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A Month in China Part 3: Jiuzhaigou - Songpan

Before we get started, if this is your first time, check out parts 1 and 2 here:

On our last morning in Chengdu, we woke up early and took a cab to the bus station to buy tickets for Jiuzhaigou [MAP] (pronounced jew-jĪ-go). Jiuzhaigou is a national park in northern Sichuan Province known for its beautiful blue-green lakes. If you Google around and try to find places to photograph in China you'd be hard pressed not to not come across tons of articles on this place. Naturally, that made it super appealing to me, a photographer. The visual beauty of the place did not disappoint, but more on that later.

The process of buying bus tickets wasn't nearly as tough as I thought it would be. I just said Jiuzhaigou, held up two fingers and the woman behind the window, looking very bored, asked me for money and promptly produced two tickets. This was the first experience of many that really made me appreciate the long distance bus system in China. The ride was supposed to take anywhere between 7 and 9 hours, so naturally it took 12. It wasn't all bad though, some of the scenery on the way was pretty beautiful, we saw our first ever yaks, and ate our first ever yak kebobs (not too bad). When we arrived in the town it was evening, so we stowed our stuff, ate dinner and then went to sleep in order to get up early and check out the park.

Like I said above, the park is known for its blue-green lakes, waterfalls and generally beautiful scenery. On these aspects it did not disappoint.

On the other hand, this was our first major experience with Chinese tourists and a Chinese National Park. We assumed there would be a ton of people when we visited the Forbidden City in Beijing, but we were totally unprepared for the sheer number of people here. What made it worse was that everyone was packed onto these little boardwalks. The only places you could walk in the park were these boardwalks, which served the dual purpose of protecting the environment and herding everyone into the same places at the same time. I totally understand the need to limit access to this pristine environment (one of the few places giant pandas still live in the wild) but suffice it to say it was a far cry from what we were used to compared to National Parks in the States.

A small sampling of people, at a relatively tame street crossing. People are heading to the boardwalk on the far side of the street

Not all bad though, I gotta get me one of those NIEK hats!

Feeling a little claustrophobic, the next day we caught a bus to a small town 3 hours away called Songpan [MAP]. We arrived, settled into a little guesthouse and then were pointed to a hiking trail that led up to the newly reconstructed west gate of the city. The hike was everything that we wanted Jiuzhaigou to be. For starters, we were the only people on the trail and the path was dirt, which very was nice. We were also surrounded by wildflowers wherever we looked and at the top we were greeted by fantastic views of the town and surrounding hills.

Old Songpan, ringed by the Minjiang River.

The west gate in the back with a farmhouse and farm.

On the way back down we passed through the Tibetan side of town. It was filled with people going about their daily life and was very refreshing. We wandered around for a bit before grabbing dinner and heading back to the guesthouse to rest our weary feet. The next day we would be heading to a stopover town called Zoige.

A small urban garden in an "abandoned" lot.

A young girl dutifully cleans her chair, with a toothbrush.

Until the next time,


As always, if you've enjoyed these photos you can find many many more on the rest of my website If you want to purchase any prints you can do so through the website or you can contact me directly either though this blog or at


Don't miss out on parts 1 and 2 of this series:

And if you're interested, this history of me the photographer might put some things into perspective:

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