The good and the bad in Chengdu
Chengdu Travel Blog› entry 3 of 5 › view all entries
I won't fool you with flowery words about the good stuff in Chengdu. Here's the real scoop from my perspective. First, the good -- pandas. I had originally planned to go to Chengdu just to taste the local cuisine. Seeing the pandas was only an option if I got bored, but then my sister convinced me I should really go see them. So the first day, I got there, I went to the Chendu Panda Research Base. The famous Wolong site was damaged last year in the Sichuan earthquake, and they are still repairing it so it was not an option. That's fine, the Chendu site is where they do a large part of the breeding research and is quite large and impressive. The base opens at 8:00 in the morning. Make sure to get there before it opens. This place is really popular and gets suffocating with the crowds of tourists. Anyway, I've become a panda fan. I had thought they were slothful creatures who sat around sleeping and eating all day. For the most part this is still true, but this site had about 10 panda cubs (that I could see) in their nursery and they are the most unbelievably cute animals in the world! Imagine a bunch of energetic panda cubs climbing, wrestling each other, and doing all kind of cute antics on a playground. That's what I saw. The base has a bunch of enclosures and playgrounds. There were two playgrounds available in the nursery, and which playground the cubs are in any given day will determine the cuteness of their antics. One playground has less tree branches obstructing views and the grass is well maintained. The other is just the opposite, which is probably more like their natural habitat.
It's funny watching these panda cubs act like little human kids. They also seem to follow the caretaker orders pretty well... except after their feeding. They love their metal milk bowls. They lovingly hug them. Watching them refuse to give it back to the caretakers was one of the funniest thing I've ever seen. Photos will be up when I get back. Also, cubs are the closest thing to looking like a big fluffly stuffed animal toy I've ever seen. You just want to grab one and take him home -- and take him back when he's bigger.
Besides the cubs, they also have full grown pandas and red pandas. The base will also let you hug a cub for 1 minute for $150 USD. Kinda steep. I didn't do it, but there were plenty of chinese and foreign tourists who were standing in line for it. I say if anyone is a panda fan, you should do it. It goes towards the really high cost of raising these guys.
Ok, now for the bad. I stayed at a bargain hotel. Bargain in price, pretty nice in presentation on the inside. However, only one staff member spoke any english and she was only there once on the nightshift. I cannot describe how difficult and how bad a trip to China can be if you cannot communicate or get around or ask for help. China seems to have a really healthy tourism industry for chinese tourists so the pressure to learn English is almost non-existent. Plus, they have a lot of industries so people are not lining up to learn English. If you do not know a local who speaks english, stay at a nice hotel with english speaking staff!
Chengdu, itself is nothing more than a large anonymous city. There's not much cultural things to do inside the city. Most of the cultural activities are in the surrounding areas outside of Chengdu, but many of them were damaged in last year's earthquake. Outside of the Wolong Reserve, I am not sure what the status of the other sites are. Inside the city, there is Jinli street, which a local had commented on the web somewhere that the place was totally built for tourists a few years ago. It's true. It's new and lined with nice shops. It's built to resemble old China, and there are massive, massive lines of chinese tourists waiting to get in. I didn't buy a ticket to go in after seeing the lines. There's also Remin park, which is a pleasant place to have a cup of tea, but the park pales in comparison to the parks in Beijing. I came to Chengdu for spicy food and tea ceramonies. I got to try one hot pot, 1 chicken dish and no tea ceramony. The food was great, but all in all, it was not a successful eating trip. I just didn't get to try much of it, due to the language barrier. Most of my meals were at KFC or McDonalds (yuck).
One comment about the Sichuan food. Everyone claims it's spicy. Hmm... Spicy for most girly people, perhaps. I used to live in Texas, where peppers are a way of life, and I always order "Thai spicy" when I'm in Thailand. It looks killer spicy, but in reality, Sichuan spicy (and I made sure to ask for really spicy) food is more like a small tingle on my tongue. Never needed anymore than one sip of water during the meals. In the grand spicy scheme of things, Thai spicy in Thailand is still the king of the hill.
On the last day of my 3 night stay, I found a massive shopping area that was atleast 6 city blocks long, lined with shops and restaurants. The are was for foot traffic only, no cars or bikes. If you like shopping, you can spend hours in this area. Atleast it's something to do in this city.