There were many highlights during my trip to Chengdu last year. We visited the biggest stone Buddha in the world, went off the tourist track to see hundreds of Buddha carved into cliffs and not forgetting how up close and personal I got to a panda. Now I have 1 more to add to the list – UNESCO World Heritage Site Huanglong National Park. It has many colour ponds formed by calcite deposits forming the now amazing and stunning travertine landscape.
We took a 45 minutes flight from Chengdu to Jiuzhai Huanglong Airport (this is also the airport for the Jiuzhaigou (九寨沟) / Jiuzhai Valley), which is situated at 3,448m above sea level. The flight was meant to take off at 11.40am but it was delayed by about 1.5 hours…
When we reached Jiuzhai Huanglong Airport, it was 3 degrees celsius! We were definitely not prepared for such cold weather so everyone wore whatever thick clothing she had. For visitors who do not have anything suitable at all, fear not because there were shops selling winter clothing INSIDE the airport! SMART!
From the airport, we had to take a 1 hour bus ride to the Huanglong National Park. The scenery along the way was beautiful! And we saw some yaks too, both the black and white ones! It was my first time seeing Yaks and they looked so adorable.
As part of something similar to “caring for the tourists” programme, someone certified by the Chinese government came onboard our tour bus and did a short introduction to sell a herbal essence extract. It was supposedly known to prevent or alleviate altitude sickness. Another gimmick? Well, at least the lady selling the medicine wasn’t pushy at all and our guide did forewarn us. She also advised that we were not obliged to buy. We didn’t know if it would truly work but to avoid any discomfort that may occur, most of us bought it.
We each had to take 3 on the spot and 2 after the Huanglong tour. It actually tasted like honey.
The original plan for the Huanglong tour was for us to take a cable car up to the mountain top and walk back down. However, by the time we finished our late lunch and got to the Huanglong National Park main entrance, it was almost 4.30pm! By that time, it was too late to take the cable car. Damn that delayed flight!
We had only about 2 hours before the sun set to explore the whole park, by walking / climbing! Not the best option but we had to make do.
There were 2 routes we could take, one was longer with more gradual ascent but more scenic and the other was shorter but less scenic. With the limited amount of time we had, our tour guide advised that we take the shorter route to the top, or whichever highest point then use the longer route on the way back down.
We followed the advice and started walking and climbing as fast as we could. It was easier said than done at above 3,000 metres above sea level! The air was thin.
Everyone was excited upon reaching our first sight – the Guests Welcome Pond.
The climb up through the shorter route was nice although there were A LOT of steps. Pavilions for resting could be found along the way. There were even oxygen bars set up for people who may need them.
I abandoned my tour mates on the way and came to the 7-mile Golden Sand Pond (七里金沙). What I saw was the calcified shoal coagulated at the bottom of the pond and the whole place looked like a whitewashed beach.
Further up at 3,414m above sea level, I reached the Flamboyant Pond (争艳池). The bridges to get to the viewing platform for the pond were blocked off but I saw people standing inside. Hmm..
Then I saw people coming out by climbing the sides of the bridge. After watching a few people doing the same and making sure that it was safe, I did the same going in. So happy that I decided to take the risk because the place looked just like it came out of those National Geographic documentaries!
It looked as though one could just climb into one of those and soak in it.
With the fog and the soft light coming through, it felt like I was in heaven! I was as happy as a clam no doubt.
For a moment I contemplated whether it was wise to continue making my way up the mountain to see other sights. But since there wasn’t much time left and I wasn’t even sure how long it would take me to the next point, I decided to stay here and enjoy the view. I could stare at this pond for hours!
After spending about 20 minutes at the Flamboyant Pond, it was time for me to make my way down before the sun sets. I was afraid of being late to meet our tour guide so I half-ran half-walked all the way back down. Also took a detour on the longer-but-nicer route to check out the other sights.
It was at this point that I realized that my camera batteries were dead, all 3 of them! Not quite the same predicament I was back in Egypt but I was really glad to have my iPhone with me again. I was still able to capture some nice photographs 🙂
It was a really rushed trip with poor planning and unforeseen circumstances. As a result, we did not manage to take the cable car which would have been nice. We didn’t visit the temples at the top of the mountain nor the multi-coloured pond. if you know you will be coming to the Huanglong National Park straight from the airport, make sure you get on the earlier flights out from Chengdu. This way, you will have more time to explore the Park at a leisure pace.
Oh, do have a piping hot onion pancake sold along the roadside after the climb. It’s a little bit oily but tasty! And it’s only RMB 5.
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Check out what other places we visited in Chengdu here.