I’m finally here! The bus ride wasn’t that bad, but wasn’t that great either. We took a smaller bus that had 25-30 seats. I was stuck in the back corner between a Chinese dude and a broken bus window. A bit of hairy driving and a very close call with a car had us arriving in Chengdu about 5pm. I spent the next 3 days here exploring the city, meeting up with some SLC folks and seeing some cool panda bears.
The hostel I stayed at was probably the worst I have had so far. The Wi-Fi was almost non-existent, the hosts were very unhelpful in booking trains and bus tickets (more on that later). I was glad that I wasn’t the only person to make the same mistake, as there were a bunch of other travelers staying with me.
I don’t think I actually got a shot of the bedroom area, but it was basically a converted storage space. There was a Chinese lady in a corner bed that I think was a worker that was living permanently in the room. The bed was very squeaky and the mattress was very flat and lumpy. A piece of plywood would have been more comfortable! The shower was a converted wash/janitor closet at the end of the hall, and the bathroom was on the second floor. Typical Chinese squat toilets in a room with a small sink in the corner. Definitely not the greatest, but you can’t complain at the $15.35 I paid for the 3 nights!
Just outside Chengdu about 2 hours is a city called Leshan. This is the home of the world’s largest Buddha. It is enormous! At over 230 feet tall, it is carved into the side of a cliff overlooking a river and the city. When first hiking up to it, you just see the head and the very elaborate curls of hair on his head. Each curl has to be the size of a car tire! The entire head is probably the size of a couple of delivery trucks. But you can’t really grasp how large it is until you trek down a series of stairs and some short cave passageways to reach the bottom. Once down at the bottom you can finally see the entire sitting Buddha, and let me tell you, he is HUGE! The toenails on his feet are at least 2 feet wide!
Standing at the bottom and looking out you see a huge contrast that you encounter quite frequently here in China. You have this beautiful sculpture that has been carved into the cliff hundreds of years ago, while looking over a river that is full of garbage, sewage, thousands of discarded bottles and rotting dog carcasses. It really is quite sad to see places like this all over the country. The government definitely has quite a bit of work to do with over 1 billion people living here.
I have been in contact with various people in the cities I visit using the website Couchsurfing. It’s nice to meet up with a local who will tell you good places to see and the best places to grab some food. I posted that I was headed to Chengdu, and a couple contacted me that are originally from SLC. Small world! We went out to a western restaurant and they bought me dinner. A delicious and much needed blue cheese hamburger! They have been working here in Chengdu with their son for the past 2 1/2 years. He works as a safety engineer for Chevron Oil building a pipeline. She teaches physiology to Masters students at the local university. They love it here and had some crazy stories to tell!
The next morning I headed to the Chengdu Panda Research & Breeding Reserve. Although totally cheesy and very touristy, it was kind of cool and fun to see these creatures chow down on piles and piles of bamboo for breakfast. They are most active early in the day, after which they just lay around and sleep. They had a very nice facility where they tried to recreate their natural environment. Very different from the National Zoo in Beijing that had many animals enclosed in concrete boxes and barbed wire to prevent their escape.
I met up with Kenny (the son of the couple from SLC) and had some local Chengdu hotpot. It is a very typical dish here in the Sichuan Province. It basically involves a tub or pot filled with very spicy oil that they boil right in front of you. You then choose your meats and vegetables and drop them into the oil mixture to cook. We had some shrimp dumplings, various meats and vegetables, tripe and some pig brain. Everything was delicious. The brain was a bit chewy and starchy, although I’d probably eat it again!
Being that it was a hot day, the food being very spicy, AND the fact that they cooked it right in front of you, we left dripping of sweat and with our mouths on fire! It was totally worth it though.
We parted ways and I made my way to a building called the “Global Center”. China and Chengdu recently opened the world’s largest freestanding building. Let me tell you, this place is enormous! It contains 4 hotels, an indoor water park, 2 huge shopping malls, hundreds of other shops, an IMAX theatre, a regular theatre, an ice skating rink, supermarket, a huge food court, and a lot more that I probably didn’t see. I walked around for 3-4 hours and still felt like I missed some things. An amazing building!
We met up with some other people back at the hostel and hung out for the rest of the night. They were from a wide variety of places, ranging from Colombia to a group from Israel (who had been on the road for over 4 months). There was also a guy from Montreal and a guy from Italy who was heading overland back to Florence (a VERY long ways!).
After a good night’s rest and a bit of extra sleep, I grabbed a late afternoon train to Chongquing. Being the largest city in China with just over 28 million people, it’s very surprising that nobody has ever heard of it. I’ll stay here just one night before I catch a flight to Shenzen/Hong Kong to renew my visa, and then head back out to Zhangjajie, another beautiful National Park famous for its “Avatar” mountains.