Tag Archives: hiking

The Leshan Giant Buddha

11 Jun

One of the things that I really wanted to see in Sichuan before I left China was the Leshan Dafo. Given that I only have a short time left in China, it was about time that I went. Leshan is about two hours by bus from Chengdu, making it an excellent day trip. Kate and I decided to go on Saturday, fairly last minute, on Friday night.

I am happy that the Leshan Giant Buddha is as large as advertised.

It was a really nice day out, which was unexpected. I spent the day regretting my choices in clothing, but hey. It was sunny! You could see the sky! Blue sky! And visible shadows, even! (Shut up I’ve been in Chengdu too long.)

We may have gotten bored waiting in line.

The Giant Buddha was carved in the 700s by some Buddhist monks, who were trying to calm the river below and keep ships from wrecking on the rocks and currents. Given what I saw of the river next to the Buddha, they didn’t really succeed on that front, but they did manage to carve out a pretty darn big statue. At 71 meters tall, the Giant Buddha was and still is the largest statue in the world.

The rather precarious stairway down.

There are also smaller bodhisattvas carved into the surrounding rocks. I guess they got bored carving the big one?

It was really a lot of fun and theoretically good for our karma? Whatever, like we needed an excuse to leave Chengdu.

If you want to go: round trip tickets are 96 kuai. There’s a bus to Leshan every hour that drops you off in front of the Leshan bus terminal. Lots of guys will try to sell you a ride to the Dafo; don’t bother with them. The no. 13 bus leaves from directly in front of the terminal and takes you through Leshan to the Buddha for 1 kuai. It’s a nice way of seeing the town, too. I’d recommend getting off somewhere along the route and grabbing food; as always, prices on the inside of the park are pretty damn high. Tickets to the park itself are 50 kuai for a student, 90 kuai for adults, so bring a student ID if you’ve got it! There’s a fair amount of queuing involved, so go to the bathroom before you get in line to climb down the stairs. It’s all pretty much paved stairs, so hiking boots aren’t necessary for this trip.

Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong, Part Two

28 Oct

Part one can be found here.

Getting up at ungodly’o’clock, Katia and I stumbled our way to the bus station and found ourselves faced with a quandary. Several other students from our dorms were there, all headed in different directions. Some back to Chengdu thanks to budget constrictions, others to destinations unknown (look, it was six thirty in the morning, what makes you think I’m going to remember poorly mumbled Chinese?), and Kyle and co. to Huanglong (lit. “yellow dragon”). Given that the title of this post is “Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong”, I bet you can see where this was going. While at the bus station, we also cleverly bought our tickets home at the same time. It would suck to return to Jiuzhaigou, only to find ourselves unable to get a seat on the bus ride home.

Surprisingly, there was very little snoozing on this trip. Mostly because of this.

Yes indeed, it has already started snowing in the mountains here in Sichuan. Brrr, I say. That didn’t stop people in the farming communities we passed through from still being out and about. In fact, I believed we passed by an autumn harvest of some leafy green thing (cabbage, maybe?) on both trips.

Katia and I were more interested in throwing snowballs at each other but hey.

On the bus ride there, the bus attendant gave us a minor heart attack when he went around selling tickets for the return ride home and for the park entrance itself. Instead of the price being 110 kuai, which is what our friend’s tour guide said it was, the price had more than doubled in the two years since print. I gulped. Given that we had already purchased return tickets, I was operating on fumes and supplies already purchased. (A reusable water mug and a couple of hot cocoa mixes or bags of tea goes a long way. So do crackers.) Katia spotted me the difference and we arrived in Huanglong.

It was fortuitous that we had broken down and bought the damn tickets, price gouging or no, because the bus dropped us off at the bottom of a mountain with only park structures in sight. No support village, catering to the needs of the tourists and the locals. Just a national park and a couple of convenience food stands with wildly inflated prices.

If you’re smart, you suck it up and buy the ski-lift tickets to drop you off at the top of the mountain and work your way down. Katia and I did this, mostly due to our shortened time-frame. We had to walk the entire damn thing in under four hours. Katia figured that if little old Chinese ladies could do the mountain without resorting to oxygen cannisters (and they sold them! People used ’em! Even at the bottom of the mountain, the pansies.), so could we. And in better time.

