After our fun adventures in Inner Mongolia, Sanna and I bid farewell to our other friends and headed to the next step on our itinerary: Chengdu. Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan, a province is known for its numbingly spicy food and Giant Pandas!
Chengdu was only to be a pit stop on our way to Jiuzhaigou – but we figured, we might as well look around while we’re here. So, we had one and a half days to explore this city and the surrounding area.
“Kuanzhai” literally means “wide and narrow” in Chinese. These historic streets are lined with traditional teahouses, Sichuan snacks, boutique hotels, and more. Although these are ancient-style streets, the buildings were renovated in recent times. The result is a blend of traditional culture and modern style.
There were a lot of people (tourists) here, but Sanna and I enjoyed trying local snacks and visiting cute boutique stores.
Giant Panda Breeding Research Base
The next day was our only full day in Chengdu, so we had to prioritize. Chengdu is known for being the home of pandas, so we couldn’t leave without a trip to the Giant Panda Research Base!
After reading reviews online, we learned that:
- There are less visitors in the mornings
- Pandas are more active in the mornings
So, we got into the park around 8am. Both of the above were true – there was hardly anyone in the park, so I really got to enjoy the serenity of the lush bamboo forests and catch the cute cuddly wubbly pandas at feeding time!
I have to admit, I wasn’t overly excited to see pandas – maybe because I’m fortunate enough to have seen pandas before, multiple times (at the San Diego Zoo, National Zoo, in Beijing, etc.). Even though pandas are native to Sichuan, it’s not like they inherit superpowers or exhibit special behavior just because they are in their homeland (lols).
The pandas here, just like pandas anywhere, are still lazy, stupidly clumsy, and dastardly adorable.
My AP Computer Science teacher in high school HATED pandas. She thought they were basically evolutionary fails because it seems almost impossible that they would survive as a species on their own. Pandas are carnivores that are too slow and lazy to catch prey, so they rely on an inefficient diet of bamboo, a low-nutrient food that they can barely digest. Their window for mating is something like one day per year. The only evolutionary benefit that pandas seem to have is that they’re cute… which makes us want to save them.
Well, Ms. Wan… love ’em or hate ’em, there’s no denying that the Giant Panda has become an international symbol of conservation, and it’s still pretty cool to visit the hometown of a species that is beloved worldwide!
Leshan Giant Buddha
Next, we headed to the train station to catch a ride to nearby Leshan, the site of the largest carved Buddha statue in the world.
The Giant Buddha is carved into the side of a cliff facing the river. Construction on the Giant Buddha began in the year 713 and took over 90 years to complete. The waters around this area were turbulent, and it was thought that the Buddha would watch over those that made their living by boat. Lo and behold, after the Buddha was built, accidents along the river greatly decreased. Was it the Buddha’s influence? Maybe, but the carved rocks that dropped in the river during construction and altered the currents may also have something to do with it!
I read somewhere that the Giant Buddha is so large that a person can sit on his smallest toenail! Unfortunately, I did not have time to walk down to the feet and test that out for myself, so this view of the Buddha’s ginormous head is all we got. We bought train tickets back to Chengdu in advance, and didn’t want to miss the train (unfortunately, the later tickets were sold out). We didn’t know how long it would take to walk down the cliff and back up, considering that there was already a line of tourists waiting.
Instead, we walked around the nearby area and enjoyed the natural scenery before heading back to Chengdu.