A Travellerspoint blog

Leshan, China

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22.11.11 – This morning we were heading to Leshan to see the Giant Buddha. Despite not being 100%, Chris was joining us, determined not to miss out on any more fun. We took a bus from the bus depot to Leshan which took around 2 hours and then took the public bus to the Buddha once we arrived at the Bus station (signs everywhere – very helpful).

We paid the entrance fee and began climbing towards the top. Slowly, we made our way up and soon we were face to face with the Buddha’s head. The statue is 71m in height and his shoulders are 28 metres apart. Apparently his big toe is large enough to easily fit a seated person. Pretty impressive. Obviously the Chinese tourists think so as they head there in bus loads. There's even fencing set up, which I assume is for the summer crowds to manage the people around the Buddha's head, and down the staircase. Luckily there was a small but bearable crowd the day we visited.

We slowly made our way down to his toes and took pictures from the bottom back up, before deciding to escape the crowds and head towards the fishing village and Wuyou temple. The fisherman had obviously been busy that morning as there were fish everywhere, but with Chris still not feeling 100%, we didn’t want to risk it.

We took a walk over the bridge and within a few minutes had the place to ourselves. We walked up to the Wuyou Temple, which overlooked the river and spent about an hour exploring the different temples and garden areas. We walked back down Wuyou mountain to make our way back into town. We grabbed some lunch before taking an afternoon bus back to Chengdu, arriving about 2 1/2 hours later. Pretty exhausted, and with Chris still recovering, we grabbed dinner locally and spent the night relaxing around the hostel.

Posted by Long way home 03:20 Archived in China Comments (0)

Chengdu, China

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20.11.11 – We spent this morning travelling on the train from Xi’an, watching as the scenery changed around us. The cities faded and the countryside appeared, filled with famers and their rice fields, going about their daily chores.

We arrived into Chengdu after lunch and were met at the station by Five, a staff member from the Traffic Inn hostel. He helped us to arrange a taxi back to the hostel, and as we drove through Chengdu city, I was surprised at how much bigger it was than I was expecting. The cities we have been through have all been huge – this one was no exception.

We checked into the hostel and were invited to join in the Szechuan Hotpot Party at 7pm, a weekly event organised by the staff to get travellers together and experience the traditional Szechuan Hotpot. The festivities started with a balloon game, where you have 2 balloons tied onto each ankle, and you have to try and pop the other people’s balloons. The game continues until there’s only 1 person with any balloons left. Of course, it would be down to Chris and I to be the final two contestants, fighting it out to burst each other’s balloons and be crowned victorious! Unfortunately for me, I lost, so not only did I not get 3 beers as first prize, I lost out on bragging rights too. Oh well!

The hotpot appeared and we began to cook away. The way it works is a boiling broth is brought out to your table, containing many herbs, spices, oils, chillis etc, as well as multiple plates of raw ingredients – meat, vegetables etc. You slowly put the ingredients into the broth, wait for them to cook, then grab your chopsticks and fish them out. Sounds simple enough, so off we went – in went potato, beef, lotus flower, noodles, spring onions, cabbage, octopus, and many more ingredients, and although they put cow stomach slices on the table, we elected to leave them out.

We ate and ate, but the hotpot still seemed to be full to the brim. It was a really good value meal, and a great way to meet a few new faces around the hostel. We headed to bed thinking our stay in Chengdu was going to be great!

21.11.11 – Unfortunately, at about 3am the next morning, the Hotpot decided it wasn’t enjoying being digested, resulting in Chris being violently sick for several hours. We’re still not really sure what it was all about – as there were 5 of us eating the hotpot, and he was the only one to get sick. Other than it being a completely unrelated bug, the only thing we can think of is that perhaps he ate something before it was fully cooked – so if you ever try a hotpot, make sure everything’s piping hot before you start digging in.

Sadly for Chris, this meant that he was unable to join Hannah and I on the trip to the Pandas. Thankfully, the hostel gave us a full refund on the trip cost, which we appreciated. So he sent me off, with the SLR camera in hand and told me I had to get great shots for both of us. I had a quick lesson on all the settings and then off we went. Our driver picked us up at 7:30am to get us out to the Pandas for feeding time and an early look around.

The Panda Breeding Centre is about 30 minutes outside of Chengdu, and you can either get there by public bus, or private driver. The first public bus doesn’t leave until 8am, meaning you won’t get to the pandas until 9-9:30, and while we thought this would mean we would miss feeding time – I don’t really think it makes that much of a difference, as around 10-11am, there was still plenty to see. In hindsight, we both would have probably caught the public bus, to allow us to spend more time with the pandas.

