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Chilli-ing in Chengdu

A taste of Sichuan Province

semi-overcast 10 °C

A Weekend in Chengdu

Chengdu captured our hearts the very evening we arrived. Taking a stroll around the area near our hostel, it was easy to feel the difference in the atmosphere compared to Beijing or Shanghai. Chengdu is still huge, don’t get me wrong, but the people seem more laid back and a lot friendlier.

Arriving late afternoon, we didn’t venture too far on our first afternoon/ evening, but rather followed a suggested walking tour off a map from our (lovely and cozy) hostel. It took us into some incredibly local areas, down narrow pedestrian streets full of vendors selling everything from dried pig faces (nice image, right?) to little cakes. It’s safe to say that I felt rather out of place- but these streets are the very essence of Chinese neighbourhoods and were bubbling with life. Continuing the walking route, we found ourselves in a new built area where the streets were lined with small shops and tea houses. We stopped at a crossroads for a bottomless cup of tea each and people watched for an hour or so before heading back to the hostel for some cheap dinner.

The next day was the main event - Chengdu’s Giant Panda Research Centre. We got up at 6 (ish) and managed to find a taxi in the sleeping city. We got to the Centre before it opened and there was already a small queue forming at the ticket office. The sun was yet to rise so we had to use our phone lights on our way up to see the first pandas. We were lucky enough to be completely alone in the first panda house, where two out of three of the pandas were still asleep. It completely took my breath away to see the bears in such an intimate setting. We waited and saw the other two wake up slowly. It was an incredible start to the day and introduction to the pandas.

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We then carried on further into the park. There were a few more people arriving and the sun had risen so more of the pandas were starting to move around. I could spend hours writing about the fantastic experience we had but I’m not sure I’d ever do it justice. My favourite moments were those when we found ourselves in quiet spots with a pair of pandas to watch as they ate their bamboo breakfast. We were also lucky enough to see the red pandas feeding on what looked like butternut squash. They were extremely cute and rather more agile than their giant relatives. We spent hours wandering around and being mesmerised by these creatures. It was undoubtably a highlight of China so far.

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Later in the day, we headed back to the city and visited Renmin Park, a lively park which was full of residents going about their business such as performing traditional dance, strength competitions, character writing using water and playing in an orchestra... every corner we turned brought us to more curious business and kept us entertained. After the park, we visited an area which is called Kuanzhai Xiangzi. At first sight, it appeared to be rather hutong-y but Chengdu style. The narrow streets were absolutely packed with people looking at the folk crafts and were lined with circular gates leading into ‘ancient’ courtyards. It was a beautiful area and we strolled around, grabbing a few snacks along the way.

On our way back to the hostel for a rest, we stopped at Wenshu Monastery for a quick look around. By this point we were pretty knackered but the monastery’s gardens provided a sanctuary of quiet.

That evening, we headed back out to meet up with some Germans we had met in Zhangjiajie for dinner. The hostel recommended us a Hot Pot restaurant where we could have a split pot - half spicy, half mild- which sounded perfect, as Will and I were keen to try some Sichuanese spice. The restaurant was awesome we had to queue for a table, the atmosphere was fantastic and the ceiling was lined with red lanterns which gave the place a very special feel. It soon became apparent, however, when the cauldron-like pot arrived, that “spicy” in these parts could rather be described as “lethal”. The majority of the bubbling pot was taken up with the spicy (lethal) soup which was laced with so many chillies that just inhaling made me cough. After a lot of stilted Chinese, we managed to change it so that only the small section of the pot was spicy and all of us thoroughly enjoyed cooking our food selection in the milder of the two pots... I did cook some of my food in the spicy part but the milder version was a lot easier to eat!

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the lethal soup

The next day, we took a train out to Leshan to see a giant Buddha that was carved into a cliff several hundred years ago. Both Will and I were keen for some more steps after Zhangjiajie so we decided to do the ‘hike’ up to to his (huge) head and then down the cliff to his (huge) feet. It wasn’t the kind of hike we had in mind however, yes there were steps, but with many other people also trying to follow the route, it was more of a very leisurely stroll. The Buddha was very impressive and so was the scenery; in front of the Buddha, three rivers meet, and beyond them you can see the skyline of the city. We really enjoyed seeing such a huge carving and the relaxed walk through the bamboo jungle back down to the village before getting the bus back to the train station. We grabbed some street food off a cart outside the station and ate it in the sunshine before heading back to Chengdu.

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Leshan

Back in the city, we took a bus up to Jin Li Street, another area full of old style buildings which was even more impressive and picturesque than the previous day. The bus was a great way to see some different parts of the city and really made me realise how much Chengdu has to offer. In Jin Li Street, we stopped at a bar serving real beer and absorbed our surroundings as it turned dark and the red lights started lighting up. I love spending time in these ‘ancient’ streets because it really feels like old China and they often bring your expectations of China to life in an intoxicating manner. After wandering the streets for a while, we left to find some dinner in the form of a mild hot pot...

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Jin Li Street

We left Chengdu this morning - I’m writing this on the plane - and we were both sad to be leaving. Chengdu is possibly one of my favourite cities I’ve visited so far and I think there is so much more to see there. Hopefully there’ll be a chance to visit again. But in the meantime, we are heading north to Harbin where temperatures of -25 degrees C await... time for a different type of chilly!

Posted by amysblog 08:18 Archived in China Tagged food travel city china panda sichuan chengdu hotpot

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