12.07.2015 - 16.07.2015
We didn't have the best sleep on the overnight train, this one was full of noisy people and clunky so I woke up lots, oddly I had a few nightmares in the on/off sleep I had too which didn't help. We got to Xi'an at 8.30am and lugged all our stuff off the train and what felt like miles til we found our bus. It then only took us five minutes to get to our hotel. The hotel seems very nice, much better than the last one anyhow.
We had time for a quick breakfast in the hotel - it was delicious, not really breakfast stuff - noodles, rice, stir fried veg, braised gluten (a veggie thing that sounds lousy but tastes yummy), and bacon and sausages for the meat eaters. We then just had time for a very quick shower and met in reception to head out for our days activity - we were off to cycle the city walls of Xi'an. The city walls are the only fully intact city walls in China.
The bikes we hired were a bit crappy with no gears but most of it was flat so we didn't really need them, the last bike ride I did was the Bolivian death road - this one was a lot more gentle - ha ha! The walls were in very good condition with 98 ramparts and dozens of watch towers. The ride was about 16km long and took us two hours, although we did stop at one place to have a drink of tea, I chose lapsing souchong which smelt lovely and fruity but didn't taste as good as it smelled. The weather was very hot and I think the bike ride was the best thing for us to do because the cycling created a breeze which cooled us down. It looks like the walls are actually the prettiest part of the city, the outer city is all big ugly buildings and apartment blocks, inside we could see a few temples,especially one with a golden roof but the rest all looked very run down and dull.
After we had finished our ride we jumped on a bus to take us to the Muslim quarter - xi'an was the start of the Silk Road in ancient times, which was where trade from China to the Middle East and the Mediterranean started and ended, apparently lots of traders from Persia settled here hence it being the Muslim quarter. Our first stop was at a restaurant for lunch where we had a Chinese buffet style meal as usual, I had a spicy tofu dish and it was delicious but much too much for me so I plonked it on the table for the rest to share - it's funny how long it takes all the carnivores to try tofu but all the ones who did enjoyed it. After lunch we headed for a look round some of the markets, I bought a very pretty wall hanging - it's only tiny but I've still no idea where I'm going to put it and then back to the hotel and had a shower and a rest, we were supposed to be meeting at 6pm but I decided to give it a miss, I was still stuffed from breakfast and lunch so just hung about the hotel for the evening - typically when the others got back from dinner they told me that it was virtually all vegetarian - ha ha! I was still glad I didn't go out, it was nice to have an early night.
Today we're off to see the Terracotta warriors - hooraaaaah ! We were up early and headed to breakfast in the hotel, it was good again - loads of veggie stuff but not much braised gluten today, think I'd polished off most of it yesterday. The bus came to pick us up and we were introduced to our local guide "Auntie", she was about twelve and not a very good tour guide, We got dropped off at the bus park and all headed through the entrance gates, we were all pretty eager to get in. Our first stop was pit one, which is the one which is the most photographed, it was rammed with tourists but still very impressive - the figures are great, just how they look on TV but we couldn't get too close to them.
The figures were discovered in 1974 And the place opened in the 1980s. Apparently, some farmers were the ones to make the discovery, it's not known if they were given a reward for the find though. There are three pits open to the public, in total with 8000 figures, although they do know that there are other sites which haven't yet been excavated. Each figure is unique, apparently, the figures were made in sections, arms legs and torsos were made in molds and stuck together and then the heads were added - each face and hair style is unique. There are different figures showing the different ranks of the army from archers to top ranking generals and all their outfits are different dependent on this - they are so detailed that the higher ranking officers are more portly to show they are better off!!! There are also statues of horses there too. Most of the army was carrying weapons but apparently most of the weapons were looted in years gone by so there are only a few items which remain to be viewed. Once the army was completed back in around 200BC (why am I always sceptical about things being quite so old?!) It was then covered with soil and rafters to "house" them. There were two other pits that were in stages of being excavated, and we could see some of the workers doing their stuff, each pit was huge. The warriors are generally in bits when the pits are opened and it's like a giant jigsaw puzzle putting them all back together. We had a bit of a whistle stop tour and we only had half an hour in each pit, but really that was enough because he heat was stifling and there were thousands of Chinese people elbowing us out of the way it was amazing all the same. I would have liked so much to have been in their in my own and be able to get up close to the statues, I imagine it's all a bit spooky.
