The overnight train from Zhenyuan to Chongqing wasn't too bad at all. I had a 2nd class sleeper ticket which meant I shared the open compartment with 5 other people, all Chinese. The 15 hours went quite quick and I enjoyed most of the time trying to communicate with the others, which was pretty difficult. The train itself was good with food available, hot water for coffee and noodles, relatively clean squat toilets, and a spot to smoke between carriages. The lights were turned out at 10pm and I had a good sleep before being woken up at 4.30am just before we arrived at Chongqing. My idea was to board the first train to Chengdu, and I was told by the other passengers that I would have to catch a taxi to the other side of the city. After waiting about half an hour for other passengers to fill up the van we took off for the station. A young couple in the taxi that I started chatting with showed me where to buy a ticket and what train I should get. Once in Chengdu they helped me get a bus and even escourted me to the hostel I wanted to
I stayed at Dragon Town Youth Hostel which had a very good location right in the middle of a number of touristy alleyways with small traditional brick buildings (they all look quite new though) which now serve as hotels, restaurants, bars, tourist shops, and galleries. The hostel itself had friendly and helpful staff, a nice little courtyard with wifi, a small bar, and my bed in a 8 bed dorm cost $7 a night.
The next morning I headed off to see the city's number 1 attraction, the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base which I had booked a tour through the hostel for $17. We were picked up by minivan early and arrived at the park about 45 minutes later. Our driver led us to where the young pandas were feeding and this was probably the best and most entertaining bit of the park. After watching them eat and play for a while we were free to walk around for another couple of hours before returning to the van. It was nice to see some of the much smaller red pandas as well as the older pandas around the park. The grounds itself were in a
nice setting and even had a pond to relax by but unfortunately I had ran out of time and had to get back to the van. That afternoon I headed over to the nearby People's Park to watch the locals dance, sing, play instruments, card and board games, or just relax in a teahouse. I love this side of China where all the people get a chance to show off their talents in a relaxed and informal way.
The following day I went all the way to the northern bus station to buy a ticket for the next day to Songpan and then after returning to the hostel I asked the girl at the desk where I should go in the afternoon. The 2 things she recommended were the People's Park and the downtown shopping area, I guess there aren't too many things to see or do in Chengdu then. I went to the shopping area which was quite impressive with many clothes shops and department stores, its just a pity I didn't want to buy anything. I enjoyed having Mcdonalds for the first time in a month, and popped back in to have a cappucino a little while
later. That night I went to see the Sichuan Opera which I had organised through the hostel for $19 for the cheap seats. It was very good and turned out to be more of a variety show than an opera, with some acrobatics, face mask changing, instrument playing, and a short comedy routine which meant that I didn't get bored.
I started chatting to a Chinese girl at the hostel who was from the north and she helped me plan a very exciting route into the more remote and Tibetan parts of northwestern Sichuan. After getting all excited about it I was told later that foreigners weren't allowed to go to these areas as well as to Litang in western Sichuan which was going to be my route into Yunnan. I will have to check out these claims in the next few days and keep my fingers crossed that the restrictions have been lifted.
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