Chengdu is all about the pandas and the spicy food. It took us 9 hours from Jiuzhougou and another half an hour of walking round in circles to find our hostel, the Mrs Panda Hostel, right next to where we were dropped off. We went for a little explore up the river and were amazed to see people actually running here! The first sighting of runners since arriving in China! We were encouraged by that and decided to run to the panda centre the next morning.
Runners apparently stay exclusively on the river front so after 100 yards when we turned off we were on our own again! First 5 miles were fine but at around 7:30 rush hour began and we were playing chicken with a hundred motorbikes, a game we’d never win! Managed to flag down a motorbike rickshaw for the last couple of miles who was a lot braver than us, she had no objection to driving head first down the wrong side of the road, peeping her horn like everyone else was in the wrong!
The panda research centre was amazing, first of all it was only £2 to get in and secondly there were real pandas there! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a real panda so it was amazing to see so many in once place. The research centre started with only 6 pandas but the breeding programme they’re running has been super successful and they’ve now got over 140, some have been rescued from the wild but most have been born there. Because they’re endangered, less than 2,000 worldwide, Chengdu are trying to build a healthy captive population before they reintroduce them into the wild. Honestly I could have watched their little furry faces all day, the older pandas had brekkie and then went for a snooze but the little baby pandas were so playful and cute! I want one! They had a few red pandas as well which didn’t pull quite the same crowd but they were still adorable, there was even a shout out to Chester Zoo in their enclosure, get in!
The Sichuan province is famous for loving the spice and Rob was determined we tried one of the specialities. The Sichuan Hotpot we had was honestly the spiciest food in the world, it actually made me cry to eat it. There was a non spicy section but that turned out to just be hot water with a large dead fish in it, not my cup of tea at all! Rob pretended he enjoyed it but the sweat dripping off him told another story, and he spent the next morning glued to the loo, serves him right!
The next morning we took a bus to Leshan, it’s only a couple of hours from Chengdu and it’s home of the biggest Buddha in the world! The place was so cool, there was a mountain that they’d dug caves into and then sculpted loads of Buddha’s inside. Every corner you walked round there was another hundred Buddha’s with a few huge ones inside the cave as well. Then when you got to the top of the mountain they’d carved a 70m tall Buddha into the side of the cliff face, so impressive especially seen as it was built 1200 years ago!
We had one more morning in Chengdu before our afternoon train to Guilin so we had a little mooch over to the Peoples park. We took a wrong turn on the way there and ended up in the Chengdu pet market, I’ll spare everyone the details but it was a far cry from pets at home. I don’t want to be disrespectful because Chinese culture obviously view pets differently to how we do but the pets to cage ratio was really upsetting. In one shop the fish tank was so full that fish were just falling out, Rob was chasing one round the steps to get it back in the water and the owner was just watching! We left very quickly, I think if we hadn’t we would have ended up with a collection of puppies and kittens for the rest of the trip. The park itself was lovely, hundred of people sat in the teahouses playing cards and people practicing tai chi in the grass. There’s a real nice community feel in China that I haven’t seen anywhere else, even when we’ve been out for food the other tables are full of whole families eating together. And there’s no big supermarkets, every street is lined with local shops, there’s more corner shops than there is corners. Once we’d supped up our teas it was time to leave, we’re heading down south to Guilin now, on a very long train journey!