Updated: Jan 13, 2018
Planning a trip around Christmas and New Years is by far one of the most expensive trips I've planned. Worth it? Depends on how much you value your time.
Living in South Korea, I chose to vacation in Phuket, Thailand for the holidays due to my limited time schedule. Phuket had it all; the islands, the beaches, the elephants, and the airport. I did not have the time, nor the money, to be galavanting from one island to another in the Philippines. Tickets from Seoul to Phuket are typically just under seven hours, and about USD$340. During the holiday season, flights were 16+ hours with connections, and about USD$600+. I fought myself on this trip for weeks, but I had to make a decision.
I found a 23 hours layover in Chengdu, China with a flight out to Phuket just before midnight on New Year's Eve for USD$500! Not only was it one of the cheapest flights available, but it gave us an amazing opportunity to spend the day in China! I thought I would never be able to visit China, because of the strict visa requirement and my austere work schedule. Luckily, Chengdu had a 72-hour exception to policy visa that allows foreigners traveling to a third country to leave the airport and explore the city. You must arrive and exit from the same airport within those 72 hours. Some cities allow more time, and some don't offer this visa-free transit at all. There are many rules and regulations depending on your situation so do your research before heading out!
Chengdu is known for being the home of pandas, and Michelle Obama stated that if she had to chose a city in China to live in, it would be Chengdu.
We arrived to Chengdu, China around midnight, so all the currency exchanges were closed.
All we had were dollars and Korean wons, so we couldn't take a taxi to our pre-booked hotel. The taxis were all the same, and none of them had been updated in decades. They were all
Volkswagen Jettas and most of them were from the 1970s. None of them spoke English, so it took forever to figure out what to do, without any directions, no internet data, and no money. After showing a screen shot I had taken of the hotel, in English and Chinese, one of the taxi drivers pointed to the hotel across the busy street, so we walked. The Chengdu Airport Hotel was SO elegant! For about USD$100/night, it was spectacular!
Due to our limited time, I had pre-booked a full day tour of the city. Through Trip Advisor's Viator. The 1-Day Panda Breeding Center Plus Chengdu City Tour. It was about $100 per person, plus a USD$30 fee for pick-up by the airport. It was an 8-hour tour of Chengdu city center and the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. We visited the Wenshu Monastery and Kuan-Zhai Lane, took a walk in the People's Park and went to an outdoor tea house. This tour provided us full transportation, to and from the airport, where we could store our luggage, and an English-speaking tour guide. Our tour guide was spectacular.
06:00 Wake up and Breakfast
07:30 Pick up
08:00 First stop: The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
The Panda Breeding Center was a disappointment. It was my fault for packing light, and that I had only brought a sweater for this cold 50 degree weather day. But this place was PACKED. It was like Black Friday shopping at Target. And for what? This place was a zoo, full of pandas and Chinese people. The pandas did nothing but eat bamboo. Panda after panda after panda. I don't know why I thought I would have a more personal interaction with the pandas, but I definitely got a personal interaction with the people.
I did get to see a panda climb out of a tree. The reason why pandas are so "lazy" is because of their diets. Their digestive systems are made to be carnivores, like they were millions of years ago. Meat is very energy-dense, unlike bamboo. Why don't they eat meat anymore? According to Discover Magazine, pandas lost their umami taste receptor gene, that makes meat enjoyable. It is unclear whether that happened before or after pandas switched to eating bamboo. Bottom line, pandas just don't get enough energy from their bamboo diets.
Upon leaving, in the bathroom, they do in fact have squaty potties. And as I was squating down peeing, the stall next to me had pee slowly running under the wall into my stall. I could calculate that the pee wasn't going to make it to my foot before I was done peeing. So I watched the pee slowly lurk closer and closer to my new black vans. When I was done, I stood up, moved my foot, pulled my pants back up, and left the stall. NOT TODAY!
12:00 Wenshu Monastery
We were starving! Not lunch yet!
At the monastery, burning an odd number of incense is pleasing to the deities, along with bowing an odd number of times. Three incense is the lowest number in Buddhism that keeps the Gods pleased and you, pure.
Beautiful old architecture, colors, buildings, candles, and incense can be seen at the monastery. No food though, no, no food. It was really beautiful though, despite how hungry we were.
13:30 Arrive at Kuan-Zhai Lane
As soon as we got dropped off at Kuan-Zhai Lane, we went straight to the restaurant for
lunch. It was an older, airy, Chinese building so wasn't much warmer inside than outside. They poured us hot tea from kettles that were all around the restaurant. It's very common for Chinese to carry around small thermoses, because they drink a lot of hot water. Hot water is known to be a lot better for one's health than cold water. Seems that the United States hasn't really caught on yet. Hot water helps improve blood circulation. Such as water fountains, there are a lot of locations in China for people to refill their thermoses with hot water.
In the restaurant, our guide ordered us four different delicious plates. The first plate was Kung Pao Chicken with Sichuan peppercorn, known for its numbing flavor. My tongue went numb, to the point where it got uncomfortable to eat. I kept eating it, because the peanuts were delicious. Although, the numbing peppercorn was almost impossible to avoid. We got beef, and chicken plates, and a veggie plate. Seen in the image to the right, the veggie plate has lotus roots in it. My favorite part about traveling is the food. Especially when it is healthy, pure food without preservatives.
This area was filled with so many restaurants, and few souvenir shops. The crowds were getting too much to handle, and there wasn't much else to do here other than eat. So onward to the next place!
The Chinese Meat Market!
No, this was not on the tour schedule. We had left Kuan-Zhai Lane a little earlier than expected so we stopped in the Chengdu market, where I asked to go upstairs...
But, I have so many pictures from this so it will just have to be another blog! Stay tuned for more on the Chinese Meat Market.
I was overwhelmed with dizziness at this point of the trip, so I knew it was time to leave and get some fresh air.
15:00 The People's Park
The park in Chengdu is so popular, such as Central Park, because it is a place for people in the city to escape and be around nature. The park holds many tea houses. That day, a large crowd of people lined the walk ways to look at the lines of paper bags with laminated papers laying over the opening of the bags. Like an old-fashioned Tinder, families gather to read these papers that describe their younger, single family members. It contains information about their age, height, weight, and so on. I asked what the bags were for, and our tour guide said they were just to prop up the papers...I was very disappointed the bags had no meaning. I mean, if it were me, I'd look to see what kind of bag the family had used to prop up their daughter's information. It makes a huge difference if they used a JCPenny's bag, or a Von Maur's bag. A Walmart bag, or a Trader's Joe's bag. Do they eat Vinny's Pizza or Milano's Pizza? Are they a Ben & Jerry's or a Graeter's kind of person? These are very important things to look for! The bag needs to have meaning!
After hot tea in the park, our tour guide was pooped, and so were we.
We headed to the airport to end our day in Chengdu, China.
Hours later, we boarded our flight to Phuket, and I passed the fuck out. I woke five minutes prior to midnight the most turbulence I've ever felt on an airplane. No one else was panicking. My heart was racing, and panic jolted through my muscles, frozen. Dying in between China and Thailand at midnight at the end of 2017 wouldn't have been the worst way to go.
At midnight, I looked around and not one person looked amused. No one person was looking at their watch. The flight didn't offer champagne for in-flight purchases, like I had hoped. Nothing happened. It was 2018, just like that.