The Mole gets up close and personal with The Giant Pandas! - TravelMole

The Mole gets up close and personal with The Giant Pandas!

Thursday, 18 Jan, 2007 0

Somehow we have survived some vigorous Tibetan Drinking songs and numerous toasts between and I have to say that doing business in some parts of China will leave you a changed Mole!!

Day 5 was really spent transferring firstly from Juizhaigou to Jiu Zhai Huang Long airport, catching a Sichuan Air flight back to Chengdu airport [I thought you might like the sign in the airport bus which says “RATHER MORE CURVES.  PLEASE HOLD THE ARMREST AND NOT CLOSE TO THE DOOR FOR YOUR SAFETY”] and transferring to the Sheraton in Chengdu, with a brief stop at a traditional tea house (see below) on the way.

The group unloaded bags and headed for another outstanding dinner at a local Chengdu restaurant (we are all piling on the kilos!), then experienced a reflexology massage.  Now I know what you are thinking!! Naughty Moles! It was the most unbelievable foot massage I had ever had, and a great way to send us all into Zedland when we arrived back at the hotel. Another must-do experience in China.

So Day 5 was a long travel day, but it was rounded off nicely with a Chinese massage.  Before moving on to Day 6, I think it is worth some lines on both the Chinese Cuisine we have experienced and the hotels in Chengdu.

Sichuan Chinese Cuisine

The cuisine in Sichuan has been remarkable – we have had a number of different lunches and dinners and the one thing that they all have in common is that each had as many dishes as could be stacked on an out-of-control Lazy-Susan, not one was repeated and it was the tastiest Chinese cuisine I have ever tasted – quite different when you have been used to the more common westernised Cantonese style of cooking.  I would recommend that everyone who visits Sichuan Province should try as many tasty combos as possible!

However, being a Westerner, Kingsley can not survive on Chinese alone!  But salvation was at hand – Jason Xu, the Executive Chairman of the China Holidays Travel Group, with his intimate knowledge of both Eastern and Western culture has ensured that all China Holidays accommodation provides a western food option for breakfast.  It is quite a neat arrangement, as we in the West, more times than not (OK – well I do!) regard a good hearty breakfast an essential start to the day whereas many Chinese people do not.  This means that if your clients prefer western food while holidaying, all they need to do is have a big brekky and then snaffle some continental goodies to take with them during the day.  Life is then not a succession of Chinese meals!

Interestingly, you can now reasonably expect that four star accommodation in the major cities of China will provide western options, while in remoter Sichuan (ie away from the cities) it is best to select five star if you know you will crave western tit-bits….  Without intending any offence to the Chinese, 24/7 Chinese food would certainly have done me in on this trip!  Particularly after numerous Chinese wines!

Hotels in Chengdu

We stayed at the Sheraton which had all the Sheraton pluses and few minuses.  The staff were extremely helpful and directed a number of tour members (whose names shall stay locked in the TravelMole vault!) to some good local nightspots where they were stars of the show – and thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality of the people in Chengdu.

There are a number of other brand hotels either in Chengdu or establishing themselves in Chengdu, of differing levels of quality, such as the Shangri-La.

After our arrival at Chengdu Airport and before we headed for dinner (again!), we were whisked off to meet with Victor Chang, the Director of Marketing for the soon to be opened Shangri-La Hotel in Chengdu.  We met in a traditional tea house – another must for tourists! The atmosphere was laid back and Victor talked about the new Shangri-La and its convenience to both the centre of Chengdu and Chengdu Airport.  More on the Shangri-La Hotels in China later!  This is in line with the government strategy focused on making Chengdu the premier tourist destination in China.  Competition for accommodation product should therefore increase over time, which can only be good (provided it is controlled correctly!)

Obviously it is not all lightness & frivolity at the moment, Chengdu is still very much a working city going through enormous change, with its own share of the poor. In fact, someone tried to sell me something as soon as I walked out the door of the Sheraton to find an ATM, but no one else experienced this.  However, it is the continuing story of Chinese Development.  Hopefully this will be addressed as the city grows its infrastructure, in particular it’s tourism infrastructure.


So what of our day in Chengdu? Our Chinese hosts were extremely well organised and even with us dragging the chain, we have achieved all our educational objectives so far, except for a tour to the Ancient Irrigation Project.   This Project sounds great, so I’ll jez have to request that the Head Mole dang-well sends me back at some future date.

