Xichang is not mentioned in the Lonely Planet China guide. We had never heard of this place and certainly didn’t have any intention of going there. So what changed? When living in Sichuan, people will tell you – whether you ask them or not – that you should visit Jiuzhaigou National Park. Why? I think it’s because the water is exceptionally bright.
Whilst Jiuzhaigou does look beautiful the idea of a 10 hour, hilly, bus ride (the only way to get this place if you can’t afford flight tickets) and the steep entrance fee to the park, not to mention the crowds, didn’t appeal to us, especially during a Chinese national holiday. Whilst in Dujiangyan we met some medical students. When I asked them where they would recommend people go visit in Sichuan I was watiting for the “Jiuzhaigou” answer. So I was surprised when one of them said Xichang. So we obviously had to follow their advice and see it for ourselves!
Xichang can be reached by bus (approx 6 hours) but as I hate buses and love trains, we got the train from Chengdu North Station to Xichang (a 10 hour ride). We took the overnight train and experienced the soft sleeper carriage (more expensive, but definitely nicer then the hard sleepers!). The only unfortunate aspect of our journey was that we arrived in Xichang at 5.30 in the morning.
From the train station to the town
Once you exit the station, turn left and you will see a car park. Next to the car park are a load of buses – this is the bus “station”. Buses don’t start until 6.30am so we sat around for an hour waiting. Once 6.30 came, we caught the number 12 bus into Liangshan town and hopped off the bus at the last stop (next to the bus station).
From the town to the scenic lake area
After getting off bus 12 we caught the number 14 (you can also catch buses 17 and 106) to Qionghai scenic lake area.To get to our hostel we needed to stay on bus 14 until the last stop (another make shift car park) and walk up the hill to the hostel.
We stayed at Dengba hostel, which wasn’t actually my first choice, but I’m so glad we stayed here. The staff are friendly and speak a little bit of English, so with our small amount of Mandarin we were able to communicate. The hostel is surrounded by purple flowers, pretty plants and a cute little courtyard where you can sit and eat breakfast. A short walk down the road leads you to a viewing platform from which you can see the mountains and the lake.
Things to do in Xichang
Apparently this is the second largest fresh water lake in Sichuan. The lake is huge (7 miles around) and surrounded by beautiful mountains. Unfortunately the weather was rainy when we went, but I can imagine this being even lovelier in the sun.
There is a brilliant bike path around the lake (although I’m not sure if it goes all the way around it – we only did one side) and wetland park area. The jolly owner of the hostel we were staying at took us to rent some bikes – 20 yuan each (£2) for as long as we liked and no deposit! I would recommend taking water with you – we didn’t come across a place to buy water for a long time.
We headed to Lushan mountain first. The entrance was a little difficult to find (you can watch our vlog to see the entrance) but a short walk up the mountain leads you to the Yi Slavery Museum.
Yi Slavery Museum
The museum is free to enter and I strongly recommend taking a bit of time out of your day to visit it. The Yi minority are the next largest ethnic group after the Han. They had a strange caste system throughout most of their history in which the lower two groups were slaves of the upper two. The museum is actually surprisingly informative for a Chinese museum, and filled with fascinating objects and artworks from the animist culture of the Yi.
Continuing up the mountain
Shortly after leaving the Yi Museum we entered the “monkey zone”. Macaque monkeys abounded and strayed uncomfortably close to tourists. Stalls on either side of the path sell both nuts with which to feed the monkeys and catapults with which to shoot at them. Not only is this cruel but it means that the monkeys now hunger for food tourists feed them with, including drinks. One particularly large monkey began circling us and refused to let us pass. The Chinese people manning the stalls told us that the monkeys wanted our Pepsi. Once we had put the Pepsi bottle in a nearby bin the monkeys left us, rooted through the bin and proceeded to open and drink out of the bottle. It was a sad sight – to see monkeys who were no longer wild and were eating and drinking things they never should have been able to.
Once we got past the monkeys we reached a series of temples. The last temple we reached had the most brilliant view from their balcony which we had all to ourselves.Unfortunately we were pretty knackered so didn’t make it to the top, but the views were spectacular and I’m sure it would have been at the top too.
Huanglian Earth Forest 黄连土林
On our second day in Xichang we headed to Huanglain Earth Forest. “What is an earth forest?” I hear you say. Well, it was created by the long erosion of soil and rock during, and since, the last Ice Age (according to the information sign at the site). What has been left are yellow soil formations, hence the name “earth forest”.
The forest was perhaps the most original and unique scenic attraction we’ve been to. What was great was how quiet it was – located a half hour bus ride outside of Liangshan in the small town of Huanglian, we didn’t run into more then a dozen other people in the forest during our half a day visit there. It was also very cheap – entry was 20 RMB (£2). We caught the 158 bus on the main road to get to Huanglian with the bus costing 7 RMB for a single (70p).
All in all Xichang was an unexpected treat, and definitely a place to visit if you want to travel on a national holiday and avoid the madding crowds.
To see more our Xichang, check out our vlogs on YouTube: