Saturday, February 7, 2009

Chengdu Travel Guide - Pandas, Hotpot , Opera, Big Buddha, Emei and a Lantern Festival - all in one and a half days.

Chengdu Travel - for a Chengdu Travel Blog this site seems a little lacking on info regarding stuff you can actually do within the city! So here's an article, about our last guest, that puts this situation a little to rights. During this trip we were helping a traveler who wanted a very full and hectic one and half days - that would almost be a non-stop tour between her airport touchdown and take-off. By the way - she arrived during the afternoon - so this tour started around 1pm on the day that would include Pandas, Hotpot and Sichuan Opera.

It's always "fun" with airport pick-ups - late arrivals, spotting a guest in the crowd, meeting those guests, face to face, for the first time - but rarely are we already giving a tour within a hour of touchdown. But this was the case during our last assignment - a guest who wanted to be whisked from airport to Chengdu Panda center - and within 40 minutes she was clicking away at the bears.

However this part of mission also included getting our guest a young panda to hold. We'd phoned up the center - but had been told that being able to hold one of these Pandas depended on the decision of the keepers with regard to how the animal was that day - and no bookings were possible. So all we could bank on was turning up - and hoping an animal would be available.
The pic shows a younger bear - but behind glass in the baby Panda enclosure

Sometimes if you're very lucky you get to see the very small pandas - but today the incubators were empty.

Yikes!!!!!!!!!! Take a look at this pic - is that an escaped Panda on the run????

It wasn't that hard to get permission to get our young Panda picture taking opportunity - in fact we only had to wait 15 minutes before the staff set everything up.
The cost for having this opportunity is 1000RMB for a small panda and 400RMB for an adult/larger animal - and these prices are advertised as donations. The whole thing is very brief - under 5 minutes from the time you start sitting with the bear. Meggie was allowed in to take pics - while a member of the staff also shot more pics with our guest's camera.

Here's a bigger version of Panda - totally chilled out.

And lets not forget the Red Pandas - who, if anything, are more entertaining than their bigger cousins.

By the way the admission prices of the Chengdu Center has nearly doubled - up from 30RMB to 58RMB!!!!

Well after Pandas it was time to eat - eating Chengdunese. So what better than the most popular meal in town - hotpot.
Hotpot is like a giant fondue set-up - but that pot is put over a gas burner. Inside the normal Chengdu style pot we have oils and very hot and spicy spices into which you cook a whole variety of dishes (these you choose yourself). Because the normal oils are so spicy - a special pot was put in the middle, called white hotpot - which is very mild and contains far less oil.

Here's some of the food that we chose for our feast - we included kidneys and tripe, but if you're squeamish you don't have to order this kind of stuff. Otherwise we got regular meat, vegetables and a variety of mushrooms - and tofu.

There are so many Hotpots in Chengdu - but to pick the good ones look for the crowd. by 6pm a few folk had started to queue on the street waiting for an empty table.

Well after the eating came the final destination of the day - Sichuan Opera.
Here we have one of the troop about to give one of trademark moves of the style of Chinese opera - a high kick.

The opera comes with its orchestra - and the music is characterised by a great deal of gong crashing.

There's a lot of exciting stuff in these performances - quick mask and costumes changes, marionettes, circus type acts and and good helping of fire-spitting (I've left this pic slighlty bigger than the others - if you click on it, it can be downloaded - it makes great desktop wallpaper).
Like all good popular folk performances - its quite okay for the audience to give there feedback with not only "ohhhhhhhhhs" and "ahhhhhhhhs" - but also a little bit of shouting.

Here's the hand-shadow part of the show - I reckon that one should be a butterfly.

Phewwwwwww - the first half day over - and everything going to plan. Now comes day 2 - and a lot of travel. We're going to try and do Big Buddha and Emei mountain in one day - and there's a thick fog!!!!!!!!!!!
Well if you're going to do the Big Buddha quickly you have to be careful of going into the park - it can be very crowded - especially just now when kids are still on their Chinese new year's break.
If you look at this pic you can see that there is queue going around the Buddha - we could hear the park people telling folk to be careful and move on - it all looked rather clogged up.

And how did we get to see the Buddha??????????????????????

We chose that island that lies just in front of the Buddha - you get there from the Leshan side of the river - a 1 minute ferry ride costs an amazing 1RMB each way - surely one of the best Sichuan bargains going!!!
We were worried that the fog would prevent us from seeing the statue - but luckily it wasn't that bad and we got good views.

After Leshan town its a 40 minute rush up the road to Emei mountain - here the fog was also heavy and we walked the mid elevations.
This is a pic from earlier in the year - from the golden summit - if this place is clouded out you can't see very much.

After a day traveling what better to get back to Chengdu - and get some local snacks on Jinli Street. This site is labelled as an ancient street - which is a bit of a misnomer - since it's a modern built copy!!! This is a real shame, since so much that was genuine and lovely has gone under the developer's concrete - but at least it gives a little feel of how things used to be.

Here are some of the snacks - of course for us folk who travel the countryside and find the genuine stuff - very over-priced. But because these foods are becoming harder and harder to find - maybe we shouldn't begrudge paying a few extra RMB in keeping the local snacks and specialities something we can also find in Chengdu.

Being close to Chinese New Year - we also had a very colourful lantern festival.

And there's always a souvenir or two to buy - these are painted gourds .

But the highlight of this place is food - and how better to sign-off after one and a half days of hard-core, non-stop sight-seeing - than with a mouth full of squid!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!