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5 Favorites in and around Chengdu

December 12, 2009

For Golden Week in China, also known as Mid-Autumn Festival, the whole country gets a week vacation.  Taking full advantage of this opportunity, several of my fellow English teachers and I left Shanghai and traveled to Chengdu (Sichuan Province) in western China.  Chengdu is famous for tea culture and serves as the home to China’s national treasure: the giant panda.  Additionally, the world’s awareness of Chengdu heightened after the May 2008 earthquake, which greatly affected the entire Sichuan region.

Here’s a list of my five favorites during our week there. 

1. Giant Buddha at Leshan

Giant Buddha (Leshan, China)

This colossal Tang Dynasty (618-907) Buddha, carved into a hillside, is the largest carved stone Buddha in the world.  It is located in Leshan, about an hour drive from Chengdu, and is definitely worth a day trip or a stop-off on the way to Emei Shan.  There are two ways to visit the site: to either climb up the carved stairway that runs parallel to the Buddha on the cliff side or to view the Buddha from one of the many tourist boats that will take you on the river directly in front of it.  We opted to take one of the riverboats (about 120 RMB) in order to get the best views for picture-taking.  The ride lasts about 20 minutes, ten of which the boat stops to allow you to take photos in front of the carving.  This was absolutely one of the most magnificent scenes in Chengdu.

2. Golden Summit at Emei Shan

Golden Summit (Emei Shan, China)

Emei Shan is one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China and an absolutely amazing location for anyone who loves something a little more adventurous.  The Golden Summit is on the second tallest peak of the mountain (about 3,000 m).  We opted to take a bus about 2,500 m up and hiked  the last 500 meters.  This is definitely not an easy journey.  The trail is stone stairs, as with all mountains in China, and for the most part extremely steep.  It took us around two hours to reach the summit, but it was more than worth it.  What we beheld was absolutely magical and breathtaking: a sea of clouds beneath us, azure skies, and an enchanting gilded statue.  The summit contains several structures, most notably the statue pictured here, as well as a temple and monastic buildings.  Nine days out of ten this area of the mountain is completely enshrouded with cloud cover.  We were infinitely lucky in being able to experience beautifully clear moments at the top.  This was most definitely my favorite experience in Chengdu, and I can’t urge anyone visiting there enough to pay this truly magnificent place a visit.

3. Joking Monkey Zone on E mei Shan

Emei Shan also has an area known as the Joking Monkey Zone.  The walk through this area is about 30 minutes and every step of the way is filled with constant anticipation of a visit from one of the many wild monkeys who live on the mountain.  They are mostly contained within this area because many tourists feed them the approved corn snacks for sale, and they have become very aggressive though somewhat tame in their interactions with hikers.  We had several latch on to our backpacks in search for food and many would allow you to walk startlingly close to them.  There were many “monkey-slayers” (our invention for their title) on hand to help if the monkeys got “too friendly.”  The slayers carry rocks and sticks to keep over-aggressive monkeys off of frightened tourists.  We were all half-amused half petrified walking through the monkey zone.  Nervous giggles abounded as we turned each corner checking for monkeys.  All in all, it was a really amazing, albeit a little unsettling, experience.

4. Historic Kuan Xiang Zi Alley

Historic door handles

The hostel where we stayed in Chengdu was right in the middle of the narrow pedestrian streets of Kuan Xiang Zi Alley.  This is known as one of the premier tourist areas of the city and abounds with street vendors selling delicious snacks and trinkets, upscale restaurants, ice cream shops, and even a Starbucks.  Though crowded, I found this area charming, particularly because of the maintenance of the old-time feel even though many of the buildings have been extensively renovated and restored.

5. Surprise Teahouse Ear Cleanings

Maybe one of the most seemingly bizarre practices in Chengdu is the teahouse ear cleaning.  If you sit in a Chengdu teahouse for any length of time, you will eventually hear the ringing of metal being clanked together.  This comes from the tools of the many “ear-cleaners” of the city.  They go around to tea houses looking for customers, and the entire process is actually quite fascinating.  They have many tools from metal scrapers to feathered wands.  While taking a cup of tea with a friend, we had one such ear-cleaner approach us.  After many moments of convincing, I finally allowed him near my ear.  The closest thing I can describe the sensation to is butterfly wings beating in your ear.  It was an odd experience that one can only have in a place like Chengdu.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. pariskarin permalink
    December 18, 2009 7:20 am

    Wonderful!! Oh, the photos are great. And thank you so much for reporting on what an ear cleaning is like! I have wondered about that! I am glad that your Mid-Autumn Festival trip was a success. Any plans for Chinese New Year yet?

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      December 25, 2009 8:43 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Karin. The ear cleaning was definitely an *cough* interesting experience. We have three weeks off for Chinese New Year, and I’m planning on spending at least part of that in Thailand! Can’t wait!

  2. May 26, 2010 3:06 am

    …you liked Joking Monkey Zone?

    When I went I was chased by monkeys and had to throw my chips away to stop them from coming for me. Oh and they kept trying to take my water bottles. I kinda wish that I had bought one of those monkey sticks at the bottom. Sure I wouldn’t have used it but I would have liked to threaten the monkeys with it. Granted if they had stolen the stick from me, it would have ended terribly for all of us…

    And I agree about the Giant Buddha, simply amazing. I can’t believe how few foreigners seem to go there, I know that the crowds are insane, but looking up at that Buddha was one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had. If you’re ever back in the area I would recommend getting there by foot. It’s cool to walk down the stairs next to it and get some different views. Plus the park around it is like a “Greatest Hits of Buddha” as it features replications of different Buddha statues around China. It’s cheesy, but kind of cool.

    Also, no love for the pandas? If seeing little pandas wrestle doesn’t make you go “awwww” then you officially have no soul.

    Lastly, great blog. I know it’s hard to find time to write, but keep it up, it’s fun to read (even if I don’t get around here as much as I should…).

  3. December 2, 2010 2:31 am

    all of my kids love to dwelll on ice cream shops, they really love to munch lots of ice cream `.~

  4. January 5, 2011 5:42 pm


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