Chengdu, take some extra film too.

Trip Start May 30, 2005
Trip End Sep 30, 2006

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Flag of China  ,
Saturday, July 9, 2005

We arrived from the night train at some ungodly hour. See, these Chinese are crazy. This time we were a bit smarter and had pre-booked a hostel which provided us with a free pickup from the station. We were met by Edward a local lad who you'd think was Canadian as that's where his English teacher was from. He took us back to "Mix and Backpacker's Guest House", a strange name, but a superb hostel.

Chengdu is the latest line of Chinese cities that we've visited with a population larger than the whole of Scotland. I'm starting to understand where all these 1.2 Billion people live. It was another great little city with nice little tea houses and a great river to chill beside. And like so many other places in China it was also one big building site. The roads were being redone and many many buildings were being constructed.

Down by the river David and I discovered the joy of Chinese Chess having bought a small travel set on the train. We found a local that spoke English and were introduced to it. The characters on the set are all in Chinese so it takes a bit of getting used to, but it's not so different from the Chess that I'm used to. Our first training game was hijacked by two locals that had a disagreement as to the best move to make and basically started playing each other from the position that we had on the board. Dave and I just looked on trying to follow the game, but we were completely lost. We did learn a bit more in the Guest House where the staff were super friendly and eager to show us how to play the game. Dave and I played our first game against each other there with a referee there to ensure that we didn't make any illegal moves, I beat him, oh yes, one - nil.

Chengdu is particularly famous for its Panda Breeding and Research Center, so we booked up and went on the Hostel's tour. The pandas are only active between about 8 and 10AM before they head to their dens for a snooze, this meant an early rise for us. We arrived with a large group from our hostel and headed into the park. We ALL stopped at the first enclosure as there was a Panda there (funny that). It was walking up and down looking at us all. Everyone was going crazy taking loads of snaps of it. After a little while the guys that worked there told us to go away, there were loads of other pandas to see afterall. Their enclosures were pretty large with a little platform at the front for them to sit on. They'd just sit there, scratching and looking cute. This is also where they were fed. These guys are mega lazy, and to be honest I can identify with that. They'd lumber over to the stack of bamboo that had been provided for them and just munch away. They'd make sure that their next snack wasn't too far away, if some bamboo was out of immediate reach then they'd stay sitting and reach over for the grub. All throughout the morning all the tourists were taking loads of photos, myself included. A common complaint that I heard from others was that they'd run out of batteries or memory card space, so make sure your totally charged up and have enough space available before going there. We met an Irish girl at the centre that we'd met on the train to Chengdu, for some reason she was a little underwhelmed by the experience. While talking to Nicola she said "You know, they're not really giant are they?, I mean, I was expecting them to be a bit bigger".

They also have a couple of enclosures for Red Panda. These pandas are small, red, and don't really look that much like a panda, but for marketing reasons there are a few of them here as well. For a whopping 400 Yuan (almost 30 UK pounds) you could cuddle a Giant Panda and have your photo taken with it. The red pandas served as a budget version of this, for only 50 Yuan you could get the authentic 'Panda' experience. Many people took the centre up on this offer, despite not looking like pandas they were still really nice. The panda centre was excellent, if you go to Chengdu but don't visit this little gem then you need your head examined.

On another day we headed off to visit the big buddha at Leshan, about 2 hours south of Chengdu. Since we were doing this independantly, and therefore running our own tour, we decided that we could have a lie in. Again this is easy to do from Chengdu as there is a bus that leaves every 20 minutes for Leshan. The Big Buddha is the biggest buddha in the world, cue Roy Castle, "He's a record breaker, da da du la, a record breaker, da da da da". He sits overlooking the river here, built in order to protect sailors from the treacherous river. It took 90 years to craft him from the cliff face and the original architect of the project didn't live to see the finished article.

There is a whole complex behind the main buddha with gardens, scultures and pagodas. We spent a couple of hours just looking at these before the main event. They had some weird fish in a pond there. You could stand and look at the fish and they'd come over and say hello. If you moved along the bridge then the fish would follow you, no matter where you went the fish were never far behind. Of course we ended up feeding them for being so smart, but then of course that's where this behaviour comes from.

When you first see the buddha you start at his head and look down the cliff to see the rest of him. Then you have to join the queue in order to file down the path that's been carved out of the cliff face beside him to get a proper look. We were there quite late so we were lucky in that the queue wasn't too big. He's just such an immense site that you can't stop snapping pictures at every different angle. You end up at the bottom looking up 233 feet (71 meters) to the top of his head. You get some real funny angled shots from here. Once you're finished here then you have to climb the stairs on the other side to the top again, hot hot hot.

We took the local service bus back to the main bus station in Leshan. On the way three local started talking to us. They love doing this as they all want to practise their English. One of the guys told us that we were the first westerners that he'd ever talked to. They even missed their stop as they wanted to continue talking and got off with us when we reached the bus station. We decided to get a little out of this relationship so asked them to purchase our tickets for us. They went up to the window and then told us that there were no more seats available on the buses that day. What? The next bus that we could get a ticket for was at 7AM the next morning. What? Here we were, stuck in Leshan with nothing but our guide books and suntan lotion and without any clean underwear, what would my mum think? We had two options. Option 1) Get a room in Leshan (50 Yuan) and the bus in the morning (40 Yuan) = (50 + 40) * 3 = 270 Yuan. Option 2) Hire a taxi to take us back to Chengdu. This is where our new found friends came in useful again. They flagged down a taxi and he said that he'd do it for 300. While we were talking about this he got another passenger and drove off. No problems, we'd take the taxi option. Our friends flagged another taxi and bargened a bit harder for us this time. They managed to get a price of 280, game on. The taxi driver was physically pleased with this arrangement and kept on phoning loads of people on his mobile, we'd hear the words "Chengdu Chengdu" all the time. He was obviously phoning his mates telling them what was going on. When you consider that a good monthly wage here is 1000 Yuan it's not hard to see why he was so pleased. It's like taking a taxi from Dundee to Edinburgh, or from Bristol to Birmingham for 400 pounds, you'd bet the taxi driver in those situations would also be well pleased.

The rest of my time in Chengdu was taking up by doing nothing. While David and Nicola headed off to the Mao Museum one afternoon I headed to a tea house overlooking a river. There I sat for 2 and a half hours drinking my tea, reading my book and watching the world go by. It was just what the doctor ordered after the last few days we'd had.

We organised the next stretch of our trip from the Guest House here. It was a bus to Chongqing and then a 2 day boat ride down the Yangtze river in order to see the three gorges. This promises to be a real highlight of the trip and I hope that it doesn't disappoint.
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