Strawberries and cream, a pint of beer and a packet of crisps, pescaito frito and a glass of cold dry sherry. And then there is Chengdu and it’s teahouses. There are just somethings that are marriages made in heaven.
Life is good: Drinking Tea
Tea drinking in the Wenshu Temple 文殊院 is a ‘Must‘ for any visitor to Chengdu 成都.
Not so long ago; depends what you mean by long;1989, when we first visited Chengdu, the city’s downtown streets were lined with rickety teahouses jam-packed with locals lounging on wicker chairs, chatting, playing mahjong and drinking tea. Above them hung their caged birds, brought along for extra company in the same way a dog is taken for a walk.
Unfortunatetly, as Chengdu rapidily modernised, most of roadside teahouses fell victims to the wrecking ball and disappeared, especially from downtown Chengdu. But scratch beneath the suface and many remnants of Chengdu’s teahouse culture can still be found alive and flourishing.
Chengdu’s Wenshu temple 文殊院
Welcome toChengdu’s Wenshu temple 文殊院 one of the best getaways from an ever more frenetic, burgeoning mega-city. It’s a place to forget the city noise and choking fumes, and instead catch up on local gossip or just chill for a few hours.
Having your ears cleaned or nails treated comes part and parcel with the whole experience; Covid 19 permitting!
Other recommended places in Chengdu to share a similar experience are the He Ming Teahouse 鹤鸣茶馆 in Renmin Park人民公园 and the peaceful Qingyang Taoist Temple 青羊宫。
These photos were taken on barmy August afternoon in the Wenshu Temple, Chengdu.
Are you looking for small traditional villages not far from Chengdu where Sichuan teahouse culture still survives: I would recommend the village below Luocheng. However, it is easier to reach Luocheng from Leshan rather than Chengdu.
At the Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海 we took our first organized Chinese tour since 1989. At first skeptical, we ended up having a marvelous day being led on long walks, carried over the forest on a cable car, rafting on a lake and being wined and dined on 16 different courses of bamboo food products. All led by a wonderful and enthusiastic guide.
To go on a tour or not
Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海: taking a Chinese organised tour or should I go it alone ? There is really only one reason to stop at Yibin and that is to use it as a base to visit the fabulous Bamboo Sea some 70 kms away.
To take a tour or not to take a tour
The first thing you have to decide is: do I visit the Bamboo Sea independently or do I join a tour. We doubted, wrung our hands, fretted and then the heavens opened and a twenty four hour torrential downpour insued; the matter was decided for us. We took a Chinese organsed tour for the first time and It was the best decision we could have taken.
Yibin is a modern city on the confluence of the Jinsha River 金沙江 and Min Rivers 岷江 where they combine to officially start the beginning of the YangziRiver 长江. There really isn’t anything to see, apart from the intense river traffic perhaps. Tourists tend to use Yibin as a base for a visit to the spectacular Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海 (or Forest as it is also known), about 70 kilometres away and the nearby historic riverside town of Lizhuang Ancient Town 李庄古镇.
Yibin also has the unenviable reputation of being the largest city in China with the least sunny days every year (we didn’t see the sun). Remember, this is where the Chinese idiom, 蜀犬吠日 (Shu quan fei ri) the Sichuan dog barks at the sun, originates; becuase it is something so unusual.
On the plus side it produces one of China’s best Baijiu 白酒 ( rice wine) Wuliangye五粮液.
Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Shunan zhuhai 蜀南竹海, or the Bamboo Sea covers over 40 square kilometres of mountains and valleys. The landscape is absolutely incredible: narrow paths will take you deep into a dense sea of vegetation, dominated by many different species of bamboo, some of which reaching heights of over 10 metres.
The dense fog that often descends upon the forest contributes to the magic and enchanted atmosphere. Besides the bamboo, there are many waterfalls, temples, sculptures and reliefs in the rock walls to entertain the visitors.
The cable Car
A ride in the cable car is a must; it’s a 30 minute ride during which you follow the side of the mountain up and down, at times almost touching the tree tops, at times sailing high above the undulating sea of bamboo. When the cabin reaches a peak, a valley completely covered in bamboo stretches out in front of you, for as far as the eye can see.
