Chengdu and Emei Shan!

My main mission for Chengdu was to see the pandas!! We arrived at our hostel on the evening of the 1st and immediately booked the panda tour! The next morning we were up early and at the famous Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding and Research Base by 8:30am. The tour usually goes first thing in the morning because that’s when the panda’s are the most active. They feed at that time, the rest of the day is generally spent sleeping. Panda’s are incredibly interesting for animals that do 2 things: eat and sleep. I actually could have watched them all day. We learnt all about their breeding procedures and how they are cared for in captivity, and I took about a hundred pictures! We also saw red panda’s, which look like red and black raccoons. They weren’t as interesting but still worth a see, I had never really heard about them before I saw them at the base! Going to see the pandas made my entire trip, I was so excited to see them in person and they didn’t disapoint!

After I saw the pandas it didn’t really matter what we did in Chengdu for the rest of the trip, so I let Michael call the shots. We did some sight seeing for the rest of the day and the following day as well, saw the city’s main square and visited many beautiful markets. Chengdu is a gorgeous city! It’s traditional and modern blend is nice, it’s hot all year so it has a lot of trees, gardens and rivers lining the streets, and there is a lot of delicious food to sample! I would love to visit the city again someday.

Michael and I were booked to fly out of Chengdu on the 6th, which gave us 3 days to climb Emei Shan (Mount Emei), a very famous and historical mountain located outside the city. Emei Shan is one of the four Saccred Buddhist Mountains in China, and home to many monkeys! Our original plan was to climb the entire mountain on day 1, sleep at the top to see the famous and incredibly beautiful sunrise at the summit, climb back down on day 2, head back to our hostel in Chengdu for the night, and fly back to Hohhot the next day. Our plan didn’t really pan out the way we had envisioned, and here’s why:

Mount Emei is 3099 metres high (10,167 ft) and, unbeknownst to us, takes at least 12 hours to climb from the base to the top. Michael and I didn’t really think about that before we began climbing, we were just excited to get to the top! Now that I think about it, we really should have done more research on the topic before going… but w/e it all worked out in the end. We started climbing about 10am from the parking lot where we were dropped off at the base of the mountain and 4 long, sweaty hours later we reached the archway where the ACTUAL climb began (where you begin to climb the steep part of the mountain to get to the top). We were surprisingly miffed to realize that we could have taken a bus from the parking lot to this point and it would have only taken 2 hours. BAH! At this point we had some lunch and it was about 3pm when we started our climb again. EXTREMELY lucky for us, we ran into someone we had met on the bus from Chengdu, Paul, who spoke pretty decent english. He broke the news to us that there was absolutely no way we would make it to the top of the mountain before nightfall. “From here it’s at least a 8 hour climb, straight up, to the top, and night will come within 4 or 5 hours”. He suggested that we join him on his plan, which was to look around the area for a while, but catch the bus from the archway that would take us up the mountain and drop us off only a 2.5 hour climb from the summit. We agreed and Paul became both our saviour and hiking companion.

The area we wandered before catching the bus was breathtaking. Beautiful, clean, greenish blue rivers, gorgeous temples and swinging bridges. We saw as much as we could before we headed back to the archway to catch the bus. The bus took about 2 hours to get to our destination and it was really cool watching the scenery outside the bus: the roads twisted round and round, higher and higher, snow began to appear and the air felt different because it was getting thinner the higher up we got. When we arrived at the dropping off point we stepped off the bus and I immediately felt the temperature difference. I had been wearing shorts and a tank-top, but I immediately rented a big, red winter coat from a local coat rental store. Good thing too because by the time night came I would have froze to death without that coat, without a doubt. Another thing we saw immediately once we got off the bus was a bunch of wild monkeys. I was really excited to see monkeys in person, however once I got closer to them I found them to be quite terrifying. They mostly lived off garbage and stolen food, they were large and strong, and there were signs everywhere warning hikers against getting too close to them. The monkeys were not afraid of humans at all and if you had a water bottle or a bag of food in your hands they would attack you without hesitation. I witnessed many people getting their food stolen from their bags, and I saw many discarded backpacks and purses. I kept my distance from them whenever we came near them on the mountain, but Michael found them very interesting and would always try to get closer to them, much to my displeasure.

