Chengdu and Leshan 2013

This was a long business trip in November of 2013 and I had a weekend in Chengdu in which to kill time. This was also my first time going to Sichuan province. So it was that I took a domestic flight from Shenzhen to Chengdu on a Friday evening. As usual for most Chinese domestic flights, it was delayed, and I only arrived in Chengdu at almost midnight. The hotel reception told me that they thought I wasn’t going to show up and almost gave up my room to another guest. Luckily they didn’t and I still got my room otherwise they had to kick me out on the streets since the hotel was running full. 

Chengdu

As Chengdu (成都) is famous for its giant pandas , I made it a point to visit them. The next morning, I took a taxi to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base. Unfortunately it was a foggy and rainy day, but I had not much of a choice since I only had the morning free before my Chinese colleagues would meet me in the afternoon and drive me to Leshan. So I arrived very early at the main entrance at 8.30am just after they opened their gates.

A meat stall near my hotel as I was waiting to catch a taxi. They are selling lamb kebabs, RMB2 per stick.
A meat stall near my hotel as I was waiting to catch a taxi. They are selling lamb kebabs, RMB2 per stick.
A wet morning as I arrived at the main entrance to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base.
A wet morning as I arrived at the main entrance to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base.
It's good to come early as you will avoid the tourist crowds and don't have to line up for the trams. Taking the trams is faster although you can walk. The distance is around 2km.
It’s good to come early as you will avoid the tourist crowds and don’t have to line up for the trams. Taking the trams is faster although you can walk. The distance is around 2km.
The pandas are usually active in the mornings when it's cooler and they are eating breakfast. In the afternoons they spend their time napping due to the hotter temperature. Although this wet morning was still cold and these few bears were just lazing around.
The pandas are usually active in the mornings when it’s cooler and they are eating breakfast. In the afternoons they spend their time napping due to the hotter temperature. Although this wet morning was still cold and these few bears were just lazing around.

After a short tram ride, I got off at the Giant Panda enclosures. The tram driver will tell you which enclosures are open to public. After walking around and waiting for the pandas to come out, I finally got to see them in action.

This guy sits and eats like a boss.
This guy sits and eats like a boss.
Pandas are surprisingly quite agile despite their cuddly look. This guy could hang upside down and eat from the branches.
Pandas are surprisingly quite agile despite their cuddly look. This guy could hang upside down and eat from the branches.
Trying to climb to the next structure.
Trying to climb to the next structure.

As a breeding and research base, the pandas are encouraged to reproduce although most of the births are through artificial insemination. I got to see the panda babies through a glass window. Tourists are not allowed to touch the babies although you can make a ‘donation’ of RMB2,000 to hug a panda baby and take a photo with it. I heard that despite the high price, there is a long line of people willing to hug a baby panda and they have to limit the number of people per day. Otherwise, you can apply to be a volunteer worker at the research base and hug panda babies all day, although I think the main duties of volunteer workers are to clear panda poop.

Ooohh... so adorable and cute! Just look at those huggable furballs.
Ooohh… so adorable and cute! Just look at those huggable furballs.
I guess many tourists will be buying a panda soft toy at the gift shop later on.
I guess many tourists will be buying a panda soft toy at the gift shop later on.
After getting my fill of panda mania, I decided to walk back to the entrance. The place is located in a bamboo forest, the natural environment of Giant Pandas.
After getting my fill of panda mania, I decided to walk back to the entrance. The place is located in a bamboo forest, the natural environment of Giant Pandas.
There is a large pond where you can feed the swans and koi. But in this wet and foggy morning, that was not a great idea.
There is a large pond where you can feed the swans and koi. But in this wet and foggy morning, that was not a great idea.
Hungry koi in the morning.
Hungry koi in the morning.

I left the place past 10am. By this time, the tourist crowd was already building up. My advice would be to visit as early as possible when its not crowded and also because the pandas are only active in the morning. I returned to my hotel to wait for my Chinese colleagues to arrive. We had a traditional Sichuan lunch of Mala hotpot before leaving for Leshan.

My first taste of authentic Sichuan Mala hotpot.
My first taste of authentic Sichuan Mala hotpot.

I returned again to Chengdu after my trip to Leshan and had some free time to see a bit of the city itself. The weather was still wet and foggy though, and it was the same in Leshan. We went to the Wide and Narrow Alleys which is a conservation area of Qing and Ming dynasty buildings. The place has been turned into a tourist area with pubs, shops and restaurants occupying the conserved buildings.

