Published: October 26th 2010October 15th 2010
Fancy a dip?
Jiuzhaigou National Park
I should have known from our experiences at Xi-an, that Chengdu wasn't going to be a small leafy village, dedicated to tourists. Chengdu is a huge bustling city of over four million! Towering skyscrapers and gleaming shopping malls sit alongside temples and tea houses. In the back streets, small scale businesses are tucked into every available space. Despite its huge size, population and horrific air quality, we really enjoyed Chengdu. Heaven:
We visited 'The Peoples Park' to see where the locals try to get a bit of quiet time. Quiet time? What were we thinking? I have never seen such a busy public space. It almost made the London Parks look lifeless! Karaoke contestants, story-tellers, break-dancers, chess players, candy floss sellers, tea merchants, ear canal cleaners, dog walkers, opera singers, balloon magicians, candy makers and loads of small children carrying goldfish (?!) all mixed into one big noisy chaotic mass. It was a great chance to watch the locals at play.
Chris was pounced upon by a grubby looking guy with scary wire brushes. Despite him telling us that it ''feels comfortable, feels comfortable'' it took a lot of effort to convince him that we didn't our ear
canals cleaned - it was hard work, he just wouldn't take no for an answer!
Ear drums still intact, we explored other parts of the city. Unbelievably there is an area of town that just sells mobile phones and mobile accessories. We aren't talking a few shops here, we are talking an area almost as big as the town where I grew up! The Chinese certainly love their phones.
We also ate some of the nicest food at a few of the vegetarian restaurants we visited. I love the way that the Chinese can make vegetables or curd into anything - they even manage to create 'fish' complete with fins and a tail. The poster on the wall of a restaurant was hilarious. It showed dozens of cute baby animals (rabbits, kittens, puppies, foals etc) gazing into the camera. The slogan read 'Every time you slaughter an animal, you hurt God!' Finally one bit of Chinese propaganda that gets a thumbs up from me!
We decided that we couldn't leave the Chengdu area without visiting Jiuzhaigou National Park. Jiuzhaigou is a major tourist attraction in the Sichuan region. It is a World Natural Heritage site and a
huge crowd puller in China with over 1.5 million visitors every year.
There's probably not too much to write about Jiuzhaigou except to say that it is stunningly beautiful. It's the sort of place where photos really don't do it justice.
I was sceptical about the photos I had seen in tourist brochures - I had always assumed that the images had been photoshopped. But it really is a natural wonder (or else the Chinese Government is pumping tonnes of chemicals into the lakes) once the sun shines at Jiuzhaigou, the water takes on the most amazing shades of green, turquoise and blue. The colours weren't spectacular in the early morning as it was too misty but luckily the sun broke through the clouds for a few hours during the day. Autumn is a good time to visit due to the changing leaves. It would probably be amazing in winter too when the waterfalls are frozen cascades.
It was great to get out and do a bit of walking. We met up with some other westerners and and hit the walking trails. Even with the huge number of visitors, you can still find peace and quiet at
some parts of Jiuzhaigou as most of the Chinese visitors fly in and visit the most popular lakes using the shuttle bus service. The morning was especially nice with mists rising from the water and not another person to be seen on some paths. Hell:
While Jiuzhaigou was spectacular, the journey to and from the Park turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. The road travels straight through the area where the May 2008 Chengdu earthquake struck and killed nearly seventy thousand people. The devastation is still unbelievable. It is almost like mother nature flung her hand through the air and wiping out mountainsides and motorways, like a giant batting away flies. Roads were buried, bridges were snapped in half and villages covered in rubble. It couldn't have been a worse place to have been living during an earthquake. The river valley is shadowed by huge mountains, some up to 3000 metres. During the quake, it must have been hell on earth. The repair work is still under way and not helped by the huge floods that hit the area only a month before we visited.
Of course this road was never going to be
Oldies playing a board game at The Peoples Park, Chengdu.
much fun to travel on but a it would be nice if the bus companies communicated with the road companies to find out if the road is actually open. On our journey to Jiuzhaigou, the road was closed at the seven hour point so we waited around for over an hour for it to open. Once moving, a few hours later, a truck in front of us had a puncture so we again we sat for another hour and a half. By this time it was dark and the driver decided he wanted to get home for supper. His solution was to drive like a complete nutter for the last few hours. Most frighteningly, the final stretch of road was all downhill, twisting through a thick forest in complete darkness. He floored it and overtook every other vehicle that we came across. Pretty damn scary!
We were hoping that the early morning return journey wouldn't be quite so traumatic but after three hours we came to the SAME stretch of road that had been shut two days earlier. Eventually it was announced that the road wouldn't open until 5:30 so we needed to sit in the bus for the
Peoples Park, Chengdu
next SEVEN hours and THEN we could continue on and be home by 3:30 the following morning. The drivers even claimed that they didn't know that the road was shut and it wasn't their problem. You can imagine how this went down with everyone on the bus!
After an hour and a half of sitting there looking bewildered, the drivers announced that we would go BACK along the road for a few hours and take the alternative road back to Chengdu. Since they were now going to use more fuel, could everyone please pay an extra 20 yuan now? Oh yeah, since we are going to be at least three hours late, we need to drive as fast as possible because it is too dangerous to be driving these roads during the night, so everyone HOLD ON and START PRAYING.
Well that started the most scary 12 hours travelling I have ever experienced. No jeep, petrol tanker, bus or sports car stood in our way as we motored around blind corners and cliff edges. At one stage we overtook a truck on a mountain switchback and screeched onto two wheels sending luggage flying into the aisles. By this
Locals relaxing at Peoples Park, Chengdu
stage I'm ashamed to say that I lost the plot a bit and taught the Chinese a few new four letter words! Unbelievingly none of the Chinese passengers were remotely worried, only Chris and I. I guess insane driving is part of everyday life in so many countries - according to lonely planet the road toll in China is 600 people EVERYDAY. By the time we finished our journey, 15 hours later, the beautiful blue lakes of Jiuzhaigou were a bit of a distant memory!
I guess not all bus journeys to Jiuzhaigou are this bad. We just happened to be on a smaller than average public bus that was driven by a couple of idiots. The most annoying thing was that the alternative road back passed through one of the most stunning forest and mountain areas that we have ever seen. It was the most dramatic stretch of valley imaginable but of course we could only look out the window. Pandas:
After the mission to Jiuzhaigou we weren't feeling up to any more public bus journeys so we spent the evening catching up with friends we made in Xi-an. The next day set off like every
Beauty in the city
Peoples Park, Chengdu
other visitor to Chengdu, to the Panda Breeding Centre. The pandas were ridiculously cute but I couldn't help feeling a bit sorry for them living their entire lives in captivity with little chance of release into the wild.
Overall, the Chengdu area was a great place to spend the last of our time in China. If we had longer we would loved to have visited the big Buddha in Leshan and the pilgrimage mountain of Emei Shan but we were in need of a few rest days and needed to sort things like Tibet permits and of course, laundry! Lucky for us, we managed to find a group leaving for Tibet in the upcoming days. So, next stop, Lhasa!
There are more photos below