We arrived at the centre by 8am and wandered inside to get a look at the amazing Giant Pandas, some of the last of their kind. The program in Chengdu has been very successful in breeding and once we got there, we could see why. Set on a huge piece of land, the enclosures were large and natural with plenty of trees, bushes and grass. Each enclosure gave the animal’s space to enjoy, as well as privacy (i.e. space to hide from tourists!). It’s nice to see a well designed animal conservation project that has given though to keeping the animals in a somewhat ‘natural’ environment – even if it means you have to walk several kilometres to get to different areas within the park.

We started out with a single panda in area 14, who was sitting happily munching on some bamboo. Amazing to see these animals only a few metres away. He happily posed for some photographs for us before rolling onto his feet and wandering away. We thought we should move on as there was so much to see and we only had 3 hours! We headed up to area 1, the main Giant Panda block, passing the Panda Kitchen on the way. They make the pandas a little cake of all different grains and seeds each day to give them some of their nutritional intake, it’s even shaped in a little square tin with flowers imprinted into it – very cute.

The pandas at Area 1 were obviously not up to seeing tourists yet, as there were none in sight. We think potentially they were inside the building, so would head back later. We wandered down towards Area 2 and one of the nursery buildings and hit the jackpot. Several pandas, including one who was giving us a little dance, moving from leg to leg, boogying up and down. Not really sure what that was about – but it was funny to watch! There were also some younger pandas sleeping in the treetops, and some older ones on the ground in the different enclosures.

As we rounded the corner, we came across about 6 baby pandas, only born in September who were sleeping in the sunshine and were absolutely adorable. They were about the size of a small loaf of bread, with fluffy black and white fur, lying curled or spread-eagled on the floor. We watched them for about 15 minutes before heading onto the Red Panda enclosures.

The red pandas are quite different to the giant pandas, when I first showed Chris a picture he said – I think someone’s pulling you’re leg, that looks like a badger! They are much smaller and have a really bushy tail. They had just been fed so were out and about wandering and eating right near us.

Feeling like we were running out of time, we head back to the second nursery area – slightly older pandas but still babies, and were lucky enough to see a group of young babies with a staff member. I am not really sure what he was doing with them, but he was handling them separately and it looked like he was weighing them. Again, the rest of them were happy to sleep away until it was their turn. One thing we did establish was that pandas are lazy animals. They like to eat, sleep – and not much else! It reminded me a bit of the Lions in Africa, except that these animals don’t even have to hunt for themselves, they’re delivered bamboo and cake each day (probably explains why they’re so round and cuddly!).

Lastly, we went back to Area 1, where the pandas were no out and about and we saw our last lot of adult giant pandas happily munching and sleeping the day away. I dropped past the gift shop on our way out and bought Chris a present – hopefully he’ll be feeling better by the time we get back.

Or perhaps not…..seems he’s actually pretty sick – poor bugger. He spent the entire day in bed – Hannah and I headed out to lunch and had a wander around the hostel neighbourhood, and then head to Jinli Street at around 5pm – a shopping/night market area filled with craft stalls and street food, as well as bars and restaurants. We wandered for a few hours before heading back to the hostel, dosing Chris up on some more panadol and heading off to sleep.

Posted by Long way home 03:17 Archived in China Comments (0)

Xi'an, China

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17.11.11 - After an uneventful overnight journey, we arrived into Xi'An at 7am and were met at the station by staff from our hostel - 7 Sages, for the short walk back. Located only a few hundred metres from the train station, the hostel was in a traditional courtyard setting - and apparently is one of the Top 10 Hostels in the World (according to Hostelling International). Our room was lovely, and the courtyards and communal areas were great. We even had a few ping pong tables to brush up our skills.

After checking in and grabbing some breakfast we decided to head down town. Chris managed to grab himself an Ipod Shuffle for only £3 (genuine....yeah right!). We head to the Muslim Quarter, known for good street food and shopping. We found a cool place selling dumplings and noodles, the lady was very pleased when we asked for more chilli, and as the only westerners in the shop, we provided entertainment for the other diners around us as we ate. We found the Mosque, but it was under renovations with lots of scaffolding, so we decided to skip it. Later that day we made our way back to 7 Sages and played a few rounds of table tennis in the courtyard, grabbed some drinks and dinner nearby and called it a day.

