After a few days in Zhangjiajie National Park, we decided to go directly to Sichuan and its capital Chengdu! Indeed, we had already consumed half of our authorized stay in China and we wanted to take our time and focus on Sichuan.
To reach Chengdu we struggled again in the transportation network. So we ended up thinking it was a game: when we looked for a place, we knew that it was not going to be where we thought it was (and where Google Maps indicated it). So it was like a quest and during this quest there are characters placed on our way to help us and give us some clues. Exactly like this guy who came from nowhere to give us the business card of the restaurant we had been searching for 10 minutes in an area and who disappeared immediately (we were 1 kilometer away from the restaurant…). So after that, our stay in China was much funnier!
You start the level by having to take the bus to Zhangjiajie city (which is different from Zhangjiajie village) – You manage to stop the bus in the street by recognizing its Chinese name with your skill points – You earn 10 hourglasses – At Zhangjiajie, the character at the counter does not speak English – You have to find an information desk where the character writes for you the name of your bus on a paper – Back to the first window to buy your ticket using the paper – You go through a security checkpoint – You’re on board for 8 hours of bus – The bus stops in a rest area but you don’t get off quickly enough, all the Chinese have got off before you and have eaten all the corn for sale – You have to buy a little weird bread that makes you earn only 3 points of energy – You reach Chongqing at night – You need to reach the railway station to take the train to Chengdu – Taxi drivers assault you, you loose 4 energy points – You don’t find the bus that would make you avoid the taxis – But police show you a direction to somewhere – You follow and reach a door and if you want to continue you must pay 3 gold coin without knowing why – You pay and you take one of the longest escalators in the world – You win 2 points of travel – At the top you’re in the subway, a woman helps you to buy a ticket – While leaving you, she says ‘3’, you have to find what it is: your metro line number? the number of stops you have to count? the number of Obiwan Kenobi lightsabers? – You go through a security checkpoint, there is a problem with your water bottle, believing that you should throw it you drink it because it cost you 3 gold coins, but one sip is enough for the guard to let you go – You take the subway to your station, the North Railway Station – At the train ticket counter, nobody speaks English, they don’t want to sell you the ticket – You eventually understand that you’re not at the right station, they say “663” – Leaving the station, some men say “Chengdu”, avoid them, they want you to pay 20 gold coins – One policeman at the exit gate shows you the other side of the square – You see the sign 663, and here comes the bus 663 – Other men take the bus with you and try to nicely talk to you in English, you win 2 points of comfort even if you don’t understand anything of what they are saying – But you still don’t know where you are going, your hourglasses and your energy points are very low – You get to a second train station just behind the first one – The character at the ticket counter does not want to sell you the ticket, again – A character waiting behind you tells you to go to the other counter, it’s wrong he just wants to take your place in the line because you’re too slow – You go to the other counter and when you ask for the same ticket, the officer leaves and the character from the previous counter comes to talk to you again – This time he gives you a riddle with his translator: “The high speed is 9.2 million passengers” – This means that your train is sold out – You must take the following train which is more expensive, you lose 6 gold coins – You go through a security checkpoint – Before taking the train you use your last hourglasses to buy hot fries at the KFC – you spend 2 hours in the train – At the destination, you want to take the metro – There is no more metro at this time – You want to take the bus – You use the joker “sim card 3G Google Map” that tells you to take bus 13 – Fortunately an enigmatic character stops you, he thinks you will miss the bus – Your energy level does not allow you to try, you decide to give up and follow the character in the lair of taxis – He’s going to make you walk up the out-of-service escalator with your big backpacks, it’s a trap, taxis are in the other direction, you have to turn around – He gives you clues about the rest of your trip, telling you about places to visit in Chengdu – You don’t take notes and you forget – You use the joker “Agoda address in Chinese” that you have unlocked at the previous level – The taxi does take you to your destination – You’re lucky your hotel is empty, you’re finally in your bed – Level passed!
Our stay in our hostel, Mrs Panda Hostel, was quite nice, it was central enough to easily visit Chengdu and try all kind of delicious Sichuan food! You need to know that Sichuan food is very but VERY spicy. We had never eaten such a spicy food, even in Thailand or any Indian food we tried before. It is very delicious though when you find a dish which is not too spicy!
On our first day, we found a small restaurant, with lots of locals queuing, and for almost nothing we had a plate full of different things, tofu, chicken and pepper, vegetables… all fresh and delicious and very local!
For dinner, we tried the famous Chengdu hotpot. There is a big bowl in the middle of the table with boiling soup. We asked half spicy and half non spicy, and lucky us! Because the spicy soup was just crazy spicy! We then chose several skewers of meat and vegetables to cook in the boiling soup. It was very good!
In Chengdu, we also tried our first ever Tibetan food! We went to Khampa Tibetan Restaurant in the Tibetan district of Chengdu. We started our lunch with a butter tea. This is a tea with yak milk, very strong! It smells like cheese, and Alex loved it! (me a bit less…) Then we had yak meat with potatoes, yummy! Some flat breads stuffed with yak meat, some big raviolis stuffed with mashed potato and onions, and tsampa, a bowl with barley flour that you dilute with butter tea (a bit dry but after that you are not hungry anymore!). A great experience!
Not far from the Tibetan quarter, there is a beautiful park with old style buildings and the Wuhou Temple. We wandered around the little alley in the North of the park where stalls sell street food (but after eating tsampa, we were not hungry anymore!).
We cannot talk about Chengdu cuisine without tasting the Mapo Doufu (especially the one from Mrs Chen, Chen Mapo Tofu near Wenshu Temple), which is a mix of tofu cubes with minced beef, garlic and a veeery spicy sauce made with chili oil and Sichuan pepper. The Sichuan pepper leaves you a very particular taste on your tongue, I think it even anesthetize it at some point… But we loved it!
Finally, Chengdu is also a city where you can find lovely and peaceful teahouses where Chinese people love to gather. We went to the one next to Wenshu Temple to try jasmine tea, sitting in a courtyard with tree and old buildings around.
From Chengdu, we went to Leshan (2 hours away by bus) to renew our Chinese visa which was expiring soon, and try to get one more month in China. People say it takes a long time to renew the Chinese visa, but at the PSB office in Leshan you can do it in 24 hours! We gave our application at 5pm and they said we could get our visa back at 4pm the next day. Officers were amazingly friendly! Actually we even got our visa back at 10am the next day because they asked us to come at 10am to do a photoshoot all together. It was a bit weird because we did not have any other information than that we had to do a photoshoot, but we said yes! Actually they wanted to renew their advertisements hang on the walls and on their website, so at 10am the next day we met with them and a professional photographer who took pictures of them giving us passports, pictures of them explaining things to us, always with a big smile! It was a fun morning! And now our faces will be on Leshan PSB visa centre for at least 5 years!
In Leshan, we also took a boat to see the Big Buddha, a very impressive Buddha which is 1200-year old and is one of the biggest in the world with a height of 71 meters. From the boat, it is a fantastic discovery as the Buddha is carved, set back in the cliff, and you see it at the last minute. This Buddha is the must see in Leshan!
To finish our trip in Chengdu, we left our hostel to spend some time in an English centre, The Friends House, managed by a lovely couple. They organize evenings for conversation, games and movies. We had the chance to meet Chinese people willing to speak good English and passionate about travels! It was the highlight of our stay in Chengdu!
With our new visas, which allow us to stay in China until the 12th of December, we were more relaxed to carry on our journey in the beautiful city of Xi’an, which is very symbolic for us. It is the departure city for the Silk Road since the 2nd century BC!