DAY ONE: Dodgy taxi drivers and veggie ‘ribs’
We arrived into Chengdu (from Xi’an) at midday and decided to take a taxi to our hostel. We knew that the taxi should be around 15RMB and got into the taxi queue outside the train station. After 10 minutes, it was our turn. These taxis should be metered but, of course, as soon as they saw we were foreigners, they thought their luck was in! A taxi pulled up and we loaded our bags inside before jumping inside. As we drove off, we pointed at the meter to confirm – ‘’metred taxi, yes??’’. He just shook his head., ‘no’. We insisted on the meter and were instead quoted a set price of 50RMB! More than three times what we should be paying… We told him no and even suggested we’d pay 30RMB as we were desperate to get some sleep. He refused so we had to yell at him to pull over, drag all our bags out, load up and walk back five minutes to the taxi rank. URGH. We didn’t bother queuing again but just approached taxi after taxi until someone was willing to take us for 30RMB. We eventually got to our hostel where we dumped our stuff, had a quick rest and a shower, then headed out to get some lunch.
We decided to check out a veggie restaurant called ‘Vegetarian Life’ which was about half an hour walk from the hostel. We shared some sweet and sour ‘ribs’, and some ‘fish’ and ‘chicken’ fried rice, followed by durian and sweet potato almond pastry slices.
The ribs were tasty, although not texturally accurate – I think it was lotus root which has a very crunchy texture. The rice was good but the durian slices were gross! I had recently tried durian for the first time and, although it can be very hit or miss, I had a lovely creamy piece of fruit and quite enjoyed it. However, hot durian mixed with sweet potato and almond and fried is something I wouldn’t recommend!
DAY TWO: Lunch at Aidao Monastery, tea at People’s Park and a bargain dinner!
On day two, I chilled in the hostel until lunch time when I decided to go the Aidao Monastery for their vegetarian lunch ceremony. I’d read about the monastery before arriving into Chengdu and was keen to check it out. It wasn’t something I’d usually do, and I’m usually not so great with throwing myself into situations like this on my own but I thought I’d give it a go… I’ve written a separate post all about my experiences at the monastery.
After lunch I found myself a Starbucks so I could get some work done. A few hours later Gary came to meet me so we could walk down to Chengdu’s famous ‘People’s Park’. In this cute, winding garden you can find a couple of different tea houses situated on quaint koi ponds. Here you can enjoy pretty much unlimited tea for around 15RMB (£1.75/ US$2.18) per person. You are given two cups with tea leaves and a giant two litre flask of hot water!
When walking back to the hostel in the evening we spotted a huge queue of people outside a hole-in-the-wall eatery. We figured it must be good, so joined the queue! When we got a bit closer to the front we could see photos on the front of the stall showing bread buns stuffed with different fillings. In this tiny kitchen, you could see each of the (I assume) family members taking on a different role. A couple were kneading and baking/ frying the dough, another prepared fillings at the back whilst a smiling front woman added the fillings into the buns according to orders. There were a couple of veggie options – shredded veggies with noodles and mushroom. I used my (very) limited Mandarin to order a mushroom bun which seemed to please the lady serving! There were then a range of sauces that were added to the buns – I made sure to ask for a ‘little spice’, ‘no fish sauce’ and ‘no Chinese pepper’ beforehand. The bun was a great find! Meaty ‘Tree-Eared’ mushrooms dripping in chilli and garlic oil, shredded veg and a whole heap of herbs. For 5RMB (£0.58/ US$0.75) it was a cheap and easy dinner option!
DAY THREE: Pandas!
Our hostel was charging 130RMB (£15/ US$19) for a half day to see the pandas at the ‘Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding’ but we figured we could do it a lot cheaper! We researched the local buses and found we could get the number 1 bus from outside the hostel to the bus station (2RMB/ £0.23/ US$0.30) then another bus – number 87 – for the same price to the panda centre. At the centre, it’s 58RMB/ £6.75/ US$8.42 entrance fee, bringing our total for transport and the visit to 66RMB /£7.68/ US$9.58 – half the price of the hostel tour, PLUS we had as much time as we wanted to explore the park at our own pace.
We spent four hours walking around, seeing the different pandas and reading about the centre’s efforts to breed the Giant Panda and raise public awareness. There are lots of cute areas to chill out in the park, including a cafe which sits on a giant koi pond. When we got back to the hostel we had a really FUN afternoon drafting a report to send to the Deposit Protection Scheme to try and retrieve our house deposit from our greedy landlord who still hadn’t released our money, months after we had moved out the house….
For dinner, we ended up going back to the bap place from the night before as it was super cheap but so tasty! Afterwards, we curled up in the hostel’s film room with a bunch of fresh fruit and had a lovely relaxing evening before moving on to our next stop…. Leshan!