It’s the typical landscape immortalised in famous martial arts films such as ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ or ‘The House of the Flying Daggers’, many scenes of which were shot around here. The famous fighting scene in the ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ where the protagonists fight on the tops of bamboo trees was filmed here.
Organising a Chinese tour
Normally, we are not really into guided tours, but in the case of the Bamboo Sea we had a great time. You can try and hire a taxi to get there, but the distances are quite large, both getting there and back and inside the park, plus it isn’t that easy to find your way around and visit the best places.
Our tour was organised by the travel agency inside our hotel, the Xufu Binguan. At first they were a bit reluctant to take us, but when they realised we could speak Chinese, our money was happily accepted. We were in good company, a group of young enthusiastic engineering students from Panzhihua 攀枝花 on the Sichuan – Yunnan border, led by a lively and dynamic female guide. She took us to different areas of the park, by bus, on foot, by cable car and finally rafting.
The bus driver, a young and jolly chap, played Sichuan dialect Hip Hop and Rap that had our fellow companions falling on the floor with laughter. The driver later helped us buy the DVD in on arrival back in Yibin.
We also had the opportunity to taste 16 different dishes made of/with bamboo, including the famous and expensive bamboo eggs (which are really rounded wild mushrooms that grow underneath the bamboo trees). It was really delicious. The meal wasn’t included in the tour. We got together with members of the group, negociated a price for 16 dishes, and then split the bill.
Yibin 宜宾 practicalities:
Where to Stay and Eat:
The Xufu Binguan叙府宾馆 in the centre of town is a good option. Spotless modern doubles with a good breakfast are 200 Yuan. There is a wide variety of decent restaurants and supermarkets near the hotel.
Coming and Going:
New high speed trains from Chengdu take just one and a half hours to arrive in Yibin and pass through Leshan. The line opend on 2019 and also connects Yibin to Guiyang in Guizhou province.
From the chaotic main bus station, Beimen北门, there are regular departures to almost all import destinations in the region, though most buses will go through Zigong first.
Nowadays, a network of highways links all the major cities making travel much easier than when we were there in 2005.
Boat services to Leshan appeared to have been discontinued. Some services to Chongqing still seemed to run, though we were unable to confirm this.
Visiting the Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海 if not taking a tour:
Nan’an station, 15 minutes from the centre on the other side of the river, offers irregular services to Shunnan 蜀南竹海 / the Bamboo Sea, most of them with a changeover in Changning 长宁.
The two main villages inside the park are called Wanling 万岭and Wanli万里. Both villages, as well as some other strategic locations inside the park, offer accommodation – with a typical double room costing around 100 Yuan – as well as food for those visitors who wish to stay the night.
In 2005 our visit to the Bamboo Sea was part of a facinating trip from Guiyang to Chengdu via Chishui.
To get to Leshan 乐山 we first had to backtrack to Zigong; all in all quite a tiring ride of over 6 hours, due to the fact that the motorway has not reached this part of Sichuan yet. This has all changed now see above.
Even the great protector can’t be protected. The Great Buddha statue (Leshan Dafo 乐山大佛), just outside Leshan in China’s south western province of Sichuan, was carved out of the cliffs in the 8th century at the confluence of three rivers.
His purpose was look over and protect the fishermen from drowning in the turbulent waters and defend the population against flooding.
Now, it is the local population flooding to the aid of the Giant Buddha by using sand bags to protect him from rising flood waters.
Not since 1949 have the flood waters reached the magnificent statue’s enormous feet.
This is another a recent video from Leshan showing the dramatic scenes of the flood waters reaching the base of his feet.
Madrid is a fabulous city for eating out. For the adventurous, boundless opportunities for exciting dining exist all over the city. However, those who crave spicy food, and I mean really spicy food, are often disappointed by the dearth of options.
Some Peruvian restaurants make brave attempts to keep up their spicy tradition, but most succumb to the whims of their autochthonous diners by watering down the kick. Kitchen 154, a mecca for spicy food in the market of Vallehermoso, does a pretty good job. Cruel, there own chili brand, is pretty fiery .
This photo was taken in 2004 on the road from Litang 理塘 in Sichuan Province to Batang on the border with Tibet.
The photo is a harbringer of the changes that were about to come to this area of Sichuan. In the photo there are traditonal Tibetan nomads herding their Yaks. Behind them a brand new car that was about to drive them off the road.
