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Hailuogou - Moxi

National parks, Chinese style.

Photo left: Hailuogou Glacier and 7500-meter Gongga Shan

April 13-14, 2002

April 13

My driver stopped in front of some place in Moxi he claimed was a guesthouse but I certainly would never have known it as one. He said he was staying there and I should too, but it didn't look like anything I wanted and I saw no reason why I should reward him with a free stay by paying up to stay there. So despite his and a few others' efforts to get me to stay, I grabbed my bags and with a steady chant of "xie xie, bye bye, xie xie" I walked away.

Lonely Planet has no idea what Moxi looks like. They describe it is a one-street village. So I assumed I was on that one street and began looking for some sort of lodging resembling their descriptions. One place sounded rather promising, Luyou Fandian, and located next to a Catholic Church - Moxi really does have one! - it should be easy to find. So I began walking up the hill looking for a Catholic Church or the Luyou Fandian. But all I saw were shophouses and large hotels that were no doubt looking for large Chinese tour groups to come their way. I'm not large, Chinese, or a tour group so I kept walking until I reached the top of the hill and a road junction where the road turns left to Hailuogou Glacier Park and right, well, to somewhere.

To the left are a couple of large hotels and to the right are some restaurants, shops, a guesthouse of some sort, and another street. That makes three streets. And continuing straight I encounter another crossroads. This makes four streets. Lonely Planet describes Moxi as a "one-street village". I'm counting four streets, three in one direction and one bisecting the trio. Like I said, Loney Planet has no idea what Moxi looks like.

The middle street seemed most likely to be the one street LP thinks Moxi has so I start wandering up and then down searching for the Luyou Fandian. It's also past 2:00 p.m. and I haven't eaten yet. After a few missteps I finally locate the Catholic Church. But I don't see anything that looks like a guesthouse so I wander in on one side and ask if anybody knows anything about a Luyou Fandian. Nobody knows what I'm talking about. So I walk to the other side of the church and again inquire as to whether there's a Luyou Fandian about. Nobody knows what I'm talking about. I decide that LP doesn't know what it's talking about either so I stuff the book deep into my bag, start back up the hill and enter the first decent looking place.

The name was a Hi-Lo something or other. It seems almost every hotel in Moxi is some variance of the syllables Hai, Luo, and Gou. Actually, it's the place Lonely Planet refers to as the Ho Fandian, I know this because the phone number (326-6296) in the guidebook matched the phone number on the hotel's sign. But the sign definitely did not say Ho Fandian. This hotel was not as LP described except for the rooftop terrace, however, in LPs defense, it was also apparent the hotel had just been renovated and expanded (actually some work wasn't even finished yet). But as it's obvious the town has built several roads, a dozen hotels, and possibly the glacier in the park has moved a few hundred meters since LP last bothered checking this place out, it should be no surprise then, that this information is as inaccurate as everything else.

In any event, my best bargaining skills could only get a Y100 room down to Y90, but it was a nice room with a very comfortable bed, en suite facilities and 24-hour hot water. No complaints here.

At this point it's getting close to 3:00 p.m. and I still haven't eaten, so I stumble into some dumpling shop across the street run by a very nice plump middle-aged woman and wolf down a double order of dumplings and a big plate of fried bread, paying Y7 for it all.

Belly full, I wander over to the park entrance just for a look, not really planning on going in the park yet. I stand around looking a little confused for no apparent reason. It's not like I could walk in, Hailuogou Glacier was about 30 kilometers inside the park. As experience has taught me, standing around looking bemused and/or confused is often an effective way to receive assistance in China, though the help and the subsequent result can sometimes turn out to be anything but what you expected. Sure enough, a half dozen Chinese tourists traveling together beckon me their way tossing me into a van with them and a smiling tour guide - a young woman of maybe 22 who speaks just enough English to sometimes make herself understood. The others speak virtually no English at all but seem more than happy with the novelty of having a lone western tourist in their midst.

Heading into the park, relieved of the Y120 entry fee (50 for the bus - mandatory it would seem, and 70 for the park admission) myself and my fellow passengers communicate as well as possible (I do carry a phrasebook so I can make myself understood at a very rudimentary level and I do know a smattering of Mandarin), dispensing with the usual formalities - where I'm from, job, marital status, opinion of China and Chinese people, etc.

