Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Day 2 : Chengdu - Huanglong World Heritage Natural Site

We woke up at 3.30 a.m. (what an ungodly hour!!) and got ready to leave our hotel by 4.30 a.m. I did not have breakfast as it was just too early to eat. My friends made cup noodles, but did not have time to eat them. They would eat the noodles in the bus. I, too, have actually come on this trip armed with cereals and cup noodles and biscuits and muesli bars.

Saying goodbye to the comfort of a modern hotel room ..... 

It was chilly outside and drizzling too. We were picked up at our hotel in a small van to an assembly point, where we boarded our tour bus. Our tour guide was a young man called Xiao Zhang. There were 24 of us in the entourage - 20 Chinese nationals from various parts of China, and 4 of us Malaysians. There were also more men than women - 14 men and 10 women. We would be traveling together for a 3 days and 2 nights tour to Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou.

Once we boarded the bus, we were asked to write down our names and passport numbers on a piece of paper - for insurance purposes. Then a lady started selling us ponchos and overshoes.I had checked the weather forecast before the trip and it indeed was forecasted to rain. I have brought my own poncho so I bought a pair of overshoes from her for RMB15.00. In case it rained, I needed the overshoes to cover my shoes. I could not have my shoes wet as I did not bring any extra footwear with me on this trip.

At 5.30 a.m., we set off. Since it was still so early, I slept through the first part of the journey. 2 hours later, we had our first stop ...

This road side shop sells fruits, tidbits, instant noodles, souvenirs and even winter jackets. The toilets were behind the shop, and we had to pay RMB1.00 to enter. And here, we got a shock as the toilets were merely troughs and were doorless! 

What? No doors! It was so public! But there was no choice and we had to use it anyway. Furthermore, at this particular stop, the toilet was so crowded with busloads of tourists, so the stench was really rather unbearable. The irony was that I distinctly remembered our tour guide saying that this was one of the more sanitary toilets ..... so I suppose they were worse toilets around.

2 hours later at 9.30 a.m., we stopped for a meal. This was considered a brunch and it was the only meal we would get till night time. The 4 of us shared a table with a friendly Chinese family - so only the 8 of us to share the 12 dishes served together with rice. These were some of the food items ... 

Soup ... I did not try this as it did not look appetising to me ...

The chicken tasted alright; but the taste of the chillies were robust, numbing and a little too overpowering for me 

Pickled vegetables 


 Black fungus
I liked this tangy and crunchy dish .... but my friend PE thought it tasted rancid 

Steamed egg  
Phew .... we loved this simple dish .... 

 Another pickled vegetable
These were crunchier and tasted more refreshing .... 

Meatballs in sauce.... not sure what meat is used ... 

There were other dishes which pictures I did not capture; our Chinese friends ate so fast, the entire troop finished the meal in 15 minutes. I merely picked at the food as I wasn't hungry at all.

I was fascinated by this animal, which I thought was a mountain goat, but in fact was a yak.
Love the white fur!!  

The journey to Huanglong was indeed very long ...... and we drove through rural China countryside and mountainous villages .....

We made a few more toilet stops ... and by the time we reached Huanglong, it was 2.30 p.m. We had actually wanted to ride the cable car up the mountains ... but we were put off by the long queue, which was estimated to be an hour long wait. Instead, we opted to climbed up the mountain by ourself. We had 3 hours to spend here. 

Our first stop was  to Huanglong World Heritage Natural Site, located at the northwest part of Sichuan. It is famous for its scenery - colourful pools and snowcapped mountains. 

We bundled ourselves up in our jackets and ventured up the slopes. It wasn't too cold after we climbed up the steps and burnt some energy, in fact. We enjoyed the lovely weather! 

With 3 hours to spare, we only made it to two thirds up the mountain, but the scenery was stunning.  

Peek into the mountain forest ...

The trail in fact was well maintained, and not too steep .... so I could have a leisuirely climb ...  

Guests Welcome Pond .... the water was so clear!

 Marvelous Flying Waterfall

Flying Waterfall on Lotus Platform

 Washing Cave

 Azalea Pond 

By the time we reached the Azalea Pond, we turned back. It had started to drizzle by this time and it as getting dark as well. Our bus drove through thick fog as we descended the mountain. It looked quite dangerous, but we knew that we were in good hands. Our professional driver made at least 2 trips up these mountains a week! 

Since we were in the Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture also known as the Aba Prefecture, we were taken to a Tibetan household to experience some Tibetan hospitality. 

A very diluted milk tea and rice wine ...
Both were tasteless .... 

