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Longer than expected in Chengdu

Chengdu, China
Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Day 1

After changing our onward plans we decided to make use of today to plan Vietnam.

Day 2

We headed out late morning after Sonya had a lazy lie in whilst Ross made sure we knew how to get to the places on our list. Mr organised as usual :-)

Our first port of call was the Wenshu Monastery which is a Buddhist Temple very similar to other Temples that we have seen in China, although much quieter and a lot less busy than the last one we went to in Beijing.

This was a great place to visit and it was really steeped in history. Although we have seen many temples during this and other trips to Asia the grandeur never ceases to amaze us.

After this we wandered the streets of the local area in search of lunch and came across a long alleyway full of everything from mini restaurants to foods stalls bursting with fresh veg and Chinese delicacies.

When choosing a place to eat our choice of restaurant is based on two simple things. The price (we are on a budget!) and the most important thing of all is if they have pictures of the food that we can easily choose from.

Most restaurants have some pictures either on the wall or in the menu with Chinglish explanations next to them, some work but some don't as you can see from our Shanghai blog! However, when you delve into the backstreets and beyond you can't always expect such luxuries. Luckily we managed to find a small place with a few pictures but no prices. The owners were friendly and after much pointing and nodding, our food was served. We needn't have worried about the price though we had two fried rice dishes and two large bottles of beer and it only came to a grand total of 26CNY (approx. £2.60) Bargain of the day!

Next stop was Wangjian's Tomb. Built for the Wang Jian who after the Tang Dynasty, ascended to the throne and set up the Former Shu independent regime. The first above ground mausoleum of its type built over 1000 years ago it forms its own hill and lay undiscovered until the war. The tomb is enormous approx. 80 metres across and 15 metres high. It was worth a visit if a little eerie.

After this we headed over to People's Park and it was absolutely cram packed with people enjoying the weekend. The park was much smaller than others we have visited but the vibe and atmosphere certainly made up for it. Absolutely everywhere you looked there was another group blasting out music and pulling some funky moves. From the young to the old everybody seemed to be dancing, singing, playing cards or doing some kind of sport. The park really is named People's Park for the right reasons.

At one point we couldn't stop giggling when we saw an old man who had a karaoke machine set up and was singing his heart out, not very well we might add but he gave it a good try.

We went to one of the many tea houses to try some of the traditional teas that we've seen everyone drinking. Ross tried the Bamboo Green Tea and Sonya tried the Jasmine tea. Word of warning when trying traditional tea drink it fast because the longer you leave it the stronger it gets. The green tea in Sonya's opinion was absolutely disgusting and the Jasmine tea wasn't much better but Ross is made of stronger stuff and didn't waste a drop.

Day 3 - The last day of Spring Festival (Yay!)

We have seen a lot of temples on this trip already and there are only so many temples you can see before they start to all look the same. However the Wenshu Temple was recommended by Lonely Planet and as we saw the Wenshu Monastery just yesterday and enjoyed it, we thought that this one would be just as good. Boy were we wrong

We arrived early and realised how big the place was and thought this was a good thing as we have plenty of time to look round. In the first section there were traditional buildings decorated with red lanterns for the New Year and the smell of incenses filled the air and everything seemed normal. Then it turned weird, very weird. There was a shopping area selling everything from stuffed pandas to jewellery and bags. It got worse there was a fast food restaurant, a whole food court, bars and a theme park with children's rides! What was this place?

It was like a cocktail of religion, capitalism and Disneyland. At this point we were feeling more than a little confused and we started to think we were at the wrong place. We even checked our tickets to see but no, we were definitely at the correct place.

It was early but there were lots of security guards in some areas out numbering the visitors; some were even dressed in full SAS type gear so we can only imagine it was going to stage something for the finale of the Spring Festival later. There is only one thing that would have made this place worse than it was, if it was full of Chinese staring at us and with that thought we headed to the exit thankful that we hadn't wasted too much money to get in. In fairness it might not be like this all year round and it did look like the theme park was something for the Spring Festival but the shopping and food areas were permanent. If you are looking for something traditional this is not the place. Before we came we were feeling pretty 'templed out' but we need to go and see a least another before leaving Asia to remind ourselves of their beauty.

Day 4 - A day of two halves

We finally got round to visiting the pandas the main reason why we and many others come to Chendgu. We were not disappointed! Unfortunately tourist bus 902 was cancelled a few months back which went right past the hostel direct to the Panda research centre. The thought of catching a couple of buses didn't appeal so we ended up going on a tour run by the hostel. It was the best thing we could have done. The hostel only charged 98CNY per person and included round transport, entry, guide and a small knick-knak. In comparison entry to the park is 58CNY so you got a lot extra for the 4OCNY.

Depending on which stats you read or believe there are only between 500 and 2,000 panda's left in the world so to have 100 in one location is pretty special.

We arrived at the park just after opening time which apparently is the best time to visit as the pandas are the most active, the fact that they eat for up to 16 hours a day the definition of active might be a lose term. However we were lucky enough to arrive just before breakfast and see them devour large quantities of Bamboo mostly whilst lying on their backs!

