Nothing really prepares you for the sheer bigness of everything in China.
Arriving after along flight from London to Chengdu home of the Pandas I was a mass of excitement tiredness curiosity and it slowly dawned on me you don’t ‘visit’ China you merely drop in as its vast.
By now you will have gotten the flow that this place really is big. I stress that because nothing in my extensive travels has prepared me for this mass of people and sense of space which gives you a totally different perspective on almost everything..
But first things first. We were met by our tour guide at the airport. I think its important when you are visiting places where you have no concept or understanding of the language its helpful to arrange private tour guides which we did in ever city arranged by Abercrombie and Kent. Everything was personalised to our taste our agenda..
The drive to the city in searing heat and humidity made my hair just one mass of frizz and being naïve I thought a quick blow dry and anti frizz serum I would soon have a glossy shining mass of hair. Oh boy. Prepare yourself. I soon learnt that no matter how much serums anti frizz or oil you put, if your hair frizzes it will frizz and puffs out. Nothing in China is done in a small way not even the way your hair reacts.
I had an image of the Chengdu Temple House but this is China and nothing is what I expected. Imagine arriving to what you think and what looks like and what is an old temple that is your hotel. You walk through the courtyard onto a breath taking reception. You are greeted so personally and elegantly by stunning young people at the reception. Everything is at it should be .Then you are taken out to your rooms which are in a spectacular in an ultra modern building outside the reception. This hotel is an interesting collection of buildings scattered about. Its really unique. We were mesmerised later on by the light reflecting from the building where the rooms were making weirdly wonderful shapes. Nothing was like we expected. It just went beyond our imagination.
Our Junior suite at the Chengdu Temple House was bigger than many flats in London and styled to perfection. The bathroom alone was bigger than my whole flat in London and was sensational and cleverly thought out. Everything was placed just right and so so exquiste.
I wanted us to try everything immediately from the shopping to the tea houses to the hotpot and our location was ideal for the first two wishes but for the hot pot we were driven to about 20 minutes away where apparently the best Hotpot is served.
I had heard so much about hotpot as its very famous here and I was eager to try. We were recommended a ‘small ‘restaurant and the definition here of small is relative. The selection of food was vast and we decided to go foe 2 broths spicy and non spicy and 3 mushroom. I didn’t care for the spicy it was just too oily but I loved the mushroom broth and the selection of things you cook in to. Much like fondue but a la Chinese.
Chengdu is safe and we meandered around finally taking a cab back to the hotel where we sat in the outside bar that is full of large sofas and plants but was also part of a thorough fare for the shoppers. The set up was unusual but it worked. Everything was in different buildings . The Tea house which we loved was a separate entity in the shopping area. Calm tranquil with all kinds of different teas and pretty delicate pastries. We loved it.
Breakfast was in the Café round the corner and served wonderful fresh juices pastries and the usual eggs etc cooked to order. Also because most of the tours private or otherwise start early they also prepare hampers for you. We didn’t try the other restaurants but we loved the bar and we sat in the evening just watching the world pass by .
One day we went and visited Dr Fu cottage and Wuhou Temple which had been refurbished to get an idea what it was like in bygone era.. What I bitterly regret was my total lack of knowledge on Chinese history and culture because I think the temple would have resonated more had I had some background .What was lovely was the gardens. In fact what hits you in China is the profusion of colour and greenery. I loved the lotus flowers. The sad thing we discovered in China is that many historical buildings were torn down to erase the past so there very few to visit
One evening we walked to what I can only describe as the shopping area which was a mix of ultra modern buildings with old houses all pedestrianised very clean and ate at the Jade Garden. The food was fabulous, different from what we perceive as Chinese food and the service efficient. I have to say all the places we stayed in were very well run and that is something I wasn’t expecting .
I have to tell you that shopping here is how can I say well big. I have never seen such large outlets from the heavy hitter of couture. Big Louis Vuitton Big Gucci We were Sini –Ocean Taikoo Li which apparently is the city centre. Round the hotel in the inner part was traffic free and it was an eclectic mix of old temple houses which were shops and designer stores and restaurants and modern buildings housing designer stores.
I never really realised that the Chinese are style conscious and with very individual interpretation. It was an eye opener as really every pre conceived idea I had was just thrown out of the window those first few days
Our visit to the Panda was interesting but not really what I had expected. Its super organised and we were driven to the centre which is very well laid out with lots of landscaping and varying areas where the pandas are held and looked after. We saw really cute baby pandas being weaned and for me a first a red Panda.
Definitely the visit is a must but I guess I had imagined I was going to see Pandas roaming about in the wild which of course was rather silly of me as this is a Panda a zoo and research centre .