Some side dishes
Boiled baby potatoes, green vegetables, black fungus, and some glass noodles ... and other unidentifiable items.

Hot and spicy hot pot

Roasted lamb 

The food did not look appealing to me ... and I wasn't used to the pungent odour of Sichuan peppercorns. The sight and smell of the food churned my stomach, though I did put in some effort to try some of the food. I had the noodles dipped in the strong-flavoured broth, a boiled potato and a tiny piece of grilled lamb. Among these 3 items, the boiled potatoes seemed to be the yummiest.

We thought that we were the only ones not used to the food, but back in the bus, our Chinese tour mates too, complained about the food. They demanded a good meal once we reached the hotel. 

That night, we were staying in Jiuzhaigou, and by the time we reached our hotel, it was already 10.00 p.m. It was raining, wet and cold .... and I was tired and sleepy, and my stomach was queasy. I could not wait to get to the warm comforts of the hotel room.

So I turned down dinner to retire earlier the room. AL and PE decided not to have dinner as well .... the three of us went to our rooms together.

And then came another shock. 

Our room was located at a building at the back, some 100 metres away ... the ground was wet and filled with puddles of water and we had to walk very carefully in the rain. Next we had to climb up 4 storeys with our luggage because there were no lifts. We were all breathless when we reached the top floor where our room was. And once we opened the door to our room, we were utterly disappointed. 

The room was small, gloomy and dark. One of our table lamps did not work. We peeked into the bathroom .... it was wet, looking dirty too. It felt damp and we were freezing cold. And the best news was that we were staying for 2 nights. Sigh. There was even a blackout past midnight! What a spooky place to stay in. 

I had a quick shower and slept in my jacket and with 2 duvets over my head. Luckily I did manage to get some rest. AL, however, tossed and turned the whole night.

What a terrible hotel and it was rated 4-stars by Jiuzhaigou's standard. Goodness! I would rate it only half a star. We thought we were the only ones unhappy with the hotel ... but our Chinese counterparts too complained big-time. They wanted to stay in five-star hotels and would not tolerate another night, they said. The tour guide had a hard time placating them. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Day 1 : Kul - Chengdu

Normally when I go to China, I would sign up for a tour at the travel agent's. Just shop for a tour package, pay, pack and then go. I would not need to worry about anything because my welfare would be well taken care of by the tour agency. Being mostly illiterate in written Chinese, a packaged tour would be the most convenient way to travel in China.

This time around, for our trip to Chengdu, we would be traveling on our own. My colleague PH was the organiser for this trip, and she was going with her cousin, PE. AL and I merely tagged along. We booked our own flights to Chengdu ... and then joined a local tour to Huang Long and Jiuzhaigou. It was a different experience, but nonetheless an interesting trip.

Our flight, D7 320 took off from KLIA 2 at approximately 9.35 a.m. It was an A330-300 aircraft, which had 9 seats in a row. The seats came in 3 rows of 3s. I was seated on the aisle. It suited me fine as I liked being able to get to the loo whenever I wanted to. 2 petite fair-skinned Chinese girls were seated beside me. AL was seated across the aisle from me, and we could still chit chat throughout the flight. Our short flight to Chengdu was about 4 hours and 15 minutes.

We landed at Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (成都双流国际机场) at about 1.30 p.m. And it took only a short while to get past the immigration checks.

Chengdu is the capital city of Sichuan province, also the home of the giant pandas. We saw these panda figurines at the baggage claim area at the airport.

We exited the airport, in search of a taxi. Unlike here in Malaysia, we need not purchase taxi coupons. Just join in the queue at the taxi stand at the far end of the airport. We did not wait for long before it was our turn - only that we could not fit in our 4 pieces of luggage into the boot of the taxi! Nearly half of the boot was taken up by a cylindrical gas tank.

We were still adjusting our luggage to fit into the car boot when the driver got impatient. He got out and bellowed at us. He then slammed the boot shut and climbed back into the driver's seat. My luggage was still in my hand and it looked like I had to hold it on my lap now. We scrambled into the car, and he sped off and drove recklessly throughout the way to the hotel. What a nasty man! 

It was unfortunate that we encountered such a bad-tempered taxi driver as soon as we landed. He did not even drop us off at our hotel. We were dropped off at about 2 blocks away, claiming that he could there was no drop off point nearer to our hotel. We did not want to argue, so we got off the car and dragged our luggage as we walked to our hotel. Our taxi fare cost RMB57.00.

