Plan for the dAy
We decided to adhere to our original plan to travel northward to RuoErGai (若尔盖). In our last two days in SongPan we had heard that RuoErGai was covered in snow and HuaHu Scenic Reserve (花湖风景区), one of our destinations would not be nice at all. In our plan, after RuoErGai we would go to TangKe Town (唐克镇) but we were told by a couple of locals in SongPan that there was no bus services between these two places. This was despite us showing them the bus ticket that wase sold online on Ctrip for a ride between RuoErGai and TangKe Town. In the end, they had us doubting the information published on Ctrip.
We already felt cold and at times miserable in SongPan so the thought of getting colder with no beautiful sights at RuoErGai was a turn off. The “missing” bus route was also a concern as it would mean that we had to travel by cab/taxis which would increase our transport cost four to five folds. We kept wondering if we should change our travel itineraries and go else where. In the end we decided to forge ahead with our original plan and deal with whatever twists thrown in our ways, it would be an adventure!
End of the day
We were glad that we went ahead with the original plan because the weather improved, it was sunny! All the snow had melted. RuoErGai was not blanketed in snow and HuaHu (RuoErGai Wetland) was breathtaking in October despite not having any flowers.
Breakfast with a view
We had breakfast in our room. Instant noodles again! This time we added a can of stewed meat that we had bought from the supermarket in the inner town. We enjoyed our breakfast very much, the stewed meat added so much favour to the noodle. Looking out of our room window we could see the East City Gate of SongPan Ancient Town standing proudly against the blue morning sky. It was a nameless fortress to us two days ago, but after Driver Pi’s explanation this fortress took on a life, a purpose, a history.
Bus ride to RUoErGai
We reached the bus station at 9.30 am, half an hour before the start of the trip. The buses were parked at the parking bay behind the bus terminal building. We entered the bus terminal building and walked through the security gate and luggage x-ray machine without any check! No staff was at the security gate at all.
Our bus was a big pink and white bus with a sign “SongPan <-> RuoErGai” in Chinese. We were practically the first to arrive and we took our designated seats based on the seat numbers printed on our tickets.The bus was a bit dusty and unkempt. The bus started 5 minutes late after a bus staff completed a head count. The journey was quite interesting.
In between SongPan and RuoErGai our driver stopped the bus and ran off to deliver a package, some times he blasted his horn loudly and someone would come running out from somewhere to pickup a package from him. He stopped to pick up more passengers and stopped again to accept packages to be delivered at a fee. It seemed like any local who was familiar with the bus route could flag down the bus by the roadside to collect stuff, to request a delivery service or to board the bus. Payment could be given directly to the driver.
The road from SongPan to RuoErGai was pretty good, it was well tarred all the way except for a short stretch before and after a tunnel that was under maintenance. Our bus climbed up to a pass that was about 3800 m above sea level before coming down a little. The landscape changed from hilly to wile open plain with mountain ranges in the horizon.
RuoErGai County also known as Zoige County was primarily a highland basin at 3300 to 3600 metres above sea level. Last evening, our new “friend” at SongPan told us that he just returned from RuoErGai and the whole place was snowing heavily. Today the sky was blue, the sun was bright and we did not see any snow on the road. The only snow we saw was far away on top of the mountains. Apparently the weather of RuoErGai Praire could change dramatically with snow coming unexpectedly for this time of the year.
Ruoergai Transportaton Center
The distance between SongPan to RouErGai was only 160 km and the trip took about 4 hours. So at 1.30 pm our bus drove into RuoErGai Transportation center. There was only a short traffic jam near the a pass and another just at the outskirt of RuoErGai, otherwise the journey was pretty smooth. This was our first public bus journey since arriving in Sichuan, so far we were not very disappointed despite the long travelling duration. Bus transfer was definitely less costly. The bus fare was RMB¥98 for two as for a taxis ride it would cost about RMB¥500 to 600.
RuoErGai Town looked pretty modern with decorative street lamps on it roads and many high rises. Before reaching our final end point of the bus journey, many passengers were already requesting to alight at different parts of the route. So beside the official start stop and end stop there were many unofficial stops in between on the official bus route.
At RuoErGai Transportion Center/Bus Terminal we were relieved to find that there was indeed a bus service between RuoErGai and TangKe, our next destination. We had found this bus route on Ctrip-Bus during our planning stage but became doubtful when several of the SongPan locals told us that there was no such bus route. Their advice would be to travel by hired car (taxis). The locals that we met SongPan owned cars and very seldom traveled by bus so we figured they were not so knowledgeable about bus routes.
At the transportation center we also found out that we could travel from TangKe (唐克) to HeiShui (黑水) directly without backtracking to RuoErGai. This was a great relieve, because on Ctrip-bus we could only find a bus service from RuoErGai to HeiShui. It only showed the start and end town so we had no idea if it would take the anti-clockwise route which would pass TangKe or go the clockwise route.