Songpan’s Stunning Bridges are one of the highlights of any visit to this gorgeous town.
The mountain town of Songpan 松潘 has undergone a lot of changes in recent years but some original remnants of its wonderful ancient architecture still remain. Two of those structures are the emblematic ancient covered bridges (Gusong Qiao 古松桥 and Yingyue Qiao 映月桥) that span the fast flowing Min river 岷江。 Below are our photos taken before the recent development.
Songpan’s Stunning Bridges and Ethnic Minorities
Songpan is an ethnically diverse town with Tibetans, Hui (Chinese Muslims) and Han Chinese all living together. It’s a great place to relax and has numerous tea houses along the river and next to the bridges.
We arrived in Songpan on a bus from Chengdu. The bus was going on to the national park of Jiuzhaigu but the driver was happy to drop us off in Songpan. We left Songpan on the early morning bus to Zoige on the border with Gansu and Sichuan.
The Bus arrives in Zoige at around 13.30, but the connecting bus to Langmusi (14.30) was full and we were forced to get a Taxi from Zoige to Langmusi with a couple of other stranded travelers. The road between Zoige and Langmusi is now a super highway and not the mud track we had to take.
We’ve just received a travel update on the amazing teahouse village Luocheng 罗城镇 in Sichuan province. Many years ago we had a long and bumpy ride to Luocheng from Leshan. It now seems the trip can be done in around 3 ½ hours by bus directly from Chengdu along a good road. We’ve had a detailed comment from Wayne on our previous post. The bus timetables are below but click here to read the rest of the comment and more about Luocheng.
Buses to Luocheng leave from Chengdu’s Shiyangchang Bus Station 石羊场汽车客运站 at 8.20 / 9.20 and 12.20 and return to Chengdu at 12.30/ 13.30 and 14.30. Tickets cost 67 Yuan. Bus number 28 goes to Shiyangchang Bus Station from downtown Chengdu.
Location: Sichuan Province, China, in the vicinity of Leshan (2-3 hours)
The ancient town of Luocheng is a gem for those looking for traditional teahouse culture. Luocheng is renowned for its boat architecture: the two sides of its main street narrow down at both ends and widen gradually towards the middle, thus creating the oval shape of a boat.
Straddling the street and forming, as it were, the prow to complete the boat- like appearance of the town, stands a beautifully restored theatre. It is covered in traditional grey tiles and flamboyantly decorated with historic scenes and smiling Buddhas.
However, the absolute highlight of Luocheng is the swell of teahouses lining the main street, sheltered by the overhanging wooden porticos of the buildings. Overlooking this sea of bamboo tables and chairs, occupied by querulous old men in faded Mao jackets, arguing over heated games of cards or Mah-jong, while smoking small stubby pipes carved out of roots, visitors can truly imagine themselves in a time warp.
Joining the regulars over a cup of tea, you can really get an impression of what village life must have been like in the old days. The whole place still oozes authenticity and atmosphere; two elements that are often lacking in many of China’s more popular historical places. In fact, Continue reading “Luocheng: Is This The World’s Best Teahouse Town?”
CITS (China’s official travel agency’s description of an L Train 临客)
“L – Temporary Train In Chinese: LinKe (临客) L trains operate only during the peak travel season, such as the Chinese Spring Festival and the National Holiday. These trains are not listed in the official fixed train schedule. It is not advised to take L-trains if you have other options as they are known to be relatively slow and regularly subject to delays”.
“46 hours”. I doubted my Chinese at that moment, but the ticket seller repeated the departure and arrival times, there was no mistake. Bagging next day hard sleeper tickets from Beijing to Chengdu can be a taxing experience at the best of times, but in early August, you’ve got about as much chance as winning the lottery. Unless … unless, of course, you are willing to take the slow train 临客 , or L Train as it is known in China!
We got two middle berths, which are the best, as during the day you can escape the crowded lower berths, where everyone sits, and they have more space than the often claustrophobic upper berths.
Pandemonium broke out when the gates were opened at Beijing West Station 北京西站 to allow the passengers on. Those without reservation ran frantically, pushing and shoving the old and weak out of the way, to grab one of those precious seats. It was a simple case of survival of the fittest; get a seat or stand for 46 hours.