After seeing the giant pandas we headed over to the red pandas. Not to sound ignorant but neither of us had ever even heard of a red panda before so we didn't know what to expect but when they looked nothing like a panda and were more like a fox we were a little confused. A little strange but apparently they are endangered too and only 5,000 exist throughout Asia.

Final stop was the one we had all been waiting for the nurseries. We had a great time watching the little ones as they seemed to have so much more energy and even played whilst munching on bamboo.

The research base does an amazing job helping to conserve these endangered animals. It's strange when so many other animals in the world are being led to extinction often with little thought when the panda would probably naturally become extinct overtime with their reluctance to breed if it wasn't for the great work they do at the research base. None of the animals looked or felt like they are kept in captivity. A must see sight in Chengdu!

We arrived back at the hostel around midday at which point the day took a turn for the worse. In search of better wi-fi connection Ross managed to drop Sonya's phone. We haven't seen any carpet since our hotel in Amsterdam and the screen didn't appreciate been dropped onto a hard surface. D'oh! Not only is the internet infuriatingly slow it is now costing us a lot of money too!

As the screen is the main part time of the S3 we expected the worst and after a little research on the web wasn't too surprised to see the repair cost is about 1/3 of the cost of a newbie. Not something we had in the budget.

So with just one phrase 'how much for repair' written in Chinese by reception we headed off to mobile phone city to find out the damage. One great thing in China is they have specific areas of the city for specific things the nickname mobile phone city doesn't do it justice, a couple of authorised stores surrounded by literally hundreds of smaller shops claiming to be the real deal. In Xi'an we saw 7 'Apple' shops, copyright doesn't exist! So after randomly picking a shop we approached the desk. You could see the fear on the girl's face as we walked towards her. We passed her our Chinese note requesting the price which she digested and then started jabbering away in Chinese, not having a clue what she said with a little sign language we asked her to write it down so she proceeded to write what she was saying in Chinese. Err this was going to be difficult!

After a bit of Google translate. Some worked but some didn't. One of the things she translated was about a school teacher! We finally got a price. We went back to the hostel to mull it over and check UK prices and decided it wasn't a bad deal so went back. She spotted us and you could clearly see she was thinking 'I thought I got rid of you earlier' after a bit more Google translate she took the phone and disappeared out the back. We don't know if she said help me get rid of the Western people but the phone was repaired in 20 mins! Broken at midday and fixed by 17:30. If we knew what we were doing we could have had it fixed in under an hour, incredible service.

Day 5 - Grand Buddha

Our last full day in Chengdu so we decided to get out of the city and take a day trip to Leshan.

Apart from taking an organised tour the best way to get to Leshan and the Grand Buddha is by coach. We caught the 8am coach expecting to arrive around 10am as it was advertised as being a 2 hour journey. But as we are in China we should have known that things wouldn't run exactly to plan. The coach stopped twice before leaving Chengdu once to fill up and then again for what looked like a drivers fag break. We then stopped again at a service station and as we write this we are over 3 hours into the journey and stuck in traffic with at least 1 hour to go. It's a good job we caught an early bus!

Well the journey finally took us just under 4.5 hours. In comparison the return journey when the driver obviously wanted to get home didn't have any stops and took just 1 hour 50 mins.

Having done a lot of research on the Grand Buddha we had seen the stats before our trip to Leshan but nothing can prepare you for the enormity of the statue when you actually see it in person. At an incredible 71m tall with a shoulder span of 28m it is gigantic. The photos can't capture its true scale. We can't even imagine how you could possibly carve something of that size out of the side of a cliff.

After the Buddha we continued to Mahaoya tombs and then onto Wuyou temple. After the horrific 'temple' we visited two days ago we wanted to visit another temple before leaving China and as entry fee was included in the ticket for Buddha this seemed like a good opportunity. We were not disappointed, nestled at the top of a hill the views from the top were exquisite. The temple was equally impressive and much more a custom to what we have seen and liked before. A great day out and as the bus only cost 47CNY from Chengdu a bargain too.

Next stop Guilin and Yangshuo to see the countryside. T-shirt weather is only a couple of train rides away.

Hostel Review

We stayed at Sim's Cozy Garden Hostel after reading some really great things and we must say everything we read is true. Sim's is a top budget stay. It has a great cheap bar and restaurant and the staff are amazingly helpful. They helped us sort out train tickets, day trips and fixing our mobile there is nothing any of them wouldn't go out of their way to do for us. The free map they provide is more like an encyclopaedia a bit like WikiTravel very useful if at times a little out of date or plain wrong. With valuable info on bus routes and restaurants to name a few it's a great guide to Chendgu. The only negative with Sims is the location is slightly isolated and unfortunately the tourist bus 902 which used to run past the hostel has been cancelled. This means everything has to be reached by foot or local bus which is an experience in its own right. The metro is currently under construction and when finished will put Sim's right back on the map. The best hostel in Asia so far.


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