Next, I went by train to Chengdu Sichuan to see the Pandas! I never really went far on a train in Shanghai so I thought I’d live out of my shell and take the overnight train to Sichuan. It was fairly easy and cheap to get the train ticket once I got to the train station. But make sure you get the top bunk which is my preferred choice rather than having everyone sit on your bed if your is the bottom bunk. However do be warned that the top bunk is only for sleeping and not much moving as there is only about 2 feet of room above you! I have to say, it was a little uncomfortable at the beginning with 6 people sharing a 4X6 foot space but got used to it after awhile and found myself sound asleep before 12.
It was a 15 hour ride from Xian to Chengdu which didn’t seem like much when you take the late train and sleep most of the way there. When I arrived it was about 2pm in the afternoon. I got out of the train and was immediately sandwiched between minorities carrying babies on their backs and local tourists. There were people everywhere and once I got in line for a taxi, hagglers offered a ride to my hotel for supposedly half the price I would pay. I was almost convinced until they told me they were going to give me a ride in their motorcycle! Oh no, I thought!!! That’s an accident about to happen! So, I decided to stand and wait in the long line with the others and finally got a cab which turned out to be surprisingly cheaper than the risky motorcycle ride! Phewf!
At Chengdu, I stayed at the Chengdu Dreams-Travel Wenjun Mansion hotel. It was a mediocre hotel that was about $25/night which was a good deal, fairly clean, the location was very centralized and there was a huge park across the street which I liked for walking. Sichuan is located west of Xian and well known for their exquisitely complex cuisine. Perfectly stewed ma po dofu, Kung pao chicken and spicy hot pot were some of their specialties! It is the capital of Sichuan province in southwest China. They have a panda breeding center there which houses about 500 pandas that were rescued during the earthquake. This reserve is the only one of its kind in the world that’s located in a metropolitan area. It was really interesting to see the way the pandas live and learn little facts like, “When they are born, pandas are only a few inches long and have to be removed from their mother for protection”, or “Pandas are very calm, and solitary peaceful animals who spend most of the day eating bamboo”. This was a highly recommended place to go in Sichuan.
At night, I went to have hot pot at a famous hot pot place which turned my face bright red and into fire but it was good! And every reluctant bite I took became this decadent saucy concoction in my mouth! Yum!
To end my day, I went to see the Sichuan Opera, which is also the same as the famous Beijing opera with about 8 acts in the show. My favorite was the one with the wife challenging the husband to do different things for gambling all their money away and the changing faces show. This once was a common past time activity for Chinese people until the cultural revolution as shown in the movie, “Farewell my Concubine”. It was different from anything I’ve seen before and was definitely a treat to see. My night ended with a sweet little panda stuffed toy from my tour guide, how sweet!
The next day, I took a more local tour and went on my own to the park. There I was caught off guard by the beautiful ponds, and pagodas. Amidst the old Chinese men playing majong, I stumbled my way into the middle of a group of women dancing and danced the afternoon away!
Also, I went to visit the Wenshu Monastery, Jinli street(food street), and some teahouses(Sichuan is very well known for their green tea!)
Some places I didn’t get to see but recommend are:
1) Mt Qincheng (where you can see the huge Buddha on the mountain)
2) Dujiangyan Irrigation System (oldest 2000 year old irrigation project that diverts water without a dam)