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.