HOLIDAY IN SICHUAN, CHINA

I wrote this post some time ago and but didn’t get to complete it until today!

I went on a 10-day tour of Sichuan, China covering places like Jiuzhaigou (九寨沟), Huanglong (黄龙), Mt. Emei (峨眉山), Yibin (宜宾), Leshan (乐山) and Chengdu (成都) last September.  The highlight was a day spent in Jiuzhaigou, a nature reserve and national park famous for its multilevel waterfalls and colourful lakes.  It has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992.

(Map taken from a website but can’t remember which one now)

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Ruins from the May 2018 Wenchuan earthquake (汶川大地震) can still be seen along the way from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou

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JIUZHAIGOU

Mirror Lake (镜海), at altitude 2,390m.  Known for its crystal-clear water that gives a beautiful mirror-image.

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Pearl Shoal Waterfall (珍珠滩瀑布)

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This waterfall is located at 2,433m above sea level, and has a height of 21m and a width of 270m

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Five-colour Lake (五花海), also known as Peacock Lake, at altitude 2,472m.  Known as a wonder in Jiuzhaigou (九寨一绝)

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Colourful Pool (五彩池) – look at the long stretch of visitors!

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Colourful Pool is located at 2,995m above sea level

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Jiuzhaigou Tibetan/Qiang Minority Performance (九寨沟藏羌歌舞晚会).  Very huge stage, and colourful costumes typical of the Tibetans and Qiang people.

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If I have to give a short summary on this tour, I would describe it as “An interesting yet very tiring experience”.

I had been on holidays in China a few times but this was my first time touring China on a packaged tour.  My uncle and aunty were travelling with me (so they took care of me).  I always prefer a free-and-easy holiday as that gives me the freedom to decide what to do, see and eat.  It also allows me the luxury of spending as much time as I wish in places that I like, such as spending days just visiting museums while in UK/Europe.

On the other hand, I must agree that a packaged tour has its merits.  It can save me a lot of time researching online and reading up information in order to plan my itinerary, as well as to make the necessary bookings.  I get to visit many more places (but under tight schedules) and learn more about their local history, cultures and traditions from the Chinese tour guide.  Cost wise, undoubtedly, it is lower too.

Guest-Welcoming Pond (迎宾池) at Huanglong, at 3,230m above sea level.  Huanglong is a scenic spot known for its colourful pools formed by calcite deposits (photo below).  It covers a large area of 1,830 square km and an altitude ranging between 1,700m and 5,588m.

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Marvellous Flying Waterfall (流辉飞瀑) at 3,245m above sea level.  What a marvellous name but a small waterfall.  Only managed to cover these two spots within Huanglong due to the rain and also time limitation.  After taking us to tea and gemstone shops the whole morning, we were given only 2 hours in this large area! Visitors can actually reach the top by cable car but we were not given this option at all.  What a pity! I think it would be great to take a cable car up and then leisurely enjoy the scenic spots along the way as we descend by foot.

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In this Sichuan trip, we had a large group of 46 people (in two buses) and many of them were senior citizens of 60 years old and above.  They are nice and friendly people, and very punctual too.  Punctuality is important on a group tour!  One 77-year-old granny was actually making her maiden overseas trip in her life!  Kudos to this old granny because the journey was not an easy one.  Beside long time spent on the bus on most days, some of the roads were winding and there was also a lot of walking involved, including climbing of steps etc. I found it particularly heart-warming and to some extent, I was envious that many of these tour members were actually groups of relatives or friends travelling together, and not for the first time.  This was my first time travelling with my uncle and aunty and the only family trip I have ever had in my life was a cruise trip in 2010. It is also good to see that after working hard all their lives to raise their families, these uncles and aunties can now enjoy some travels with their partners and loved ones.  They are still physically fit, and some with buying power too!  In Singapore, we still have many old people who have to struggle hard to earn a living and cope with the ever rising cost of living.

Took time to appreciate the nature while others were busy shopping for honey products.  Said to be a bee farm but not a single bee was spotted! 😀

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Many sparrows though!

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An old lady trying to sell fresh walnuts when our coach stopped at the expressway waiting for the gate of the tunnel to open at 2pm (Chinese government’s way of controlling traffic flow).  Tough and dangerous job for her!

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This seller even provided a very good service to crack the walnuts for his customers.  Competition!

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This building in the shape of a bamboo shoot is the Chinese Bamboo Art City in Qingshen (青神中国竹艺城).  Arrived there at about 530pm and had to rush through the guided tour at the centre without time to appreciate the beautiful bamboo artworks by the master.

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At the foot of Mt Emei (峨眉山).  Mt Emei is 3,099m high and it is another UNESCO World Heritage site. This was one challenging journey for the old folks.  It took us an hour to get here from the hotel.  We were then transferred to an old and dirty van, ascend through the narrow and winding path up to mid mountain.

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Then, about 40 mins of climbing up these steep and narrow steps to reach the cable car station for the last leg of our journey to reach the Golden Peak.  See how crowded it was.  The poor weather did not seem to dampen the spirit of these visitors.

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The “reward” at the summit of Mt Emei – the giant 10-face Buddha statue but…..

