Valley of Enchantment
Blue lakes, waterfalls, green landscape – Jiuzhaigou (or “Nine Village Valley”) is a nature lover’s paradise. Located in Northern Sichuan, this area is home to a UN-approved nature reserve, as well as nine Baima Tibetan villages. The local Tibetans and Qiang people consider many reserves on this land holy, and mysterious legends surround the landscape. Children will love the variety of “wild animals” – the reserve houses monkeys, pandas and an array of other forest dwellers – set against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and clear lakes. A long hiking trail allows visitors to view all the park’s major sites. Temples, lakes and waterfalls line the route and, as the reserve is massive, bus tours are available for the weary. Although the reserve can be happily explored for days, visiting the Tibetan villages in the area is a good option for those desiring something more culturally stimulating.
*Due to the May 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, travelers are advised to consult the National Tourism Administration for updated conditions before making any travel plans to the province (http://old.cnta.gov.cn/lyen)
The Travelers: Americans Scott Sherin and Sharon Gray, and their daughters Rachel (7), Jessica (7) and Sophia (3). The family traveled with friends Ralph Lange and Anouk Turksma, and their daughters Noa (7) and Mindel (3).
Enchanted Surroundings: Huanglong Valley (known as “Fairyland on Earth”) is about three hours from Jiuzhaigou – a scenic national treasure. Sharon says the scenery is spectacular, with snow-capped mountains, glaciers and a virgin forest. The scattered pools are lined with limestone deposits that cause the pools to blush with color. A cable car takes you to the top but includes a rather hefty hike that has many people toting oxygen (canisters of oxygen are readily available, though altitude sickness is something to bear in mind with younger children).
Serious Altitude: At heights of up to 4,300 meters, Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong Valley lie in the highest tableland in the world. Altitude sickness is common and both families experienced its unpleasant effects, so Sharon recommends talking to your doctor about taking altitude sickness medicine.
Where to Stay: The family recommends both the Tibetan-style Sheraton Jiuzhaigou Resort (0837 773 9988) and the Minjiangyuan hotel near Huanglong (0837 725 2222). Both offer great service and fine facilities.