The staff at the ticketing counter was very helpful, she called the bus driver who would be driving the RuoErGai-HeiShui route to confirm some useful details.
So to go from TangKe to HeiShui we would have to wait at a three roads intersection just outside TangKe at 10 am to flag down the bus on the RuoErGai-HeiShui route. Even though we would board the bus midway we still need to pay the fare for the full route.
She gave us the mobile number of the bus driver so that we could remind him (one day before the ride) to reserve two seats on the bus and to look out for us at the intersection on the actual day of our ride. GREAT! Our major worry concerning getting to HeiShui was resolved. Without a bus service we would need to fork out about RMB¥600 to hire a car to bring us to HeiShui!
HuaHu Scenic Reserve
By the time we settled into our hotel in RuoErGai it was about 2 pm. There was plenty of time so we decided to visit HuaHu Scenic Reserve (花湖风景区). We would rather do that than roam the town as RuoErGai town looked rather ordinary.
From the moment we stepped out for RuoErGai Transportation Center we were accosted by many local drivers offering to bring us to HuaHu for a fee of RMB¥150 to 250. We did not take up the offer as we thought we should settle into our hotel and get the hotel receptionist to contact a trustworthy driver to bring us to HuaHu and back.
A staff at the hotel offered to bring us to HuaHu and back, he was probably earning some extra cash. He requested for a fee of RMB¥150. The hotel was in a lull season (we were the only guests at the hotel) and he was not tied up on any chores. We accepted his offer as we did not think we would get a lower fare from other drivers.
The drive from the hotel to HuaHu Scenic Reserve was about 49 km, our driver drove pretty fast and in about 45 minutes we arrived at the main entrance of the reserve.
At the entrance of HuaHu we bought our entrance tickets at RMB¥80 per person. The tickets included a tourist-bus ride from the main entrance to the Lake area which was a few kilometres inland.
At the lake there was a long meandering boardwalk bordering the lake bringing us as close to the water as possible. It was about 4.30 pm and the sun was low in the sky, we had definitely arrived at the right time for this season! HuaHu meant flower lake in Chinese, but by October all the beautiful flowers have wilted and disappeared. Many locals told me not to waste our time visiting HuaHu but we were here not for the flowers but for something else! This place was stunning in October.
HuaHu in October
The evening ray had lighted up the reeds in the lake. Everywhere we looked we see different shades gold. The color of young reeds was light gold color and that of older reeds was darker yellowish gold. The golden scenery was magical it was “alive”. The golden sheen covering the vast land evolved in sync with the angle and intensity of the rays of the setting sun. The boardwalk took us over a massive area and we stopped frequently to admire and take as many photos as we could.
HuaHu scenery was magical. Every angle I faced I saw stunning scenery ahead. Ever the far away mountains looked stunning with their different shades.
We would have loved to stay until the sun gone down, unfortunately the last tourist bus service from the lake to the main entrance was at 6 pm and by about 5.30 pm the bus driver was already honking at us, signaling to us to get back on to the bus.
Our hotel was not on the main street of RuoErGai which was how we like it, to be away from the noisy main street. It had a couple of restaurants nearby and we stopped at a small eatery just two doors away where we ordered one meat dish, two veggie dishes and rice for dinner. The cost was reasonable at only RMB¥84. Chinese Tea was served free with the meal.
Accommodation for the night
Our hotel was about 2 km from the transportation center and a taxis/cab ride to the hotel should be less than RMB¥10. I had read on the internet that taxis/cab fare was RMB¥4 to 6 for the first 2 km (depending on the model of the car), thereafter it was RMB¥1.4 for every additional 1 km. Unfortunately when we stepped onto the road outside the transportation center we could not spot any taxis, instead we were surrounded my men (unlicensed drivers) eager to bring us here or there etc.. etc.
It helped to know the distance to the hotel because with that we were able to bargain down the ridiculous high fare these unlicensed drivers demanded.
We booked Sky Line Hotel (Tu Yuan Tian Ji Da Jiu Dian) from Booking.com for RMB¥369 a night, the room came with breakfast. I booked it as the price was relatively cheaper than the other hotels that were in the town center.
We liked this hotel, the room was large and everything was clean and new. This hotel just opened in mid 2017 so it was only a few months old. The TV work fine, the WiF signal was strong and its internet speed was the fastest of all the hotels we had stayed so far during this trip. The floor of our room looked like smooth tiles, but it turned out to be some sort of vinyl flooring with heating element below! The floor nicely warmed up in the night.
For a while I was so amazed to see international electrical sockets on the wall which meant I could directly plug in my devices without a converter. Well the happiness was short lived because somehow the two sockets could not be used. The legs of our plugs just would not go in.
We liked the ensuite toilet too. It was large and most important it was clean and new.