If you’ve read my previous post you will know of the nightmare we had trying to get to Chengdu from Xian. We originally booked a 16 hour train, which we waited for for seven hours until it finally got cancelled, absolute nightmare. It turns out to get a refund for the ticket you have to visit the refund desk at the train station on the day of departure, which we didn’t do, oh well, you live and you learn. So after our cancellation we went back to the hostel we had been staying in and searched for flights online instead. There was one available for the following evening, leaving at 22:45 and arriving in Chengdu at 00:30. This would have to do as we already had a hostel reservation there, believing we were getting the train. It was a very prompt service, we paid our money via credit card online, and 10 minutes later had an e-mail confirming out flights. To get to Xian airport is simple enough. Public shuttle buses run from 2 places in the city, costing ¥25 per ticket, and leaving every 30mins, with the last bus being at 9pm. The one we caught was near the north gate of the city wall, a 20 minute walk from our hostel. You have to enter what looks like a shop, but take a corridor to the left and from there you purchase your tickets and jump on the bus. Our bus left at 6pm and we were very lucky to get seats for that one, as we turned up at 17:57 and it was very nearly full. I’d recommend turning up about 15 minutes in advance to guarantee yourself a seat. The journey itself takes an hour, depending on traffic, allow yourself more time if its rush hour, which is pretty much all the time in china! It first stops at terminal 2, then terminal 3 where we got off and I can only assume it goes to terminal 1 afterwards, but I can’t be sure!
Checking in was interesting. First of all after our big backpacks, the bags we were checking in the hold went through and got scanned, we got ushered to a small security room where both our bags were waiting for us, along with two airport security guards. Holly had a battery pack in her bag which wasn’t allowed in the hold of the plane, so she had to take that out and put it in her hand luggage. We then got sent back to check our bags in again. We again got ushered back to the security room where my bag had been pulled up… again. They didn’t speak English but used a translator on their phone and showed me the word insulin. I said yes I was diabetic and they made me get my diabetes supplies out. Obviously my insulin injections were all in my hand luggage so this wasn’t the issue, I think it was my spare sugar level kit which had a battery in it. I’m not sure but they nodded, said everything was okay, then sent me back to check my bag in for a third time. This time it went through okay, we got given our tickets, then off to the proper security gates to get our hand luggage scanned where they didn’t even question my insulin injections or needles. All I can suggest is have everything with a battery and all of your needles in your hand luggage, along with your insulin to avoid this issue. As I said earlier, you live and you learn. We flew with Sichuan Airlines and paid £94 for our ticket. This was about £60 more then the train, but after the cancellation we just wanted to get to Chengdu as we had already made hostel bookings and booked a flight out to Guilin. The £94 included our checked baggage which a lot of airlines don’t, and it can end up costing double the money.
Chengdu is a great place to base yourself and go out on excursions as there are lots of trips out to see some amazing places. Our first day here we did what we always do in city’s, take a walk around and get our bearings. We visited Wenshu Monastery which has some amazing buildings and a lovely park you can have a stroll through to cool off from the blazing heat, it is situated just north of the city center and when you enter you feel like you are away from everything. To my surprise Chengdu is a very built up modern city with tall skyscrapers with crazy lights and big screens on pretty much every big building, so to find a place like Wenshu Monastery is a godsend just to get away from it all. We then caught the subway (the same as anywhere else in China, very simple, clear and easy to use with English options on the tickets machines) over to Wide Alley. This is a collection of little alleyways with tons of shops to buy souvenirs and postcards and lots of little cafe’s and bars. It is quite touristy but still lovely to see these old alleyways and a different hustle and bustle of Chengdu.
