A Tibetan Experience in Jiuzhaigou

by Jessica Marsden on May 12, 2010

Updated (6/6): Planning a trip to Jiuzhaigou? Check out my Jiuzhaigou travel guide for more information.

One of the unofficial perks of my teaching program is an instant community of fellow travelers with plenty of advice about traveling in Asia. A quick rummage through my e-mail inbox would turn up travel tips from fellow teachers that helped me plan many of my recent trips: Fujian, Gansu, Japan and more. The subject of today’s post — Zhuo Ma’s Tibetan Experience, in Jiuzhaigou — is another product of this network of travelers.

Last spring, in the course of planning a trip to Jiuzhaigou, my friend H learned of a cooking class being offered by a Tibetan chef in a village outside of the park. When she booked the class, she also arranged to stay for a few days at his home. She became good friends with his sister, Zhuo Ma, and spent a couple of days in the area hiking and exploring small Tibetan villages. Even months later, she couldn’t stop talking about how wonderful it was. So when Dan and I began planning our trip to Sichuan, we knew we were going to include a stop there.

Losang

Included in the price: Hours of entertainment from this adorable child.

Zhuo Ma and her brother now operate a full-fledged homestay out of their two-story Tibetan-style home. After visiting the park, they arranged for us to be picked up and whisked off to their village, only a 15-minute drive away. We spent most of the evening with Zhuo Ma’s mother, who also made us a delicious meal of Tibetan barley tea (tsampa), potatoes, noodles and dried yak meat, which is a lot like beef jerky. As she served dish after dish, she patiently explained Tibetan customs and foods to us in simple Mandarin. For most of her life she spoke only Tibetan, and has begun to learn Mandarin in the last year so that she can communicate with homestay guests.

The next day, we spent the morning exploring the surrounding mountains. And by “exploring,” I mean, hiking for about 30 minutes until we found a sunny, grassy knoll, and then basking in the bright sunshine. We came down just in time to do a cooking class with Ke Zhu, Zhuo Ma’s brother. He learned how to cook in Lhasa, where he worked for several years  before returning to his hometown to open his own Tibetan restaurant. He showed us how to make a few Tibetan dishes, including a deep-fried yak meat dish and two different curries. Curry is apparently hugely popular in Tibet, having migrated over from India. This aspect of the homestay was the most in need of improvement. Although we each chopped a few things, we mostly watched Ke Zhu cook, and there were no recipes or written instructions to take home. It was fun, but expensive at an extra 125 RMB each. After the class, we relaxed a little more in the brightly painted living room and then headed back to the park area to get ready for an early-morning bus back to Chengdu the next day.

At 180 RMB per person per night, including two simple meals, the price of the homestay tested our backpackers’ budget. But unlike many other accommodations in Jiuzhaigou, this one is entirely locally owned, by a wonderfully generous family. In fact, you’ll probably get to meet most of the people who benefit from your visit.  This is money you can feel good about spending.

Reserve a room by e-mailing or on Hostelworld. Though the family does not speak much English, the person who answers their e-mail does.

The view

The blue skies and clean air were a refreshing break from Chinese city life.

Related posts:

  1. Jiuzhaigou in Photos
  2. Expense Report: Ten Days in Sichuan
  3. The Potala Palace, in Miniature
  4. Snapshot: Buying Thangkas in Tongren
  5. Yunnan: A Must-See in China?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

arb May 12, 2010 at 6:17 pm

“Included in the price: Hours of entertainment from this adorable child.”

You’ll have to take my word that Dan and his brother were just as appealing at that age. -}

mnmtraveler September 20, 2010 at 10:38 pm

I stayed at Zhuo Ma’s house from 11 to 13 Sep 2010. The 4 of us were put into a room of 120 sq ft, as there were 6 other guest that night. We all had to share 1 bathroom, which was very basic even by the standards of rural china. Zhuo Ma charged us 720 Yuan (180 Yuan x 4) for the room. We found out later that the Youth Hostel at Jiuzhai town charges 80 Yuan for a twin room with attached bathroom, towels and hot water (call Mr. Pan +86-152837-00465). There are several other Tibetian run Homestays, located at the junction between the main road and the turn off to Zhuo Ma’s house, which charge less than 100 yuan per room (I assume sleeps 2-4 persons). The difference between these and Zhuo Ma’s is marketing. Zhou Ma knows how to work the internet in English. She gets all the “hits” and has largely favourable comments until this one. However, unless she upgrades her place, her charges are UNFAIR and EXCESSIVE.

Jessica Marsden September 21, 2010 at 8:04 am

I’m sorry you had a bad experience. I do agree that Zhuo Ma’s homestay is not priced for budget travelers. But I’m not sure it’s fair to compare it to the generic experience of a youth hostel, either. Thanks for your input!

Yeoh Bee Chin August 16, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Zhuo Ma just increased their Oct 2011 price to CNY230 per pax per night ! It’s definitely too much if they serve simple meals.

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