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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.