Updated: May 31, 2020
Visiting China was quite a challenge. Not all that many people speak English, signs and information don't always have English translations either.
Thankfully Chengdu was my first stop and my friend Marika had been living here for a while. She speaks some Chinese, so she helped me out a lot when it came to getting around the city. Having a friend introduce you to a new city where there are language barriers is a godsend!
Chengdu was a little calmer than Beijing, and I think it was more beautiful.
My time was limited here, and I didn't get to see all I wanted. As Marika was working I didn't feel too comfortable to go too far out of the city to explore alone. Navigating public transport was no easy fete due to myself not knowing Mandarin.
I stupidly got conned in Chengdu. I was stupid, and I don't know why I wasn't more careful. On my way out of the airport I was approached my a man offering a taxi. I never agree to these are they are usually ridiculously expensive.
I didn't actually research the best way to get to the centre from the airport. A metro would have cost a few pounds.
My defences were down and due to my tiredness and not wanting to mess around with ticket machines in a foreign language, I agreed to the man's offer. I knew it would be a little pricey, but I just wanted to get to my hotel.
The driver didn't speak English, so he used a translation app. He spoke into his phone in Mandarin, and then it played English to me.
The trip wasn't too long at all, yet at my destination I was ordered to pay close to £80. This is ridiculously expensive. I had no real choice but to pay up. Well, I guess you live and learn, and I certainly would never do this ever again.
In general though, I was made to feel welcome by the locals. On my first evening I became aware that having a selfie with a western tourist is something the locals tend to seek out. You'll feel like a movie star being asked for selfies or having sneaky photos taken of you as you walk the streets.
We then had a group of locals ask to sit and join us and shared their beer with us. A local 1% beer. It tasted okay though.
One thing China and Chengdu in particular is famous for are Pandas. So I dragged Marika along with me to see some pandas!
I have mixed feelings to what I experienced. Since my experiences in the Serengeti and witnessing elephant mistreatment in Thailand, my views on zoos have changed drastically! I'm not a fan of zoos in general, as I don't believe animals should be in cages, however there are of course several exceptions.
Pandas were an endangered species for many years, and without specialist zoos and breading centres they could have become extinct. Pandas are no longer an endangered species, but they are still vulnerable.
We visited "Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding" where many giant pandas and also red pandas are kept. Red pandas are nothing like giant pandas, they are much smaller and they will sometimes eat meat. Giant pandas simply live on bamboo and are very large lazy creatures.
There is another site much further outside of Chengdu, "Dujiangyan Panda Base", which I have heard very good things about. But I think it's trickier to arrange a visit there.
We saw baby pandas and child pandas who were very active and playful. That was actually a highlight, watching them play fighting with each other, and doing strange and silly things. Then there were of course the super active red pandas, and the lazy giant adult pandas, who just sat eating bamboo. If you plan to see the pandas, visit as early as you can. Once it gets to late morning, the pandas do very little but sleep and eat.
I'm not sure if it's still possible, but for a ridiculous amount of money, I think close to £250, you could get a photo with a baby panda. Provided it was ethical and if it was cheaper I may have considered it, but it was just too much just for a photo.
So, why did I have mixed feelings? Well, I felt as if some of the cages the pandas were kept in were tiny. Some had more space to move around, but some seemed very small.
I don't know enough about it to comment on if it's ethical or not, but weighing up that they have helped pandas move from extinct to vulnerable is positive. I just wish they would have more space to move around.
Wide Alley (Kuan Xiangzi), Narrow Alley (Zhai Xiangzi) and Well Alley (Jing Xiangzi) run parallel to each other. This area dates back to the Qing dynasty and is rather charming.
It's now quite a touristy area with various shops and bars, as well as several street food vendors. You'll see many stalls selling handicrafts and unique souvenirs, and you may even see a man who removes earwax from peoples ears with a long needle and giant tweezers.
This was one of my favourite places in Chengdu, it has a nice calm feeling to the area, even though it can be quite crowded at times.
The street food here isn't too extreme, you can buy a lot of tasty dishes, but there are also pigs trotters and rabbits heads on sale.
One thing not to miss here is the giant wooden dragon statue which sits about a fountain. It's hidden away inside one of the various buildings you'll pass.
Unfortunately I didn't have the time to visit Mount Qingcheng. It's a couple of hours drive from Chengdu, and due to language barriers I figured that public transport would be difficult. I wish I'd had an extra day in Chengdu to fit it in, as I could probably have joined a day tour to get there.
The place looks magical, and as you ascend the mountain you'll get to Jianfu Palace and several temples. It looks like a secret place where you can learn magical kung fu. The mountain often has a mist around it which adds to the magic.
When it comes to Opera, it's not really my cup of tea, but Sichuan Opera is a different story. It features lots of singing, and obviously a story is told through the song.
You probably won't have a clue what's happening, but what's entertaining here are the performers face masks. Their masks change in a split second to new faces, which is very impressive to see!
In the centre of Chengdu you'll find the Wenshu Monastery, the best preserved ancient Buddhist monastery in the city. It's home to 80 monks, but many locals and tourists visit the monastery too.
You can sit and drink tea, play ancient games or explore and admire the architecture and relics found here. There's also a beautiful garden surrounding the monastery which I suggest spending some time walking around.
New Century Global Center
The largest building in the world is located in Chengdu. When I say the largest building, this is in terms of the the floor space, 18,000,000 sq ft.
You'd primarily think this is a huge shopping mall, but there are also offices, a university, hotels, cinemas and a pirate ship. At the centre is a huge water park, which includes a beach and a giant 150x40m screen forming a horizon displaying sunrises and sunsets.
I got lost in here. I tried to remember the way I had entered, but with so many entrances and exits, it was a labyrinth, even with the useful maps which had English translations.
After some time though I found my way out. This is an interesting building to explore, but I suggest visiting only if you have more time in Chengdu. I think my time would have been better spent at Mount Qingcheng had I been able to get there.
Sichuan Hot Pot
Do you dare to try Hot Pot? A popular cooking method in the Sichuan district is to have a pot where ingredients are added such as meat, fish and vegetables, but there is usually a lot of spice too. It can actually be very tasty, but it depends on what spices are added. It's often said to be one of the hottest and dishes in the world.
Eating this can make you sweat from every orifice and even cry tears as you try to digest the heat in your mouth. That's not all, I have heard horror stories about the effects this can have on the digestive system the next day. I suggest making sure you're always within reach of a toilet.