Ni hao again from China!
Aside from seeing my dad, Sichuan is the 2nd most exciting thing for me in China. Everything I read said that this district had the best food, lots to see and, of course, PANDAS. It did not disappoint. From the Zhangye area, it was another long train ride filled with cute kids and interesting views.
I stayed at yet another fantastic hostel – it seems to be a burgeoning business in China and Lazybones was no exception and was my favorite of the country. They had custom t-shirts for sale that gave me a sense of what to expect in the city – “I ate rabbit head today.” I’m all for trying new things, but NOPE. The hostel is where I learned about Sichuan’s Face Changing opera, and of course, had to go see.
As far as the pandas go, I had mixed feelings. I really wanted to see pandas, but I try to take ethical animal tourism seriously and wasn’t sure what to expect. Given that the most famous caves of China are filled with colored neon lights (when the worst thing for cave preservation is light), I wasn’t feeling the most reassured. Additionally, I wanted to participate in a “volunteer” program where help care for the pandas, but it was booked and surprisingly expensive (we have different definitions of volunteer – to me it means free, to them it means > $150).
What I did like, though, was that when we contacted the center from the hostel, I was told that they wouldn’t even look to see if there was a space for me until I provided a health certificate. Apparently about a year ago, a panda got sick and died in one of the centers with the care-taker programs and since, all programs have either been shut down or extremely tightened up. So instead, I booked the half day trip with the hostel. This turned out to be a way better decision than going alone because the hostel guide took us the opposite way of the crowd when we got in, meaning we got some quality alone time with the animals. Though the crowds caught up when it came time to see the cubs – they were the clear attraction.
The Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Base, as it turns out, is a top tier facility. I highly recommend anyone visit. They even have a handful of cubs, which seems like keeps their hands full. Keepers entered the cub area to do some filming (this amount of cubs is a first and needs documenting) and the cubs barreled around, tried to play on the keepers’ legs and fought for top spots on the trees.
I could spend all day looking at these fluffs, so here are the pictures you came for. Bonus, the red panda snuck right up behind me for a closeup.
While I wasn’t adventurous enough to try the local delicacy of rabbit head, Sichuan’s reputation for great food preceded itself. And is well earned. Everything in that province was incredible and had just a bit more kick than the rest of the country. When eating on the street and ordering by pictures, it’s hard to say what anything was, but we can all agree it was delicious.
The last stop on the road back to Beijing was to Xi’an. Xi’an is home to the Terra Cotta Army, heralded as one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century. It also came highly recommended by a friend. I didn’t have a ton of time, but figured since it was “on the way,” I shouldn’t miss it. I made a very ambitious 24 hour itinerary that included an overnight train from Chengdu to Xi’an, a bus ride to the army, visit to the museum, bus ride to the other train station, and catching a train from Xi’an back to Beijing.
It went about 5% to plan and made for a day of pure misery. It turns out there’s a third train station in the city, which is where my train arrived, meaning that I didn’t get to the museum until almost noon (instead of 9:15, which gave me plenty of time to explore before needing to leave by 12:30). On top of that, the shuttle that went back to the station for my afternoon train wouldn’t let me ride because my train ticket wasn’t yet printed (though I had asked ahead of time for it to be printed and been told no). I had a decision to make – get straight back on a bus to the station and miss the museum, and still possibly miss my train. Or go to the museum and find another train. Given the amount of effort it took to get there, I scrapped the train and went to see the army.
In short, I hated it. Which I was surprised by. TripAdvisor had nothing but glowing reviews and I now have never trusted the site less. The army was, of course, massive and incredible to see up close. But there were so many people there that it’s hard to get any time to look at much. And hardly anything is in English. In the actual museum on the site, I gave up trying to look at exhibits after three near misses of selfie-sticks to the face and countless times being physically shoved around. “F*ck this, I’ll Google it,” I thought after the last shove, and got out of there.
And just like that, my time in Xi’an wrapped and I headed back to Beijing to meet up with some friends and get ready to head to Mongolia.
Preparing for a trip to China? Don’t miss the 10 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting China, with tips and video.