A Travellerspoint blog

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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.


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.


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!


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.



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...


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 Comments (0)

Kuala Lumpur

KL's culture and curry.

semi-overcast 32 °C

The overnight flight to Kuala Lumpur was surprisingly restful and arriving into a much warmer climate with blue skies (despite the bad weather forecast) perked us up too. We stopped briefly in the airport for a drink and snack, as our budget flight had included ZERO refreshments and then set off in search of the public bus to get us to the city. With relative ease we managed to get a ticket for around £1.50 for the hour long journey. The journey gave us the opportunity to see some of the lush, jungle-like landscapes. I don’t know what I had been expecting, but the vibrancy of our first impressions stayed with us throughout or short stay.

Arriving in the city, we drove through Little India and the bus stopped not far from it. By this time it was about 10am and we couldn’t check in to our hostel until 2pm so we donned our back packs and tried to find our way back to Little India, which didn’t take long. We had a wander around some of the streets there which were lined with painted archways and had a back drop of modern skyscrapers and blue skies, before deciding to get some proper food in a little canteen. It was quite quiet when we walked in and it turned out to be a buffet which suited us just fine. The food was INCREDIBLE. Possibly the best we’ve had on this entire trip. So fresh, so authentic and so wholesome, we ate until we were stuffed. The bill for two buffet plates and a large bottle of water? Around £3.

It really was too hot to carry the backpacks around for much longer so our next challenge was getting on the metro to the hostel. The metro system isn’t particularly user friendly because at the transfer stations there is usually a mall that you have to navigate through to find a different lines. And the malls are massive. We ended up being side tracked on our way through but eventually made it to the metro, which was deliciously cool thanks to the A/C and went overground, above the city, to our stop so we got some great views on the way.

The hostel was in a street which had an array of colourful but shabby facades and was very charming. It was also a stones throw from China Town and the Colonial Area, so after a quick freshen up, we went straight back out to walk around the city and we absolutely loved it. Every corner we turned brought more colours and character, with evident international influences from India, China, the UK (a cricket house and lawn) and the Middle East. The city is a huge melting pot of culture and it’s absolutely awesome.

An evening downpour sent us back towards the hostel and in search of dinner (though nothing would ever match the first meal) and bargains in China Town. As it happened, we had arrived in the middle of a Hindu Festival and so locals were giving out free food and drinks in the street which demonstrated how truly hospitable the country is towards everyone. A march carrying a golden religious statue which had started from outside our hostel earlier in the evening passed the street where we sat to have (second) dinner and when it quietened down we headed back to the hostel for a much needed sleep.

The next day after a quick breakfast, we set off towards the iconic Petronas Towers and spent a large part of our day in the surrounding area, firstly trying to sort out some admin-y bits and bobs and then making the most of the beautifully landscaped park which sprawls beneath the towers and finally going for a look around the huge udnerground shopping centre, where we found... wait for it... a Marks and Spencer, among other things. Later in the day we tried to visit THE Kuala Lumpur Mosque, but unfortunately, our hostel had given us the wrong information regarding opening hours, so that was slightly disappointing but all in all, the city had completely mesmerised us but it was already time for us to pack our bags in anticipation of heading to Vietnam the next morning...

Posted by amysblog 04:35 Archived in Malaysia Tagged food mosque culture market malaysia city towers curry Comments (0)

Vietnam: Week 1

Phu Quoc, The Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City

sunny 30 °C

Arriving in Vietnam was quite a significant turning point in our travels. Until now, our journeys had been meticulously planned and yet here we were, on an island just off the south west coast with only one thing dictating our travels - our return flight to China three weeks later from Hanoi, in the north. Naturally, there was an ounce of drama upon arriving, we had arrived a day early for our accommodation. Luckily, that was easily resolved by an extra night on beautiful Phu Quoc island - you can't really complain - which gave us more time to plan the rest of the trip... well, that was the idea. We spent the next few days indulging in some much needed down time, and delicious seafood and Pho. And did very little planning. Phu Quoc was a surprisingly lively destination, with fairly busy beaches and a bustling night market, even in low season. It was in a quiet beach cafe overlooking the palm fringed beach that I had my first experience with Vietnamese coffee. Initially I thought it was just plain vile, but over the next few weeks, it became a staple part of my diet.

