Chengdu is a tidy orderly city that was a pleasure to visit. Chongqing feels as chaotic as interesting. I see many similarities with Hong Kong. It is packed with tall buildings, surrounded by water and the old and the new mix together in an unpredictable mix.
I have already checked in and leave my backpack, I am free to take the subway and roam light around the city. As I exit the subway station, I see a massive building in the horizon. I start walking in that general direction.
I find myself at the feet of more than half a dozen tall skyscrapers. And, at the street level, there is one of the largest shopping malls I have ever seen. A constant in my trip in China is to see that many shopping malls are half empty. The shopping malls have a lot of activity in some floors meanwhile others remain almost closed. My guess is that as newer places open, the older ones stop growing or even lose some shops. This one is the newest and all shops are open and there is an absurd amount of people shopping around. I decide to buy a fancy belt in one of the fashion shops. I pay with cash again. The cashier takes the money and leaves it in a drawer with just a few notes. I feel out of place paying not able to pay with my phone like everybody else.
Back at the hotel, I am still marveled at its curious set up. There are two towering buildings, both are hotels. By that, I mean that there are several hotels in each one of them. In the lower floor, the lobbies of each brand open to the street. Some lobbies are big and classy, others small and kind of cheap. Everybody takes then the same elevator and stops at the floor of their hotel. My hotel starts at the twelfth floor. I have a pleasant room in floor twenty-seventh. I have a good night of sleep.
Today, I start the day later than usual. I have seen what I came to see in Chengdu – the pandas – and today is going to be a relaxed day.
I start at the Jinsha Museum, it is an excavation site. There are many wild animal bones and tusks, probably gathered for religious ceremony.
In the next building, the museum shows artifacts unearthed at the site. It struck me as a surprise that the unearthing has stopped even after some incredible findings. The archeologists seem to have a hard time avoiding decay after exposing the site to the air. They have seen enough and are experimenting with different types of conservation. A solar disk made from gold is at the center of the exhibition. A golden mask also attracts the visitors’ attention.
The site, as many other I have visited, doubles down as a park. I take time to walk around. The park even has an enclosure with deer, some kids are trying to touch an albino deer thru the fences. The animals are calm and probably used to have kids around.
My next stop is a temple. It is dedicated to the Three Kingdom’s, but I have not enough background to recognize the stories. I take a mental note to buy ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ novel when I’m back at home. Most people are tourists.
At the exit of the temple there are some old-style streets. And where there are traditional streets there are more tourists and shops. I am hungry, so I purchase a sweet that tastes like quince cheese. I use cash to pay, as I cannot us my phone like the locals. I have all the apps installed and configured, but my non-Chinese credit card is not accepted for purchases in Yuans. By now, I have started to get a sense of what is a reasonable price for certain objects. It is not easy, thou, as the same craftwork made from a noble material my be ten or a hundred times more expensive than on made of cheaper stuff. I do not purchase anything, yet. I still must travel for a little longer, and I do not want to carry too much on my backpack.
Even that it is already getting dark and there is not much time left, I visit my second museum of the day. The artefacts are like many ones that I have seen before, but, there is always something new to discover. Here, I find a Kermit the Frog puppet. It was a gift to the museum by the Jim Henson Company.
I end my day at a close by restaurant. I go for a Hot Pot. I am not used to spicy or too hot food. This is both. I enjoy it anyway.
While preparing the trip, I found a few ways to get to the top attraction at Chengdu: the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. The research base is in the outskirts of the city but there are many group tours that make it easy to get there. I also see taxis arriving at the entrance. But, I decide to go by bus number 198A. It seems not very popular, at least at this time of the day, but there is a couple of parents with their kinds.
I got early to the base, and not just to avoid the crowds. Early in the morning, their caretakers bring the bamboo and the pandas are more active. Later on, most of the panda activity limits itself to lay on the ground and do very little, or – if one is lucky enough – the panda will lay on a tree making for a slightly interesting picture.
The place is quite big, so, the first difficulty is to know where to go. There are many signs, but it is not clear how interesting will be the place. “Giant Panda Nursery” sounds cool but “Giant Panda Enclosure” seems a more sure place to find the pandas. I follow the guided groups and pass them when they stop here and there close by some sign for extra information.
I finally get to the “Giant Panda Nursery”, unluckily for me, there are no cubs. The newborns came to the base in September, by December all of them have left the nursery.
I continue walking around the park. After reading a few more signs, I get that there are two enclosures for Red Pandas and two more for Giant Pandas. There are also the nursery, science buildings and exhibition buildings.
Giant pandas become more active and playful. I catch several of them climbing trees and playing with their siblings. In the middle of all this activity, the caretakers bring the bamboo. I snap many pictures and some high-quality videos of the pandas eating.
It is an experience to see them use their opposable thumbs to slowly get the bamboo to their mouths or rip leaves apart. The only other time that I remember seeing pandas was at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo. But, there, I only saw the panda from really far away. I was happy to get a glimpse of the animal, but, today, I got to see them very close, active and eating.
The red pandas are also beautiful animals. Their smaller size makes them harder to see, but, after eating they just lay still and one got in a perfect place for some pictures.
The rest of the base is a lovely park. Bamboo forests are crossed by the many paths. There is a big lake where black swans and other aquatic birds swim around. A cafeteria close by offers warm coffee and tea. Touristic shops are full of panda-themed clothes, cups, and all the usual tourist trinkets. And, there is also a museum with an art exhibit. All the art is panda-themed, as expected.
There are many hours left on the day. So, I go to visit the history museum. After so many visited museums, I start to get how artefacts have evolved in the history of china. Bronze, jade, pottery, and paintings narrate the country’s history.
