Hooray! Today is my birthday! Kevin and I celebrated by going out with some friends last night. In Chinese culture you foot the bill for everyone on your birthday, so originally I kind of wanted to keep it on the down-low. We’re two days from payday and the cash flow is running dry! Not to mention it just feels wrong! Even on Rita’s birthday we ended up paying for our own drinks because what kind of a birthday gift is it to pay a ginormous bar tab?! Anyway, around midnight I blurted out that it was my birthday because I couldn’t help but be excited. Our friends were really nice and bought me a drink so we could all cheers! It was a fun night. This morning Kevin and I got up early and got brunch at our favorite restaurant before he had to go to work. So delicious! Since then I’ve just been lounging around so I figured I should squeeze in a blog post.
I mentioned that last week I had to work Monday-Sunday to compensate for the holiday that fell during the week. That wasn’t a ton of fun, but I got through it. It was the last week I had to work doubles so I was relieved when it was finally over!! Cannot wait to get that paycheck.. phew. Kevin and I decided kind of last minute to use our 2 full days off together to get out of town. Making travel plans last minute on a holiday is always a bad idea in China. I think I’ve written about this over and over, however we continue to test the limits of how long we can wait and still manage to make it happen. I wish we would learn our lesson but we are relaxed to a fault and never quite seem to get it together in advance.
So, Tuesday around 10am we headed to the train station to get tickets to Qingcheng Shan, a famous Taoist mountain in Sichuan. It’s a bit smaller and less well known than Emei Shan, but given that it was a holiday we figured it would be a bit less packed. The train station was a mob scene and a total headache- one of the woes of only being able to travel on national holidays. We were lucky to get tickets at 3:50 that day, but it didn’t feel lucky because we were hoping to spend the day hiking! Oh well. Because we were already up and out we decided to kill the time by heading back to People’s Park for some tea (a classic Chengdu experience that we hadn’t done yet) and bum around outside until our train left. It ended up being a great afternoon! We even rode the tilt-a-whirl that I previously didn’t know existed in the park. Fun, fun, fun!
Finally we got on the train and headed to Qingcheng Shan. Qingcheng Shan is a great day trip from Chengdu as there is a speed train between the two that only takes about 50 minutes and costs just ¥15/person each way. This was our first experience with a high-speed train and, man, does it beat the slow train… New, clean, modern, and… fast! We were big, big fans. I wonder where else we can take the high-speed train because it is definitely the superior way to travel in terms of convenience and affordability.
When we arrived in at Qingcheng Shan we decided that we wanted to head to the other side of the mountain. Both the front and the back are dotted with Taoist temples and ancient towns, but the back is supposedly a little less popular and thus less crowded. It has been closed until semi-recently due to major damage from the 2008 earthquake. We took a bus from the train station to Qingcheng Houshan, the back of the mountain, for ¥10/person. The journey was a twisty-turny-nausea-inducing half-hour long ride, and we were glad when we got out of the bus.
When we arrived we were a little stressed as it was about 6:00pm and we had no idea where to go or what to do for the night. The drop off point has a couple of restaurants and hotels, but nothing too special. We were hesitant to start the trail as we didn’t know how far it would be to the nearest hotel, and it was getting dark. We wanted to make sure we only paid once to get in (¥20/person, as opposed to the ¥90/person for the front part of the mountain!) and didn’t want to start walking only to have to turn around and come back when it got dark and re-enter the next day. FYI to anyone who might find themselves at Qingcheng Houshan: There are not maps, English speakers, or generally any useful information available. Each town has a little town map, and you get a microscopic trail map in Chinese on your ticket stub, but there is no helpful “You are here, go this way” type of thing or a larger map of the whole area in English. And it’s not in the guidebooks. So we wandered around for a bit trying to decide what to do.
Finally, we decided to buy tickets and head on in, which was the right thing to do because the first town is literally less than a 10 minute walk away. Considering how late it was we decided to get a hotel and some dinner and call it a night. People called out to us as we walked offering rooms and food (almost got annoying) so we were able to ask prices at several hotel before we picked a place for ¥120 for the night (~$20). It was more than we wanted to pay but a) it was a holiday, and b) once you get out of youth hostel territory and have to get hotel rooms prices go up a bit. Still definitely not expensive by any means, though, and the room was quite nice with a balcony with a couple of chairs on it and a nice view, a comfy bed, and 24 hour hot hot hot water.