After three beach filled days, it was time to make a decision on where to head to next and we agreed on Can Tho, a city famous for its floating markets. It would be our first real challenge in Vietnam; we booked a ferry to the mainland and then we would have to find transport to get to the city which was about 3.5 hours away. This 'challenge' turned out to be incredibly simple. Upon arriving at the harbour, I noticed a huge banner for the bus company we were hoping to track down. As it happened, you could by tickets right there and there was a free shuttle to the main bus station. Within an hour on the mainland we were already on route to Can Tho. Even better, upon arrival, there was another free shuttle to the front door of our hostel. The whole trip could not have been more straightforward and that initial experience took all the possible stress out of future journeys. We realised then that travelling up Vietnam was going to be great.

Due to our expected late arrival at the hostel in Can Tho, we had already organised a boat trip to the floating market the next morning before we arrived. We had to be up and out by 5am latest and our guide was there on the dot to meet us. It was still dark when we left the hostel and we walked down a pitch black alley, arriving abruptly at the water edge to board our small motor boat. We then set off down the river towards Cai Rang Floating Market, about 6km away. The market is only active early in the morning and it is where people go to buy fruit such as watermelon and pineapple from large boats. There are some smaller sellers with rowing boats full of colourful produce and our little boat did laps of the market so that we could see all the action as the same came up. We stopped to get some (Vietnamese) coffee and Pho for breakfast - it's not everyday you have noodles for breakfast on a river!

When we had seen our fill, our guide took us to a noodle factory near the markets which was fairly interesting, but the most enjoyable part of the tip was leisurely meandering back along the Mekong Delta towards Can Tho. The scenery was beautiful and we passed small settlements with people washing clothes in the river and going about their daily business. It was very relaxing and the perfect temperature. We got back to the hostel around 9am and felt like we had already done a full day! We were leaving Can Tho that same afternoon so after checking out, we went for a stroll around the city. It was nice but wasn't particularly busy and we actually ended up catching an earlier bus to Ho Chi Minh because there really wasn't much else we could do with so little time.

We arrived in HCMC at about 5pm. This time the free shuttle only took us part the way into the city. It didn't seem like too far for us to then walk to the hostel, so we strapped our bags on, stopped for a snickers and then went in search of Backpackers' Street. It was evident as soon as we arrived. The streets were teeming with travellers and there was English everywhere. Arriving at the hostel, there was a tad more drama, they had missed our booking so we were shown to another hotel on a slightly louder road but it was overall OK. We went out to get some food and look around the area local to our hostel. The surrounding streets were called "walking streets" but a more accurate description would have been "stumbling streets" because they were full of bars and drunken westerners, still, it made for an amusing evening stroll.

The next morning we set off in search of a more authentic HCMC. Initially, we were fairly disappointed by the walking route we followed from the Lonely Planet guide book. It was just a lot of walking and not a lot else. However the afternoon picked up when we reached the area surrounding the Reunification Palace. We saw the Notre Dame Cathedral and stumbled across a small book market before ending up at the War Remnants Museum, where we spent a couple of hours reading harrowing accounts of the Vietnam War, looking through graphic photos and learning about the modern history of the country. Although it was an emotional experience, we were really glad to have taken the time to visit the museum.
That evening we went to a roof top bar called 'The View' in the backpacker's district. Although it wasn't in the city centre, the perspective we had due to being a little further out was really cool, and we made it just in time for happy hour!

The next morning, our history lesson from the previous day came into good stead as we took a trip out of the city to visit Cu Chi Tunnels, a network of underground tunnels used by Vietnamese fighters during the war. It was a great trip and we learned about the different kind of traps and avoidance techniques the Vietnamese used against the American forces. We also had the opportunity to go through a section of the tunnels. The length was just 100m - easy, right? Wrong. The tunnels were so small that it was impossible to stand up straight at any given point. They were so narrow that most of the people in our group turned back before the last section as they weren't sure they could get through. We emerged at the end of the 100m stretch breathing heavily and dumbfounded by the exertion it had taken to travel such little distance. Back in HCMC, we went for some lunch before heading to the airport; the day before we had booked a flight up to Hoi An to save us some time. It was time to leave the south and head for Central Vietnam.

Posted by amysblog 04:56 Archived in Vietnam Tagged beaches sea food history market river island asia traveling phu_quoc mekong_delta ho_chi_minh boat_trip war_tunnels Comments (0)

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