20th March: Today was a day we were not looking forward to. We were catching a 25 hour train from Guilin to Chengdu which is the longest transport journey I have ever been on. At this point I’d like to write about the monumental cock up my tour leaders made when purchasing my train tickets. Whilst travelling through China you have submit your passport to confirm your identity, so that you can’t buy all the tickets and sell them on the black market. Unfortunately when they bought all my tickets they got my passport number wrong by putting in an extra digit. In England this may not seem to much of a problem if one digit is wrong as the operators would put 2 and 2 together and realise the mistake that’s been made. Here they take things like this very seriously and would not let you on the train. So what each tour leader in each city is having to do is to buy me a ticket to a different location with my correct passport number on so I can get into the station and then use the original ticket to find my bed. However, this again does not work as each ticket gets stamped and if it’s not stamped there could be trouble. It’s a massive nightmare as each train I catch I am anxious about the fact I might not get on it. So a word of warning me extra vigilant when booking train tickets and if you go on a tour and they get it wrong do what I did and email the head office demanding some money back.
The train journey itself was not so bad, I struggled sleeping next to a Chinese bloke snoring the entire night. The only way we survived was by eating lots, playing a ridiculous amount of card games and sleeping at every opportunity.
By 2pm the next day we were in Chengdu and we met our new adventure leader, Kid. Kid is a local from Chengdu and is 26 years old. He used to be a police officer in Southern China but had some traumatic experiences whilst on the job so quit his job and now lives at home, doing tours and also works with a friend doing web development.
We took the metro to our hostel and checked in, finally having a long awaited shower. After doing a bit of washing we went out for dinner. Being in the Sichuan province of China we had to try the world famous Sichuan hot pot. We had the lowest level of spice out of the 4 tiers and when I dipped my chopsticks into the sauce to try it my head literally exploded. To ease the spice we used sesame oil which neutralises the intense heat. The food we had was probably the best I’ve had since leaving England. I adventurously tried some weird food as something I promised myself before I left would be to try local food whatever it is and wherever it is. The most odd I guess you could call it was cow stomach. I didn’t actually know what it was before eating it as Kid didn’t want to tell me as it might put me off trying it, only 2 of us out of the group had it. It was very gristly and tough, it wasn’t particularly pleasant but I’m glad I at least tried it. Feeling stuffed we had a bit of a chill, all the girls decided to go to bed but the boys felt like a bit of an explore. The only thing that was open was a bowling alley about 20 minutes walk away, it was fun but one of those things you could do anywhere in the world.
The next day we woke up especially early to visit the Chengdu research and breeding centre for Pandas, the largest in the world it hosts around a tenth of the worlds 1800 pandas all of them looking like they had their own unique character. My favourite were the baby pandas who were 1 year old who apparently are quite…boring but we caught them at a perfect time where two of them were play fighting for ages. We spent about 30 minutes in the rain in hysterics laughing at them falling off the climbing frames whilst trying to duff each other up. I completely fell in love with the Pandas and enjoyed our morning there thoroughly.
Kid then took us to one of his famous eating spots, a crumbling building with a small eating area in the back of a kitchen. Apparently all people from Chengdu don’t like eating in fancy restaurants and prefer the rough and ready eateries throughout the city. We had the most amazing noodles and vegetable dumplings that we absolutely demolished. The food is Chengdu is incredibly cheap with our meal costing us £1.40. Another things about Chengdu that Kid mentioned was that it is famous for 3 things. 1 the spicy food, 2 it has the most beautiful women in China and 3 it is the most relaxed city ever. On sunny days in the summer employers will allow their workers to leave work and enjoy a nice time in the sun with any reprocusions.
We walked about 10 minutes to Wen Shu monastery. One of the most famous Buddhist monastery’s in China. Kid gave us an amazing tour explaining in great detail about how he worships, what certain things mean throughout the temple and the history of Buddhism and the influence it has had on China. At that point he told us a heartbreaking story about his time in the police force when something tragic happened. Before he had not been religious but the tragedy converted him to Buddhism after dreaming about a Buddha finding and guiding him towards making the decision to practise it in one of his dreams. With a lump in our throat we went back to the hostel to get ready for a night out.
We went to a club called Jellyfish, we had free vodka and drinks all night. Although the club was a bit weird, we were the only people in it, all the other people were Chinese and western promoters off their face on some crazy Chinese drug, it was a good laugh but not a night out to remember forever.
The morning after everyone felt hanging and we caught a bus to Jinli Street. A street dedicated to Tibetan influences in Chengdu, which is the closest big city to the Tibetan border. Other streets in the area had been recently restored to looking like how Chengdu looked in ancient times. The architecture and black roofed buildings were really beautiful and the atmosphere was festive and upbeat! After a look around and me accidentally knocking over a parked motorbike we headed back to the hostel to catch our train from Chengdu to Xi’an.
Note: apologies for the limited about of pictures. Wi fi in China is rubbish.