Nǐ hǎo Chengdu!May 21 in China
Thankfully my second overnight train was a more enjoyable journery, not a snorer in earshot! Other than that gift from above there isn't much else to report about the journey. So onto my stay in Chengdu.
I arrived at my hostel mid afternoon and even though I was able to sleep on the train I was pretty tired from the journey so decided to just hang out in the hostel, as it propbably had the nicest common area of all the hostels i have stayed in so far (it's definitely called a "poshpaker" for a reason". I caught up with emails and planned what i would do in the city the next day. At 7pm the hostel was having a weekly "hot pot" party. This is a Sichuan (the region Chengdu is in) dish which involves guests gathering around a big pot of spicy broth and putting in an assortment of vegetables and noodles, whatever they fancy, and then dishing yourself up a bowl when the vegetables have been cooked. Kind of like a fondu party but instead of cheese a chilli broth. Now I don't do well with spicy food (Korma anyone?) and I was assured by the hostel staff that it wasn't that spicy. Considering Sichuan food is traditionally very spicy I didn't exactly believe them. But I wasn't about to turn away free food! From the first bite i could tell that there "mild" might as well be a Vindaloo for me! One of the staff said to add some vinegar to our bowls to cool it down (everyone else was strggling too). It did help. A bit. I perservered and actually ate quite a bit. I almost choked at one point though when i bit into a pice of mushroom and the water it had absorbed exploded and hid the back of my throat. Definitely and experience i don't think i will repeat. I like to enjoy my food, not feel like ive completed an iron man after it. It was quite a sociable evening though as me and the other guests chatted about our travel plans and laughed at each pthers faces every time we took a bite. After we ate I headed to bed as the next day would be a busy one for me.
Now the reason I decided to stop in Chengdu was for two reasons: to see the pandas and to visit the Giant stone Bhudda in Leshan (a neighbouring city). Unfortunately I made a mistake when i booked my train tickets and only gave myself one full day in the city instead of two so I could only feesibly do one of the two. However, when i got to my hostel i saw that they ran a day tour that goes to both sites. I don't usually like to go on tours, especially not ones run by hostels as they are usually over priced and you are basically just paying for transport to the attractions. However in this instance I definitely made an acception as there was no way I could've visited the two places in one day by myself using public transport. The tour guide picked me and three other guests (a Japanese-Chinese couple with a three year old daughter) at 7:30 and we headed to the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Base just outside the centre. As the name suggests this is a research centre where the focus is on breeding the pandas to maintain the species. It has been open for around 30 years and successfully breeds 10-20 panda cubs a year. They also have a few red pandas, peacocks and black swans at the centre for good measure. The first animals we saw in the centre were the red pandas, which were extremely cute. We then headed to where the main pandas where. The first one I saw was an adult and he was just lounging around eating some bamboo, as you do (apparently they spend 14 hours eating and 10 hours sleeping in a day). Even though it was early the place was packed so it was difficult to get a good view at times. After the first solitary panda our next stop was the cubs. Pandas mate around April-May and have their babies in August, so the smallest cubs in the centre were around 8 months old. There were three small cubs that we could see, and the first one in sight was sleeping, wedged, high up inn one of the trees. The other two were also chilling in the trees. They are literally the cutest things I have seen, like big teddy bears. We walked around the centre for two hours and saw quite a fiew pandas, most of them were eating (lieing on their backs), and some were hanging about in the trees. The centre definitely felt more like a zoo than I was hoping, but the animals all looked very well cared for and it is definitely positive that they are trying to do something to keep the species alive, as apparently in the wild some of them have lost interest in mating (though scientists cannot understand why). Seeing the animals with a small child was also pretty cool (although i definitely think i was more excited about the pandas than she was).
After the panda centre we drove the three hours south to Leshan (unfortunately for our driver we slept most of the way). We had a quick lunch in a local restaurant to refuel. There were two options for seeing the bhudda, hiking to it or taking a boat trip. As we had the little one with us we decided to take the boat (plus it was really hot so I don't think any of us really fancied hiking to it anyway). The boat trip took about 30 minutes and took us right along side the Bhudda. The Bhudda is around 1300 years old and took 90 years and three generations to carve straight into the rock face. It is probably one of the most impressive things I have seen so far on the trip (thank you Lonely Planet). And the boat was definitely the right choice as we were far enough back that we could take in the full structure. If you were hiking, although you could climb right up to next to the Bhudda's head, there is no way you could stand far enough back to be able to photograph the whole thing. Plus from the boat we could aslo see two aditional carvings on the rock face which were only visible from the river. Plus the stairs which the hikers would climb at one point have been completely carved out of the rock, which in itself is pretty cool to see. On the way back from the Bhudda on the boat we paused on the other side of the river to take on the view of the mountain area itself which is actually said to look like a sleeping Bhudda (and it really does!). I'm actually really pleased that I was with the family as if i was on my own i probably would've done the hike and would've missed the benefits of the boat. After the boat trip it was time to head back to Chengdu. The family asked to be dropped in the city centre and I headed back to the hostel for dinner and an early night.
So there you have my whistle stop tour of Chengdu. Although it was probably the shortest stay I have had in one place so far, it has definitely been my favourite.
Next stop Guilin to see the rice terraces.
Zài jiàn!Read more