Early on Saturday morning our interns from the Chengdu branch headed out on the train for Leshan. The forecast suggested it would snow; a rare sight in Sichuan Province, but that didn’t dampen our spirits.
After getting off the train at Leshan, we took a short taxi ride to the Leshan Buddha and surrounding area. After paying our admission fee and entering through the gates, the beauty and the attraction on show stunned us!
Whilst it may be expected that it is just the Buddha on show at Leshan, there is in fact a whole array of statues and monuments to be admired. We started by ascending the mountain up to a look out point over the rivers beneath, where there was a fantastic view over the valley below.
After a short walk through a forested area we ended up at a pagoda standing tall at the top of a wide staircase. When we reached the foot of the pagoda we could see a few Buddhists walking around the square base reciting prayers.
We then headed towards the Giant Buddha taking in the sights as we walked through beautiful lily ponds full of Koi fish gracefully gliding through the water. At the head of the Buddha there was a giant bell being rung by a monk to ward off evil.
After briefly pausing at the top of the Buddha we headed towards the temple at the top of the mountain. Inside the temple were lots of people paying their respect to Buddhist figures, burning incense and leaving offerings.
Then it was time for the main event.
The Leshan Giant Buddha
The Leshan Giant Buddha stands a giant 71m tall and looks over the confluence of the rivers Dadu and Min. Which eventually flow in the giant Yangtze river. The Dadu starts its journey in the Tibetan plateau before winding its way through Kanding. Then onto Leshan eventually ending up in the East China Sea. This towering structure was built between 700-803 AD and contains an elaborate drainage system in order to prevent weathering.
After a short fact file by myself to prepare the interns for what was ahead, we made our way to the top of the stairs, which descend down the cliff face beside the Buddha. This allowed us to get a true feeling for the scale of the massive structure. Descending our way down was the perfect opportunity to capture some fantastic pictures before reaching the bottom. We took our time, and stood at the feet of the world’s largest pre-modern statue, capturing some images and enjoying the roars from the rivers below.
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Chengdu has recently launched 72 hour visa-free travel to the city, joining cities such as Shanghai and Beijing. Whist 72 hours might not sound long it certainly offers those heading between Australasia and Europe a nice option for a short city break. Chengdu might be famed for hot girls, hotter food and of course that adorable national symbol – the Panda but I would argue it offers far more than these stereotypes suggest.
This weekend I was lucky enough to be invited by Chengdu Daily and the Chengdu Tourism Board to visit DuJiangYan around a 2 hour drive from downtown Chengdu to show much can be seen in a relatively short time. So despite very British weather conditions we headed off to see one of the greatest engineering projects ever created in China.
Dujiangyan is an irrigation infrastructure built in 256 BC by the Kingdom of Qin. Located in the Min River in Sichuan province, China, it is still in use today to irrigate over 5,300 square kilometers of land in the region. Making it directly responsible for the abundant and delicious crops grown in the Sichuan basin. DuJiangYan was mastermined by Qin governor Li Bing who investigated the problem of constant flooding and drought in the region and devised a strategy to counter this problem allowing irrigation for the Sichuan Basin to remain at the right level for thousands of years to come.
I was impressed by the scale of the project especially the strategy used to cut through the mountain. First the rocks were heated and then cold water was poured over them to make them easier to cut away. Every 10 years they need to work on the whole engineering project and whilst now you can see modern technology being used it must of been much harder all those years ago!
After lunch and a few shots of fruit-infused Baijiu (Chinese very strong alcohol) we took a walk around the vast project, across a few wobbly bridges before returning to the warmth of the bus and returning back to Chengdu.
So how would I recommend 72 hours in Chengdu? Day 1 go and see the city’s most famous residents the Giant Panda and then take the afternoon to chill with some tea (or get your ears cleaned) in People’s Park before spending a night people-watching, shopping and eating snacks in the pedestrianized shopping district of Chunxi Lu. Day 2 take a trip to Emei Shan, Leshan or DuJiangYan before returning to enjoy a night at one of the cities’ many local bars, live music venues or the world famous Lan Kwai Feng nightclubbing destination. Onto Day 3 and why not visit historic Jingli and the narrow and wide alleys offer a nice change of pace before going for Hot-Pot and enjoying a night at the Sichuan Opera. Day 4…ok so 72 hours is not long enough for Chengdu but it certainly offers a nice option for those transiting in Asia who fancy a taste of China without any visa hassle.
If you would like to visit Leshan, Emei Shan or DuJiangYan, apply now and join us in Chengdu!
If you want to explore nice places in China for a weekend trip, I can recommend Chengdu and surroundings. Not only the very green city centre of Chengdu (with real birds!), but also the Sichuan typical Hot Pot, Sichuan Opera, the Panda Park and the nearby Le Shan with the worlds biggest (sitting stone) Buddha are worth the visit!
The first we did when we arrived in Chengdu where of course: the pandas. From our hostel we booked a trip to the Chengdu Panda Base, the biggest Park in China to cocker up the constantly fading population of Giant Pandas and Red Pandas. Cocker up seems to mean feed them constantly with bamboo so they become really fat and even cuter. Especially the baby pandas: you could just stand there watching them for hours how they played with each other, totally clumsy climbing around in their “kindergarten”. For everyone who is wondering what Red Pandas are: they look more like foxes, but also feed off bamboo and are also considered as endangered species. The highlight of the park, after having taken millions of photos of the pandas sleeping or eating, is the offer of taking a picture together with a panda (!). Unfortunately, they charge you at least 1000 RMB for that, so not student-friendly prices.
Besides the pandas, Chengdu is a really nice city. With lots of parks and tea gardens, the city centre is a surprisingly nice place to relax and experience China without skyscrapers and traffic. Chengdu, as the capital of Sichuan province, is also famous for veeeeery spicy food, especially Hot Pot. Being aware of that fact, we ordered “bu la” and got a soup, were you couldn’t even see your food next to all the chillies. After trying one little piece of mushroom, my mouth was burning like hell and I wasn’t able to taste anything else than hot any longer. My travel mate was being a real man and ate till every plate was cleared. I am not sure, if he was really feeling well afterwards, he became pretty red in the face.
Another thing you should see when visiting Chengdu or other parts of Sichuan province is the Sichuan Opera. Unlike in Beijing Opera, the singing performances play a smaller part in Sichuan Opera. Consisting of different parts like comedy plays, instrumental performances, marionette plays, shadow plays and face changing, it’s a very varied and entertaining programme. Nevertheless, the singing parts are still a little disturbing for everybody not used to Chinese opera.
When you leave Chengdu to explore the surroundings, visiting Leshan is a must-see. The city, which is a two hours bus drive away from Chengdu, is famous for its Giant Buddha. Before we went to Leshan we were told that their Buddha is really the biggest Buddha statue in the world. After some research we finally found out that you have differentiate between biggest stone, bronze, sitting, lying, standing Buddha in the world. Hence, the one in Leshan is supposed to be the biggest stone carved sitting Buddha. Nevertheless, it’s a massive impressive statue, 71 metres tall and facing the river Yangtze. The most impressive thing though, after having made our way through masses of Chinese tourist, was the surrounding temple area. Just as in the Indianer Jones movies, the deserted complex was surrounded by a jungle and many hidden caves. A really great experience for all who want to escape the big and crowded cities!
So for any travel plans you have in China: Chengdu is a must on your list!