For the ride we are surrounded by soaring snow-capped 6000+ meter peaks on a spectacularly clear day as we make our way up and into the park (the climb is from about 2000 or so meters to 3200 at the top). An hour later and we reach the cable car station. The only legal way now to reach the viewing area for the glacier and views of 7500-meter Gongga Shan is to ride this cable car. Trekking is now forbidden and they do seem to make some effort to prevent anyone from trying it.

But it's 4:30 pm and the cable car isn't running. A discussion ensues between tour guide and fellow passengers, none of which I can understand save for common sense and context. It's clearly displeasure being voiced by the tourists and apologies and explanations from the tour guide. We head back down, stopping at one of the camps where there is a hot spring and a hotel. We all get out. I figure we're here to visit the hot spring and the glacier gets saved for tomorrow. No, we're here to stay in the hotel. I already have a hotel. I paid for it and my bag and everything else is there.  And it's in Moxi.

Tour Guide is confused. So is the foreign tourist. In the parking lot is another van which Tour Guide says is heading out which I go to board to leave the park. Tour Guide escorts me. I try to ask whether or not I'll have to pay the admission and bus fee again (seeing as the tourists staying in the park would not have to). Commence communication failure mode.

Lucky for me, there's a young couple in the van; husband speaks near flawless English, wife speaks very good English. Communication restored. Husband talks with Tour Guide and I'm told I will indeed have to pay again tomorrow. Tour Guide looks distressed. I speak to husband who speaks to Tour Guide and tells her for me that I'm not upset with her and there's no problem (actually there is a problem, I'm going to have to pay another Y120 to get in and I'm none too pleased about it, but it really wasn't her fault). Tour Guide looks relieved, apologies profusely, and her omnipresent smile is restored. Meanwhile, I pray for another clear day. LP claims Gongga Shan is under rain some 200 days a year. But seeing as they know doodly-squat about Moxi, why should I believe them? Anyway...

I leave. But I make two new friends in Felix and Jenny, the English speaking couple on the van, presently on a holiday from their home in Shanghai. We chat all the way down the mountain. I then meet a few more of their friends who all decide to check into the same hotel as me and I'm treated to a lively dinner with them. Stimulating conversation on cultural, social, and political differences between US and China from American and Chinese perspectives (Felix has been to the US a few times further enlightening the conversation), interspersed with assorted verbal nonsense takes us through dinner. Then four of us, Felix, Jenny, myself, and one of their other friends take a stroll through town. Felix and the other man go off star gazing while Jenny and I continue the more serious talk of US-Chinese differences which, when coming from an educated, well-traveled Chinese, I find extremely enlightening.

The following morning they would make their way to Chongqing and back to Shanghai and I would take a second stab at Hailuogou.

April 14
Grabbing my bag I check out of the hotel and wander up to the park entrance, again forking over Y120 to gain admission. Again I try the 'stand around and look lost' routine whereupon I'm whisked into a large bus with about forty Chinese tourists on board, who are as usual, delighted to have a westerner among the mix. Another piece of practical advice: if visiting Hailuogou, try to get in a van and not a large bus - these buses take forever to get up to the glacier as it's all uphill and very winding.

After about an hour and a half we finally reach the cable car. Now, you'd think if you purchased an admission ticket to Hailuogou that the cable car ride would be included? It's not. But seeing as they don't allow any other way of reaching the glacier viewing platform, what do you do? You buy the ticket. And you even have the option of buying a one-way or round-trip. But it's not much of an option when it's the only legal way to and from the glacier. Though actually, people do get away with walking, and there are guys working in the open that'll toss you on a chair and carry you up there for almost as much as the cost of a cable car ticket, but as far as I could tell, the 'proper' way was by cable car.

View riding up the cable car.

And how much is that cable car ticket? Try Y160 return. That's right, Y160. If you want to see Hailuogou Glacier you're going to pay Y280 (70 admission, 50 bus, 160 cable car) for the privilege... and in my case Y400 because I entered the park twice.

