Nee Sern is...

really really sleepy

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The lowdown on Sichuan

Chengdu - Jiuzhaigou - Huanglong - Mt Emei - Leshan - Dujiangyan
28 October 2005 - 4 November 2005

Firstly, I apologize for the delay in uploading this report!

Photographs at, click to China-Sichuan.

Day 1

Our trip started with a major hiccup - our flight had been delayed by 8 hours! Originally scheduled for a 8.40pm departure, our flight was delayed to 2.20pm and thus half the day was wasted loitering in KLIA, reading newspaper/books, eating kit-kats and essentially waiting for the time to pass!

Upon arrival in Sichuan (Chengdu International Airport), we were greeted by a big signboard at the Immigration that said "Welcome to China. Please be quiet!" Well, that says a lot about the hospitality!

Bear in mind that the time was now 6.40pm, and we were tired, unrefreshed and hungry. We were whisked off to a nearby restaurant to sample some Chengdu food, and it was quite interesting! There were many servings of "small dishes" in addition to the main dishes of noodles, vegetables in soup, fried vegetables, chicken, duck and others. Oh, by the way, Sichuan food is salty, oily and spicy. If you can't handle any of the above, I suggest you bring some snacks from home!

Day 2

In the morning, we visited a huge public park that was the site of a historic female poet in Sichuan. It's amazing that there are such large parks in China, coupled with the comfortable temperature, and it is a good place to relax in.

Lunch was at a nearby restaurant on the way to the domestic airport, and we boarded a 45-minute flight from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou. Let's just say that I've never before been in a plane where you can literally see the mountains beneath! The view from the window was breathtaking, as you can see in some of the photos. Landing was rough, the plane was tilting from side to side. But we eventually reached Jiuzhai Huanglong Airport. The temperature was a chilly 3 degrees!

We traveled by bus to Huanglong Scenic Spot, where we bought some oxygen tanks to help us in our breathing. The reason? Jiuzhaigou is situated some 3000m above sea level. And Huanglong is some 5000m above sea level! The air was thin, and the roads were winding. We HAD to use the oxygen tanks! The climb up Huanglong was exhausting, but we were rewarded with some of the most amazing views of the natural structures and formations of rock and water.

Descending from Huanglong, it was already nightfall, around 8pm. We traveled by bus (a gruelling 2 hour ride that made many people sick) to our hotel, which had a Tibetan styling for its interior, and "castle/prison" styling for the exterior. We stayed 2 nights in a room where the heater didn't function so well... FREEZING!

Day 3

We went to visit Jiuzhaigou (9 Villages Valley); its name was derived from the valley where 9 Tibetan villages were situated. This spot (along with Huanglong) was named as UNESCO World Heritage some years ago, and its pristine conditions are really a sight to behold.

I can't put into words how amazingly beautiful Jiuzhaigou is. You have to see the photos for yourself! All I can say is that I hope Jiuzhaigou will not make way for development, and that people will truly respect this monument of nature.

I managed to sample some Sichuan satay which was made with mutton. It's thinner than Malaysian satay, and cost 1Yuan per stick. Later on I saw the same satay on sale in Chengdu: 5 sticks for 1Yuan! >:(

We did some shopping at night at nearby shops. Scarves for 18Yuan (RM9), mobile phone keychains for 1Yuan (50sen), and others! There was a cultural show held in a nearby hotel, and we were entertained by well-choreographed dances and songs that depict the Tibetan influences in Jiuzhaigou.

Day 4

It snowed for a brief moment in the morning, but by then we'd already boarded the bus for our journey to the airport, and flight back to Chengdu. On the way we stopped at a crystal jewelry factory, where some of our tour members did some shopping. My mom bought a jade bangle for 600Yuan (RM300). A good deal!

From Chengdu, we proceeded by bus to the foot of Mt. Emei. We stayed in a dodgy hotel, and we spent the night shopping. Other more adventerous tour members proceeded for a special massage session (which resulted in one seriously injured member!)

The shopping was satisfying. Many people bought many things, including dolls, beads, bracelets and bookmarks. The prices were competitive due to the intense competition faced by the traders.

The most amazing thing was that during a sudden and unexpected blackout, the traders instantly setup torchlights and candles in split seconds, drawing in returning customers to complete the transactions! Amazing customer service!

Day 5

We visited 2 Buddhist temples in the vicinity of Mt. Emei - Baoguo Temple and Fuhu Monastery. The architecture, while nowhere near as stunning as those in Bangkok, serves to show the devotion to the Buddhist teachings. The temple grounds were pristine and large, ideal for aspiring monks and nuns to train toward the alleviation of suffering.

The most interesting portion of the locations was the hall of the arahants. We were told that we had to choose an arahant that we felt most connected to, and get an interpretation from the resident nun there.

Mine was a dark looking arahant, and although I couldn't understand the chinese translation of the characters, my cousin later mentioned that my arahant was a close disciple of the Buddha, and would rush to His aid whenever needed! Interesting...

