Heading Towards Tibet

Trip Start Aug 25, 2003
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Trip End Jul 18, 2004


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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

After seeing off Sarah's parents, we started looking towards our next destination: Tibet. Timing was important because we wanted to get there early enough to acclimate to the altitude. We still had a few things to take care of before we got there, like getting a visa extension and getting a flight into Tibet (our earlier notion of taking a bus into Tibet sounded too painful for us at this point).

Our first stop out of Hong Kong was Yangshuo, a tourist hub for westerners in China. We haven't seen that many westerners since SE Asia. In fact, it is such a known westerner hub that there was a Chinese school group from Nanning there for the sole purpose of talking to westerners (cheaper than a trip to Austrailia I guess). They ended up being great company and were amazed when I told them that I liked to barbecue (apparently men in China do absolutely no cooking). So why so many tourists? Beautiful karst scenery. We took in what we could of the scenery over a few days before finally braving the 24 hour bus ride to Chengdu. By some miracle the bus was non-smoking (it was actually enforced too!). Of course we did end up at a bus station not on our guidebook's map of Chengdu, but by this point we were used to these little difficulties in China.

Chengdu is another large Chinese city that has overhauled itself in the last few years. Old neighborhoods have been leveled to bring in highrises. The youth hostel we ended up in was actually on one of the few remaining "old" streets. With very little car traffic, people sitting on the sidewalk playing games or drinking tea, kids playing soccer, and lots of little shops or restaurants along the way the street definitely had atmosphere. All the buildings had clay roofs which enhanced the charm of the street. Of course we didn't get to appreciate this as much as we would have liked because Sarah and I both had the flu. I think there were two full days where we hardly went out of our room other than to arrange our flight to Lhasa.

When we finally did make it out we headed on a day trip for Leshan. Not to see the "Grand Buddha" there (the local tourist attraction) but instead to get our visas extended. Unfortunately since we had our tickets to Tibet this was our last chance to get our much needed extension. Of course the woman giving extensions had to have her little power trip over us, dangling the extension in front of us, but in the end we did get it.

Our last full day in Chengdu we headed out to see pandas, otherwise known as THE MOST DANGEROUS ANIMAL KNOWN TO MAN!!! There is a panda breeding center in Chengdu where you can see these supposedly "cute" or "cuddly" beasts "at play." The first two pandas we saw were lazily laying on their backs while eating bamboo, probably to sharpen their teeth for a vicious attack later. We even saw panda cubs "cutely" rolling around practicing this skill which seems to cause humans to drop their guard when around the "innocent" animals. Certainly a skill developed for surprise attack. At the end of our tour we found the gift shop which sold Chengdu Panda brand Cigarettes. Even pandas know that smokers are more likely to be the slow ones in "the pack" making for easy prey.

After our tour through the vicious psyche of the panda we were left stunned... and hungry. Sarah and I finally made it to a monastery so we could sample what monastic food was like. From what we had heard in other areas of Asia, food served in monasteries is vegetarian and void of spices (even garlic). Knowing this we went a little crazy ordering. The food was good (my favorite was the fake eel) but everything we ordered ended up being insanely spicy. I guess Sichuan monks can handle the heat.

Our flight the next morning took us to Lhasa, but Tibet will have to wait for the next travelogue.
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