28th Sep 2010 - 30th Sep 2010 - China
From Chongqing, it was 5 hours on another public bus over to Chengdu, and thankfully this time it passed fairly uneventfully and with no conversations about pizza take out!! We arrived mid afternoon and had a bit of time to explore the city. As ever the City is crazy, but this is to be expected since the City is the 5th most populous in China and growing ever rapidly. In the evening we went to see the Sichuan Opera. This consisted of many different sketches including singing, dancing, puppetry, comedy routines, hand puppets and face changing where masks are changed in an instant, so fast that you do not notice it. Outside the Opera House we even witnessed a traffic accident which, considering that after many, many months travelling in various different places of Asia with crazy, mental traffic I’d never seen before, was an unusual Asian first. Thankfully all parties walked away without little more than a busted ankle and a dent.
The next morning, back on the early starts and we caught a public bus over to Leshan, a small town that is home to the world’s largest Buddha. The Buddha is 71m tall, and his ears alone are 7m and each big toe is 8.5m long. You enter the site at the top of the Buddha but can walk down to the bottom, however this means joining a long queue of locals who were staring at us and couldn’t understand that we didn’t want to have our photos taken. There was also so much pushing and shoving, it seemed like half of China had descended on Leshan. Eventually we got to the bottom of the cliff face and could stare back up at the Buddha which made us feel like the tiny little Lilliputians in Gulliver’s Travels. Once we’d finished fighting the crowds there was still a few other temples and waterfalls on site that we could visit before the 2½ hour bus ride back to Chengdu. Back in town and we had the evening to ourselves so 4 went for a wander around town and actually managed to find a second Irish bar in 3 days!
On our final day in Chengdu we got to do one of the “big three”. Ask most people who go to China, and anyone who was on my tour, what were the three things they wanted to do most and you’ll get, in any order, The Great Wall, The Terracotta Warriors and today’s trip – Pandas. We went to the Panda Breeding Centre, or as we nicknamed it, Panda World. The Centre contains many different enclosures of pandas, some black and white, some red, some young, some old, some even brand newborn. We spent a good 3 hours there even catching feeding time, which was very fun to see, and also caught a video all about the centre and the work it does. There was also an area where you could go to have photos taken with a panda on your lap which would have been amazing except for the £100 price tag which none of us could justify.
That afternoon and we had more time to ourselves to explore since our train wasn’t until much later. We went out to the Wenshou Temple and spent some time exploring the grounds including a very impressive library, stacked top to toe with mini Buddha’s. We had lunch and then did a spot of shopping in the market next door before walking back into the centre of town past another accident. This time it involved the flimsy bamboo scaffolding that props up most building works in China and it had collapsed in a big heap on the pavement and had clearly hit a woman on the way down as she had blood pouring down her face. It must have been a fairly recent collapse as they were still checking to see if anyone was trapped (it didn’t appear so) and we passed the ambulance a short while later. In the centre of town we sat in Tianfu Square watching Chinese life as it passed us by and saw the giant statue of Chairman Mao. Eventually we had to head to the station for another delightful overnight train, this time with the added bonus of it being the night before a week long public holiday and consequently most of China seemed to be on the move and so everywhere was incredibly busy and full of people (more so than usual anyway!).