In my way home, I pass by a big park with a market. I decide to purchase some Russian sweets, these imports make sense as China borders with Russia. I just take 3 or 4 pieces and the shopkeeper tells me that I can keep them for free. I feel bad about that and insist on paying. She adds up the amount and then rounds the price down. This time I smile and say thank you, that was a very nice gesture. Interestingly enough, I do not think that the woman spoke English. Everything became clear just using gestures.
I walk back to the hotel, it takes a couple of hours and I see some more interesting buildings by the river. It has been a long and interesting day.
This is another day of travel. I spend extra time at the free breakfast at the hotel. And I check out later than usual.
When I get out of the hotel, at almost nine, I see my mistake. Yesterday rain cleared the air, and the sky is blue. The gloom effect of the smog is nowhere to be seen. Instead, it is possible to sharply see distant buildings. I have lost the opportunity to wake up early and see a better version of the city.
I take the G89 to Chengdu. At least I enjoy the view of the countryside. I keep my camera in the backpack, and I make many pictures with my phone.
After check-in, I walk to the closest park. The place offers way more than I expected. The greenery is well maintained, and I am struck by the magnificent bamboo forest. As I have been travelling to the South from Beijing, the warmer weather helps to keep my spirits high. It is now when I also notice that the days have gotten perceptibly longer. The garden is probably well known as I see a bus full of Western tourists leaving the place. I guess that most Western travellers will come to China in summer, as the bus is a rare sight. Even rarer has been to see tourists going on their own instead of tour groups.
I stop by breakfast. Instead of using a dessert spoon, I drink yoghurt with a straw. It feels strangely exotic.
It is a dark rainy day, I welcome it. The lack of light gets compensated by cleaner air.
Shaanxi History Museum is a very recommendable visit in Xi’an. Is impressive how advanced was pottery ten thousand years ago. But, it seems that there was little improvement for centuries. Used to the XX century fast science and engineering progression, the slow pace of development thru history is baffling.
The Shaanxi Kingdom causes an increase in the complexity of religion, art and governance. More people and better agriculture allow for more magnificent art and needs for a more efficient ruling. Communication is also improved. At this time in Europe, the Roman Empire raises. Both empires will know about each other existence, but they will not come into direct contact.
My understanding of the terracotta warriors is challenged. As I knew the famous ones, it is a realization to see how prevalent the terracotta figurines adorn emperor’s tombs across China. Xi’an warriors are impressive for their number and size, but far from unique.
I have extended my time in the museum waiting for the rain to stop, but I finally decide to go outside anyway.
The Muslim quarter is also recommended in all guides. I walk in the rain. The streets are alive with people buying food and spending their time gazing at the shops. Mixed with local cuisine stands and crafts, there are many tourist gift shops. Many people are dressed in traditional Muslim clothes that have a distinct design. Lamb is also more common in the many food stands than in any other place. I snap some pictures of the colourful streets.
Going back to the hotel, I stop by a supermarket. I find it difficult to find prepared meals. It is difficult to find prepared meals, even in convenience stores a sign that many people will cook at home or eat in the many affordable restaurants. I buy some fruits and try some packaged food. Lacking a kitchen makes it impossible to even attempt to lear any receipt for cooking myself.
To get to the Xian Terracotta Warriors and Horses location, I will take the 307 bus. It was possible to book on-line tourist busses that go directly, but I have decided on a line bus. Many faster busses pass us in our way to the excavation site.
Groups of tourists get down from private buses. But, the parking lot is ready for way more visitors. One perk of travelling off-season is to have more space. I see many western tourists, that is interesting for a change. The Xian Terracotta Warriors and Horses is famous enough to attract tourists from the West even in low season.
The mausoleum consists of three different excavations sites. I start by the two smaller ones and then move to the big one. I feel an increasing sense of awe. The big one is the most impressive.
Broken pieces of pottery pile up in the ground. Farther away, archaeologists are recomposing the warriors as if it were a three-dimensional puzzle. The amount of work to create the terracotta warriors is impressive. The dedication to bringing them to their original glory is admirable as well. After looking at the figures for a long time and taking over two hundred pictures from a myriad of different angles, I am satisfied with the visit and ready to move on.
I get into the 307 again for my next destination, the Huaqing Hot Springs. An impressive pool with water pouring out of a dragon’s head is one of the several hot spring pools in the complex. After visiting several historical buildings, I start my ascension to Mount Li.
I cannot see the top of the mountain but just stairs going up. I walk up some stairs. I continue going up more and more stairs. Once more, the views are less-than-good. A thick smog covers the foot of the mountain. I continue ascending, anyway. Many hikers are in what it looks like a pilgrimage to the top. As the stairs become more and more steeply groups of people stop to rest. I continue pushing for the top.
I finally get there. The prize after so much effort is a reproduction of a vigilance tower. Now that I am here, I go up several more stairs up to the last floor. The views would be incredible if it were not for the fog.
As I walk down, I can see the hope in the eyes of the first hikers I see. They had seen me go up a few minutes ago, they realize that the summit has to be close by. I smile back acknowledging their realization.
For my way back to the city, I want a faster bus. As I approach the stop, there is a bus waiting there. A woman harries me to get in. I only have time to say “Xi’an railway station”. I get a nod as an answer. The bus is packed, the next stop is the last one, and a couple of travellers sit in a couple of folding chairs as there are no more sits remaining. This bus is an express that only stops a couple of times before arriving at Xi’an. I got back to the hotel. It has been a challenging but fun day.