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Sichuan 2019-20 Days 1-2

Flights and pandas

rain 8 °C

In that moment he felt more tired than he ever remembered feeling before. He was thinking once again of his comfortable chair before the fire in his favourite sitting-room in his hobbit hole, and of the kettle singing. Not for the last time!

- Tolkien, The Hobbit

*Disclaimer: most photos here taken by the talented W. I didn't really bother with photos this time, so if any photo doesn't look as nice, it was probably taken by me and added in just to show you what I'm talking about*

Day 1

We flew off after some delay. In the final hour before lift-off, at the gate, we were madly researching, downloading apps, and creating accounts. In the end, I think the important apps would be: Wechat for communication with all the vendors (and Wechat pay to pay for most things), Didi Greater China (like Grab), a Chinese map app like Baidu Ditu, and a VPN app for accessing the normal things. To a lesser extent, Alipay, as it’s accepted in less places than Wechat pay. Please note that you need to get your Wechat verified by someone who’s already on Wechat for more than 6 months, so ask around and don’t leave it too late. You also need an international/China bank account like Youtrip. I tried to use my local bank account for Alipay, but after the initial charge in, it can’t actually pay out on the spot.

Phone-wise, some of us borrowed China SIM cards, while some of us bought China SIM cards online. The ones we bought were really good, and affordable ($10 - 7GB 8 days). ICC China SIM card on Qoo10. I didn’t need a VPN for Whatsapp, Telegram, Spotify, or Instagram. It’s data only, so no calls, but China connectivity is insanely good. I had 4G everywhere that tourists would go, including random roads, tunnels, and the top of Hailuogou glacier at 3000m (just not Siguniang mountain itself). The borrowed local China SIMs could only call if the phone itself was also a certain type (for example, all phones bought in China work with it, while I believe most Xiaomi phones bought outside China should also work).

When we landed it was dark and we had to take a shuttle to the arrival hall. It was surprisingly not that cold (9degrees). Spent quite a while trying to book a cab on didi, but couldn't figure out the pickup point, and despite the app showing many cabs in the immediate surroundings, every time we tried it was a 10min wait. In the end we got one of the touters to send us to chengdu center for 100rmb.

Meanwhile, J was already in the hostel and informing us that the 7h bus from m Chengdu to Hailuoguo was full, meaning our plan to take the bus and then just didi cabs for the rest of the trip was screwed. In the end we returned to our other plan of hiring a driver for the full 8 days, although we had to pay for his accommodation and food too. J haggled it down to 200sgd per person, excluding accommodation and food.

After arrival we showered and spent a long time ordering food due to some payment complications. It took another half an hour to arrive and in the interval I was falling asleep on my bunk bed. By the time the food came it was 2am. The warmest tabled area was back at the reception counter, so we trotted through the cold and disturbed the counter guy who was packing up. We had a hongshao noodle thing each plus dumplings. Supposed to be non-spicy, but this is Sichuan, so it was mildly mala. Still quite nice. It came in cool packaging. Normal bowl type plastic, the soup is below, but the noodles in a tray fitted to the rim of the bowl. Tip the tray over and voila. Then tumbled into bed.

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Hostel was not bad. We had a 6-person dorm with the last bed empty. High ceilings so it was comfortable to sit upright and even walk about up top. The corridors and toilets are open air so pretty cold. The warm water is good. Window open a crack with a heater-aircon. Set it to 26 degrees, so in the middle of the night I threw off my blanket, content with my open jacket and 3/4 pants.

In the morning I woke up confused because it was still dark. Thought the personal bed curtains were fantastic, before realising it was just really overcast outside. I guess that’s winter for you.

There was also a cute cat.

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S$443 Round trip flight SIN-CTU on Silkair
25y cab from airport to Chengdu Mrs Panda Hotel (per person)
27y noodle and dumpling supper
35y Chengdu Mrs Panda Hotel (1 bed in 6-bed dorm, 1 night)

Day 2

Slow morning and pack up. Met our driver Zhe xiansheng, nice dude, we got one of those big vans (2-2-3 formation) with the big comfy single seats in the middle row. We packed as much stuff as possible in the boot which still left us with 2 biggish bags to dump in the middle (my 45L backpack and J’s 25L duffel)

Shifu (all China drivers are called Master, which sounds hilarious in English but works in Chinese) suggested changing our itinerary, because he has a different route in mind for Hailuogou to Siguniang that avoids Ya'an. So we cancelled Ya'an accommodation. Fortunately managed to do it for free. On the way back he suggested visiting one of the local tribes.

Had some zhajiangmian at a famous local restaurant. I had clear soup which was still thick and yummy, while the one with chilli is basically the hongyou we had last night. Later I realised that basically all their food has hongyou (red oil) or red powder (mala-type).

The change in itinerary meant we could move up Bifengxia to today. I fell asleep in the car amidst flat farmland. When I woke up we were already in the mountains on wet, sharply curving roads, winding through the winter mist. A drizzle was falling on the windscreen, and later we had to get out all our rain gear.

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We paid 85y each for the panda tour only. I wanted to do the full tour to see all the other animals like the jaguar but it was cold and drizzly and unlikely they would be doing much. Managed to see some pandas, mostly just eating. I loved it when they take an entire branch and start chewing on it. Cute. In the kindergarten, one of the little ones pooped out white poop right near where he'd been eating not long ago, contrary to our earlier hypothesis that they'd find somewhere further away. There was a panda in a tree too but it was obscured and hard to make out what he was doing.

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There was an elevator down to the bottom of the gorge. Yes, an actual elevator built into the side of the gorge. At the bottom, there's a river, and pathways along the side of it. A lot of waterfalls to see, including one that's called a pancake. J and I crossed the river on a bridge that for some reason was made out of suspended movable planks. Why would anyone design it like that? We made it across by holding the steel cables from which the planks were suspended. Froze my hands so badly, having to touch that deathly cold metal! But we made it across, while the guys decided to go the long way to skip the bridge.

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Bought some dried Songrong (Matsutake mushroom) from one of the stalls to bring home to cook. One pack of about 150g for 60y. On hindsight it was a mistake as it was probably low quality mushroom being sold in a tourist place for a high price.

Drove on to Moxi. It turns out just how everyone says it is - a tiny wooden town. Our hotel is also with wooden inner and outer walls. The mattress heater is a godsend but only heats the middle of the bed. Chilled a while til 8pm for dinner, although we were still full from 3pm lunch.

Guys wanted rabbit so we went to the BBQ stall. Everything is hongyou and red powder coated. Mushrooms so good. They had barley beer which was OK. Wheaty. 'Fresh soya milk' turns out just in a jug like how we'd buy 'fresh milk'. Guys didn't want it at the start, because they had beer, but once they started on the zhongla (medium spicy) whole rabbit they were desperately calling for the milk. Rabbit was OK, like chicken. A bit chewier is all.

9y 4.5L water
10y zhajiangmian breakfast
85y bifengxia entrance (Panda exhibit only)
15y shuttle
60y songrong (dried Matsutake mushroom)
25y lunch zhichar
29y dinner bbq
138y whole rabbit (actual price)

  • Unless otherwise mentioned, all listed prices are per person*

Posted by seaskimmer 00:51 Archived in China Tagged nature cat china mushroom panda sichuan rabbit cold naturereserve Comments (0)

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