China’s Jiuzhaigou National Park is a stunning fairyland of a nature reserve north of Szechuan and about an hour’s plane ride away from Chengdu. A UNESCO Heritage site, this 700 sq km swathe of natural gorgeousness sits high up in the mountain ranges, and is dotted with breathtaking scenery of wild pines, impossibly blue lakes, dramatic waterfalls, leaping cascades and immense vistas.
I visited during winter particularly to see the frozen waterfalls and snowy scenery…and also to avoid the crazy crowds that throng the place in spring and autumn. It was worth it despite the minus 5 degree Celsius weather, as the crowds were thin and we had breathtaking vistas almost to ourselves at times. The scenery was out of this world. With the dark wood of the trees and rocks set in stark contrast against the snow, it felt like we had walked straight into a traditional Chinese painting.
It’s not difficult to navigate the park. Once you have bought a ticket at the main entrance, there are buses plying two fixed routes that will bring you to all the main sights and lookout points of JZG National Park. You board and disembark at set bus-stops of course. (Another advantage of travelling in low season is that the buses are pretty comfortable, and you are assured of seats most of the time.) If you were gung-ho, you could walk the park too, as the paths and roads are well paved, broad, and decently signposted. But it is a huge expanse, so it would be quite an ambitious undertaking.
We had been warned that there weren’t much food options there apart from a large no-frills restaurant in a central holding area, and a few pot-noodle stands dotted around. So we brought flasks of hot coffee, and some pastry pilfered from the breakfast buffet, which was enough to keep us going for the day.
We got to see most of the main sights of JZG Nature Park, which took us from around 8am until 5pm.
Our hotel, the Sheraton Jiuzhaigou was a ten minute stroll from the entrance of the park, which made it quite convenient. But (and here’s where the griping starts) it was possibly the most shocking hotel property from an international brand which I had ever stayed in.
Despite selling us club suites, they had closed the club lounge due to low season, so no extra amenities. What’s more, heating was turned off in all the public areas. The staff in the lobby checked us in wearing their great winter coats, and the hallways of the hotel were so chilly, dim and dreary it looked like a set from ‘The Shining’. Back in our suites, central heating was minimal; even with an extra standalone heater that we literally begged for, the temperature in the bedroom registered 15C. We ended up sleeping on the floor in the living room, the only place which was of a humane temperature for sleeping. At least the Chinese restaurant there was decent and the food was hot, which just about prevented us from turning into human popsicles.
Banyan Tree Just Opened in JZG
So I was thrilled to hear that Banyan Tree had just opened a property in JZG a few days ago. Although 45 minutes away from the park, I think a warm bed in luxurious surrounds would more than make up for the extra travel time. The rooms start from a spacious 65 sq metres, all with nice views, and five F&B outlets including a hotpot restaurant and another that offers Sichuan and Cantonese cuisine. What’s more, there’s also the Banyan Tree Spa with 12 treatment rooms and indoor and outdoor swimming pools.
A stay at Banyan Tree JZG also offers other experiences like jam making classes, featuring a visit to Village to pick fruit followed by cooking the jam back at the hotel; a trek to Baihe Nature Reserve to see the Sichuan Golden Monkey and Giant Panda, or go hunting for Chinese herbs and edible mushrooms with a local guide, amongst others.
Marking its opening, the hotel is offering a special early bird package from now until 30 June 2017. If you make an online booking seven days in advance, you’ll get 45% the Best Available Rate. There’s also the 4D/3N Sense of Exploration package with daily breakfast for two, a day trip to Jiuzhaigou National Park inclusive of park tickets, round trip transportation, and a picnic lunch, as well as a complimentary upgrade to the next room category. (www.banyantree.com)