Family Travels: Jiuzhaighou

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Travelers: Americans Scott Sherin and Sharon Gray, and their daughters Rachel (7), Jessica (7) and Sophia (3). The family travelled with friends Ralph Lange and Anouk Turksma, and daughters Noa (7) and Mindel (3).

The Plan: Jiuzhaigou (Nine Village Valley) lies deep in the mountains of north Sichuan, and is one of the most beautiful places in China. The family booked a five-day trip, including two nights near Huanglong Valley. They flew to Chengdu then took a 40-minute flight to Jiuzhaigou airport (about 1.5 hours drive from town; taxi 280RMB but negotiate 200RMB).

Mother nature: Jiuzhaigou park is studded with over 100 stunning lakes, encrusted with crystals from high levels of calcium carbonate in the water. Waterfalls splash from lake to turquoise lake, through thick banks of trees; in winter, the snow-tipped mountains jut from the surrounding coniferous trees and in fall, the hillsides are ablaze with color. Such stunning scenery earned the park a UNESCO world heritage listing in 1992. Don’t miss the Tibetan village inside the park.

Fairyland: Known as “Fairyland on Earth”, Huanglong Valley (about three hours from Jiuzhaigou) is also a scenic national treasure. Sharon says the scenery is spectacular, with snow-capped mountains and glaciers, virgin forest and even the odd rainbow. The myriad of pools scattering the area are lined with limestone deposits that cause the pools to blush with colour. A cable car takes you to the top but includes a rather hefty hike, with many people toting oxygen. Bear this in mind with younger children (200RMB peak, 80RMB low, 9.10am-4.40pm daily).

Border town: On a daytrip to Songpan, the families enjoyed horseback riding up the mountain, where they lunched at a local village. The ancient town of Songpan is filled with yaks and minority people selling wares from silver to ethnic costumes. The views from the city wall are wonderful.

Altitude: Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong Valley lie in the highest tableland in the world. At heights of up to 4,300 meters, altitude sickness is common, and both families experienced its unpleasant effects. Sharon recommends talking to your doctor about taking altitude sickness medicine.

Getting around: Take one of Jiuzhaigou’s many taxis to the park entrance by 7.30am to beat the crowds; buses run along designated roadways, and visitors can choose their own pit-stops. The families’ side trip to Huanglong Valley was organized by their guide, but you could hire a taxi for a full day (around 800RMB). Roads are winding and a little precarious; book an experienced driver.

Where to rest: The family recommends both the Tibetan-style Sheraton Jiuzhaigou Resort (from 700RMB, 0837 773 9988, http://www.sheraton.com/) and the Minjiangyuan hotel near Huanglong (from 368RMB, 0837 725 2222), both with great service and facilities.

First published, in part, in beijingkids magazine and on the beijingkids website.

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