We stayed at Quan Ji Hotel (全季酒店) - it translates to be All Seasons Hotel, but its official name in English is in fact, JI Hotel. The hotel is right at the city centre, located opposite a popular mall called Wang Fu Jing (王府井). The lobby of our hotel is on the 18th floor.

View of Jin Jiang District (锦江区), Chengdu

Check-in was a breeze and we went to our rooms to dump our bags.

 The lobby

This was a 4-star hotel .... and we were glad that the room was comfortable and clean. It was quite spacious, and there was complimentary drinks-making facilities, and free wi-fi. We quickly went out after that. The weather was pleasant ... about 19 - 23 degrees; I could walk about in just a t-shirt. 

Wang Fu Jing  
This is a departmental store, which we did visit ...

Inside Wang Fu Jing 
We were attracted by this brand of bags called COMICO. They are fully made of leather, and its designs are quite trendy, except that they are very expensive. A bag costs an average of RMB2000. 

Cuties inside Wang Fu Jing 

In China, you need to be able to be quick and aggressive to snatch up a taxi. We waited for 10 minutes at the taxi stand, but failed to secure a taxi, and in the end, we had to resort to a motorcycle taxi. It is something like a tuk-tuk. This vehicle has only 3 wheels and could only fit 3 of us .... so PE, being the lightest, had to sit on our laps. Lol. It was dangerous .... but it was an interesting experience.

The trip to Kuanzhai Ancient Street took less than 10 minutes, but cost us RMB25.00 - which was a cutthroat price, in fact. We did not have a choice as we had no other means of getting to there. Once we reached there, we decided to go for a meal.  was so hungry by now, so we went inside small local eatery and had ...

 Spicy glass noodles
Spicy and numbing fiery broth, pungent and tangy flavour and springy glass noodles

Braised beef noodles
The wheat noodles tasted alright - not too springy; the broth tasted mildly of beef flavour

Chaoshou or 抄手 is in fact dumplings; and we chose to have chaoshou in soup
The dumpling skin was thick, the minced pork filling minimal; overall tasted alright 

Each bowl cost RMB7.00. The food wasn't exceptionally good, but it was acceptable to our palate.

 Walking towards KuanZhai Alley, 2 alleys reflecting Ming and Qing Dynasty architecture
"Kuan" means wide, and "Zhai" means narrow. All along the 2 streets, vendors were selling all sorts of things ... 

Kuan Alley signpost

These are hair clips called 豆芽发夹 or the beansprout hair clip is the most popular item now. RMB5.00 for 2 pieces. 

We took our time and browsed leisurely at the silversmith's, candy stores, souvenir stores .... but of course, the food caught my attention. 

Snacks for sale! 
In fact, all along the street, the food items sold were the same.  

We went into this eatery to try some local snacks. We wrote our orders and had to pay first before food was served to us. Each item was RMB10.00. 

A local eatery

伤心凉粉 (Shang xin liang fen) or Sad Cold Noodles 
Why sad? Is it because it is so spicy that it will make one sob upon eating? Lol. The plain cold noodle is tasteless on its own .... it's not very springy actually. The flavour comes from the robust and pungent and tangy chilli oil, dried chilli flakes and the chopped fresh chillies. 

韩包子 (Han Baozi)
These are essentially mini steamed buns with meat filling; not much of filling in these buns, though, 

 三大炮 (San Da Pao or 3 Big Cannons)
Glutinous rice is pinched from a container and then bounced towards a huge tray of ground soy and sesame powder. The glutinous rice balls made booming sounds as they are thrown, thus the name. The rice balls are doused in a sweet, sugary syrup and served in threes. It reminds me of our local mochi. I liked this snack. 

 水晶凉糕 or Shui Jing Liang Gao
Cold jelly-like cake served in sweet dark sugar syrup; not bad and I liked this too. 

We downed our snack with a glass of snow pear drink (雪梨汁) each. The drink wasn't nice. There were more snacks sold along the street ....

Rabbit heads in chilli oil ....
Looked pretty scary .... none of us wanted to try these .... 

锅魁 or Guo Kui
These are some sort of biscuits .... we bought one piece; each of us took a bite and threw the rest away as we found it too pungent with the flavour of Sichuan peppercorn

Pineapple Honey Rice Pudding ... 

Beef and lamb skewers, RMB10.00 each
Upon ordering, the vendor dipped the cooked skewers into a sauce, and then grilled them on the fire before brushing chilli and cumin powder on the them. We tried one skewer of beef and lamb each .... which we found the meat to be tender and flavourful. Not bad :))

At about 10.00 p.m., we took a taxi back to our hotel. It cost us only RMB10.00.


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