We'd asked for some spare time so that we could all go back to out one to have a group photo in front of the warriors, they were taking professional photographs and were told we'd have to buy three pictures - equivalent of £60 - which we were fine with, it worked out at a fiver each. we asked if we could also have a copy to an sd card so we could share it electronically, we actually wanted that rather than the hard copy photos and the woman said yes that was fine, we had our photos taken and handed a sd card and the woman said no it was no longer possible - when we asked why she'd told us she would earlier she laughed at us and pretended that she didn't understand us - the cheeky cow! We all tried arguing with her and she said she was a worker not the boss so I told her to get the boss, she ignored me! We ended up having to walk away with just a couple of hard copy photos - she will be getting a mention in my trip advisor review!! Other than that little episode it had been a lovely morning!!
Back on bus we were taken to a local house for lunch, there were the most divine mushrooms - in kind of a spicy batter, they were soooooo yummy, I asked if we could have seconds, there were also pickled potatoes, broccoli with garlic, the desert was roast potatoes with syrup on - it sounds yucky but it was delicious, as the syrup got colder it started to set - hmmmm!
We got back to the hotel and some of us headed straight back out with Jakkie, we got bus to visit a "fake fake real" shop - it was supposedly one of the best places to buy the best fake handbags - they were about £90 each and I didn't think that they were even that good - although I can't proclaim to know much about real fake handbags. The woman selling them kept telling me "real ox leather" as if that was going to persuade me to buy one! After that we headed to the muslim quarter again for a walk round. We had a double whammy of hagan daaz ice cream which was lovely and then went for a wander round the market. We spotted a fish spa place so me Elin and Mereidh had our feet nibbled for twenty minutes, I'm sure that they enjoyed nibbling on my feet which are still not too lovely from the inca trail. We met up with the others a when they arrived into town and had a wander through the food markets, there wasn't as much dead creepy crawly stuff as in the food market in Beijing, there was lots of meat but at least most of it was already dead and not skewered alive waiting to be dipped in boiling oil! I'd spied some fried potatoes so opted for them - wow they were good! They were like baby potatoes cooked in oil with garlic, chilli and cumin - delish! I also had some plum juice which was lovely too. We walked home eating our goodies, we must have accidentally taken a short cut because we were back at the hotel before we knew it so we wandered around the park outside watching people dancing, doing tai chi and kids roller skating for half an hour before heading inside and to bed.
We were up super early this morning for a 5.30 pick up to take us to the airport, today we're flying from Xi'an to Chengdu. The bus driver ended up being twenty minutes late because someone had blocked his bus in the car park. We got to the airport and checked in, poor Jackie and Nemo got stopped and had their bags searched as if we weren't late enough, I tried getting an egg and cheese subway breakfast sandwich but when I tried ordering the woman just abruptly said "NO!" several times which I eventually took to mean they didn't have any, we realised then that the final call for our plane was being made - oops! I was pretty lucky I got a window seat at the emergency exit so got extra legroom too, I didn't have much time to appreciated much though, I was asleep before we took off.
We touched down and picked up our bags up pretty easily and we were at our hotel for 10.30, there was only one room ready at that time so we all dumped our stuff in there and went out for our orientation tour and to get some breakfast, we had black sugar pancakes from a street food stall, which were lovely, kind of like a naan bread with melted sugar (so like warm treacle) inside and a piece of fruit that I bought from a shop next door, I'm not actually sure if it was apple or pear but it was very tasty.
Our orientation tour took us through a lovely little old quarter called in English "Wide and Narrow alley". with lots of nice shops and cafés, we were all a bit weary from our early morning start so ended up spending half an hour In Starbucks having a caffeine fix to wake us all up. It was chucking it down by now so we squelched back to the hotel where our rooms were ready and we had an hour and half chill time, I spent my chill time having forty winks. Me and Elin ended up keeping the room where we'd all dumped our bags, on closer inspection it was a bit of a dump, very grotty and not well looked after, the bathroom was another glass cubicle with a dirty blind for privacy, there was no bathroom door just a thin curtain - Chinese people just don't seem to care about privacy!!