After an afternoon meal that consists purely of beancurd (even the fish was made from beancurd), we boarded a ferry that transported us to see a wonderful man-made monument.

We visited the Giant Leshan Buddha, which was carved into a mountain some 300 years ago. Standing at a respectable 71 meters, it is truly a monument of human devotion and perseverence. My photographs don't do justice to this truly magnificient creation. Just look at the size of the people at the Buddha's foot to have a better perspective of how large it really is.

Later we had a gruelling 2 hour bus ride to the old town of Huanglongxi, where the people still lived simple lives, oblivious to the advancements of their country. There were no cars in that area, toilets were disgusting, shop houses were made of wood (OK maybe some concrete), horses took a dump in the middle of the street, popcorn was still hand made, and dodgy carnival games were setup in the middle of the street. All in all, a well-preserved town that thrives without the need for outside influences. Although, some might comment that consumerism had eroded their own entrepeneurship, and increased their reliance on tourist dollars. Nonetheless, Huanglongxi Old Town is a quirky spot and, I've been told, a famous location to film movies set in the olden eras.

By nightfall, my stomach was ready to explode from all the Sichuan food, and consequently I suffered from Diarrhea pretty much from this day onward.

We went to watch a cultural show that showcased the well-known Sichuan art of "face changing". I took some videos of the performance. You'll have to see it to believe it: the face masks were changed in split seconds! Other performances included a puppet show, tea pouring martial arts, comedy sketch, erhu and dances. A respectable effort from the Chinese indeed. Although I must say that they should probably sign up for better English language classes.

Day 6

I honestly don't remember what happened in the morning, but we visited another "old town" area where we did some shopping! Since the shops accepted VISA here (normally in other areas they don't), we bought some stone carvings and embroidary from a certain shop. In the end, the shopping spree brought around some commotion, as one of our tour members suffered from upset stomach and our tour leader was nowhere to be seen! Quite scary, if you ask me. The shouts and accusations were hurled, and apologies were not accepted!

We had a night walk at one of Chengdu's bridges. Nothing interesting except for a restaurant located atop the bridge. Cute.

Day 7

We proceeded to the Chengdu Panda Research Base to view the cute and loveable giant pandas and red pandas. With the population of the giant panda dwindling to less than 2000 in the world, this base is vital to ensure the continual survival of this creature.

Pandas are lazy by nature, and due to the inefficiency of their digestive system which only absorbs 20% of its food intake, the pandas' lives revolve around eating and sleeping. And the base is the perfect sanctuary for the pandas to do so without external interference.

At night we traveled to Dujiangyan where we stayed for a night. We visited the shopping streets and spent most of our cash buying winter jackets. The prices were downright ridiculous. My dad bought a leather jacket for 300Yuan (RM150!)

Day 8

In the morning, we visited the Dujiangyan water irrigation dam. We were supposed to view it via cable car, but due to the misty weather conditions, we were not able to see anything at all. So we observed the trees around and admired the various colours of their leaves.

Later on we proceeded back to the same "old town" area to have lunch, where I bought a guan yin statue from the same shop for only 200Yuan (RM100). A good deal, and I'll display it soon.

Initially our flight home was scheduled in the afternoon, but was delayed to 10pm. Hence we had the entire day in Chengdu to kill time!

We went to "artistes street" where traders were showcasing their semi-antique items and artwork at a busy intersection of a major highway. No shopping done here, but some interesting photos.

Our last day was spent literally listening to lectures. We visited a silk factory, a pearl factory, medications supplier, and a tea house. All compulsory thanks to the Chinese government. Oh well, I suppose it's all in support of their economy!

Closing Words

Is Sichuan enjoyable? Not really. The food is uninteresting, the place is not foreigner friendly (most don't speak English, VISA and MASTERCARD are not accepted), and the distances to travel are large.

But is it worth the trip? Most definitely if you wish to see the beauty and splendour of Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong. Just have a look at all the photographs and you'll agree with me. You have never seen anything like it before. And I think that it's a photographer's heaven. I saw many tourists (local and foreign alike) carrying tripods, bulky camera equipment, SLRs to Jiuzhaigou to spend the day taking photographs.

A word of advise to end this report. If you do follow a tour, here's what to expect:
- pay for optional cultural shows
- pay for Panda visit
- sucky food (bring maggi, sambal, ikan bilis, biscuits, chocolates!)
- lack of sun - take more multivitamins
- incompatible foods - prepare diarrhea and indigestion medicine
- just enjoy the culture! Chengdu is VERY laidback compared to, say, Shanghai

Jiuzhaigou - 9 Villages Valley. It's a sanctuary untouched by human destruction. It's a refreshing change away from the modernity of human existence. Go there and be inspired by the colours and clean air and beautiful sceneries. Recharge yourself and have faith that there is still hope left in this world we live in...