Mountains and Bronze Masks

Zhangjiajie National Park

In order to visit Zhangjiajie National Park I stayed in Zhangjiajie Village which, although relatively ‘touristic’, has the advantage that it is just a 5 minute walk from the park entrance and hence no further transport is required to reach the National Park.  My hotel, the Zhangjiajie Pipaxi Hotel (˜200¥ per night) was not fabulous but it was clean, had a half-decent restaurant and functioning WiFi. The latter came in handy as on my last day I was unable to leave my hotel because of strong winds and torrential downpours which resulted in mudslides and the roads being blocked by uprooted trees and branches. Unfortunately,  being cooped up in my hotel meant that I did not get to do my hike in the Tianzi Shan Scenic Area.

Storm notwithstanding, I still managed to do two hikes. The first hike took me up to the Huangshi Village Plateau which involved clambering up about 3900 stone steps and then down again by which time my legs were hurting slightly. After arriving back at the bottom of the stairway I decided to follow the Golden Whip Stream Path which, luckily is very flat, and takes you round the bottom of the carts peaks and is very pretty indeed. The second one is a bit more difficult to describe and therefore I have marked it on the map below (together with the 1st hike). This hike involves quite a lot of stairs as well but one you are at the top of plateau the views are just amazing (assuming it does not rain and there is no fog). In my case there was a torrential downpour when I got to the top, which resulted in all the tourists melting away. But then the sun came out and the clouds dissipated and I got some stunning views.

Map of Zhangjiajie National Park

Unfortunately, the day after the storm I had to leave, as I was flying to Chongqing. Luckily, my driver who took me back to the airport next day knew enough of the backroads to get me to the airport in time for my flight to Chóngqìng.

A word of advice! If you want to avoid the tourist crowds avoid visiting the parks on a weekend or during the Chinese national holidays. Moreover, stay away from the cable cars, the shuttle buses and the picnic areas as these areas get very crowded as well. Away from these places the number of tourists drops of exponentially.  For some reason the tourist groups with their megaphones and flags do not seem to venture away from these.

Admission:

I bought a 4 day pass (about ¥250) at the ticket station. Note that you will have to pay in cash and carry some form of ID (your passport) with you as the ticket will be in your name. The ticket includes admission to the park and use of the internal bus system but it  does not include the cable cars or scenic elevator. Each of these requires an addition ticket costing around of ¥60 or ¥70, I can’t quite remember.

How to get there:

I flew from Beijing to Zhangjiajie City and had the hotel, in Zhangjiajie Village, pick me up at the airport which cost me about ¥140.  From the airport to Zhangjiajie Village, which is located right at the southern entrance to the Zhangjiajie National Park, is about 30 to 40 kms. If the hotel or hostel does not pick you up from the airport your other option is to take a taxi (¥100) or the bus no. 4. It takes about an hour by bus and the price for a ticket is ¥50 .

Chóngqìng

In Chongqing I stayed at the ‘Chongqing Travelling With Hotel(Jie Fang Bei)’ which is very easy to get to since the the Metro station Jiaochangkou (Line 2) is just across the road from the hotel. The building itself does not look very exciting and the area behind the hotel looked very run down. However, the hotel itself  was anything but. The rooms themselves,  having a very modern feel to them, were actually really nice and clean. The staff at the reception were also very friendly and helpful and there is free Wifi throughout the hotel. Moreover, there is a couple of nice restaurants close by. This is probably the best hotel I had during this trip and one of the nicer ones I had in China in general. The price per night was about ¥300.

Unfortunately,  I did not have much time to explore Chongqing itself, which was a pity as  it is supposed to be one of the more vibrant and exciting cities in China. I basically used Chongqing as a basis to visit the Dazu Buddhist Caves, Wulong National Geology Park and the Fishing Town Fortress.  However, I managed to visit Ciqikou Ancient Town which is probably the only part of ‘old’ Chongqing still standing. As it is the only place in Chongqing were the old Ming dynasty architecture is still standing it attracts quite a lot of tourists and therefore is very commercialised. Nevertheless, i managed to spend a pleasant afternoon wondering around the place. The easiest way to reach Ciqikou is probably by subway (Line 1)  although there are plenty of buses going there as well (No.202, 220, 237, 261, 467 among others).

Ciqikou Ancient Town

Chongqing is known as the ‘Mountain City’ and it makes  Rome, the City of the Seven Hills look flat. It also had a definite 3D feel too it and while wondering around the city I got the distinct feeling that for a given latitude, longitude there were several levels of the city above or below you.

Chongqing by Night

Chongqing is also the first place where I first came across dry pot (as opposed to Chinese hotpot), which comes in many different flavours but always contains copious amounts of chilli. If you never tried dry pot before you should definitely give it a go, especially if you like hot food!

