[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Adventure Magazine

Adventure Main | E-mail the Editors | Adventure Customer Service | Subscribe August 2004

China's Wild West
Far beyond Beijing lies the rugged terrain, fiery flavors, and Buddhist villages of Sichuan province. By Jim Benning

Map: China
Map of China

Lured by images of the Great Wall and the Pearl TV Tower, first-time visitors to China often head straight for Beijing or Shanghai—then never venture farther than roped-off museums and sparkling KFCs. Many old China hands would say to skip the east altogether and make a beeline for Sichuan, a southwestern province that's steeped in culture and rugged beauty. Its historic capital, Chengdu, offers traditional teahouses, up-close panda viewing, and famously spicy cooking. From there, it's just a few hours by bus to the horse-trekking center of Songpan and the breathtaking cliffs and waterfalls of Jiuzhai Gou, a UNESCO World Heritage site that's China's answer to Yosemite. No trip to the west is complete without a now-or-never cruise down the Yangtze River through the soon to be submerged Three Gorges, the most iconic landscape in all of China.

Fly from Beijing to Chengdu on Air China ($174; www.airchina.com.cn) and spend a day and a half exploring the city's incense shops and Buddhist temples. Don't miss the outdoor teahouse in Renmin Park, set amid sprawling gardens and home to masters of one of those hard-to-fathom Chinese disciplines—earwax removal. Before leaving Chengdu, visit the nearby Giant Panda Breeding Research Base ($10, including transport), where the rambunctious animals like to ogle visitors. The next day, take the early bus ($6) to Songpan, a rustic, predominantly Tibetan town where locals lead yaks down the main drag. Offers for horse treks abound; hold out and go with Happy Trails (+86 83 788 09118), which leads well-run three-day trips to the lakes and hot springs in the nearby Min Shan mountains ($29). Back in Songpan, take the three-hour bus ride ($3) to Jiuzhai Gou park. The 178,000-acre (72,034-hectare) reserve (admission: $31) is home to Tibetan villages, miles of trails, and the translucent blue waters of Five-Colored Lake. Score some good karma by making an offering at the Zaru Buddhist Temple, inside the park. Plan a layover in Chengdu between the bus ride from Jiuzhai Gou ($12) and the one to the city of Chongqing ($13), the departure point for a three-day cruise down the Yangtze River. Grab a good viewing spot at the bow as you pass through the Three Gorges, site of the yet to be completed 600-foot Three Gorges Dam, the largest in history. Disembark in Yichang and catch a China Southern flight back to Beijing ($157; www.cs-air.com).

In Chengdu, the Traffic Hotel is centrally located ($29; +86 28 854 51017). Songpan offers a range of inexpensive hotels on its main street (Song Zhou Traffic Hotel is a good bet; $3). Camping is prohibited in Jiuzhai Gou. Before you arrive, use Sichuan China Travel Service (+86 28 866 55738), one of the best agencies in Chengdu, to arrange lodging nearby at the Min Shan Hotel ($6). The agency can also book your Yangtze cruise. Avoid the overly expensive first class and the cattle-car third; reserve a second-class berth in a shared cabin ($73). Sichuan (often spelled "Szechwan" at stateside restaurants) is the place to eat spicy; try a hot pot, a fiery blend of vegetables and meats that you cook at your table in a boiling pot of seasoned oil (dinner for two costs about $10).

Map courtesy of Steve Turner

Subscribe to Adventure today and save 62 percent off the cover price!

Graphic: 11 Days in China for Under $1,600 [an error occurred while processing this directive]

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

More Trips

More Adventure From nationalgeographic.com

*National Geographic Adventure & Exploration

*Expeditions: Vacation With National Geographic Experts

*Adventure & Exploration News

*TOPO! MapXchange: Create and Post Your Own Maps

*Trails Illustrated Map Catalog

August 2004

Adventure Main | Archive | Subscribe | Customer Service | E-mail the Editors
Media Kit | Contributor Guidelines