The viewing platform is at 3600 meters and the views are indeed outstanding. There is not a cloud in the sky and above the glacier stands 7500-meter Gongga Shan with lesser 6000+ meter peaks flanking the sides.

photos below:
Gongga Shan and Hailuogou Glacier (wide angle and zoom)

photos below:
Lesser (but still 6000++ meter) peaks surrounding Hailuogou and Gongga

Standing around looking at the view, I hear a familiar language, Thai. Hey I can speak this language! And I start chattering away at one or two surprised Thais who turn out to be part of a large group doing a whirlwind week-long tour of Sichuan. This week is a major holiday (Songkran) week in Thailand and one holiday I'm happy to get away from.

below left: Gongga, Hailuogou Glacier, and tourists on the viewing platform
below right: View from the cable car descending the mountain

With snow around us and Thailand not having any, it was certainly a topic for conversation. I was speaking mostly in Thai (though several of the Thais spoke English quite well, they were more than happy to stick with their native tongue as my skills are strong enough for us to do so) unless it became necessary for me to say the Thai word for "snow", whereupon I'd stumble and falter and just say "snow" in English.

I turned to one of the men and said "pom glu-ah poot cam pasa Thai snow" (I'm afraid to say the Thai word for snow). He erupted in laughter and turned to a number of his companions telling them what I just said which they all thought was the funniest thing they'd heard all day.

You see, the Thai word for snow (he-ma) is not one you want to mispronounce. Using the wrong tones and one may end up saying a rather vulgar word for the female anatomy of, depending on how one mispronounces the second syllable, either a horse or a dog.

He then said to me that I shouldn't worry about it, for foreigners can get away with mispronouncing such things, but the Thais can't. But just to be sure he gave me a crash course in the proper pronunciation of the Thai word for 'snow' and I think I can now safely say the word without becoming "na dang" (red-faced).

After viewing the glacier and mountains for awhile and posing for photos with my new Thai friends and trying my best not to improperly say "pom yak gin he-ma" (I want to eat snow), I return to the bottom cable car station alone and start figuring out how to get out of here and ultimately back to Chengdu. But first I have to wait for a bus, and as usual, the buses are all taken over by large groups so I can't go anywhere until one of the groups (either my original group or the Thai group) turns up and I can slide onto a bus.

The Thai group arrives first and they pull me on board, but their bus is only going as far as the next camp, just a few kilometers below where they had spent the previous night. Knowing enough Thai, I understand the group leader telling everybody to eat lunch at the hotel, then check out and prepare for the bus ride back to Chengdu later that afternoon.

Reaching the hotel, the Thais hope I join them for lunch and having nowhere else to go, I oblige. Just as I'm about to enter the restaurant, the other bus pulls up and its tour guide jumps off and tries with more effort than I thought necessary to return me to my proper bus. I wasn't aware independent travelers were assigned buses here. I told him politely to buzz off, that there's a group of Thais here, I speak Thai, and I'm going to eat with them. Finally, after more discussion than there ever should have been, the tour guide acquiesces and the bus disappears down the mountain.

Lunch finished, my only way back to Moxi is by motorcycle as the buses, which I paid for, are all held by tour groups. I flag down a motorcycle, paying him additional money over the cost of the bus ticket I had already paid for, but owing to the transportation system here, wasn't practical for me to use. Heading down the mountain we pass my original bus parked off at another restaurant/hotel and I can only imagine how much more time I'd have wasted staying with them.

Now I need to vent a little bit. China has a problem. The problem is the management of its national parks. I realize that the overwhelming majority of tourists in China are domestic and if they are not already part of a group, will be happy to be made part of a group. That's the Asian way. But China does receive a number of international visitors who have no interest in being carted around a park in a bus full of package tourists stopping here and there for everyone to jump out and take a quick photo and only really spending time doing things like eating and shopping.

The whole reason I have not yet visited Jiuzhaigou National Park is because of this system of transport. But Hailuogou was just as bad. I realize they want to protect the parks and limit the damage that might be caused by thousands of people stomping through the wilderness, but if they are going to push all tourists onto buses, than they really need to have a system that allows people to move around the park where and when they want, and not where and when the tour group that has taken over most of the bus wants. This transportation system seriously inhibited my enjoyment of Hailuogou Glacier Park.

(story continues on the Kangding-Luding page)


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All text and photographs 1998 - 2006 Gordon Sharpless. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.