It was a 2.5 hour climb to the top of the mountain from where we were dropped off. The 2 hour climb was brutal. Old, steep stairs straight up almost the entire way. There are hundreds of mini-shops set up along entire mountain path (from the base to the top), so there were always places to take breaks. I didn’t feel as appreciative for meeting Paul as I did then; climbing the stairs for 2.5 hours to the top was bad enough, I don’t know what I would have done if we ended up climbing the 8 hours. We climbed up and up (as the temperature got lower and lower) and the backdrop to the mountain was a beautiful sunset. We reached the hotel at the top of the mountain just as night set, such luck!! And we were soooo exhausted but happy. We had climbed for basically 7 hours that day and getting to our destination point (and a place to lie down) was exhuberating! We had a nice hot dinner at the hotel, set a time for the early morning to meet Paul before sunrise, and headed to bed!

Sleep wasn’t to be enjoyed for long though! We were up at 5:30am to climb the 15 minute stairway to the Golden Summit, the top of the mountain with a magnificent golden statue and the buddhist temples. Sunrise was to be just before 7am and we wanted to watch the entire thing. It was freezing and windy at the very top, so we shivered together for the hour while we waited, but we were also excited to see the sunrise!! Sadly, it was cloudy that day so when the sun did rise we didn’t get to see the pink skyline rising over the mountain like we saw in pictures. We did get to see the sky lighten as the morning went on and I was able to snap some truly wonderful pictures, but I was definitely disappointed that it had to be cloudy on our morning on the mountain. Either way, being at the top of Emei Shan is a feeling and experience I don’t know if I’ll ever have again.

We began our descent down the mountain after having a hot breakfast and rest, around 10-10:30am. Paul estimated it would take us 8 hours to climb down the mountain, just enough time to catch the bus back to Chengdu and our hostel at 7pm. The descent down was exhausting!!! However, I saw some truly amazing sights on the mountain. I may have been sad that sunrise was hidden by clouds, but I was thankful that the rest of the day was cloudy because it wasn’t too hot, which would have made the climb harder and more uncomfortable. I had no idea that climbing down stairs can tire out your legs just as much, if not more, than climbing up stairs! We climbed down for 7 hours, taking breaks every 30 minutes or so. We saw many monkeys on the path down, much to my horror, but we never had any trouble from them. We passed many people climbing up the mountain, and another wave of gratitude towards Paul would wash over me again because I knew exactly what those people were going to have to climb (having just climbed down it) and it would be enough to make me cry. If you ever choose to climb Emei Shan, give yourself 3 days to do it, not 2 like we did. 2 days to climb up and 1 to climb down! It’s a mission (but obviously worth it)!

We made it down the mountain in record time, arriving around 5:30pm. To be fair, we were pushing it because the last bus back to Chengdu left at 7 and we still had take the bus to get to the parking lot at the actual bottom of the mountain. So after a stressful bus ride, we finally made it to our bus at 7pm and were back in Chengdu at our hostel by 9pm! We said goodbye to Paul then, and thanked him profusely for helping us but mainly for saving our lives! Michael and I both agree, we definitely would have never have survived that mountain if we hadn’t met Paul. I swear, I’d still be climbing that thing without him!!! Back at our hostel we were exhausted (obviously) and not only that, we were EXTREMELY sore. I think every muscle in my body hurt! It hurt to walk, sit down, bend over, and climbing or descending stairs was the worst! We left Chengdu for Hohhot the next day and though we had a wonderful, amazing, unforgettable time on our vacation, it was still nice to be home. We paid for climbing Emei Shan for about a week following our arrival back in Hohhot. I couldn’t sit on the floor to teach my smallest classes, I had to do it from a chair! My students thought it was funny but I had no choice!

All in all, my last official travel experience in China was a complete and utter success! I saw and did everything I wanted to, made new friends, and, of course, Michaels accompaniment was really special. I’m so happy that I experience what I did and that I have over 800 pictures to stop the most magical moments from fading. 🙂

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Gail Johnson
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 02:41:02

    So glad you and Michael enjoyed this trip. I looked at a lot of the pictures and they were great! Hope you back to normal now and no bones and muscles are still aching. Love you and can’t wait until you get back home to Thunder Bay. Nan

    Reply

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