18.11.11 - Today we made our way our to see the Terracotta Warriors - what most people come to Xi'an to see. We caught the local bus out there and arrived about 10:30. There is a good museum on the right as you enter, which we checked out for about an hour - taking in a lot of the history and culture surrounding the warriors and how they were uncovered. Afterwards, there are 3 pits to view. We viewed them 2,3,1 - as apparently this is the best order to view.

Pit 2 was quite large, many warriors uncovered but a lot of work still in process and plenty of restoration still to be done. There were pit outlines which showed just how many warriors are still under the dirt. Onwards to Pit 3, a much smaller display and again, still a lot of work to be done. They have been working on these pits for many years already, which just shows how slow and painstaking the restoration efforts are. Seeing the state in which the terracotta army has been found - it's like getting 100 jigsaw puzzles, throwing them all into a pit and then trying to work out which pieces belong to which puzzle. Add in the fact that initially, you didn't even know what the puzzle needed to end up looking like - I can only imagine many people have torn their hair out restoring these artefacts!!

Lastly, Pit 1 - the largest and most complete exhibitions of the warriors. Row after row of warriors, horses, carriages etc have been uncovered and slowly glued back together. They stand proudly on display, a small proportion of their original army, but breathtaking none the less. We spent about 30-40 minutes in the pit viewing them from all angles before heading off to get a snack at the canteen.

Unfortunately, shortly after this - I realised that my camera was missing :o( I am not sure when, where, how - but the only thing we could work out was that it was at the canteen area - so either I put it down, or someone nicked it. Either way, it wasn't handed into security, so there was no good honest people around obviously. Such a shame as I had taken plenty of great pics that day - fortunately we still have Chris's photos, so they're not all lost. We also regularly download to the laptop, so only lost 2 days worth of photos - but still, a bad end to what was an otherwise great day.

Chris bought me a magnet of the warriors, hand carved out of clay, while I was stuck at the Security office. It didn't really compensate, but it did at least make me smile. I managed to get some sort of report from them - so will see what the insurance company says.....but not holding any hopes as it isn't really an official police report.

Back at the hostel we played some more table tennis. I think Chris let me win to make me feel better - it kind of worked, everyone likes to win!

Such a shame - will have to go buy another camera at some point now.....oh well, such is life!

19.11.11 - Tonight we have the night train to Chengdu booked for 10pm, leaving us with the whole day to enjoy Xi'an. We wandered back down to the Muslim quarter and had some more street food and watched as they made their delicious street sweets. We seems to be chilling out a little bit at the moment, but it's nice not to be seeing sight after sight, day after day, we're enjoying having a bit of time to relax as well. We checked out some of the shops down town, considered cycling on the walls of the city, but decided against it as the clouds were coming in.

Back at the hostel, we met an Aussie guy who has been living in Xi'an for about 6 months, speaks Chinese, and knew some good places to go for dinner - enough said! We tried some local restaurant that we would definitely have walked past otherwise, paid a pittance for a fantastic meal, then chilled until it was time to catch our train. We had 3 of the 4 beds in our carriage this time, so for once the foreigners outnumbered the poor local guy who got stuck with us! A refreshing change. Onwards to Chengdu, the home of the Giant Pandas!

Posted by Long way home 05:18 Archived in China Comments (0)

Pingyao, China

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15.11.11 - Fortunately, we got a sleep in this morning after our long day of travelling yesterday. We wandered around the old town and found a nice cafe to have breakfast in. The owner was particularly lovely, offering us his computer, wifi - anything we needed while we were in Pingyao we should come to him.

Unfortunately, we realised that daytime is when the tour groups invade Pingyao, destroying the idyllic harmony of this beautiful city. Pingyao is special for many reasons - some say that you could travel the whole of China and not find anywhere else like it. It's famous for it's ancient city walls and has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site.

The streets are lined with little shops and restaurants, many of which seem to be selling exactly the same food. Pingyao Beef is a staple dish on the menu, a type of braised beef which we had served in giant pasta rolls (sounds weird, but delicious!). There isn't a lot to do in Pingyao, which is precisely why alot of people come here, particularly after a hectic week in Beijing. It's perfect for relaxing, enjoying some good food, and recharging your batteries before you head further south. And if you can keep away from the tour groups, it's possible to do exactly that here.

We climbed one of the city towers and got a great view of the entire city. We decided not to walk on the city walls, as it was only possible to buy a ticket to enter all the sights of Pingyao, not just 1 or 2, and as we didn't want to spend the whole day sightseeing (or with the Chinese tour groups) we wandered off alone and simply soaked up the Pingyao atmosphere ourselves.