Chicken and Prawn Drypot

While staying in Chongqing I made three day trips to  the Dazu Buddhist Caves, the Fishing Village Fortress and the Wulong National Geological Park, all of them well worth the effort. If you want a quiet day out and avoid the hustle and bustle of Chongqing I can definitely recommend the Fishing Village Fortress. When I visited in July I  had the place to myself apart from a few Chances families picnicking there. It was one of the most peaceful places in China I have come across and there is quite a lot to see including a 1000 year old sleeping Buddha, carved into the rock face.

From Chongqing I took an early high-speed train to Chengdu which took about an hour and three quarters. For a second class ticket you pay about $25. If you are taking a high-speed train which leaves from the Chongqing North Railway Station make sure  that you are going to the North Terminal of the Railway Station (Longtousi Subway Station, Line 3) and not to the South Terminal  (Chongqing Bei, Line).  Both terminals are quite a distance apart and if you get out at the wrong terminal you are likely to miss your train. I  managed to avoid this because I asked somebody in the tube whether Chongqing Bei was the right tube station to get out.  After telling them that I wanted to go to Chengdu they said I should get out at Longtousi. If you get out at the wrong terminal, all is not lost since there is a bus (No 663) connecting both terminals.

Dàzú Buddhist Caves

How to get there:

From the Caiyuanba Bus Station in Chongqing take the bus to Dàzú (大足)。 This bus leaves every 30 minutes (7.00-19.00) and takes about 2.5 hours. The bus from Chongqing will drop you off at the Dazu Old Bus Station. From this bus station take the bus 101 or a taxi to get to Dongguanzhan bust stop. A 10 to 15 minutes walk will get you to the entrance of the Buddhist Caves at  Treasured Summit Hill (Băodĭng Shān 宝顶山).

The caves at North Hill and South Hill can be reached via short walks from Dàzú town or by taxi while the Stone Gate Hill and Stone Seal Hill, 20 kms southwest of Dàzú town can only be reached by taxi.

Fishing Town Fortress

How to get there:

From the Caiyuanba Bus Station you can take a bus to Héchuān from where you need to take a taxi to the Fortress. The last bus back to Chongqing leaves Héchuān at 6pm. Alternatively, it is also possible to take the train from the Chongqing North Station to Héchuān. I have to admit though that I simply hired a driver for the day in order to take me there.

Wulóng National Geology Park

How to get there:

As I wanted to visit the Wulong National Geology Park in a single day I asked my hostel in Chongqing to book me onto a Chinese Tour to the park. This is the definitely the easiest way to visit the park, the disadvantage being that you do not get to spend near enough time in the park itself which is pretty spectacular (I got about 3-4 hours in the park itself, the whole trip lasting close to 13 hours).  The advantage was that I made friends with some of the Chinese people and ended up having a nice evening meal in Chongqing.

If you have plenty of time on your hands you can take a bus from Chongqing’s Sigongli Bus Station to Wulong from where you need to get a taxi to get to the park itself, which is about 22km northeast of Wulong Town. Moreover, you need to arrange transport to get around the park which is absolutely massive.

Chéngdu

After dropping of my rucksack at my hotel, the Buddha Zen Hotel near the Wenshu Temple,  I headed to the Wenshu Temple’s tea garden for several relaxing cups of jasmine tea.  The tea garden is located inside a laid-back, little courtyard, which in addition to the tea house, also houses a vegetarian restaurant (which by all accounts is very popular although I did not eat there) and a food stall selling cold noodles. On my first visit to the tea garden I just sat outside, drank tea, chatted to the very friendly waiters/waitresses and engaged in some people watching. During, my second visit I ventured into the tea house itself where I seemed to be the only customer. The inside of the tea house was very beautiful as was the ‘presentation’ of my tea – much prettier than in the courtyard outside.  However, this improved presentation also came with an ‘improved’ price tag (although I think I also invested in higher quality tea leaves ).

Tea at the Wenshu Temple Teahouse.

Another good place to have some tea is the He Ming teahouse in the Chengdu People’s Park. This tea garden is bigger and busier than the one at the Wenshu Temple and the service is  less friendly mainly because the waiters/waitresses are busier. Nevertheless, on my day of from sight-seeing I managed to spend an afternoon just sitting here watching the world go by drinking tea and eating plates of cold noodles. For a little extra you can even have your ears cleaned professionally (so to speak), something I have never seen before.

Tea and Noodles at the He Ming Tea Garden

The location of the Buddha Zen Hotel is pretty ideal as it is close to one of the main temples in Chengdu and there are plenty of eateries and teahouses around. Moreover  the closest  underground station  (Line 1, Wenchuyuan Station) is within a 5 minute walk. The area around the Wenchu Temple must have been recently re-developed as quite a few buildings, including the Buddha Zen Hotel have been build in a mock Ming Dynasty style.  However, do not let that put you off, the hotel itself is clean,  my room was  comfortable and the mattresses were, in my opinion, slightly softer than the Chinese standard, which tends to the very hard.

