Honestly the worst journey I’ve ever endured, the seats were crammed in and so upright they were practically vertical. The chairs are set out in rows of 3 face to face on one side of the train and in twos on the other side. Rob’s ticket was for a window seat in the two section and I was on the aisle of the 3 section. You’re sat so close that you’re touching your neighbour for the entirety. Smoking is allowed on the train aswell and the windows don’t open so it soon turned into a smokey box. The noise never ends either, Chinese people don’t seem to use headphones so there were was a mix of Chinese films and music being played, the sound of spitting is one that can’t be tuned out either, honestly how people can have so much to hack up is beyond me! There was also the added annoyance of the train attendants trying to flog random items throughout the journey, an electric razor, a phone holder and a singing light, not really train essentials! Rob managed a couple of hours propped up on the window but sitting so upright doesn’t invite sleep and the fact that the woman one row in front turned round and stared at me for most of the journey didn’t will me to close my eyes, honestly don’t think watching me can be that interesting. We finally arrived at Guangyuan at 6:30, where we had to transfer to a bus to take us up to the mountains, the bus runs once a day and wasn’t till 10:30, the views in Jiazhaighoi better be bloody worth this journey! Six hours of constant horn blaring and the craziest bus driving I’ve ever endured and we arrived in Jiuzhougou! Not enough energy to do much productive on arrival but one thing we’re never too tired to do is eat! We found a hotpot restaurant across the road, where basically you get a huge vat of tomato stew on the table and pick food to cook in it. Not an easy concept to grasp when it’s explained in Chinese though, it took a lot of patience from the staff and a few attempts on Google translate for us to get there. The staff were reluctant to leave us to it and I don’t think Rob helped matters by trying to drink the can of oil on the table (it did look like a mini Pepsi can to be fair), but still, after that the manager refused to leave our side, translating everything what we could and couldn’t eat on the table, slightly awkward but thoughtful nonetheless.
After a well deserved sleep we woke up a bit too late to make the most of the day in the national park and seen as it’s a hefty entrance price we thought we’d do it the next day. Seen as we’ve not done any exercise since coming to China we thought we’d try a hotel gym session we found on YouTube, hopefully no one could see through the window because it consisted of a lot of jumping up and down like frogs and running on the spot, poor people underneath us probably had no idea what was going on! Re-energized from our workout we went out to explore, the whole area of Jiuzhougou is geared towards the national park, basically if you’re not going to go inside it you don’t come to Jiuzhougou, everything else in the village is just restaurants and shops. We had a lazy day mooching round the shops and met some of the locals, it’s a much more chilled out place than the cities we’ve visited and you can actually see the sky, and it’s blue!
The next day we were up early to beat the queues, not early enough apparently! Hordes of tour groups had already arrived, each tour group is made to wear the same colour baseball cap, or the same T shirt, no chance of getting lost that way! Apparently Jiuzhougou is one of the most expensive national parks in the world to visit, so we were quite lucky our ‘student cards’ worked and got us in for half price, result! The staff were also trying to sell us a bus ticket for a tenner each that would take us round the park, everyone and I mean everyone must have bought one of these because the lady who sold us our tickets couldn’t believe we didn’t want one. We then joined what appeared to be the world’s longest queue which we were quickly moved out of when they realised we didn’t have a bus ticket, no queue for us crazy walkers!
Jiuzhougou is shaped like a giant letter Y, everyone starts at the bottom and then the bus must ferry the thousands of people to the top before they all hop on and off the bus making their way back down. But on the opposite side of the road a boardwalk runs alongside all the lakes and rivers and we had it all to ourselves! We ran along the boardwalk, it was tough though, so many steps, and our butts were aching from all the squat jumps the day before (obviously they did some good!), but it was so worth it, honestly the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever seen, so clear and so blue! Everything was framed by huge steep mountains with surprise waterfalls everywhere, we couldn’t believe how quiet it was when there were thousands of people entering at the same time as us. We ran for ten miles without seeing anyone else then we collided with the bus loads of people on their way back down, no more running after that, the paths were heaving! We walked round a few more lakes and tried on some traditional tibetan clothes, apparently western people in Chinese clothes is more exciting than plain old western people so everyone wanted our picture then, we’re starting to feel like celebrities over here!
Fortunately no one checked bus tickets at this part of the park, they don’t expect you to make it that far using just your legs, so we managed to hop on a bus to take us back to the exit, good job because I couldn’t have hacked any more stairs, my bum was sore to just sit on!
I’m really glad we made the long painful detour to visit Jiuzhougou, the scenery was amazing and so different to the built up China we’ve seen so far, in the morning it’s back to the city! We’ve got a 9 hour bus ride to Chengdu, the home of the panda breeding centre! Can’t wait to see their furry little faces!