Our G Adventures Essential China tour continued with a stay in Chengdu, involving a hotpot and many pandas 🙂
Day 26 / Day 10 of ACEC
The next morning, after a little bit of a lie in, we travelled to Xi’an airport to take an internal flight to Chengdu. The check-in procedure and flight were both smooth with no issues to note, although we were warned by Jackie security might ask to inspect any power banks (which we had to keep in hang luggage, not main luggage) – I had one and so was a little worried, but nobody asked to check anything. From Chengdu airport, we took taxis to the hotel.
I’ve not really been talking about the hotels in each place in great depth, because usually there’s not a lot to say. This particular one is worth mentioning, though. I unfortunately can’t recall the name of it (difficult as they’re all booked through the tour company – should have written it down, mind!), but I’ll try to insert an edit if I manage to track the name down. It is situated in a very pretty, quaint little street and has no lift. The WiFi doesn’t work and the rooms are adorable – with beaded hangings, red paint and soft lighting. I’m not describing it very well, but it was simply quite characterful!
Our included dinner of the tour was this evening in Chengdu – the famed Chengdu hotpot. I have come away from the hotpot experience with mixed feelings. First, to explain how it works. At the restaurant, each table has a middle bit that converts to a hollow in which you can heat up a spiced watery broth. Into this broth, you add various ingredients that you can order – for example, we had tofu, noodles, pork balls, fish and a few others. These cook in the broth and when they’re cooked, everyone helped themselves to them. Bowls of chilli, herbs, garlic and various sauces sit on the table too, and you can add these to your own bowl into which you can put the various bits you’re helping yourself too.
So, everyone goes on about how extremely ‘spicy’ the hotpot is. Yes, it is, but not the kind of spice I’m used to – a flavoursome sort of chilli heat, which in a large quantity can feel like it’s burning your tongue. No, this is more of a numbing spice. My lips and tongue went numb after a few mouthfuls, but recovered quickly of their own accord. It’s hard to describe, Dave said he thought he was having an allergic reaction. I think I did like it, though. The food tasted good.
What I did not enjoy was the fiddly-ness of it all. Adding ingredients, creating your own mixes, transferring various bits from the centre bit to your own bit – I am far too clumsy for all of this!!
It is definitely an experience worth trying though 🙂
After dinner, we took a stroll in the park surrounding the Chengdu Opera House, which was lovely. There were many kites and paper lanterns dotted throughout the trees, and we also spotted several locals taking part in some kind of exercise class.
All of us had opted, for the equivalent of about £20 each, to attend a show at the Opera House that evening. I’m really glad we went. The show consisted of several different parts – the first seemed like traditional Chinese opera, with elaborate make-up, costumes and high pitched warbling (sorry, there’s no other way I can think to describe it), then we had a solo musician on a kind wind instrument he was able to mimick with his own voice, another soloist on a string instrument, a whimsical fairy puppet dance, and a shadow puppet performance that was absolutely brilliant (see an example photo).
The most impressive part of the show was at the end, where we witnessed the famous Chinese face changing trick – where each performer was clearly wearing several masks and using sleight of hand to whip each off in turn, though I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how they were able to do it so fast. It was awesome.
Day 27 / (Day 11 of ACEC)
This morning we were up early to take our private bus to the Chengdu Panda Reserve, an included trip as part of the tour, and it was worth getting up early for. The reserve is so, so lovely to walk around, especially early in the day when the tourist hordes haven’t yet descended. There was a very light rain falling, but this wasn’t a big deal. There is vegetation, namely bamboo, everywhere you look, and the atmosphere is extremely tranquil, and the air smells fresh.
The pandas themselves – well, we saw giant pandas, baby giant pandas, and also red pandas (think Shifu from Kung Fu Panda! In fact, they were playing Kung Fu Panda on a screen at the entrance…make of this what you will…). We also spotted a peacock or two.
There were many, many pandas. The older giant pandas tend to just sit around eating bamboo or sleeping, the red ones are more active. As for the babies, who are also quite active, they were absolutely adorable – check out the photos! Also, there were various placards dotted through the reserve naming pandas that resided there (signs are all in Chinese and English) and giving some information about them. I suppose the reserve is rather like a ‘panda zoo’, but there are few ‘enclosures’ as such and the ones that there are, such as for young pandas, are spacious. For the most part, is more like there is a fenced path formed through a parkland for us humans to use, if that makes sense.
Apparently in years past, a limited number of people per day were allowed to hold a panda cub (is it a cub? A panda baby anyway) for a fee, but this practice has now thankfully ceased, which I think is best for the pandas, as it is one that is difficult to regulate in terms of their welfare.
At the end, we watched an unintentionally comical (I’ll only say that one scene was subtitled ‘unsuccessful copulation’) but still informative film about the panda reserve, before eating at the reasonably priced café. We briefly visited the swan lake that is part of the reserve – not much to say apart from that it had black swans!
In the afternoon, we travelled via the same private bus to Leshan, in order to take a half an hour boat cruise on the river to see a spectacular view of the biggest stone Buddha in the world. He has literally been carved out of the rock face looking out on the river and really is colossal; the people gathered at his feet looked like rats, or maybe even biggish insects, in comparison. He wears an extremely serene expression, and I felt serene looking on the spectacular scene. The river was calm (still had to wear dodgy lifejackets though), the air had just the right amount of breeze, and along with serenity I felt – dare I say it – quite awestruck!
Afterwards, it was onto the monastery, Baoguo Temple, where we would be spending the night. Now, when I read the itinerary, I imagined our ‘stay in the monastery on Mountain Emei (aka Emei Shan) with basic facilities’ to mean that we would be staying in a remote part of the mountain, accessible only by some sort of rudimentary cable car system or foot, sharing accommodation between several other people, and given buckets of cold water to bathe with. I did not expect an extravagant monastery next to what can only be described as a high street, with private triple rooms (and there wasn’t even a third person in mine and Dave’s room), and shower blocks with hot water akin to those found at camp sites in the UK. The toilets were squat toilets but in cubicles and this was still better than going in a dug pit, which is seriously what I thought would be the case when I read ‘basic’. Clearly my definition of ‘basic’ was a tad pessimistic.
It was, as promised, on the mountainside though, and the atmosphere was extremely tranquil, and would even have been fresh, save for several inevitably smoking locals.
After meeting the very friendly local guide Patrick, and dining at his newly fledgling restaurant (he plans on calling it ‘Paddy’s Home Sweet Home’ if ever you’re near Baoguo Temple at Mt Emei and I highly recommend it!), we turned in for the night, rendered slightly less tranquil by the fact that the walls of the rooms were paper thin and so you could hear, if not understand, every word of the other loudly conversing guests…
Next post – all about Mt Emei, including details of our hike there, which was both beautiful and contained a sighting of monkeys…
Thanks for stopping by 🙂