At Xi'an airport this morning we had a spooky experience - we ran into Simon and Esther, a couple we both knew from Bermuda who are also travelling. It just shows what a small world it is bumping into someone on the other side of the globe!
We arrived in Chengdu mid-afternoon and got a taxi straight to the hotel. Given that we are packing so much stuff into our days, it is sometimes nice (although a little stressful) to have these travel days to just have some down time - those couple of hours at the airport pre-flight plus the time on the plane sometimes seem like a good way to do nothing!
Arriving in Chengdu, we headed out for some dinner. Having had bad Sichuan food in Xi'an, we weren't keen to try any again for a while so we had Tex-Mex - Elizabeth's choice - and it was really good.
We also arranged a tour through our hostel to go to the Panda Breeding Research Centre in a couple of days time. We only had two days here and there were two things we wanted to do and this was one of them.
We had a tour arranged today to Leshan to see the Grand Buddha, the largest sitting Buddha in the world. I had pre-arranged this tour before we left and it was expensive so we had high hopes for it. Unfortunately, the day started badly as Elizabeth woke up feeling really sick and she felt like she was going to puke everytime she moved. Thankfully, she managed to get herself out of bed and down for the tour. The bus ride was around 2 hours and I know she wasn't looking forward to that.
When we arrived in Leshan, we went on a boat trip which took us past the Buddha and stopped in front of it for pictures. We were on a boat full of Chinese people who continued their rudeness when it came to picture taking - even our Chinese speaking guide was telling people to move for us and they just ignored everyone, spending so much time on getting their own perfect shot and ordering others around. It seems everything here revolves around a lack of patience!
The Buddha itself was amazing, it's sheer size was overwhelming. It wasn't overly pretty or attractive to look at but it imposed right over the rivers. It wasn't remote like I imagined it to be, out in the middle of a forest somewhere. In fact, on the other side of the river from it were a load of high rise buildings. Still, it was brilliant to see.
Our guide didn't really tell us much while we were out, she was pretty useless really. We wanted to walk down to the Buddha but were told our tour didn't include that and we'd have to pay. She also suggested some museum, which we'd also have to pay for. Today wasn't looking great.
We then went for lunch which we thought was included. Elizabeth didn't eat as she was still feeling bad. I told the guide that I didn't want anything with fish but she insisted on ordering a local speciality and then telling me afterwards it was fish. She also ordered egg-fried vegetables, a beef dish, soup and rice. There was way too much food and it was only the guide and I who ate. At the end, she told me I had to pay! It was 265 Yuan (about $40) and I was not happy at all, especially as we had ended up paying for her lunch too.
Using Elizabeth's illness as an excuse, we told her to take us straight back to the hostel. Even then, she kept trying to get Elizabeth to eat moon cakes or something. Bloody crazy.
The driving here is awful, worse than the rest of China we've experienced. Today, the driver sat on the highway doing around 85 kph when the speed limit was 120 kph. The drive to Leshan is 130km and should've taken just over an hour but it took two hours. Despite his cautious highway driving, in the towns he was reckless - he would cut people up, speed, overtake on the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic and was stupidly and dangerously impatient.
Back at the hostel, I emailed the tour company and complained about the tour, the useless guide, the awful driver and the stupidly expensive food.
Elizabeth wasn't hungry in the evening so I grabbed a pizza from our hostel cafe - it was pretty good despite the cafe kitchen looking a little un-hygenic and the cafe being sparse of customers!
Today we headed out on the Panda tour and thankfully Elizabeth was feeling better and my pizza hadn't made me sick!
The weather was bad - cold and wet - but this was a good thing as it is good conditions for the pandas! We'd already paid for our tickets via the "Panda Card" so were keen to get in. The girl from the hostel who came with us was really friendly and helpful and showed us around the massive facility.
The enclosures for the pandas were huge with large trees and playing areas for them and a complete grassland cover. Also, the enclosures were also great for viewing - you were so close to the animals and you didn't have to fight to get a spot to see them.
First we saw some juvenile pandas lying amongst the bamboo piles eating away, one completely submerged beneath his breakfast! We also saw some babies, including a month old cub and a pair of twins about 6 months old. In the wild, twins would not survive as the mother can't look after two so she will just pick the strongest to nurture. Here, they were able to look after both. In the wild, there are barely 1000 pandas left but in capitvity there are now around 3000 in the world, mostly through excellent breeding programmes.
We continued walking around and saw so many pandas in different areas playing and eating and fighting. It was so cool to see them - Elizabeth thinks I've fallen in love with the pandas and want one! We did buy a stuffed one, though!
We also saw a load of red pandas running around. These were great to see as often in zoos they only have one or two and they are in the trees.
They showed a video of the pandas and their breeding habits and watching them give birth was so funny yet amazing to see. I think there is a video on the internet/Youtube so try searching for it and watch - the newborns are so tiny and the mothers don't know they are having a baby and often harm it by playing around with it, not really knowing what it is, especially the first time. This also explains why numbers in the wild are dwindling.
The day was great and made up for yesterday, and a fraction of the price!
Back at the hostel, we went for some lunch and when we returned a representative from the tour company was there to see us about yesterday's fiasco. She listened to our complaints and had some responses but many of them were rubbish. She tried to claim the food was expensive due to increased prices for the national holiday. I told her that was rubbish as we'd been in China for two weeks and it was the most expensive meal we'd had by a long way. Eventually, she gave us a refund for the price of our food and the equivalent costs of the tickets to walk down to the Buddha. It wasn't much compared to the total price of the tour but at least we felt a little vindicated in our complaint.
In the evening, after throwing away some clothes and packing up, we headed to a Tibetan restaurant for dinner. We tried two Tibetan rice dishes, one with beef and one with egg and a dish called vegetable thulka (I think) which was a soup with potatoes and noodles in it. I liked the beef rice best but Elizabeth enjoyed the soup most! Not Sichuan, but something new at least!