We decided we wanted to see Qingcheng Mountain the next day and were looking to catch a public bus over there, however in our hostel, Lazybones Backpackers, they were offering a Chinese tour of Qingcheng Mountain and the Dujiangyan Irrigation System. Don’t let the name fool you, it is a wonderful area with lovely scenery, fast flowing rivers and monasteries up in the hillsides. We paid ¥400 for the Chinese tour, which included travel, lunch and all our entry tickets. Going on a Chinese tour was an experience in itself and so much cheaper then going with an English speaking guide, the only problem being that the guide doesn’t speak a word of English. However, if you do your research before you go you know what you are going to see and you get to see it for a small portion of the price you’d pay for an English speaking tour. I’d recommend sticking close to the guide so you don’t get lost, but don’t worry, you’d never really lose her because she will be constantly blabbing on in Chinese through a portable microphone and loudspeaker, I’m sure the Chinese do not know about volume control! We took a cable car up the Qingcheng Mountain, a return ticket costing ¥60, and then walked for 2 hours further up the mountain visiting lots of different building and monasteries, it was really cool. It was quite a long day but very interesting to see these great places with amazing scenery. That evening 4 of us went out for dinner at a restaurant just up the road. There was a dumpling restaurant just before the one we went too, but it was an hour wait just to get a seat, they must be the best dumplings in the world!
The following day was my 25th birthday which was nice to spend in China. I decided I wanted to see some Pandas!! We booked to go to the Chengdu Giant Panda Sanctuary and then to the Leshan Buddha, a giant Buddha carved into the mountain in around 800bc. The panda sanctuary was really cool and we were lucky as there were some tiny new born pandas, some 1 year old pandas, teenage pandas and adult pandas. If you go around the end of July/beginning of August you are likely to see some new born Pandas. The place is absolutely huge, we only visited for 2 hours as we were off to Leshan, but you can volunteer, pay money and work at the sanctuary for three days which looked like great fun. The Buddha at Leshan was huuuge. You have two option when arriving. On one side of the river you can catch a boat for ¥70 to take pictures of the whole Buddha from the water, or you can go to the other side of the river to climb up 330 steps to the head, then get in a queue, anywhere up to a 3 hour wait to go to the feet of the Buddha. By doing this you really catch the scale of how big it is, with your head only coming up to his toenails. After going down to the toes, you have to climb back up, then down the 330 steps again back to the entry gate. If you plan to do this make sure you give yourself enough time. That evening we met up with a friend who we met in Xian and was now volunteering in Chengdu via Workaway, a website set up where you can volunteer to work with the local people. He met us at a tube stop with three local girls he was working with and we went out to celebrate my birthday. We went to a nice little bar down Wide Alley which was quite expensive, but these girls had a lot of money, well there parents did! We got a ‘keg’ of beer for ¥50 each and split it between the 6 of us. After a few beers the girls spoke to the waiter and asked if Joe could get up and sing me happy birthday with the band, which was hilarious, none of the Chinese knew what was going on but they all got up and clapped, Joe wanted to leave straight after!! From here we caught a taxi to one of the Chinese clubs and we could have been in London. In one place the cheapest beer was £9 for a 330ml bottle. We quickly left that place. Apparently the clubs think if they sell the local cheap beer then they are not high-class, so they all import Heineken and foreign beers and charge stupid prices. The three girls had never been out clubbing in China so I think it was more of an experience for them then us. I wouldn’t recommend it if you are trying to save money, but I didn’t really have a say in the matter, I trusted these girls who were really nice and spoke good English and it was a great experience. I didn’t have a problem with my diabetes and the alcohol but everyone knows their own body and how they deal with it. I suppose I’ve had too many years practice drinking, and I always take the necessary precautions, especially in a foreign country. I had my glucose tablets in my pocket and there were shops open until the early hours in case I need anything so the diabetes was never an issue on the night out. Chengdu is a great place to visit and I wish we would have had more time here, well we would have done if our train didn’t get cancelled! From here we are flying to Guilin in the morning as it’s the summer holidays and all the trains were fully booked 9 days in advance. Take that into account if you are traveling in the summer.