Some of our group had decided to stay at the hotel all afternoon but this place looks lovely so I was heading out to explore with Jakkie and some of the others. We got on a bus and went four stops to another old quarter called Jinli Street (the bus journey cost 20p - bargain!!), it was a nice walk and a lovely old place to explore with more cute shops and loads of street food stalls, I was a bit peckish so bought a pineapple thing - it was the bottom half of a pineapple which had been cooked and mixed with like a rice pudding mixture and honey, it was lovely but a bit messy to eat - in fact whenever I eat anything in China I always feel like I need a good wash afterwards, everything seems to be very messy to eat!
We got the bus back to the hotel. For dinner (today feels like a day of food!!) we're off to a hot pot place where there isn't really a veggie option - I've been told I can have rice!!! So I get on trip advisor to see if there's a veggie restaurant nearby - there is actually one on the same street as our hotel so before I start getting ready I go to do a quick reccie, I find the restaurant and a lady shows me inside where I ask to see the menu and get taken to the toilet - ha ha! When I finally get my hands on a menu, it's not really a veggie restaurant at all, there might have been the odd veggie thing on the huge catalogue of a menu but just in case they cook the tofu with meat or fish I decide to give it a miss and sullenly head back to the others - the hunt for a veggie restaurant fails again!! I ended up going to the hot pot place with others - the hot pot is a big pot full of a kind of broth where they throw veggies and meat in to make a kind of a soup - personally I didn't think it looked appetising at all (not cos of the meat thing). This was the only thing this particular place sold so Jakkie took me to another place next door where she ordered me a tofu and mushroom dish which they packed up for me to take and eat at the hot pot place - I did apologise to Jakkie for being a pain in the bum but she said it was fine and not to worry about it and I wasn't as bad as some other people she'd had on her tours - bless her!!
For the rest of the evening five of us had decided we'd like to go to a Chinese opera which was in a park just behind our hotel, it turns out the opera was only a little part of the show, as well as the singing which only lasted ten mins, there was also a comedy act, musicians, stick puppets, shadow puppets, and an act where they changed costumes and masks super quickly - no idea how they did it - and fire breathing, it was a really good show - we didn't really understand the opera or the comedy bit (it was obviously in Chinese) but the costumes were beautiful. While we were watching the show we were given jasmine tea, which was topped up whenever we wanted by a man carrying a kettle with a spout that must have been two foot long. We were also fed these sweet dumpling things in water - it was like eating something with the consistency of a huge globule of hot bubble gum - they were vile ha ha!! Also while the show was going on, just by me were some people offering massage and ear cleaning services - that was nearly as interesting to watch as the show, although some of the massage techniques looked more painful than anything else!!
We headed back to the hotel, It's been a long, tiring but really fun day!
Today we were up bright and breezyish because we're leaving Chengdu to head to our next port of call today. It's a shame we're leaving Chengdu so soon because it's lovely here (apart from the scabby hotel room.) We were up, checked out and in breakfast at 7am, breakfast was ok - all stir fried spicy veggies which was tasty and hot orange juice which I passed on - all for the equivalent of £1.
Before we actually leave Chengdu, we're calling at a panda sanctuary which most people are super excited about. I'm looking forward to it but I have mixed feelings about pandas - firstly, considering they've supposedly been on the earth for 8 million years they're lazy so not helping their own cause for survival - all they do us eat and sleep, they've also evolved from being meat eaters to being vegetarian (ok I'm with them in that one) but they only eat bamboo which isn't the most nutritional plant being about 60% fibre which is why they have to keep eating to get any energy. Apparently they can eat up to 45kg of bamboo a day - that's about twice the weight of my luggage that I'm lugging around the world with me - every day!!! They eat for 14 hours a day and sleep for the remaining ten. My main beef isn't really with the pandas themselves but with Chinese people, they love their pandas so much and are going to all sorts of lengths to protect them from becoming extinct but they're happy for other extremely rare animals in the world to be murdered for their stupid Chinese medicine - as if rhino horn can cure impotence but rhino horn is worth more than gold because these stupid ignorant people believe the keratin in it (same stuff as our finger nails) can do this so they have my favourite animals slaughtered - muppets!!
