Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, is famous for two things – spicy hot-pot and giant panda bears.
We had an interesting trip into the metropolis which we can only laugh about now. A local we met at the workaway offered to drive us into Chengdu and straight to our hostel, perfect we thought! In the end we were driven to see his english teacher, Mr. Affable, and two of his classmates named Merry and Virtue, before being taken to the bus station in Chongzhou to take a 45 minute bus and then an hour metro into the city. A 1.5 hour journey turned into a 4 hour whirlwind of surprises and probably the biggest misunderstanding we’ve had this trip. A text about the odd situation we sent to someone at the workaway became an angry phone call to our guide into Chengdu and resulted in the most awkward metro ride ever, passing google translate back and forth. He really couldn’t understand why we might have been confused at getting to our hostel hours later than expected and how we may have felt slightly hijacked just for being foreigners. But anyway, we parted ways on good terms and here’s our impromptu english class!
We had a short stay in Chengdu, since the 6 month barrier has been reached there’s definitely been a feeling of “time to head home”, or at least time to move on. This time in China we will have been here for about 2 months. The need for change that only a new country can give is growing. We managed to squeeze in old friends, new friends, pandas and delicious food into our two full days.
My friend Yulan grew up north of Chengdu and introduced us to her family living in the city. We spent a fun day out with her cousin, her cousin’s husband and his uncle. We met them at the Giant Panda Research Centre at 9am having been told by many travellers that this was the best time to go as they’re fed breakfast and are more active than the rest of the day. We were not disappointed. The pandas were stuffing their faces with bamboo, roaming around rubbing their bums on trees marking their territory and attempting to get more food out of baskets by going through the baskets. Many of them were already sleeping yet somehow high above in the trees – I admit I knew so little about pandas that I didn’t expect to see them that high! A lot of time was spent simply staring bemused and laughing to ourselves, they are such bizarre creatures. Acting so lazily, as soon as they’d begun eating one piece of bamboo, the other hand was already grabbing for the next without even looking. This occasionally lead to instances of pandas lent over reaching for the food further away and eating like this without moving its whole body closer.
Lunch was our first spicy Chengdu hot-pot, and it really was spicy. The middle is the non-spicy broth, and the surrounding was spicy full of chilli peppers and Sichuan pepper – I’m slightly addicted to the numbing sensation they produce. It’s different to chilli peppers, so I can eat a lot more spice this way. Everyone has their own dipping sauce in front of them, your own mixture of sesame oil, garlic and coriander. We tried intestines and stomach – I’ll never get used to the feeling of having stomach inside my stomach. My favourite was the tofu, in China there are so many different types, definitely something I’ll miss when home.
In the afternoon we had a relaxing time at Baoguang Temple. An old buddhist temple in the north of the city, originally built in the Tang dynasty over 1000 years ago. The tall pagoda was an impressive sight at 13 floors high. It was a peaceful place where we enjoyed exploring, drinking tea and chatting.
For tea we were taken to a place good for its mutton soup. This was the second time we’ve tried mutton, the first being in Beijing in a hot-pot. This time all the mutton bits were added to the soup at the beginning and we had two bowls in front of us – one for drinking the soup and the other for dipping like a hot-pot. Mutton is very distinctive, a strong flavour, and something you have to get used to eating if you travel in west China and through the ‘stans as many travellers have informed us.
Even though we had torrential rain in the afternoon, it was still a fun day seeing and trying things we wouldn’t have done without our local guides, thanks for a lovely day.
It’s hard on a trip like this to have “old friends”, and definitely one of the biggest things missed.
In Jiayuguan, the westerners stuck together and we bonded in the terrible hostel-not-hostel – it seemed like the Chinese who were staying there were immediately taken to the grubbier flats. We met a couple from France two months into their year trip around the world. By shear concidence, they had received confirmation of their stay at the same workaway outside Chengdu just as we got started talking about doing workaways. Antoine and Natassia came to the farm in our second week and also stayed in the same hostel as us after leaving in Chengdu. They also have a blog too, you’ll need to brush up on your French, focussed around an interactive map.
With them, Xiao Chu and CK from FanPu, we headed for another hot-pot meal in the studenty area of the city. I’m not sure our stomachs were too pleased we had spicy hot-pot two days in a row, but it was delicious nonetheless!
Train to Kunming and beyond
We left our friends going south on an overnight train to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province. It was in the morning we had some good and bad news about our planned cargoship across the Pacific. A better route has become available, but the fastest crossing now takes 15 days instead of 11, meaning a jump in price. Having reevaluated our budget since, we’ve made the decision not to explore stunning Yunnan as originally wanted but head straight into Vietnam instead for November – our bank account will be happier for a while! But more on this in later posts. Here’s the countryside of Yunnan that we did get to see from the train.
Complete Photos from Chengdu