A Travellerspoint blog

November 2011

Buddha, bears and butter tea

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View Just a big holiday on ClareAndTom's travel map.

It seems as if all our blog posts from China start with tales of travel woe. This one is no different. Our train from Xi’an finally pulled into Chengdu after a nine hour delay, meaning that we had spent 25 hours on it in total. On this occasion we weren’t too bothered, as we arrived at a more sociable time rather than the scheduled 5am. This was the last night train we would catch in China, but we didn’t mind – the novelty of sleeping on trains had definitely worn off.

Not having heard much about Chengdu, we thought it might be quite a small city. We were wrong – like Shanghai, Beijing and Xi’an it was also absolutely massive.

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Chairman Mao statue in People's Square

Although big, there’s not actually too much to do in Chengdu, which meant we could have a more relaxing itinerary. We spent the afternoon wandering around the city, viewing the Mao statue and a Buddhist temple. But the thing we were most excited about was visiting the Giant Panda Breeding Base, where we went the following morning. It’s good to go early because the pandas are all asleep later in the day, so we were there at 8am in time for their breakfast.

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To start with all the pandas were eating, and we watched them munching away on great piles of bamboo. We went to the nursery where very young pandas were in incubators. They were incredibly cute, like cuddly teddy bears, but not that interesting as they didn’t do much except sleep.

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The most entertaining group were four adolescent pandas who, after eating, spent the morning rolling around and playing with each other – they were real clowns. The pandas looked just like humans in bear suits, and were far more active than we’d imagined. We were also amazed at how close we were to them: it wasn’t at all like a zoo and they were just a few metres away from us.

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We loved our time at the Panda Base and could happily have stayed all day – the pandas were so much fun to watch and seeing them was a real highlight of China for us.

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There were red pandas at the Base too

Chengdu is close to the Tibetan border, which means it has a lot of outdoor clothing shops and a sizeable Tibetan community. As we weren’t going to visit Tibet itself, we thought we’d do the next best thing and went for lunch at a Tibetan restaurant. The pickled vegetable pie came with the addition of several long black hairs. Re-named ‘hairy pie’ we managed to offload a piece to an old lady who came asking for money whilst we were eating – she seemed very pleased with the pie, and we were happy to be shot of it. The yak meat was good; the yak butter tea less so: it tasted like a thin cheese sauce, but worse. Tom just about managed a cup when it was hot, but cold it was stomach turning. Judging from our meal, the appeal of Tibet is not based on its food.

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A tiny puppy in a box on the street made up for a disappointing lunch

After our delicious lunch we went to a market street which we’d read was authentic, but in reality was just touristy (there was a Starbucks at the entrance). However, we did see people paying to have their ears cleaned in public, using shared ear cleaning implements – yuck. The market was useful though as Tom bought a catapult for use in a couple of days to ward off monkeys when we climbed Mount Emei. On our way back we spotted some more open air services: a guy having his teeth cleaned on the roadside.

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The next day, on our way to Mount Emei by bus, we stopped at Leshan. As usual for Chinese transport, a violent film was being shown – this time ‘Shooter’, which was in English but with the volume just slightly too quiet for us to hear. We still managed to get the gist of it, as the plot wasn’t too challenging.

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Leshan has a giant seated Buddha, the largest in the world at 71m tall, and this was what we came to see. As usual, we found it rammed with Chinese tourists and so queued for ages to descend the stairs to the base of the statue.

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Also on the site was the Wuyou Temple, which was a bit of a walk away and so blissfully quiet – it was the first temple we’d been to in China which actually felt like a religious building. The best bit of the temple was a hall containing a thousand lifesize terracotta figures, the equivalent of Buddhist angels. Some were pulling very camp poses, while others had enormous earlobes or eyebrows.

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What's worse? This guy's eyebrows or Tom's hair?

On the way back from the temple Clare was accosted by a Chinese family who wanted a photo of her with their toddler. We’d heard about this happening to other people, but it was the first time we’d been asked for photos on the trip. Despite this delay, we managed to catch the last bus to Emei with the help of an old rickshaw driver who rode us to the bus stop.

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Posted by ClareAndTom 17:36 Archived in China Comments (4)

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