Anyway, it was a nice, well organised place and the giant pandas are cute really. The first bunch of pandas we saw were sub adults (teenage pandas) all stuffing their faces and posing for photos, we all took lots. As we walked there were also enclosures for red pandas which are really more like raccoons whereas the black and white giant ones are from the bear family - the name "panda" actually means bamboo eater. I personally prefer red pandas to giant pandas, they're gorgeous little ginger creatures which have a bit more character about them, they're a lot more lively and look very mischievous.
We strolled around and came to the panda nursery where we saw an eleven day old baby in an incubator, it was tiny and looked a bit like a rat. Because they're so precious they're whisked away from their mums almost as soon as they're born, panda mums aren't very maternal and generally don't know how to look after their babies and with the newborns being so tiny they can easily get injured or squashed so they're mainly kept in incubators other than when they're given to mum several times a day to feed.
The next section was panda kindergarten where pandas up to a year old were playing, they have eleven one year olds and these were really cute playing with each other, one was playing with a box and kept falling out just like a toddler would.
After that we went to see a short film about how the centre was trying to help with the panda breeding programme. Apparently, The lady pandas are only fertile for about 2 or 3 days a year and sometimes they can be very grouchy at that time so the male pandas have no chance so IVF is a much better option! It seems to be working as they had eleven baby pandas born last year and they've already had their first one born this year - that one was unexpected because it was a couple of months earlier than baby pandas as are usually born.
There was a gift shop with anything and everything that you could think of panda style - most of it so tacky and expensive that I passed on it all. Next we headed to get some lunch at a little cafe, I had peanut butter on toast and a delicious cup of coffee. Afterwards we headed back to the panda enclosures but they'd all been taken inside cos it was starting to get very warm so we headed to Swan Lake and the rose gardens which were lovely - Swan Lake is named because there are black swans living on it - they were gorgeous and had kind of ruffley bum feathers, in the lake there were also enormous koi carp - honestly not far off the size of the swans!!
We all congregated at the entrance at the time we were meant to meet and headed back to the bus. It feels like we've had a packed day already but we're still only half way through and have even more excitement to fill the rest of the day.
Our next port of call was a couple of hours later at an actual mini port at Leishan where we hopped on a boat for a twenty minute boat ride to see the tallest standing Buddha on the world (everywhere wants to have the biggest - I've already seen the biggest laying Buddha in Thailand and the biggest seated Buddha in Hong Kong (I think it was there!)). It was pretty impressive at something like 72m tall, it was carved into a rock face at the meeting point of three rivers and was quite a nice little boat ride. Then we were back on our bus to the place we're going to be staying for the next two nights - Boudain monastery..... Yup we're sleeping in a monastery for two nights, I'm not sure if I'm excited or a bit weirded out by it.
The monastery is absolutely beautiful, it's huge and has loads of parts to it from temples to shrines and beautiful courtyards, when we get there it's still open for the public to walk round which is weird especially as lots of them seem more interested in us walking through with our suitcases than in the monastery. We dropped our stuff off at our room - here we're in a bit of a dormitory and I'm sharing with Elin, Mary and Mereidh and there are a couple of extra beds for us to dump our stuff in. The rooms aren't the most modern of rooms but hey oh we're in a monastery, the monks have better stuff to do than decorate so this is totally acceptable to us unlike some of the hotels we've been in!! The setting is beautiful loads of greenery and temples and Buddha statues everywhere and the odd monk wandering by every so often, it's very peaceful.
Jakkie introduced us to a guy called Patrick who is a local guy and who'll be helping look after us while we're here, first things first he takes away our laundry - although to be honest some of our stuff almost walks off on its own! Then Patrick and Jakkie give us a bit of a guided tour of the monastery to show us the showers and loos, the loos are all squat ones and the showers are just open cubicles! Nothing luxurious here! It turns out that there are a couple of hundred nuns staying here with us too so Patrick suggests we get in the showers quick before all the hot water goes. Just for a bit of shower privacy we create our own shower curtains with bamboo poles, towels and a hair clip - ingenious!! They're actually really good powerful showers.