16.11.11 - Today we took a trip out to the Zhangbi Underground Castle, about an hour or so outside of Pingyao. It's a very small village, I don't think it actually gets many tourists, and particularly not on the day we visited. Basically it's a whole series of underground tunnels, and temples, village and castle on top. They say you shouldn't go into the tunnels without a guide, but we were too cheap to fork out the £4 each for a guide and headed in alone. We made it out alive - so it wasn't too foolish a move. We spent the morning wandering through the tunnels and around the grounds before heading back to the hostel where we chilled for the afternoon.

We're catching a night train to Xi'an tonight so will rest up while we can.

Posted by Long way home 01:45 Archived in China Comments (0)

Beijing to Pingyao (via Taiyuan)

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14.11.11 – Despite all the hassle we’ve had trying to get cabs in Beijing the past week – it obviously hadn’t sunk in that we might not get one to the station this morning. Apparently cabs in Beijing are a big problem. More and more taxis are refusing to use the meter, and it’s a problem for locals, just as much as it is tourists. There have been strikes earlier this year, but the cabbies still aren’t happy – and finding one willing to take you on your journey can sometimes be quite a mission.

The amount of times we have been waved away, ignored, hailed a taxi – but then they refuse to use the meter, of simply quoted an extortionate price upfront in the past week is incredible. And there’s locals lined up alongside us with the same issue! I spoke to the staff at the hostel about it earlier in the week, and they said it’s an ongoing problem, and explained it all to us, but it still doesn’t help when you’re trying to get a cab!!

After 20 minutes trying and failing to get a taxi, we realised if we didn’t get the metro – we were going to miss our train to Taiyuan! We quickly head to the station and took the metro as far as we could, but were still 15 minutes away from Beijing West Station. After another 15 minutes trying and failing to hail a cab, we realised we were going to miss our train…..not happy! We eventually got someone to stop, but by this time, it was too late – and we missed our train by a little over 10 minutes. Fortunately, in China, you get a full refund for unused tickets – so they transferred us to the next train and we only had to pay the difference in fare – better than we’d expected in the circumstances! We were handed our tickets with a stern warning – ‘don’t be late!’ by the ticket lady – yes mam!

We grabbed some milk teas and made our way to the wait lounge, where once again the staring began. Honestly, it’s sometimes like they haven’t ever seen westerners before – but they are in Beijing – a city that’s frequented by tourists! We boarded the train and were obviously the highlight of the carriage as people shuffled back and forth to take a look at the foreigners. We obviously smiled and sometimes even gave them a ‘Ni Hao’ (hello in Chinese).

When we arrived in Taiyuan, we needed to buy our onward tickets from Pingyao to Xi’An. It’s not actually possible to get a sleeper from Pingyao, you must buy a ticket from Taiyuan to Xi’an, but you can then get on at Pingyao if you want to. Eventually, we managed to understand this – and despite the increased pushing from the locals behind us because we were taking longer than they were happy with, with the help of the Lonely Planet, we booked 3 tickets for the train in 3 days’ time.

Now we needed to find the bus station to take our bus to Pingyao. The Information Desk at the station proved less than helpful after pointing us in the wrong direction (despite me asking in Chinese - go figure) and eventually we found a nice woman at the bus terminal that told us which bus to take and where to get off. Except that there were no stops announced on the bus, and we over rode our stop by 2 stops, meaning a long walk back with heavy bags.

Then, finding the bus station proved slightly more difficult than expected, but eventually with the help of some locals, we made our way, got tickets and found our way to Pingyao. I really think the Lonely Planet needs to be updated with some more information for Taiyuan, as simply saying, 'Bus station is 3km from train station', really isn't helpful!

Arriving at the bus station in Pingyao is little more than being dumped on the side of the highway about 3km out of town - with rickshaw drivers sitting eagerly waiting to see how much they can charge the tourists. We paid 20 Yuan for the 3 of us to get into town - and made our way to Yamen Hostel, located within the city walls of one of China's best preserved ancient towns. The room we were shown to was lovely, traditional Chinese style with a big stone bed and tea table, looking onto a small courtyard. The hostel also had a nice sitting area with couches facing onto the street front - perfect for people watching and waving at the Chinese tourists walking by.

We found a little restaurant at the end of the street serving Kung Pao chicken and the owner welcomed us in warmly and served up some tasty food. A long day travelling soon washed away with some good food and a nice warm bed.

Posted by Long way home 18:27 Archived in China Comments (0)

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