As noted in my previous report, Chengdu and surrounds is really all about leveraging the attractions of the Giant Panda and also to a more secondary degree, the other attractions in Sichuan (Google Sichuan for info on a number of places in Sichuan worthwhile visiting!).  Yes, Panda can still be found in the wild in the areas of Huong Long (ie in their natural habitat BUT you are less likely to see ‘em!)  In any case, Huang Long is all about the scenery.

There are two ‘Panda Bases’, the larger is around Wolong, which is a little further out (138k from Chengdu) on the way towards both Huang Long & Juizhaigou. Wolong is actually the largest Panda breeding base in the world.  The smaller base is closer to town.  It is simply called the Panda Breeding and Research Base.  But don’t be fooled, it is still 35 Hectares in size! There are also plans for further expansion.

So it was that after approx an hours drive to the outskirts of Chengdu, we visited The Giant Panda Breeding & Research Base.  All our Panda dreams were fulfilled!  Like trying to describe Juizhaigou in a previous report – what can I say? They ARE the cutest things on the planet (except of course for my other half….!).  In fact, she doesn’t know it yet, but I now have some Panda Ear Muffs for those cold days of winter……!

The Base is very well set out and maintained, there is an excellent ‘warts and all’ video on the key aspects of both the Panda and the ongoing breeding program. For example, I did not know that they were originally carnivores, and have been around longer than any other similar animal – 8 Million years!  They converted to vegetarianism as their environment changed whilst others like the Sabre tooth departed the scene.

You can get up close and personal, and they simply look at you with those li’l cute eyes, roll on their back & sit as if in an arm chair!  When the Molettes reach the baby Panda nursery, the baby Pandas turn ‘em into putty in your hands, so this is always a good time to pop any important questions or share less than salubrious news….!

Due to the low level of nutrients extracted from the Arrow Bamboo (cut to pile of Panda Poo!) they move slowly, eat lots of the bamboo and are only sexually active once a year coz they get plum tuckered out.

And they are the funniest bunch ever when you watch them walking around and eating. People watching are transfixed at these gentle creatures.  A lesser published fact is that Pandas initially had little inclination to get together UNTIL a bright spark somewhere suggested “Panda Porno” Its true, the Pandas were shown R-Rated movies of a particular species of monkey going hammer and tong in the name of procreation and guess what happened?! The rest as they say is history!

This year they even had some twins, but they carefully monitor the DNA of each Panda to ensure the species does not move into a ‘hillbilly’ status…!

One word of caution, there were red pandas available for the “Me and the Koala’ type of photos.  These are much smaller and remind you of an overgrown bandicoot, also very cute. You are asked to make a donation for the privilege of holding one of the furry little fellas (ie take your own photos).  They get very upset if you offer less than $10.00 for their mostly four minutes of work

PS the brochures on Huang Long and The Ancient Irrigation Project certainly both read well, so I hope to visit all three next time, ie Wolong, The Ancient Irrigation Project and Huan Long (Attention: Head Mole…!!).  Geeze I’m a subtle Mole. [The Mole – yeah right!!!!]

The other attraction we visited was Sanxingdui, on the Duck River, north of the current city centre of Chengdu. It was not too far from The Panda Base.  The guide at Sanxingdui was very informative (English was spoken), telling us that these are the largest and oldest ruins in Asia.

Sanxingdui was the capital of the Ancient Shu Civilisation. This is another ‘Lost Civilisation’ that has left behind only a few clues. The focus is on artefacts discovered in relatively recent times.  It was all kicked off when a local farmer found a stone wheel – of course he carved his initials into the stone for all to see today!!

Since then hundreds of artefacts have been found and displayed in what are referred to as No.1 and No. 2 Galleries (ie two museum buildings or galleries). A great laugh was had by all when someone asked where the toilets were. The reply was “Number one gallery, the toilets here are better for number two”.

Stars of the show include a 500kg cast bronze face mask with protruding eyes and big ears (all seeing – all hearing!), the amazingly carved jade pieces and an amazing 4.2 metre high bronze spiritual tree.  Absolutely fantastic.  Only down side was that the two buildings could have been located anywhere, there was no tour of the actual site, quite possibly as private ownership is still involved!  The future will hopefully reveal more.

And to finish on a twilight zone note, the ruins are located on 30 degrees latitude, ie same latitude for other mystery civilisations. In fact some of the carvings look positively south American, do-do, do-do.

But the fun was not over!  In the evening we attended the Face Changing & Fire Spitting Sichuan Opera, again unbelievable and a must see in Chengdu. But The Mole’s assistant is yawning so we can cover the Sichuan Opera next time!

Next its off for a Shanghai Surprise!

Kingsley Mason reporting for TravelMole from China



John Alwyn-Jones

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