PANDAmonium in Chengdu!!!
Chengdu, China is known for mainly one thing – PANDAS! There are barely 1,000 Giant Pandas left in the world and about 100 of them live in a breeding base in Chengdu. So if I was going to China, I was going to make sure that I saw some Pandas!
In order to do that, we had to make quite an effort to get in and out of Chengdu. The trip required leaving Yangshuo at 8:30am. We took a one hour bus back to Guilin and then took a 25 hour train ride from Gulin to Chengdu. Yes, 25 hours on a train in a small sleeper cabin shared with 2 other people. It was very hard to plan meals with this schedule so we resorted to buying lots of noodle soups, instant coffees and instant oatmeal breakfast drinks and utilizing the free hot water on the trains. We also used disposable toothbrushes and bottled water to brush our teeth and wet wipes since there were no showers. On top of it all, our compartment was right next to the smoking area so I had to sleep with a mask on my face to lessen the stench. It was not fun, but we got through it. And no, I will probably never do that again. 12-15 hour trains are okay, but 25 hours is far too much, especially when they still allow smoking on trains.
The positive part of the train ride was during sunset. The train travelled through some of the most beautiful landscapes we have ever seen. It is hard to capture endless peaks in the vast distance but here is what Scott was able to catch on the moving train:
This was my favorite part of the train ride =)
We arrived in Chengdu around 2pm in our usual post-overnight-train-ride-zombie-like state. Our guesthouse was an old courtyard style mansion located on the most popular tourist street in Chengdu. We were on the top floor with great views of the street and city. If you visit China then a courtyard guesthouse is something I recommend everyone should experience at least once.
We napped for a bit and then hit the town at sunset. Our first stop was People’s park. This park is above your average park in America. It is landscaped beautifully with lakes, gardens, tea houses and plazas.
During a quick stroll through, we saw public aerobics classes, old men playing chess/cards/dominos, a mini amusement park for the kids and a Koi fishing pond. I didn’t witness this but apparently there are also old men walking around with probing tools to clean your ears! What I did witness was a bunch of elderly women strutting their stuff down a catwalk to a blaring Bollywood song while a couple in their 70’s did some sort of belly-dancing/lambada/grinding performance. The flexibility they showed was both impressive and disturbing at the same time. Oh I wish I took video for you all so that you could be scarred for life like I am now, but in the moment my mind was having difficulties digesting it all. All I got were some photos before the catwalk action happened (the old couple is in the right corner)
For those brown folks that are wondering what Bollywood song it was, it was the 90’s chart buster “Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast”
link to the Bollywood music video (it is hilarious if you have the time!)
Around sunset we walked a few blocks over to Tianfu Square. Surrounded by museums, malls, office buildings and promenades, this public plaza is considered a central point of Chengdu.
At the North end stands mighty Mao.
Although you can take a picture with Mao, you cannot raise your right hand up. There were policemen watching but Scott just couldn’t resist
You also are not supposed to lay on park benches either.
In the evening the city lit up in unison with a fountain/light show. Chengdu is a pretty cool city.
But we must move on to the main reason why we came. Scott and I woke up very early to arrive at the Chengdu Panda Breeding Base when it opened to see the Panda feeding. It is the best time to go because you are rewarded with active Pandas and no crowds. And boy were we rewarded! There were about 11 people in the park when we showed up. We had the best view.
And who can resist panda videos? Here are two cubs fighting…it got pretty serious:
Here is mama and her babies
I will admit I wasn’t crazy about Pandas or anything before I arrived. But just seeing those playful cuddly things in person has made me a fan. I could spend hours watching them eat, lay and play. And yes, I did just that.
Now you can take a photo with a baby panda (although this time of year there are no tiny babies that you can hold. The youngest are almost one year now) but the cost is $350 US. Cash only. That obviously didn’t fit in my flashpacker budget so we opted out. But I did find out that it costs $2000 a day to feed pandas because the breeding base has to import special bamboo from the region they are naturally from. So I guess the picture cost is outrageous but justified.
We also spent a day exploring the outskirts of Chengdu. I researched that there was a very cool theme park called the national defense park. The park contained old helicopters, tanks and cannons and I thought Scott would really enjoy it. The only problem was that we showed up and the whole thing was gutted and abandoned. Epic. fail.
This is all that is left
Somehow Scott still really thought it was cool. Maybe he didn’t want me to feel bad for blowing the whole day.
So to make up for the failure we attended a Sichuan Opera at night.
Sichuan Opera is not your traditional Opera show. Rather it is more like a very entertaining variety show. You sit in a beautiful tea house, eat yummy sesame snacks with endless refills of green tea and laugh and applaud all night long.
The show included:
A mini opera performance
Shadow puppet theater
Musical performances and wardrobe changing
And last but not least face changing. This stuff is crazy. Right before your eyes, the performer will change the mask on his face in the blink of an eye. Multiple times. Each time it happens you are just so confused and amazed at what you have just seen. It is definitely one of the most mind blowing performances I have seen in my life.
Chengdu ended up exceeding both of our expectations since all we wanted out of the trip were Pandas. We actually wished we had more time in this city but experienced a lot in a very short time. Before we knew it, it was time to head off to airport for our next destination, Xian!