The food in Qingcheng Houshan is Sichuan, Sichuan, Sichuan. Lots of different offerings from traditional Sichuan sit down restaurants to noodle and jiaotzi shops to street snacks. They town was absolutely adorable (almost like a little Lijiang!) so it was a nice place to have a meal and a few beers and enjoy the night. We even saw 4, count ‘em, 4 stars!
The place was definitely packed as we were coming in, way more packed than we could have imagined, and there was the biggest line I think I have ever seen in my life to get buses back to the train station. We realized that our hike the next day could potentially be quite crowded, but that most people just do day trips. So we went to bed early and set out around 7 am the next morning to beat the day trippers and have the mountain to ourselves.
We weren’t completely alone when we set off, but almost. We went back and forth with a couple other hikers, but that was about it. The trail was mostly up stairs for about 2-3 hours, which was a bit brutal first thing in the morning, but after some yummy snacks along the way we got our energy up and felt pretty good. The hike was so beautiful — it follows a river and you pass a waterfall every couple of minutes. We really enjoyed the temples as well. The cave engraved with Buddhist figurines was probably our favorite. It was really, really cool. At the top we reached a monastery with a great view. Pictures probably describe better than words so I’ll just post some of what we saw:
We don’t know which route we took up the mountain because of the lack of map situation. We also couldn’t find the cable cars which was a shame because around 11am when we were ready to head back down the place started to get really, really crowded. And the path was narrow. We definitely would have taken the cable cars if we could have found them. Oh well. It wasn’t ideal, but we were really glad we dragged ourselves out of bed and were able to enjoy a pretty serene morning.
We booked it down, and managed to avoid a line to leave because we were finished around 1. We had booked train tickets home when we arrived, which was wise because they were almost sold out by that point which would have really left us in a pickle. However, our train wasn’t until 9pm so we had a lot of time to kill. From there we headed to Dujiangyan, a town known for it’s UNESCO heritage site irrigation system which was built in the 3rd century BC. The Lonely Planet mentioned that the two are extremely close (Dujiangyan is the stop before Qingcheng Shan on the train, but because of how booked it was that wasn’t an option for us), but didn’t give us enough details about how to actually make the trip possible.
From the train station we got on bus 101 (which takes you to Dujiangyan) nervous about not knowing where to get off. We were just hoping it would be really obvious. Well, to us it wasn’t. A random English speaking passenger told us to jump off and switch to bus 1 to get to the scenic area. So we did. Unfortunately, this made it so we didn’t know where to get back to 101 to get home. It also made us nervous the whole time we were on bus 1 as to whether or not we would actually get where we wanted to go, and whether we would recognize it if we did.
Fortunately, it was pretty obvious when we arrived to the scenic area. Dujiangyan scenic area is a nice stroll down a park of sorts on a mountain covered in temples and gorgeous views. It costs ¥90/person to enter, and you can walk down, hang out around the river, enjoy the gardens, have tea at the tea houses, and make a day of it. Some people are disappointed because they expect to find a ancient town and a big irrigation system (possibly rightfully so) but this isn’t the case. The city, and system, is modern and updated. But it’s still a nice day trip, and there are remnants of the old system. We actually really enjoyed it, although I don’t know if I would go way out of my way.
Getting back to the train was a pain, and I wish I could write the correct way to do it but we failed to figure it out. Because we started at the top and ended at the bottom of the mountain we didn’t know where to catch the bus. Everyone we talked to told us something different about which bus to take. We walked for awhile and even found a bus 101, but they said they weren’t going back to Qingcheng Shan. Not wanting to even come close to missing our train (it was about 7:30pm by this point) we ended up paying a taxi ¥50 to take us back. We’re pretty sure we got ripped off pretty badly but at that point we were just thankful to get to the station!
By the end of the day we were exhausted. But it was a really lovely trip. And then I only had to work 2 days and I was back at the weekend (Kev works weekends, but he had Thursday off to recover)! When I got back my class was cancelled because of “foot to mouth disease” which a couple of my kids have and is supposed to be extremely contagious. So it was an easy rest of the week for me! I’m so glad April is here! I love this month