China was to be our twelfth country on Our Awesome World Adventure and with it called “home” to well over a billion people, we were hoping they would have room for the four of us for our two week stay.
We had previously planned on spending a month in China, but with our time greatly reduced we decided on only visiting four areas of this vast country. First up was the home of the famous giant panda, Chengdu, and for our three nights here we stayed in a two bedroom Airbnb apartment (our review is here). Chengdu is not shy about letting everyone know it’s claim to fame with panda murals, sculptures, photographs, paintings and souvenirs literally everywhere you look and it was definitely the main reason we choose Chengdu as our first stop. We had previously seen pandas at the somewhat disappointing, Chiang Mai Zoo, however after hearing only great things about the non-profit Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding Braxton, and especially Lincoln, just had to visit.With tickets costing only 58 CNY ($13 NZD) each, the price point was great. The base is massive and with nearly 200 pandas in residence, the base itself has brought them back from near extinction. The base has never captured any wild pandas, instead it contains only rescued pandas having started with six in 1987. The 92-acre park includes multiple breeding centres, nurseries, kitchens and enclosures, all of which are open to the paying public. Although not technically a zoo, we ended up comparing it to other zoos we had seen on our travels, like the aforementioned Chiang Mai Zoo. Chengdu Panda Base in comparison was nothing short of excellent, the enclosures were predominately open aired (except when the temperatures get too high for the pandas and they need to be inside temperature controlled enclosures) and all of considerable size; it definitely seemed like the animals were rightly the first ones thought of when designing their homes, rather than the visiting tourists. As much as I wanted to see the pandas, truth be told they are incredibly lazy and do little more than sleep and eat; so after the first five or so pandas you think you have pretty much seen it all. Luckily the panda base is also home to dozens of red pandas which are considerably more active than their cousins and there are also the food stations, hospital and nurseries to visit, which all contain lots of information for curious minds. In total we spent a good five hours at the base and although we did not visit each and every area, we felt we had seen more than enough and definitely had got good value for money.Apart from the panda base, we also visited Jinli Ancient Street, which is one of the oldest streets in all of Chengdu. Expecting a history lesson and to witness some old architecture, instead as we entered through the main gates we were greeted with a large sign pointing us in the direction of Starbucks. Everything within Jinli is geared up for tourists with souvenir shops around even corner and just to rub salt into our disappointed wounds the skies opened up and it started pouring down. To get out of the weather we settled on a small restaurant and enjoyed some local hot noodle dishes for lunch. (For this and other amazing food we have experienced along our travels, visit our ‘Food Adventures’ page.) Unfortunately the rain set in and got even heavier, we weren’t overly concerned as we had come prepared with our Vietnamese purchased, North Face jackets. However, within five minutes we had the dreaded confirmation that we were possibly not wearing the genuine articles as we were completely soaked with the jackets nowhere near waterproof; instead they seemed to be letting more water in than keeping it out. For me, us laughing and running through ankle deep puddles in the pouring rain, while all the locals stood under shop fronts, is one of my favourite and endearing memories of our time in China. Not because we experienced a once in a lifetime event, or witnessed some extremely rare occurrence, but because it was unexpected and unmanufactured and it was just us enjoying ourselves and being ‘that crazy family’ while everyone else watched on.
Chengdu proved to be a great little introduction to China and we would have loved to have explored the area a little further, but with limited time we had to move on. Next up was the city of Xi’an and the famous Terracotta Army, somewhere I had been wanting to visit for as long as I can remember.
Average Daily Spend for 2 weeks in China – $266.65 NZD ($94.15 over budget per day) Overnight train travel is pretty expensive here!! Without our two overnight train trips our average daily spend would have been $167.00 NZD ($5.50 under budget per day).