Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The City of Never Say Goodbye

That is the official motto of Chengdu. Seriously.

OK, so I'm back in Chengdu after an expensive, harrowing, but totally worthwhile 24 hours in Jiuzhaigou. This is a town about a 40 minute flight from here that you go to in order to visit the Valley of the Nine Villages. The flight was a bit terrifying and I'm usually pretty immune to turbulence. The drive from the airport to our hotel was an hour and a half in a speeding cab passing everything he could in a narrow winding two lane road mainly being used by giant buses. I don't think I've ever been more certain I was going to be in a car wreck.

After that, we checked into our hotel where (1) no one spoke English and (2) they only took cash. We were informed there was a bank 1.5 km down the road. It was 10:30 at night and we had just survived the demolition derby. We scrounged up enough to cover one night (unlike the cab ride, flight, and admission to the park, our hotel was relatively cheap).

All of this was quickly forgotten when we got into the park the next morning. It's basically a long valley with two long forks and a plank path and a road running down the length of each. The plank roads occasionally meet up with the road, and there is a shuttle bus running up and down making stops at the major sites, mainly waterfalls and lakes. But not as many people hike between the sites, so we had some amazing stretches where we didn't see a soul. The landscape is hard to describe: jagged mountains, turquoise (you will not believe the colors) lakes, expansive waterfalls, mist coming over the tops of the mountains, and lush forest everywhere. And occasionally, there's a Tibetan village. I have to admit the villages were a bit less interesting than I thought they'd be, though I drank milk tea and turned down an offer of yak meat. Basically, they were beautiful architecture, interesting outfits, prayer flags, and selling a lot of the same crap we've seen at other tourist sites. But the landscape was beautiful. We hiked about 8 miles, and it was hard to stop taking pictures.

I was also very impressed with how China has handled this park. The plank path really minimizes the impact people have on the park, but still gets you away from the road so you experience nature. The shuttle buses are orderly and mean there aren't traffic jams and huge parking lots with people bringing their own cars or cabs in.

It was also amazing that though the park was extremely crowded (mainly just at the photo op sites, so it was never really a big problem), we probably saw 5 other foreigners the whole day, none of them Americans. We've definitely been stared at and photographed in other cities, but in this place we were space aliens. I took the obligatory picture, but funnier was the few Chinese people we did talk to (no one spoke English really, but we met a few at the airport on the way out who did) were amazed we had even heard of this place and came all the way there. It's clearly a big vacation destination for the Chinese, but not a huge draw outside of that. The airport is relatively new, so maybe that will change. The town outside the gates has an amazing number of huge hotels, so it seems poised to handle even more tourism in the future. I hope it doesn't ruin it.

Now we are back in Chengdu, and despite its well-phrased motto, we will say goodbye to it tomorrow to fly to Guangzhou. This begins the end-run of the trip, and our return to big cities where foreigners are less of a big deal. We will spend one day in Guangzhou, take the train to Hong Kong where we'll spend four days, and then on to our last city, Shanghai. I can't believe how quickly it's gone, and also am anxious to get back to burritos, a real bed, Satchel, my cell phone, and non-smoking laws.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Julie, This is so much fun to read! The park you are describing was written up last week in the NY Times, so there will be Americans all over the place by next year. The China you are describing is not the China we lived in and the pace of change is astonishing. Love, Mary

2:30 AM  

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