DAY ONE: Dodgy buses, dodgier hotel rooms and EPIC noodles!
We allowed ourselves a lazy start to the day after being woken up at midnight and again at 5am by noisy roommates. When we finally dragged ourselves out of bed, it was time to make our way to Leshan! A short bus ride from the hostel and we were at Chengdu’s main bus station (15 minute ride/ £0.23) where we bought a bus ticket at the counter for 51RMB (£5.93/ US$7.41). From reading other blog posts, we thought the price was supposed to be 45RMB but figured they must just be out of date. We had assumed we were getting on one of the big coaches parked in the bays outside but on leaving the terminal, we were ushered towards a small minibus. We’d spent enough time in China by this point to be suspicious! Were they going to charge us an additional fee? Did they even work for the bus company? Why was everyone else getting on the big coaches?? After a bit of confusion and back and forth with the guys who worked there, eventually they called a lady over who spoke enough English to check our tickets and tell us that this was definitely our ride! We assumed they had decided not to give us the choice between the bigger, cheaper bus or the smaller, more expensive minibus and had automatically given us the more expensive option. With a price difference of 70p, and the comfort of a minibus versus a stinky old coach, we weren’t complaining!
It took an hour and half to reach Leshan but we were dropped on the other side of the city centre to where we were staying. Luckily there was a bus stop a few minutes away which would take us to our hotel’s doorstep. After 4o minutes winding through Leshan’s side streets, we checked in to our (once again, rather posh) hotel room, complete with see-through bathroom wall. If you so desired, this hotel allowed the luxury of watching your travel mate or partner pee, poop or shower from the comfort of your bed! After the initial shock, we were pleased to find a blind which could be used for those who favoured a little privacy! We then spotted a box of purchasable goodies that would be more at home on an Ann Summers shelf and started to wonder what kind of hotel we had booked….
Our evening was pretty chilled – the highlight being a 15 minute walk down the road to a shopping centre to pick up some snacks from the supermarket. On the way back we stumbled upon a side street lined with food vendors and decided to grab some dinner. One stall had a giant photo of fried noodles on the side and a fine collection of veggies and tofu which drew us in! The guy was super friendly and helpful and immediately grabbed a metal bowl to give to us, indicating that we could fill the bowl with as many veggies/ tofu as we wanted. This was our favourite kind of meal, so we quickly loaded up with greens, aubergine, crispy tofu, beans, an assortment of mushrooms and a handful of herbs.
I used my limited Mandarin and a plethora of hand signals to explain that we didn’t want any meat/ meat juices/ chilli/ Sichuan pepper etc. We ordered one plate of fried veggie noodles with no egg and a bowl of noodle soup. Usually the noodle soup broth is pre-prepared and is made using animal bones, or meaty cut-offs. After explaining we didn’t want any meat, the guy very kindly prepared a separate broth for us, using a bunch of different herbs and seasonings in some hot water. After adding the veggies and tofu we’d selected and stewing everything together for around 15 mins, it all became very tasty! The portions were huge and for £1.25/ US$1.55 per person, it was such a good find 🙂
Day Two: The Giant Buddha
The main attraction in Leshan is a 71 metre (233ft) tall Buddha carved into cliffs along the riverbank. It’s the world’s largest stone Buddha tallest pre-modern statue; it’s pretty impressive! I’d seen the Buddha eight years ago during my first ever trip to China, but this UNESCO World Heritage Site was definitely one of things I wanted Gary to see as we toured China together.
We were up and out early, catching a bus from outside the hotel to take us to the scenic area, home to the Giant Buddha. There are two ways to view the Buddha – by boat or on foot. The boats cruise past the area and allow you to see the whole thing from a distance, whereas exploring the Buddha on foot ensures you get up close and personal, taking photos from the statue’s feet. We had planned to do both but severe fog meant a boat ride was no longer an option. To reach the Buddha, you need to climb up the side of the mountain, before descending down the side of the cliff by a set of stairs which ends at the Buddha’s toes. Due to the large numbers of tourists that visit every day, there is always a bit of a wait to get to the end. It took us about an hour and half to reach the bottom.
There is no such thing as queuing in China, so once the line broadens out on to the steps, it’s every man for himself! After a few minutes at the bottom, it’s time to climb back up the cliff face to exit the scenic area. We left through a different side to where we went in, accidentally stumbling upon a cute pathway through to a countryside walk and Chinese-style bridge. It was a 20 minute walk back to the bus stop, stopping briefly to refuel with some fresh OJ.
We went back to our lovely noodle man for dinner and he was so happy to see us! It was so cute to see his face light up as he recognised us. We were treated like royalty, ushered to the best seat in the street. He repeated our order from the night before to check we wanted the same, before getting to work behind his stall 🙂