Having recently developed a love for Chinese dry pot I actually ate it several days in a row and my favourite definitely was the chicken and prawn variety.  The only problem I had as a solo traveller was that the smallest dry pot, including rice, was easily enough for two people. I have never eaten that many prawns in a single sitting in my whole life.

Another Drypot

If you are into Chinese archaeology and early history than Chengdu is the ideal place for you to visit as it is very easy to get to both  the Jincha Site and the Sanxingdui Museums. The bronze masks  they uncovered at Sanxingdui are breathtakingly beautiful and you can easily spend half a day here.  Although, the Jincha Site Museum is not quite as spectacular,  it is equally interesting as it is possible to visit the excavation area.

Lè Shan

The Leshan Giant Buddha (乐山大佛 – Lèshān Dàfó) is a 71-metre (233 ft) tall stone statue of Buddha Maitreya, carved into the cliff face of the Xiluan Peak of Mt. Lingyun Mountain overlooking the confluence of the Mingjiang, Dadu and Qingyi Jiang Rivers. Construction began in the Tang Dynasty, during the first year of the reign of Emperor Xuanzong (713 A.D) and the statue was completed in the 19th year of the reign of Emperor Dezong (803 A.D).

In the eight century Leshan, then known as Jiazhou was a prosperous inland port and trading center. Silk and textiles from Chengdu and agricultural products from the Chuanxi Plains were shipped down the Minjiang River to join the Qingyi Jiang and Dadu rivers which opened up trade routes with the rest of China. However, during the flood season the confluence of these three fast-flowing rivers, which joined at the base of Mt. Lingyun caused dangerous turbulences that capsized boats and resulted in a large numbers of death every season. In order to appease the river gods and to calm the turbulent rivers below Mt. Lingyun, a monk named Hai Tong, decided to carve a giant statue of Buddha Maitreya beside the river. According to legend, Hai Tong who was born in Guizhou and lived in the Lingyun Monastery , begged for 20 years to acquire the necessary funds for his work. When the funding for the Giant Buddha was threatened by local government officials requiring large amounts of money from Hai Tong, he told them that they could have his eyeballs but not the money for the construction of the Buddha. He then gouged out his own eyes to show his sincerity and devotion to the cause, thus scaring the government officials aways and saving the money to start building the state of Buddha Maitreya. Unfortunately, carving the statue out of the clidd face was such massive undertaking and took such a long time that Hai Tong passed away when only the head and chest of the statue were completed. After his death, construction became stuck due to insufficient funding and only resumed seventy years later, when two military governors, Zhangqiu Jianqiong and Wei Gao of Xichuan, Jiannan Prefecture raised funds to continue the construction of the statue, which was completed by Hai Tong’s disciples in 803 A.D. The original stele describing the construction of the Giant Buddha can still be seen today on the cliff on the right of the statue. Apparently, the massive construction resulted in so much stone being removed from the cliff face and deposited into the river below that the currents were indeed altered by the statue, making the water safe for passing ships.

The entire statue was carved into the cliff face, except the 7m long ears which were constructed out of wood, the attached to the statue and covered with clay. The buddha’s head is about 15 meters high and is covered in 1021 spiralling curves. Moreover, Until its destruction by the Mongols at the end of the Yuan Dynasty, the statue was covered by a huge thirteen storey structure in order to protect it from the elements. In addition, the Tang dynasty architects incorporated a sophisticated, internal drainage system, consisting of hidden gutters and channels that are hidden inside the statue’s hair, collar, chest and ears, into the giant statue to prevent the deterioration of the surface by water runoff, a system that still is in working order today.

How to get there:

I took the high-speed train from Chengdu East to Leshan which takes about 50 minutes. The price for a second class single ticket is $9.  From the Leshan train station take the bus No 3 to get to the Great Buddha. The earliest train leaves Chengu at about 6am and they run roughly every half an hour. The latest train back to Chengdu leaves at 9pm and goes back to Chengdu South.

Jinsha Site Museum

How to get there:

Getting to the museum is straightforward. Take the metro line 2 to Yipintianxia (一品天下)and then it is about an 800 meters walk down the Middle Ringroad Tonghe Road (中环路同和路) to the Jinsha Site Museum.

Sanxingdui Museum

How to get there:

I think the easiest way to get to the Sanxingdui Museum is to take a direct bus from the Xinnanmen Bus Station. Buses leave six times a day between 8.30am and 3pm and return   to the Xinnanmen Bus Station every quarter of an hour or so between 6.40am and 6.50pm.

Qingcheng Shan

How to get there:

In order to get to Qingcheng Shan I took the metro to Xipu, which is the last stop on the Metro line 2. At Xipu I caught a train to Qingcheng Shan station from where a bus (No 101) takes you to the Qian Shan, the front side of the mountain.  If you want to go the more rugged north side you need to take a tourist bus, which also leaves in from of the station.