After hearing people rave about how great Chengdu is, we were very excited to visit this city. We arrived at a very relaxed and nice hostel and were able to join the dumpling party later that night. We even made some pretty nice dumplings ourselves! Not only the dumplings were tasty, it seemed like everything in the Sichuan cuisine was very, very delicious. We were so excited that we even participated in a mini-cooking class. Although it was only a one-hour class, we had a lot of fun, especially when we were allowed to eat all of the goodness we had just cooked.
Cooking Class in our hostel in Chengdu
Besides eating, we also did some sightseeing in Chengdu. We visited the Wenshu Temple, which is set in a beautiful garden, People’s Park, which is the first free public park we came across in China, and Jinli Ancient Street, which is more a tourist attraction than a genuine old street.
Tianfu Square in the center of Chengdu
Anyway, back to the food! Sichuan cuisine has definitely become one of our favorites, maybe even THE favorite Asian cuisine. Like in other Asian countries, the Sichuan kitchen uses a lot of garlic and chili peppers. Besides these main ingredients, there is also a special ingredient: the Sichuan pepper. This is one odd little pepper; it is very spicy, leaves a numbing sensation in your mouth, and when accidentally biting on to it, it tastes a bit like soap. Doesn’t sound too good, does it? Well, as long as you don’t chew on it, it is actually really flavorful. The numbing sensation takes some getting used to, but is actually quite nice and the spiciness it has to it is so different from other Asian cuisines! Whereas you sometimes get a dish that is so spicy you aren’t even able to taste the flavors of other ingredients anymore, the Sichuan pepper allows you to taste the spiciness and still taste all the other lovely ingredients that the dish holds. A win-win and definitely something that will be stored in our kitchen cabinet when we get back home!
A visit to the Giant Panda
Since one can never leave China without seeing pandas, we visited the ‘Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding’ the next morning. As the name suggests, this is a research and breeding facility for giant pandas in Chengdu. Visiting it feels a bit like visiting a zoo, but with less animals and it is a lot greener. It is actually a really nice park for a walk as well! It’s leafy and there are other animals to see as well.
‘I’m a peacock – you’ve gotta let me fly!’
Hostels in Chengdu offer tours to visit the pandas, but after our tour to the Great Wall, we decided to try our luck this time and go by ourselves. It took two busses to get there, but luckily everything went very smooth and it only took about one hour to get there from downtown Chengdu.
As you might know, pandas like to sleep a lot, so if you want to see them awake, it’s best to try and get there when they are being fed. We decided to join them for their breakfast, which meant taking the 7 AM bus. No, travelling is not (only) about relaxing and lie-inns everyday! It can be hard work as well!
Arriving at the park, the pandas were just enjoying their bamboo-breakfast.
The Giant Panda stretching after breakfast
It was really nice to see the pandas in real-life and we were quite surprised by the fact that these big, somewhat lazy, animals were able to climb trees very quickly! Just not something we had expected…
Pandas can climb trees!
Sichuans treasures: Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong
Besides the amazing food and nice cities, Sichuan Province also has great nature to offer. We headed for Jiuzhaigou National Park. Jiuzhaigou is famous for its emerald green and turquoise lakes and waterfalls. The park is on the UNESCO World Heritage list for obvious reasons!
A pathway in Jiuzhaigou
After a 10-hour drive from Chengdu, we were warmly welcomed in our guesthouse close to Jiuzhaigou. The guesthouse owner knew all the ins and outs of the park so we could start our day in Jiuzhaigou well-prepared. It is quite a large park, so a little help navigating it is very welcome.
Although there are shuttle-busses going through the park, we walked a lot that day. Walking is still the way you get to see most of it and really feel like you’re in nature. There were so many lakes and one was even more beautiful, clearer, brighter or colorful than the other.
One of the first lakes we saw in Jiuzhaigou
Although first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Jiuzhaigou are the lakes, the waterfalls are also not to be missed! There are quite a few beautiful ones to see.
We had lunch with this beautiful view
We sat down at one of the waterfalls to have lunch. Since the food within Jiuzhaigou is quite expensive and not very good (so we were told), we had bought magic lunchboxes. We had never seen anything like this. The box consists of rice (surprise, surprise), meat and vegetables. To heat it up you’ll have to mix a small bag of water with some kind of chemical that comes in a pouch. The water magically starts to boil and you can put your food on top of it. Eight minutes later you can enjoy a reasonably tasting, hot meal! It really is magic.
The ingredients of our ‘Magic Box’
How the ‘magic’ happens…
After lunch we caught a bus to another part of the park and made our way down passing by even more spectacular lakes and waterfalls.
When it started to rain around 4 PM, we had seen most of the park and decided to catch the bus down to the entrance. We arrived at the guesthouse completely soaked, but it didn’t matter: we had a great day anyway!
After a lot (and I mean A LOT) of ‘too expensive’, ‘the ponds will probably be dried out’, ‘it takes 3 hours to get there’, ‘we’ve already done enough walking’ and ‘it is going to rain tomorrow’ we decided to go to Huanglong the next day. Huanglong is another scenic area and UNESCO World Heritage Sight, that is famous for its bright blue ponds and its travertine landscapes.
Bright blue ponds in Huanglong
When we got to Huanglong, we didn’t know exactly how long it would take us to the top, so we kept our pace up. We reached the top of the park quite quickly, which meant we had time to really enjoy our ‘magic boxes’ with a spectacular view. It drew a lot of attention this time and after trying to explain what it was, we decided to keep it to ‘magic’ and everyone was happy.
The view from the top at Huanglong
Yes, some of the ponds were dried out, it took 2,5 hours to get there and the entrance ticket was too expensive (considering the size of the park and other entrance fees such as Jiuzhaigou), but there was no rain and not too much walking involved. Besides these practical aspects, we were again stunned by the beauty of Chinas nature! We are definitely happy we decided to go to Huanglong!
Although it is (relatively) close to Jiuzhaigou, and the color of the water might be similar, it is completely different. It is actually unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life and I find it hard to believe that it was naturally created, without human involvement (which it is!). It’s stunning. Even in dry season.
All in all, Sichuan Province has a lot to offer. To be honest, we weren’t that impressed with Chengdu, but the foods and the nature are definitely worth a visit to this part of China!
Christina & Ferdy