Although there are many street entrances to the Wide and Narrow Alleys, this is the main entrance.
Although there are many street entrances to the Wide and Narrow Alleys, this is the main entrance.
The ancient buildings have been turned into a tourist trap of pubs, restaurants and shops.
The ancient buildings have been turned into a tourist trap of pubs, restaurants and shops.
There are still street food vendors.
There are still street food vendors.
A hip tea house.
A hip tea house.
This is probably a restaurant, but I didn't bother to go in to find out.
This is probably a restaurant, but I didn’t bother to go in to find out.
A tobacco seller. He actually smokes through that long pipe of his.
A tobacco seller. He actually smokes through that long pipe of his.
Traditional Chinese door knockers with a hint of what's behind those doors.
Traditional Chinese door knockers with a hint of what’s behind those doors.
There are some Chengdu face changing operas, but we didn't go watch them.
There are some Chengdu face changing operas, but we didn’t go watch them.
Some of the houses are still occupied by home owners and they have to place signs outside their doors to tell tourists not to bother them.
Some of the houses are still occupied by home owners and they have to place signs outside their doors to tell tourists not to bother them.
My first thought is that these are fried chicken, but I found out they are fried rabbit heads. Suddenly, I don't feel hungry anymore.
My first thought is that these are fried chicken, but I found out they are fried rabbit heads. Suddenly, I don’t feel hungry anymore.
Ear cleaning in progress.
Ear cleaning in progress.

In Singapore, ‘mua chee’ is sweetened glutinous rice balls that are coated with crushed peanuts and eaten as a dessert. They are soft with a consistency like marshmallows. So imagine my surprise when I see the ‘mua chee’ sold here is bouncy like a rubber ball (video below). The vendor calls it ‘3 cannonballs’ and you can see why after watching the video.

There are also some interesting street art pieces along the way.

Lifelike rickshaw street art. You can sit on the seat and take a photo.
Lifelike rickshaw street art. You can sit on the seat and take a photo.
Not really street art but interesting though. A door within a doorway, within a doorway, within a doorway, within a doorway... I wonder who lives here?
Not really street art but interesting though. A door within a doorway, within a doorway, within a doorway, within a doorway… I wonder who lives here?
We went to the business centre of Chengdu but it was beginning to rain more heavily and we had to seek shelter in a KFC restaurant.
We went to the business centre of Chengdu but it was beginning to rain more heavily and we had to seek shelter in a KFC restaurant.
With the bad weather, we decided to go back to our hotel. Here we are, buying melons from the back of a truck on the road side.
With the bad weather, we decided to go back to our hotel. Here we are, buying melons from the back of a truck on the road side.
Passing by a small market in the alleyway near our hotel.
Passing by a small market in the alleyway near our hotel.
We passed by a BBQ restaurant and the smell from the food was enticing. But it was packed and we went to find another restaurant.
We passed by a BBQ restaurant and the smell from the food was enticing. But it was packed and we went to find another restaurant.
We ended up in this beef noodle restaurant. The food was actually quite good.
We ended up in this beef noodle restaurant. The food was actually quite good.

For our last night in Chengdu, we decided to have a better dinner. So we went walking along the street to check out the local restaurants.

The people of Chengdu really love mahjong. The shop keepers can play mahjong in the middle of the street and don't bother about their business.
The people of Chengdu really love mahjong. The shop keepers can play mahjong in the middle of the street and don’t bother about their business.
The row of restaurants where we finally decided to have our dinner. Look at the rack of lambs ready for BBQ.
The row of restaurants where we finally decided to have our dinner. Look at the rack of lambs ready for BBQ.
The restaurant gave us a free crate of beer for ordering the buffet dinner. Yes, in China, you have to drink beer by the crates.
The restaurant gave us a free crate of beer for ordering the buffet dinner. Yes, in China, you have to drink beer by the crates.
We had Mala hotpot again. But at RMB35/person for buffet style dinner with 1 free crate of beer, it was eat until you die.
We had Mala hotpot again. But at RMB35/person for buffet style dinner with 1 free crate of beer, it was eat until you die.

Leshan

Leshan (乐山) is a city that is around 160km from Chengdu. This is home to the Leshan Giant Buddha which is a 71m tall Buddha that was carved out of the cliff walls during the Tang dynasty. This is the largest stone Buddha in the world and is an UNESCO World Heritage site. I wondered how come our customer, a high technology manufacturing company would have a factory here. After all, this city is not known for its manufacturing base. We had some time to kill before our meeting, so we took a short boat ride to see the Giant Buddha.

The Giant Buddha is really impressive. It's incredible how they managed to carve this statue out of the cliff in the olden days.
The Giant Buddha is really impressive. It’s incredible how they managed to carve this statue out of the cliff in the olden days.
Looking back at Leshan city. Nothing much to it actually.
Looking back at Leshan city. Nothing much to it actually.
For dinner in Leshan, my Chinese suggested we try the street food. We found a reasonably clean stall and tucked into some beef noodles. Since this is Sichuan, everything comes with Mala and is 101% spicy.
For dinner in Leshan, my Chinese suggested we try the street food. We found a reasonably clean stall and tucked into some beef noodles. Since this is Sichuan, everything comes with Mala and is 101% spicy.

Leshan is also the stepping off point to visit Mt. Emei (峨眉山), one of the sacred Buddhist mountains in China, and made famous in Wushu stories. I didn’t get a chance this time, so there has to be another trip here in the future.

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