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Getting to JiuzhaiGou

Business, Economy, or Western?

semi-overcast 13 °C

Before we came here, we referred to JiuzhaiGou affectionately as JG, as none of us had any idea how to say it properly! JG was another Martin request for our China itinerary, and – once again – we were extremely grateful that he had suggested the detour. Still in Sichuan province, JG is a World Heritage site more than 400 kilometers north of Chengdu. To get there, we were expecting to have to take a fourteen hour bus-ride, so we were relieved to find an hour long flight into the newly opened Jiu Zhai Huang Long airport, which is still about an hour and a half from JG.

As we approached the runway to land on Monday, it was clear that this area was going to be pretty spectacular. JiuzhaiHuang Long has been built – literally – on the side of a mountain, and we the approach down a long valley, with mountains all around was an experience in itself. As we stepped off the airplane, the thin, icy air and mild sensations of nausea highlighted our arrival at altitude, and sure enough we soon discovered that we were at 3500 feet! It’s the only airport I’ve ever been to that had a ‘changing area’ next to baggage claim, so that the masses of Chinese passengers arriving from the humid climates of Chengdu or Chongqing could pile on some layers before braving the cool air.

I should report that we enjoyed the back-row of our Air China flight from Chengdu to JG. Comfortable enough, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning at all, except that the only other non-Chinese passengers had also mysteriously been assigned to the same row. I guess on Air China flights the classes rank as follows: first, business, economy, western. We were probably lucky not to have been sent with the baggage.

Martin had done the research for this leg of the trip, and so we were able to get out of the airport quickly having negotiated with a taxi driver to take us the 80 kilometers or so for 200 yuan (about US$25). The scenery was spectacular, with deep valleys, traditional Tibetan villages and long-haired yaks punctuating some serious construction work (I’m guessing the road is as new as the airport, prompting some new developments along the route), and we were just congratulating ourselves on the sober driver, when we pulled into a gas station. After a few moments confusion, it became clear that we were swapping taxis, so we moved the bags while our original taxi driver received a substantial sum of cash (about 100 yuan, we estimated) from our new driver. We obviously didn’t have the language skills to figure out what was going on, but we think the airport likely has licensed taxis that have the monopoly on picking up passengers from the airport. So our taxi driver – who was likely looking for a return fare to JG – was waiting at the gas station to ‘buy’ some return passengers.

Even though the taxi was licenced to a middle-aged male (they post a license with photo on the dash), and our driver was a young female, the drive passed without further incident and we arrived at our hotel early afternoon on Monday. Of note, our hotel seemed to have changed its name since Martin booked it, but we checked in nonetheless and – travel mistake # 452 – paid in cash for the night ahead, before examining the rooms.

It’s hard to overstate how dilapidated and dirty the rooms were. The sheets on the rick-hard beds (normal for Asia, it seems) actually looked like they might have been washed recently, but everything else in the room was in very poor condition. The smell of urine from our toilet overpowered our room completely, and the dust and damp suggested that the room hadn’t been used in many months. As I said, the bed was hard but useable, but the bathrooms were not, so we immediately began scheming our escape.

But first, we headed to the entrance of JG park to collect some information and figure out what our plan would be for the next two days. The park covers an area of 720 square kilometers and – for viewing purposes – can be best thought of as Y-shaped, with the park entrance, to the south, at the bottom of the Y. Each third of the Y is served by coaches with several stops along the way at key viewing points or attractions. Entrance to the park – at 220 yuan (or about US$30 each) was expensive even by western standards, and on top of that the bus was an additional 90 yuan (or about US$11) per day. Armed with the logistical information we needed, we planned to be at the park when it opened at 7am the next morning, and shifted our focus to finding a new hotel.

Since we had paid for the night already, we decided we would sleep at the Jiu Zhai Villa that night, but we did move our backpacks to the Sheraton in the early evening and made a reservation for the next two nights. In fact, we hung out there for the whole evening just to avoid our rather unappealing hotel for as long as we could. We had to laugh when we were given our own section of the restaurant, separate from almost 100 Chinese tourists in the adjoining area. Of course, the couple who had shared the back of the plane with us turned up shortly after we did, and we had to share the joke.

Anyway, a brief taxi ride took us back to our flea-pit for the night. I’m not sure anyone slept terribly well: I for one was brushing off imaginary (I hope!) bugs all night long, and we were all relieved when it was time to get up and head to the park. In fact, so anxious were we to escape the dirt, we arrived at the park a full half hour before it opened!

Posted by jacquiedro 05:20 Archived in China Tagged round_the_world

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