Jiuzhaigou For Photographers

As the most expensive National Park in China, you might think twice about spending the yuan to visit this park.  However, you would be doing yourself no favours, and unfortunately, the peak fall season is also one of the best times to view the spectacular scenery.  The park operators have it all worked out, and the entrance price of 220 yuan – plus another 90 yuan for the green bus to travel around in the park – is only valid for one day’s entry during the months of July to March.  Outside of this period (April – June), the entrance ticket can be used for two days, and the bus fare is reduced to 80 yuan per day.

Jiuzhaigou is situated in the northern reaches of Sichuan province and used to be difficult to access.  Now there are several flights departing daily from Chengdu and buses from Jiuzhai Huanglong Airport can take you to either Jiuzhaigou (88km away) or Huanglong (53km).  We stayed at MIGU Youth Hostel, which is part of the Hostelling International chain of youth hostel accommodation, and was only a half hour walk from the entrance of the park.  The rooms are clean and serviceable for 120 yuan/night; if not of the 5 star quality of the Sheraton Jiuzhaigou Resort on the other side of the park, at least the owner speaks English, Mandarin and Japanese very well.  Beware that you may need to pay extra to operate the heating unit though, as electricity is still considered a relative luxury.

We arrived in late October and spent two days exploring Jiuzhaigou.  We were worried that we had missed the fall colours, and although it was clear that peak colour had passed, we still think it’s worth a visit.  During our visit the ground was covered with fallen leaves but there were still a fair number of trees holding onto their coloured foliage, and the scattered leaves in the lakes provided interesting contrast with the deep blues and turquoises of the water.

Jiuzhaigou was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992.  It has gained popularity in the last few years and tourism is now responsible for the majority of locals’ income with over 1.5 million visitors annually (mostly local Chinese).  On our first day we made the mistake of taking the green bus all the way to the top of the right fork of the Park, and whilst the day started off quietly enough, by 11am it was thronging with local tourists and jostling is in order to secure enough space for your tripod.  As many of the paths are boardwalked, you will also need to deal with vibrations as the thousands of people stampede past whilst you are trying to take that 2-second exposure of a waterfall.

So here are some tips that will hopefully help you to make the most of Jiuzhaigou:

Tip #1: Wake up early and get to the park before it opens at 7am.  You can only buy tickets for the day, on the day, during peak season.  At 6.45am there will already be 20 people lined up, if not more.

Tip #2: To avoid the crowds, catch the bus to an approximate halfway mark in the park.  Our first stop was Mirror Lake on the second day, and there was not a soul in sight; it was a fabulous relief from the crowds and we didn’t need to fight for tripod space.  We shot Pearl Shoals Waterfall, then Nuorilang Falls, then caught the bus UP to Long Lake on the left fork.  If we were to do it again, on Day 1 we’d still stop off in the middle, head downwards towards the entrance of the Park, then go to the Primeval Forest at the top of the right fork later in the day.

Tip #3:  Pack your own food/beverages.  Don’t waste time trying to catch a bus back to the Visitor Centre as there are no kiosks or eateries anywhere else in the park.  The Government has actually done a very good job of keeping the park clean and man-made structures are kept to a minimum.

Tip #4:  Try to shoot the waterfalls in the morning period.  Most of them face west, so later in the afternoon it can become very bright and exposure is horrendously difficult to control.  We had to use an NDx4 filter in addition to our GNDs to be able to achieve a slow enough shutter speed in the bright light.

Tip #5:  If you only have one day, we recommend the right fork.  The 5 adjoining lakes of Arrow Bamboo Lake to Golden Bell Lake are probably the most picturesque group in the Park.  Heading towards the entrance, Mirror Lake, Rhinoceros Lake and the Shuzheng Falls are also very pretty.  If you do have two days, the left fork leading to Long Lake is probably better in the afternoon as the boardwalk faces east out towards the Lake, and it can be hard shooting into the sun in the mornings (we only did a morning shoot at Long Lake).  The Upper Seasonal Lake did not contain a lot of water at the time of our visit, and there are fewer bus stops along the left fork.  We most certainly felt that the right fork offered more photo opportunities.

Tip #6: Be patient, especially as it gets later and more and more tourists arrive.  You may think that you will never get your shot, but there will be very brief periods where there are gaps between groups of people walking past.  The only downside is that it takes longer, and you may cut into the time you have allocated for each area – however the only advice we can give here is that if you really want to do everything in the park, you may need to think about spending more days shooting (maybe 3, or even more).

Tip #7: Beware of ACE – Asian Composition Envy.  We made this term up after noticing the phenomenon in numerous places we visited throughout China.  What will occur is that you will spend time setting up your tripod and camera for the composition you want, and then you will patiently wait for a gap in which you can actually take the photo.  In the meantime, at least 5 other people will come up right behind you, try to look at your LCD screen, look at the scene towards which your camera is pointed, then immediately take the same picture whilst standing right next to you.  In some cases, they will go so far as to stand in front of your camera, and ask you to take a photo of them, posing in front of your carefully selected scene.  The only solution we suggest – smile, take the photo, and they will be on their way soon enough.

Tip #8: Pack some warm gear as it can be quite chilly in the mornings and evenings when the sun is not shining directly on you.  It didn’t rain during the two days that we visited, but we were very lucky – on the last evening steady precipitation soaked the ground and didn’t let up until well into the night, so some waterproof gear might not be such a bad idea either.

Tip #9: Enjoy yourself!  The Park really is a gorgeous display of natural scenery, so whilst there are some downsides to visiting in peak season, you’re there and you might as well make the most of it.

For more information, the website www.jiuzhai.com is not bad, but a Google search of “Jiuzhaigou” will bring up more than enough sites to trawl through.  Hopefully we’ve managed to give a brief overview from a photographer’s point of view that will also help if you do decide to visit the Park.


Posted on December 20, 2009, in China, How we..., Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Nice post. Jiuzhaighou is a nature reserve located in the Sichuan province in south-western China. In Jiuzhaigou 140 bird species are also spotted in this valley forest. Don’t fail to visit Colourful lakes, Rize Valley there are number of lakes, Zechawa Valley.

  2. Great tips, thank you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: