Travel broadens the mind: Chengdu, Leshan, Xi'an and Macao for single horizon

2011-05-16China travel Guide

Travel, travel, travel…what a nice feeling, right? Every traveler looking for some large-scale and entertaining break has this restless feeling prior to their trip: where to go? What to see? Which hotels? Flights? ... You all know what I am talking about: excitement! Of course you have to get informed on the destinations you chose for enjoying the tour at its best point and be prepared for the sightseeing you are going to see, but this is not everything about travel, life is not written in a book! "Reading ten thousand books equals traveling ten thousand meters" is what I am talking about. Let's get it started, live your life now and enjoy it for travel broadens the mind, relieves and even cultivates it. The best medicine I have ever taken so far!
Talking about my experiences, I have to write about my new China week trip I had at the beginning of April. April is renowned in China for being one of the finest month for traveling, as the weather is one of the best one: not that much rain, mild-cool weather and lush sceneries. This time, my plan was to visit some China top cities and scenic spots I never had the chance to see: China's preserved Giant Panda, Leshan Giant Buddha (largest in the world) and Xi'an Terracotta Army. So excited with the idea of the 2 weeks break the company gave me for a special person coming to visit me, I started to plan this trip 1 month prior to departure for I wanted to get the best prices for flight tickets and hotels deals. Having lived in China for one year and speaking Chinese (well, not as a native of course but I get by), I already have a good deal of individual travel experiences so I preferred to travel again as an individual for this April trip so that I could see by myself how everything works and feel free during this special holiday.
Based in Guilin, the trip I designed by myself first took into account the flight tickets fares amount and the final cheapest way was to start by heading to Chengdu, capital city of Sichuan Province. Naturally then, the tour plan was fixed: Guilin-Chengdu-Leshan-Xi'an-Macao-Guilin, a loop tour including flights and buses transportation for one week was just created! Flights booked, hotels also soon after (I could have really good prices indeed), I had to choose and get informations about what to visit in each city and how to get there as I was not part of a tour group organized by a travel agency. As an English Editor in VisitOurChina, I already knew the top highlight things to do so this is kind of easier even if I checked again to make sure I was not going to miss something gorgeous on my way. With the dream I had to see pandas in their native homeland, Leshan Giant Buddha and Terracotta Army, the trip plan enriched with other famous attractions in each location. This first step prior to my trip was such an interesting and exciting thing that I couldn't help thinking about it all the time! With some advices about fees and bus transportation from Sandy and my English Department team, I could end up with the best preparation ever. Friendly and professional as usual, they gave me the best recommendations in every city that for sure ended to be so helpful during the tour. Having always traveled on my own except with a university tour in 2007, I decided for this time to book a one day Xi'an seat-in coach tour with VisitOurChina, an opportunity for me to enjoy the Terracotta Army at its best point and have plenty of informations from the guide during the tour. Everything fixed, weeks passed and the D-Day finally arrived: departure!
Day 1  Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
The flight from Guilin to Chengdu spent smoothly and lasted for 2 hours. Arrived at the airport, airport shuttle buses making the way to the city-center were at travelers' disposal. Check-in at the hotel and diner done, the upcoming night was the one before a great week. The first day in Chengdu, was Panda day! We visited the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, an unforgettable visit I'll keep in mind all my life! We decided to arrive early in the morning (around 8:30 a.m.) for seeing the feeding and the pandas still moving in their parks. So interested by seeing first baby pandas we headed to this part of the center park conveniently indicated everywhere by signs.
By the time we arrived in front of the nursery, so many tourists were already there looking at the park enclosure where we, at first sight, didn't see any pandas at all. What or where were they looking at? Well, to the top of the trees! Cute baby pandas were sleeping in their enclosure many trees, like Christmas balls in a Christmas tree. This was such a wonderful and funny thing to see! They seemed to be so well hanged at their tree, and slept so deeply that it was just impossible not to smile in front of this scenery. In the enclosure, other baby pandas were active, busy with looking for the best place to sleep in a comfortable way.
On nearby enclosures were standing adult pandas having their daily breakfast. Seeing them eating bamboo was like a day dreaming. They were so dedicated and precise in the way to start their bamboo dish that we could just but display a smiling face again and again. The center was also composed of tourist attractions such as the center's Panda story cinema broadcasting the life of the animal, restaurants and lakes.
The afternoon in the center park was then the opportunity to see the Red Panda, smaller than their giant black and white brothers but cute in the same way. Looking at them was a pleasure for eyes and heart. After having visited every corner of the park, we finally left the site for coming back to the city center of Chengdu by taxi.
The nights in Chengdu were the occasion to enjoy the nightlife of Chunxi Pedestrian Street where many shopping malls and luxury shops can be seen. Time in Chengdu was definitely cool but exciting!
Day 2  Leshan Giant Buddha
On our second day, our trip headed to Leshan Giant Buddha (乐山大佛), which is at a 2-hour bus drive from Chengdu. Tickets paid at the bus station, we took the coach for arriving in Leshan by noon. The visit of the site took us the all afternoon as we wanted to see everything and the site was such a big one. We started the visit by visiting the Wuyou Mountain & Temple where stands the newly discovered Giant Sleeping Buddha, another large-scale Buddha carved into the cliff on the opposite part of the Giant Seated Buddha itself. The mountain's temples were so awe-inspiring that we stayed breathless in front of the beauty of the place we were standing in. The temple was made of different giant Buddhas holding different name and position in the religion. Every corner was a marvel and we couldn't help taking so many pictures of this gorgeous scenic spot, unfortunately, not that much visited by foreign tourists who usually start the visit directly by the Giant Buddha in itself. For us it was the ending sightseeing of our visit, like a holy reward waiting for us.
After climbing the many stairs to the temple, we headed in the other part of the site where stands the Giant Buddha. On our way, the mountain was flourishing with many teahouses and temples where tourists can relax for a while during the visit. Finally we arrived at the Leshan Giant Buddha proper! One word: awesome! The site is just awesome!! There, we were standing by the left side of the Buddha's face like two little dots in the middle of nowhere, like nothing in front of such a human masterpiece. The view was impressive and the serene-looking Buddha was facing the Dadu, Min and Qingyi rivers with Mount Emei far away into the horizon. Enjoying the site at its best point, we climbed down the cliff to have another view over the Buddha and feel its 71 meters height. The impression was gorgeous, the Leshan Giant Buddha is so impressive and grandiose that we better understand why it is classified at UNESCO.
Hiking on the Lingyun Mountain after spending some time in the Buddha site, we then headed back to the first entrance we took, visiting on our way the Southeast Asian Buddhist sculptures present in the park near to the temple. After such a great day and again 2 hours drive back to Chengdu we had a good sleep!
Day 3  Chengdu city, Wenshu Temple and Teahouses 
The last day in Chengdu before our next flight to Xi'an spent in visiting the city in itself and its most famous scenic spots. The first step was Chengdu Tianfu Square where stands the statue of Chairman Mao Zedong, an important area of the city. Surrounding the place are disseminated many parks and their teahouses where old people spend their afternoon drinking tea and playing Mahjong. We had some time to visit People's Park and its Monument of the Martyrs of the Railway Protection Movement on our way.
But one of the best visits we had in Chengdu, together with the Panda Center of course was the Wenshu Temple, a real discovery in the middle of the restless city traffic: peaceful, noiseless and beautiful place. By the time we arrived, the monks living there were praying giving to the monastery a deep sound of spirituality. The gardens, halls and teahouses there were just exquisite. After a whole day visiting the city, Wenshu is a real relief that we appreciated a lot.
Day 4  Xi'an Terracotta Army and Banpo Museum
Arrived in Xi'an late in the evening, the night was short for preparing for such a day we had in the Imperial city of Xi'an. Yes, Xi'an, I couldn't believe at first that I was in one of the most important cities of China. This first day visiting the city was the one that we booked with VisitOurChina for visiting the Terracotta Army and the Banpo Neolithic Village. Accompanied by 4 other tourists coming from USA, Argentina and Australia, the day was full of cultural informations about Xi'an and its history. Our English-speaking guide was just awesome, speaking in a really good language level and telling us a lot about her city, its history and culture. Our first stop of this one day seat-in coach was the one in Banpo Museum. Despite being less impressive than what I thought in the first place, this museum was a charming way to discover the Neolithic history of Xi'an where people lived already 6000 years ago. Our guide explained us a lot about the way of life of this Yangshao culture matriarchal community while we were visiting the indoor pits where we could see the places where stood houses, pots and ancient tombs.
The visit is done after one hour or so, our little bus took us to an unexpected place where everyone was just pleasantly surprised: a little Terracotta statue factory. The visit was of great interest for us as we learnt about the secrets of modeling and making the statues, seeing the statue molds, raw materials and the factory's many different size Terracotta soldiers and horses statues. The place was impressive and of interest I could never have expected. Thanks to it we learnt about how telling the difference between the soldier, officer and general statue as well as the way it was created in ancient times for the imperial mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang. This visit happened like out of the blue but was of a great help and interest before visiting the actual Terracotta Army site, we were prepared for the worldly famous scenic spot we were going to visit in the afternoon, and that was a great thing that I can now really recommend to you when you plan to visit Xi'an!
After lunch, our group headed to the top attraction of our day: the Xi'an Terracotta Army! Our group's way to the site was of a 5-10 minutes' walk filled with many souvenirs shops where mini-representations of warriors and horses were sold. Our guide made us do a 10 minutes stop to see the man that discovered by chance this world heritage site in 1974. An impressive meeting with a man that contributed to making Xi'an an even more important city in the world. Divided into 3 different pits, the site of Terracotta army was crowded with tourists from all over the world. Chinese and English signs everywhere, we first walked until Pit No.1 that is the biggest one and where the most important amount of warriors and horses were found. Before entering, I just took a second for realizing where I was on the point to go, breathe and opened my eyes…amazing, just amazing! Here we stood, the Terracotta Army just in front of us, one of my dreams of China had just been realized. The vision of all these soldiers with different face expressions was awe-inspiring, we shot many pictures and took a breath looking at all the soldiers carefully. This was a moment I'll ever keep in mind from now one. This kind of visit make you realize how worth this is to travel and learn from other cultures. This visit made me realize even more how much China is a beautiful country. 
Pit No. 2 and No.3, of a smaller size, were not as impressive as the first one but we could also see some soldiers and horses. These were the one where chariots and unit-crossbowman warrior squad stood, a still marvelous visit for the eyes. Ending with the site's museum part, our visit to the Terracotta Army finished after an afternoon filled with emotions. Our guide and driver returned us back to the hotel like planned. The day was a great one and we are so thankful to have booked such a tour with the company.
Day 5  Xi'an Ancient City Wall, Bell Tower, Drum Tower and Muslim District 
Our last day in Xi'an had arrived and we still had so many things to see. Early in the morning, we started to visit by ourselves the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, one of the top attractions of the city. This visit was a restful one and we were charmed by the old character of this ancient pagoda that is still standing brilliantly in the southern tip of the modern city that has become Xi'an. The place's many gardens were the occasion for us to have a rest under the hot weather that hit the city before we headed to the Ancient City Wall. Seeing the city wall was so impressive for us as our taxi drove near to it when we arrived the first day at night. Xi'an is such a beautiful city. We spent most of the afternoon walking on the City Wall, admiring the many black stone towers, red Chinese lamps and local rickshaws. This was one of the visits we appreciated most during our stay in Xi'an together with the Terracotta Army and the Muslim District.
Xi'an flourishes with so many tourist attractions we decided to have dinner in the Muslim District, a charming place where we entered in another China. This district where live a large amount of Hui people was a jewel for both eyes and palate! What a nice diner we just had there! The Muslim food is one of our favorite ones. The district had a special atmosphere: street food shops, souvenirs alleyways, local music, our time there was great.
The nightlife of Xi'an approached, we started to visit by night the Drum Tower located near to the Muslim District followed by the Bell Tower. The views were amazing and of a great beauty, too!
Day 6 & 7  Short journey in Macao
Departing from Xi'an in the early morning, we had to arrive in Macao and enter this special administrative region of China before 8 p.m.. We took a first flight down to Guangzhou, where we conveniently found a bus to Zhuhai, a mainland city adjacent to Macao. This way was the cheapest one that I knew as I personally have already been to Macao 2 years ago. The way spent perfectly. We passed the Custom and arrived in Macao in the afternoon and then headed to our hotel. Our stay in the city was planned to be short but we still succeeded in doing some of the most important attractions of the city. We spent the end of the afternoon by enjoying the city life and shops in the UNESCO ranked square of Largo do senado, the most famous sightseeing of the city with its Portuguese architectural style. A great relaxing moment compared to the restless cities of Chengdu and Xi'an we had just visited before.
The evening was the occasion to enjoy a traditional Portuguese dinner made of chicken and onion with tomatoes, a simple but delightful dinner before starting a nightlife visit of Macau's casinos. Reputed all over Asia as the new Las Vegas of the East, Macau is the place for those who are interested playing gambling games. We could just but marvel at the lights, music and ornaments of the casinos' area! Macau is the city of money!
We spent the next day by visiting the most important attraction of the peninsula: St. Paul's Cathedral and the nearby fortress and alleyways. As a European and French, I can totally attest that Macau is a place where we can totally feel like in the old continent and Asia at the same time. People are speaking English, Portuguese, Cantonese and Mandarin everywhere, the time there seems to slow down and this is hard to get bored as the city has many things to offer.
Coming back to mainland China by the end of the afternoon, we passed the Custom again and headed to the bus station to take the Zhuhai-Guilin long distance bus. Our way back to Guilin took around 15 hours but as we were in a sleeping bed bus, everything was great and we didn't feel the route being too long.
Back in Guilin after such a trip we were of course tired but happy for the many attractions that we saw. This kind of trip was for me a chance as I could get the opportunity to discovering China even more and learn from such a trip, a reason why I am so grateful to the company to have let me go. Knowing Chengdu, Leshan, Xi'an and Macau better now, I can tell much more about these cities to you. If you get a chance to visit China, do not miss the opportunity of seeing these top China destinations. Oh, and to finish by the way, I would say that more than "Travels", China travels broaden the mind!
--- By Sophie (VisitOurChina)