremely long time at each spot. (Cable car charge is RMB 40 for going down)
In Huanglong, one needs to becareful as altitude sickness is a common experience here. There are oxygen tanks available for sale at the foot of the mountain. (I am not sure how much this costs as none in our group purchased this)

We departed from Huanglong at 6pm towards Songpan (arrive at 7.30pm)
Our accomodation was not confirmed for the next two nights and fortunately we managed to get from this placed called Hua Er Ping Guan - the lady who owns the place is Hua Er +8615 0825 10432
The rooms are spacious with a heated bed. Its not the perfect place but considering the price, (RMB 180 for 2 pax) its fair. There may be some leakages in the bathroom. Make sure you check that the windows can be locked.
On a side note, I would also like to highlight that there is a place that I would NOT recommend to stay which is Guyun Inn Hostel or Old House Hostel (They are advertised in Lonely Planet also) - the lady in charge is a snob and not in need of any business.
We booked Guyun through phone (as they do not reply emails) and Ms Tong said 2 days before you come, just telephone and confirm again. Unfortunately 2 days before when we telephone again, she say there is no more rooms available. How can a proper hostel manage their place this way? I have a group of 16 people travelling for this trip and I was stunned when I was told that she had let out all her rooms. And when we arrived, another lady informed us that she kept some rooms for us but when I went to check the rooms, some of it has a musty smell to it. And in all fairness, since she said she kept the room for us, I said I will take one room to which she din even want to sell - its like all or nothing. Quite a snob. So forget about going and stay at this place. Its not managed properly and the place is very old with musty smell.

Day 5&6 19&20 October 2011
13 of us decided to take up horse riding into Er Dao Hai and camp there for the night. Along the main Songpan street next to Emma Kitchen is where the horse trek company is located. Happy Trails or Shun Jiang Horse Trekking company. (BTW there is also a ShunJiang Guest house here which I presume is operated by the horse trekking company. Unfortunately I did not check the price and condition of the place)
We were informed that the horse trekking is 4-5 hours and here below I am listing out what would one expect from this:
- Horse trekking + walking in muddy path - 4 hours in total. The walk lasts for an hour.
- The cost is RMB 400 per pax with food included (only vegetarian which means bread and cucumber = one meal)
- Entrance fee to Er Dao Hai is not included - this is RMB 70. There is a "warm spring" at the end of the Er Dao Hai trek (about 21 C). The walk takes about 3 hours return.
- Horse trek will take you through a snow mountain which for some was a great experience as you can have a snowball fight!
- The horsemen informed us that the next day also we will go through a snow path - unfortunately this is not true. So if this happens to you, spend some time to play with snow on this day

An alternative if you are not game for horse riding is just to take a car (hire private) and you can cover both Er Dao Hai and Zhaga Waterfalls on the same day. Make sure that if you do this, state that you want to go both places at the entrance when you buy the tickets as there is a special if you do both on the same day, RMB 100 for both places instead of RMB 70 for each place.

Overall the horse riding experience was a bit of a "pain in the butt" but for me personally it was good as this was my first time having to ride a horse for 4 hours going through the snow mountain and finally arriving at the campsite. The return journey uses a different route and we only had to walk for 1/2 hour downhill. (not muddy)
Another matter to highlight is the horsemen will ask you to get down at some "God knows where" place and we had to take the tuk tuk back into the main street.... about 3km away. This costs RMB 10 for 2 persons in the tuk tuk. It was a blessing in disguise too as we then had the opportunity to see the streets of Songpan, supposedly an ancient city. It is always interesting to see the streets of a city, observing how people live their everyday lives.

Upon return to Songpan, we had lunch and immediately transferred to Chengdu. The journey back to Chengdu takes 7 hours. (without a dinner stop) We ultimately had our dinner in Chengdu.
We stayed at Loft Hostel which was converted from an old printing factory into a hostel. http://www.lofthostel.com/index.php
Kitty and Winnie of Loft Hostel has been an excellent help to me for assisting to get the private transport for me during this peak season. They entertained all my requests patiently (or maybe they could be very impatient at the other end of the email but they answered all my emails politely) and replied to my 1001 questions. Kudos to them for being helpful.
The rooms here are spacious with clean sheets, air cond and heater! Just round the corner of this hostel there is a place to eat "fish steamboat" - eat all you can. Highly recommended by me..... fantastic local food and top it up with some beer!

Day 7 21 October 2011
Loft Hostel can arrange for a Panda Tour (half day) for RMB 98 per person at this time of writing. This includes the entrance fee + return transfers. 8 of us went for this tour while yours truly here opted to sleep in after the many days of early morning and continuous walking everyday.
We went for brunch at a noodle shop at the end of this street where the hostel is located. The place is run by a lady called "Hua San" and she did all the recommendations for us and I must say it was excellent choice!
Today we went for outdoor gear shopping!

Day 8 22 October 2011
Our return flight was at 1455 hours. The journey from Loft Hostel to the airport is 45 minutes and private transfer can be arranged at RMB 80 per minivan which can seat 5 comfortably with luggage.
In the morning we walked to this place called Kuan Alley (there is a total of 3 alleys here) where the streets are converted into a "tourist" place to experience Chengdu. There are many paintings exhibited here along the streets, there are museums, there are eateries (I tried the "ma lat tau foo fa" (spicy and salty beancurd) and "lang mien" (cold noodle) which was absolutely yummy for me) and many interesting little shops. I can imagine that these streets are bustling with life at night as there are also many drinking places here. There is also a French restaurant!
I also stumbled upon another hostel right at this alley Dragon Town Hostel and seems to be a great place to spend a night or two the next time I am here.

My travelling companions for this trip were:
From JB - Tony, Mary, Eric, Ms. Chong, Madam Yong, Nono
From KL - My regular travel partners, Edwin, Ong and Mee Ling plus others Su Cheng, Ooi, Kenneth, Aaron, Kong and Phang.

All in all it was a fantastic trip. 16 people cooperated and was very flexible through the entire trip. Thank you for the wonderful time.

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