For the May holiday I took a week-long trip to Sichuan Province. I flew from Shenzhen to Chengdu and then hopped on buses from there to Songpan, Huanglong, and Jiuzhaigou. So far, the most worthwhile trip I have taken in seven months in China.
On the third day of the journey, I took the early morning bus from Songpan to Huanglong. Fortunately, the hotel was across the street from the station (although Songpan is not large and a taxi would only take 15 minutes from the other side of town). The only public buses are early in the morning. It takes approximately two hours through the winding mountain roads. In May, there are still many areas covered by the season’s snowfall. It can be difficult to stay awake along the route but the scenery is beautiful if you can see through the rain.
Huanglong is about 150 miles north of Chengdu has been a national park since 1991 and it is well worth preserving. The name means Yellow Dragon Valley, and there is a legend that goes along with that about a dragon creating the pools. It has been a Tibetan holy site for centuries and includes two temples within the park. The attraction of this nature park is the multi-colored terraced pools that flow into one another.
I arrived before 10 am and quickly bought my ticket (it was only 200RMB). Between the bus station and the entrance there are few junk souvenir shops and restaurants. I made the mistake of being hungry that morning. For a bowl of noodles and some Tibetan milk tea, it cost about 30 RMB – compare that with the 20RMB I spent on a full dinner with beer in Chengdu. Outside the shops there were also quite a few people renting coats for 10RMB with a 50RMB deposit (perfect for anyone not realizing that it’s still cold up in the mountains during May while it’s 90 degrees in Chengdu). There is also a few locker space at the reception area inside the visitor center if you plan to bring luggage on the way to Jiuzhaigou – don’t let the store owners charge you 15RMB to stash your stuff.
During my time in the park, it was uneventful – May is not the time of year to visit. The mountain snow has not melted and the rainy season has only begun, and this leaves most of the pools devoid of water. However, the main attractions (near the top of the mountain) are filled and beautiful.
The two temples on the way are also wonderful sites to stop to see. The first one, Middle Temple, is rather small and ornately painted. It was closed when I visited, but I still was able to walk around the outside three times to spin the prayer wheels for luck. The second temple, Yellow Dragon Temple, is much larger and open to the public for prayer. The architecture of Huanglong Temple is more appealing and the structure appears better kept than its cousin along the trail.
This is not an easy trip by any stretch of the imagination. It’s an eight kilometer trip from entrance to summit and back. I’d guess that the altitude is at least above 6,000 feet. It took about four hours during the time I was there to walk along the plank road. It would probably take a few hours more during the peak visiting seasons like Summer and Autumn. There are a few free oxygen tents along the walk for those who have difficulty. As with any attraction in China, it is extremely crowded during public holidays. On the way out at about 2 pm, there was a rather large crowd just arriving. Once finished with Huanglong, it’s only about three to four hours by bus to Jiuzhaigou and enjoyable journey through another beautiful nature park.