Two Chinese National Parks
Trip Start Jun 09, 2005
105Trip End Jun 08, 2006
Songpan is shrouded in mist and cloud, so we count on a cold wet day in Huanglong. The bus crawls over a steep mountain pass and as we gain altitude we break through the clouds into clear Autumn air. The leaves are yellow and starting to turn red in places and we get a view of the northern side of Ice Mountain, which we trekked to on the horses.
We arrive at about 9am at the park, it seems before any of the tour groups
The park contains water features unlike anything I've seen before. Flowing water erodes the surrounding rock, but in Songpan it contains high levels of calcium carbonate (limestone) which is being deposited to counter the erosion. The long-term effect is that water flowing out of a pool builds up a wall of limestone at the point where it flows out. As the limestone wall increases in height, so the water diverts to another point on the periphery of the pool. Eventually the water is flowing out of the pool evenly all around the slowly rising edge, like an overflowing bath. This creates deep translucent pools, where water cascades down from one into the next. The karst rocks also filter the water so that it is very clear and pure. As a final bonus, bacteria live in the water that colour it vivid shades of blue, green, and yellow. The bright morning sunshine makes the walk around the park a real delight and one of the highlights of our time in China.
Instead of walking around the 7.5km loop trail some tourists opt to be carried in a sedan chair. For Y220 (about GBP15) you get transported in a chair suspended on two bamboo poles carried by two profusely sweating Chinese guys
There are free oxygen stations dotted around the park. You just have to pay Y1 for the disposable face mask. At 3500m it doesnt really seem justified, but in the early afternoon the houses are packed with people recharging their lungs for the short walk.
We get back to the park entrance area, eat lunch, and try to find out how to get a bus back to Songpan. A couple of cleaners (these girls are everywhere in the park removing even the smallest leaf or twig from the trail) tell us, in a combination of sign language and writing, that we are just in time for the 2.30 bus. They kindly decide to hang around, abondoning their cleaning duties, to help us get on board. By 3pm the bus hasn't arrived and one of the girls wanders off whilst chatting on her mobile. A bus passes us but I'm not sure whether its a tour bus or the public bus, and the other girl says nothing. Next thing we know we've missed the only bus, and the girl on the mobile phone directs us to run for it
Next day we take the bus to Jiuzhaigou, which is one of China's premier tourist attractions. We arrive in a valley where it seems the hotel developers have gone mad, erecting endless dull accomodation blocks and faceless shopping arcades in a sprawling strip beside the river. We find a reasonable-looking hotel and I negotiate the room rate down from Y680 to Y80 (about GBP6.00) ... even Rachel was impressed with that one.
After an early start next day we wander into the park armed with our photo ID that allows us to stay two days and with strict instructions that we have to leave the park at night.
The trail into the park is cool and quiet and it seems most people in the tour groups elect to take the shuttle busses between different sites. We wander through groves of pine, bamboo, and deciduous trees like oak and birch. The rivers are pure and clear as the water has been filtered through the limestone rock.
In the park its like a giant version of Huanglong; the pools are much larger, and there are huge waterfalls fanning out over several hundered meters in width from the river
On the first day we end up walking about 20km and taking a couple of buses to cover the left side of the park. Most of the walking is peaceful and enjoyable, but occasionally we come accross 'hot spots' where we have to squeeze through the crowd.
In the evening we find a Tibetan home to stay in the park. We get a basic room with a stone floor and dinner for Y70 (about GBP5.00) for us both. I ask the landlady how she can continue to operate and she tells us that despite the official policy outlawing staying in the park it is, in practice, tolerated by the authorities.
Next day we take the bus to the top of the park and walk the right arm, a further 22km or so. We seem more amazing water and mountain scenery, including lakes shades of blue that look like your local swimming pool. By the end of the day I am completely exhausted.
We leave the park and head for our cheap hotel on the strip outside. We eat dinner in a hotpot restaurant, and we are alarmed to find that the chicken is bubbling in oil, not water-based stock. It seems that this is the Sichuan style to use oil to carry the flavour and make the meat slip over the throat more easily...
In the morning we sleep through the alarm and awake 15 minutes before our bus is due to depart to Chengdu. We pack our bags at lightening speed and rush outside to find a taxi to take us to the bus stop. After a rally driving experience down the mainstreet, through several red lights, and paying the driver Y4 (about 30p), we surprise ourselves by finding that we have 5 minutes to spare before the bus leaves.
11 horrendous arse-crushing hours later we arrive back in Chengdu and check into the Traffic Hotel right next to the bus station.