Like many tourists before us, we made a stop in Chengdu for one reason and one reason only: to visit the Pandas! We didn’t leave ourselves a great deal of time, which was a shame, as this turned out to be one of our favourite places. More specifically, it ranks in the top three days during our four months of constant travel.
Why did we enjoy Chengdu so much? It was a whirlwind adventure. We had one full day to fit in as much as possible and that we did. With limited time, we made a list of our Chengdu’s and Chengdu-not’s.
Do Try the Hotpot.
We had tried the Chinese style hotpot many times on our travels, we enjoy the various meats, fish and vegetables you can throw in the boiling broth. We love the communal style of eating and the fresh taste of cooking your own choice of ingredients at your table. Sichuan food is renowned for being spicy but what we didn’t realise is just how spicy a traditional Chengdu Hotpot could be!
Don’t forget the tissues.
As we tucked into our hotpot, with both a spicy and clear broth, we congratulated ourselves on a great day of exploring and a well-deserved dinner. However as the evening progressed and the chilli set in, I admit I started to struggle. My eyes were watering and I conceded defeat, throwing my remaining ingredients into the clear broth. The dinner was completed while I wiped tears from my eyes and tried to cool the burn with gallons on beer. This was one HOT hotpot!
To my amusement after a few minutes, I saw the tears also appear from Richard and even he, a well-practised chilli fan, acknowledged this was just too hot. Lesson learnt. Hotpot in Chengdu is HOT. Don’t forget the tissues to wipe away the tears and to not put too fine a point on it, these may very well come in useful the following morning!
Do get up early to go and see the Panda.
If you visit Chengdu and miss out on seeing the Pandas, you’ve missed a real treat. We recommend that you get up and reach the Panda base by at least 8:30am. The Pandas are most active then and you can catch them enjoying their breakfast. You’ll need about half a day to get around the base and can expect to see fully grown pandas, adolescents and baby pandas (yes, they are as cute as you imagine!).
Don’t go anywhere but the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding and Research Base.
It’s a research centre, so unlike a zoo, it does not focus on displaying the animals. Sometimes the pandas are in doors are you aren’t able to see them but for us we saw plenty of pandas, all of which, looked well looked after. The pandas are more active in cooler weather so try and pick a day to maximise your chances! It’s a beautiful centre with large enclosures and everything is clean and well kept. An all round great experience.
Don’t miss a chance to see the Leshan Buddha.
Admittedly, I had not heard about the Leshan Buddha before we arrived in China. It was only on a 10 hour sleeper train, we were lucky enough to be bunked up with an America girl and her Mum who mentioned this huge carved Buddha. We had to find out more!
The Leshan Giant Buddha is the largest stone seated Maitreya in the world, at 71 meters high and 24 meters wide. It has been included on the World Heritage List and it by far once of the most incredible things I have seen in my life so far. It’s a staggering piece of architecture, constructed in 713 AD during the Tang Dynasty and completed in 803 AD. He has been lovingly maintained throughout its 1,200-year history and the folk tales are equally as intriguing as the carving itself.
Do catch the local transport.
As I mentioned, we had not planned to visit the Leshan Buddha and had very little time after our trip to the Pandas. However, we made it and I do not regret it. There were of course, plenty of organised tours but we chose to go it alone and with the locals. We took the high speed train from Chengdu (give yourself plenty of time to get tickets and do not missed the train as these trains wait for no one). When you exit Leshan station, take a right and board the #3 local bus, ignoring all the taxi drivers desperate for a foreign fare. The bus only costs 1 Yuan and is an experience in itself. It takes about 45 minutes and you disembark at the Buddha Entrance or Baoliang Boat Dock which are easy to spot. With limited time and arriving late, we decided to take the boat trip to see the Buddha. The boat takes you to the foot of the carving and you get to see it in all its glory. Absolutely fascinating!
In short, Chengdu is definitely worth a trip!