We then walked down into town to head to dinner at Patricks place - it turns out he has a hotel, a restaurant, arranges our transport, does our laundry and is a general man who can! For dinner it's the usual buffet style selection, I have rice, veggies, the most delicious chilli sauce (made of soy sauce, chilli oil, garlic and chilli.), Chinese chips which are a bit herby and garlicky and a beer.
Afterwards we have a bit of a walk round the market round which is full of rubbish and then walked back to the monastery, the town is quite a pretty town with loads of statues and rock carvings and waterfalls - although it turns out that all these are very recently man made tourist attractions, although it still looks very pretty. We're back at the monastery and tucked up in bed for 9.30.
We'd set our alarms for 5.45am this morning, apparently, the monks are up chanting at 6am and it was nice to watch - we'd been given duff information, they actually started at 5.00 and we needn't have set our alarms because the noise of people milling about woke us up before then anyhow. We got up and popped to the temple to have a look, there were lots of Monks and nuns praying and chanting to a big gold Buddha sat on a pretty white elephant, it was impressive but I did feel like I was intruding a bit so only stayed for ten minutes then headed back to bed for an hour or so.
When we got up properly, we went to Patricks restaurant where I had pancakes with honey - they were nice but not as good as my mums pancakes and I really prefer pancakes to be served savoury with oodles of onion gravy than served sweet.
Our activity today is a hike in Mount Emei, which is a mountain dotted with temples which was going to take the best part of the day. We had the option to do a short version or a longer hike, I decided I wanted to do the longer one, we've done a fair bit of walking when we've been sight seeing but I've done all that in my flip flops so it's not been anything strenuous! A bus picked us up to take us to the start of the hike - the bus was driven by a mad man, how we, or anyone else on the road, survived the twenty minute journey I've no idea.
We got dropped off and set off on our walk, we were walking on a path which had loads and loads of steps so it wasn't super challenging but some of the step climbs were killers on my old calves and it did remind me of a combination of the Great Wall and the inca trail! The total walk was supposedly 20km or so. The scenery was beautiful and we passed tiny villages with stalls selling fruit, street food and trinkets and also Chinese medicine, which seemed to be loads of different types of mushrooms and roots, all along the way.
There was a place which I'd been looking forward to which is where monkeys hang out, it was actually very disappointing, the monkeys were lured there by people selling monkey food and there were loads of people there to take photos of us - at a price obviously! Chinese people aren't very respectful of wildlife and it was all a bit chaotic and noisy and not a very nice place. There were some very cute monkeys though, including a family of four which reminded me of a monkey version of our family - ha ha!
We got to the half way point where we could stop it we only wanted to do the shorter walk where a few left to head back. We carried on, not long after we came across a river and waterfall which looked ever so inviting so we stopped, some of the group took a full dip, it was blummin freezing so I just had a paddle but it was very refreshing. The last half of the hike was very up and down and mainly steps, the up steps weren't actually that bad other than a bit of thigh and calf burn but the downward steps were an absolute killer on my knees. It was good though and I thoroughly enjoyed it and as an added bonus we saw a snake, not a huge one but possibly adder sized. After we'd been walking about 6 and half hours we got back to town, we're not sure exactly how far we walked because a few different pedometers told very different readings but we think it was perhaps 15 / 16 km.
Back in town there had been a power cut but Patrick said he could still arrange food for us. Our plan tonight was to go to a hot springs so we ordered our food and went to get our swimming stuff while it was ready. My tea was mushrooms, spring onion and garlic with rice and a beer all for £3!! Afterwards Patrick herded us all to the Hot Springs, we were on foot and he was on his scooter - that was very funny to see! The springs themselves were very poor - the entrance and changing facilities were very grand but the pools were varying shades of dirtyness, there was one I stuck my foot in before I realised the green colour wasn't paint it was algae on the bottom - yuk! The slides, wave pool and some of the nice sounding pools were closed even though there were signs saying they were open June to September (we are in July aren't we?!?). This should have cost us about £25 but Patrick had arranged for it to cost us £16 each which was still more than it was worth but we still all had a good laugh together - although it was mainly about the state of the place - I not so jokingly said I'd kayaked and rafted in cleaner rivers!!
Me and Mary sauntered back to the monastery to find Elin, Mereidh and Rachel were having a mini party in our room so joined in until it was time for us all to go to bed.