Ahahaha. Mine is a bitter laugh. More on this later.

We met up with the others at the top of the mountain and started off. The path was a wooden walkway nestled in amongst the trees. This was pretty, but wet, since all the SNOW was melting off. Onto us. There is a lot of walking and oohing and ahhing.

For your viewing pleasure:

Despite the advice of Tommy, I thought visiting Huanglong was actually very fun. It wasn’t a repeat of Jiuzhaigou thanks to the added excitement of snow.

Unfortunately, my feet did not agree with my head. About a month ago, I sprained some tendons in my foot going down six flights of stairs. It was no big deal so I didn’t go to the doctor (besides, there is honestly very little they can do for foot injuries), but as I was going down dozens of steps at Huanglong, my feet were rebelling. I was usually in the back of our group with Xavier, who has a bum knee, or made a painful effort to keep up. Thankfully, nothing was swollen when I got back to the bus, but for the next three days stepping down, even off the curb, was painful.  I think it basically breaks down into something like this: Jane < Mountain < Little Old Chinese Lady on our bus who beat us to the bottom.

Back on the bus, we trekked to Jiuzhaigou. At one point in our trip, we were at cloud level.

We stayed at the Tibetan family hostel for one more night and then bused back to Chengdu. The road back to Chengdu runs directly through the quakezone from the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake. It took us a while to understand that the big signs across the gully from us with 213 written on them meant the Highway 213. The rocks had shifted and landslided to the extent that it looked like they were never even there. Terrifying stuff, when you think about the fact that I was on the same road in some parts. It’s like, one day a good stretch of I-95 sinks into the ocean. I don’t have any pictures from this stretch of the journey due to camera issues, but it’s sobering all the same.

This was a really fun trip for me. I got out of Chengdu, if not Sichuan. I hung out with Katia, met some new people, ate some good food, got some exercise, and spent a lot of time on a bus.* All in all, it was a good experience that I would highly recommend. Protip: you should probably do all this hiking in better shoes than Converse hi-tops, though.

*Total time spent in a bus: 26 hours.

Jiuzhaigou, Part One

26 Oct

This past weekend, I had an exciting adventure off to the distant edge of Sichuan province. Jiuzhaigou (lit. “nine village valley”) is a famous nature preserve here in China, on the par with Yellowstone. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and really quite pretty in the fall. In fact, everyone I’ve talked to has said that the month of October is the best time to visit. And when a few friends said they were going this past weekend, I was spurred into action. Katia and I talked it over and decided we were going to go, ten-hour bus ride or not.

Jiuzhaigou is only 200 miles away from Chengdu, but the road runs through a very mountainous region and is winding and narrow. In most places, it’s just a single lane each way, which is more than a little terrifying when the bus driver attempts to pass the slowpokes and there is oncoming traffic. (Katia says I’m a worrywart and that they won’t crash, honest, it’s their job and they drive this way every day. I am not reassured.) The bus left Chengdu at 7:30. Unfortunately, our other friends were on another bus, so it was just us and thirty-odd Chinese tourists.

The ride took about nine hours, which meant we made extremely good time. Except for the bathroom break every two hours, Katia and I spent most of the trip sleeping, which is really the best way to deal with nine hours stuck in a small area, your bag wedged in on your lap or at your feet. The breaks were also interesting. Locals attempted to get money from you somehow, either from using the restrooms, buying touristy crap, food, or, on one memorable occasion, riding a white yak or bored looking camel. This break was also notable because I saw a clear blue sky in what seems like has been forever.

Upon reaching our destination, Katia and I found out that the hostel only had one bed, not two, reserved for the weekend. Not exactly worth it. Instead, we found lodging with a Tibetan family run hostel which was located a bit off the main drag of Jiuzhaigou. The room was well-appointed and dinner was only 20 kuai extra. Plus, the husband would take us to the park in the morning.

