Tourists come to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, for one primary reason: to see the pandas. There are fewer than 2,000 giant pandas in the world and perhaps 80 percent of them are in Sichuan. Now, you’re not going to see them in the wild, but back in the 1980s Chengdu built the Chengdu Panda Base for research and – presumably – tourists. We’d already seen it, though, when we were here in 2015, and there’s only so many times you need to see a panda zoo in a two-year period. For us, that would be precisely once, so we didn’t go out there.
We came here, instead, for a remarkably prosaic reason: it’s where the flight went. From Shangri-La you can fly to three cities: Kunming (already been there twice this trip), Lhasa (wrong direction; it’s west of Shangri-La and we want to go east), and Chengdu. So we went to Chengdu. We could have caught a connecting flight on, but we hate doing that so we spent three nights here.
But for the panda zoo and Mount Qingcheng – another day trip from Chengdu we did two years ago – there’s really not that much of interest in here. It’s just a big, not terribly attractive city of 10 million people. To add to the sense of boredom, Mark was recovering from the sprained ankle he’d acquired the morning that we were flying here. The good news was that we had a gorgeous suite at the St. Regis, thanks to Starwood’s generous upgrade policy. It made hanging around and not doing much except reveling in the Republican melt down over repealing Obamacare relatively pleasant.By our third day there, after a bit of healing and more than a bit of cabin fever, Mark’s ankle was good enough to walk to Wenshu Temple, a beautiful and peaceful spot in what is otherwise a pretty intense city. Unfortunately, because of a ban on photography inside the temple itself we were unable to capture one of those memorable moments that you get to experience in travel. There was a big statue of the Buddha and, as often happens, someone came in to pray. In this case it was a young guy who got on his knees and bowed faithfully to the Buddha so we could clearly see that the back of his jacket was the word “FUCKING” in big, bold, capital letters.
We love China. Sometimes, at least.