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…luck was not on our side due to the drizzles and the peak was shrouded by thick fog!  There was no chance to even catch a glimpse of the scenery surrounding Mt Emei.

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According to our tour guide, we have travelled some 3,000km across Sichuan, starting from and ending in Chengdu.  Beside much time spent travelling on the bus, we also had to change hotel frequently – 6 hotels in 9 nights.  This was my first time going on such a long holiday without DS.  So the unpacking and packing in every hotel, all by myself was stressful.  There were days that all our luggage had to be ready outside the hotel rooms by as early as 645am, to be picked up by the potters.  I actually left some stuffs (like toiletries, cable plug) behind in two occasions.  Fortunately, there was always an inspection of all guest rooms by the hotel staff before the group left.  This was to make sure that we did not leave anything behind and of course, did not take away anything that belongs to the hotel!  Having an experienced, organised and helpful tour leader made a difference.  My tour leader was a middle-aged man who has led tour groups to Jiuzhaigou for over 30 times.

Southern Sichuan Bamboo Forest Walk (蜀南竹海的翡翠长廊)

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Bamboo rafting on Haizhonghai Lake (海中海竹筏).  My first rafting experience!

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Yibin (宜宾), located at the junction of Min (岷江) and Yangzi (扬子江) rivers

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View from Landmark Square (地标广场), where the Yangzi River is formed at Yibin by the confluence of Min River (岷江) and Jinsha River (金沙江).  Yangzi River is the longest river in Asia, and the third longest in the world

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This design in the shape of a dragon shows the cities along the Yangzi River, their history, geographical locations and distance from Yibin.  Yibin is the first city of the Yangzi River

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Leshan Giant Buddha (乐山大佛), the world’s largest stone-carved buddha statue that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996, the same year as Mt Emei.

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Sichuan opera and face-changing show (变脸) at Jinjiang Theatre(锦江剧院), Chengdu

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Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (成都大熊猫繁育研究基地)

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Little baby pandas

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I can’t comment much about the food during the trip since I was on a different menu from the group.  My uncle and aunty are full-time vegetarians, so I decided to join them in their vegetarian meals except for the first and the last meals.  We had lots of vegetables, tofu, and eggs.  I don’t think I have ever eaten this much of vegetables in a duration of 10 days!  But that seemed like a good option. I actually lost close to two kilos by the time I returned.  😀  Here are a few dishes that I have eaten for the first time.

This black-fungus-look-alike food is bamboo flowers.  A very simple stir-fried dish but I liked it.

Bamboo Flower

These are bamboo eggs (竹蛋)!  Soft and look like straw mushrooms.

Bamboo Eggs

Our last meal in the tour – Ma-la steamboat (麻辣火锅) at Huang Cheng Lao Ma (皇城老妈) which is said to be a high-end ma-la steamboat restaurant in Chengdu.  This is a non-vegetarian meal.  I didn’t eat much because the soup was way too spicy and oily.  I wonder how Sichuan people could appreciate such oily soup!

Mala Steamboat

Toilet facility and its hygiene standard was my toughest “challenge” in the entire trip.  From my very first trip to China (Shenzhen in 1996), to the subsequent ones (Shanghai in 2005, Beijing in 2006, Shanghai & Zhang Jia Jie in 2010 and Xiamen in 2011), this has always been an issue for me.  Close to two decades have passed but some of their toilet facilities (especially those outside the cities) are still far from good.  The toilets are without doors, and in the form of a drain without flushing system (based on description from my fellow tour members) and mind you, they are even chargeable at RMB1 per entry in some places! Most of the toilets are still the squating type.  I had to give most of the toilet stops (except a couple along the expressways) a miss.  In order to be able to hold my bladder for the whole day, I had to avoid drinking water during the days.  That was really bad!  And to make up for it, I always gulped in the two bottles of water supplied by the hotel in the short few of hours before bedtime!  Perhaps due to insufficient water intake, and also the lack of good sleep, I actually fell sick after I got home.  😦

One thing that I did not enjoy about the trip was the shopping stops which I found a waste of time.  We were brought to tea house, bee farm, bamboo art and bamboo product centres, medical hall, silk shop, gemstone, jade and pearl shops.  That many!  Worse still, time spent on some of these shops were quite long.  I wished they had given us more time on the tourist attractions instead.  Sales staff in those shops were pushy too, so one needs to be very firm in order not to fall into their sweet, persuasive sales pitch.

At the start of the tour, we were asked by the Chinese tour guide to buy two boxes of these (红景天) drinks each, and it costs RMB100 (about S$20) per box.  We were told to consume two bottles each time, 3 times a day to prevent altitude sickness.  My uncle, aunty and I have experience travelling to high altitude, so we decided to just make do with four boxes for the 3 of us.  But I wonder if we actually needed these!

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So, these are some of the memories of my first packaged tour in China.

I always think that China is a great holiday destination.  The country is huge and there are so much to explore be it scenery (nature), history, arts and culture, or even shopping.  However, I am not looking at another holiday there in the near future.  For now, I would still prefer to save up my money for holidays in Europe and other developed countries in Asia Pacific.  Hopefully the next time I go to China, I will get to see some positive transformations like good toilet facilities and standards and more cultured social behaviours like less spitting around, proper queuing etc.

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