After a scrumptious dinner, we went to bed. It gets dark at night in the mountains. (Plus, no streetlights.) And, you know, we had to get up at 6 so we could make it to the gates of the park by 7 am, when it had opened. So at ungodly o’clock, we shivered a lot and debated on how much to wear. The night before, one of our neighbors had advised us on what to do once in the park. It’s a big place. Tommy suggested to not bring big coats, since it would warm up later on in the day. While this may have been true for Tommy, we had slightly less pleasant weather on our day in the park – misty rain in the morning, cloud cover for most of the morning, one brief warm moment in the afternoon, and a slow decline towards cold as the day ended. I didn’t bring my leather coat, but I probably should have. Thankfully, I had layered on enough in the morning that I wasn’t too cold.

The first thing we did upon entering the park was to head to the very end. This is the recommended way of dealing with the park trail – bus to the top and walk your way back down to the bottom of the valley. The first stop was the Primeval Forest at the end of the line. This is the best possible place to see wild pandas, if they feel like wandering anywhere near loud tourists. Given that the park’s panda population stands at a little under 20, it was pretty much a given that they were a no-show. I don’t blame ’em. I wouldn’t particularly want to be out in the wet, cold morning with a bunch of Chinese tourists either.

We had a quick breakfast of squished croissants that had made the trip from Chengdu with us, dried dates, and a mug of instant hot chocolate.

There was a lot of walking, interspersed with random picture-taking, and a couple of snack breaks. Look, some pictures!

In fact, there was even a bunch of “Picture Taking Opportunities”, wherein you could pay 20 kuai and dress up like the indigenous Qiang or Tibetan people and then take photos in front of an absolutely stunning landscape. Clearly, Katia and I were above such petty amusements.

Who am I kidding, of course we did it. The lovely Tibetan lady gave us walnuts, it was hard to resist. I maintain that as foreigners, we have no dignity here in China and people stare at us anyways, so why the hell not?

After that, we had a thoroughly unsatisfying lunch of ramen noodles and continued down to the central fork. By this time, it was past three, which was rather alarming since the park closed at six. (Jiuzhaigou has a delicate ecosystem. No need to declare it a World Heritage Site and then watch as overnighting tourists trash the place.) A quick bus ride to the other end of the park left us at Long Lake. This was something we could have skipped. It was colder on this end, with a lot less tourists. There was even snow on some of the distant mountains. I have less photos from this end of the park, mainly because around two in the afternoon, my camera beeped and said “Memory Card Full”. I then promptly cursed quite a bit and fiddled around with the settings, getting less quality shots in exchange for quantity. My work is based around the Law of Averages – the more photos I take, the odds are at least one of them is actually decent.

We engaged in a healthy amount of capitalism at the little Tibetan tourist trap – Katia bought two silver bangles and I indulged in two new scarves. (Yes, yes, I know I can knit my own damn scarves. I like them, okay?) By this point, the park had closed and we were rushed out along with other errant parkgoers. It was well and truly dark out as we trudged past the gates… into a downpour. Our rides were set at 5 and 6 – we got on the public bus, showed the attendant our hostel’s card, and sat. The bus was probably 95% Tibetan, the exceptions being us and a Chinese guy who got off almost immediately. The ladies seated around us chattered amongst themselves, a couple of huge woven baskets resting empty on the floor. They were nice enough to make sure we got off at the right place. It was still raining as we set up the hill, only to be met halfway by the husband* with a set of umbrellas.

Dinner was just being cooked as we got in – Katia went down to see how things were made and I followed. I am pleased to report that my own personal recipe of spicy potatoes is damn near the same as the wife’s*. Ignore the poor picture quality and look closer at the stove. It’s wood-burning. Katia had a breakthrough as to why the dishes were metal – they could sit on the stove top and stay warm while she continued to cook, dish by dish. We had another delicious meal and went to bed, having confabbed with Kyle and the others about our plan of attack the next day.  Our original plan of a guided hike in the other valley was scrapped, due to an over-abundance of Hong Kong tourists having booked the last slots.  It was decided we would attempt to get tickets to Huanglong, a park (somewhat) nearby.  And if not, well, we could always head back to Chengdu.

Stay tuned for the exciting sequel – Huanglong!

*I am a bad person. I have no idea of how to even pronounce their names, let alone spell them. (It’s written in Tibetan on the card, okay? I’m not that far along in my studies.)