Exploring Chengdu China Part 1: History and Hot Springs

In December, Elaina and I received an invitation to visit Chengdu, China!

We’d been hand-selected to represent Australia, along with four other food, travel and lifestyle bloggers from around the world. How exciting!

Our itinerary was being kept under wraps by the organisers, but this didn’t worry us too much. Being very relaxed travellers, we were okay to roll with whatever adventures they had planned for us during our four night stay.

The one thing we did know was that Chengdu is famous for it’s Giant Pandas! So we automatically assumed that we’d be visiting these cute black and white bears. I could hardly contain my excitement about seeing them.

You can imagine my surprise when we found out we weren’t going to be seeing the pandas as part of our itinerary. Panic set in. We were travelling all that way and there wouldn’t be time to see them?! I was not happy.

Instead our itinerary for the Chengdu Challenge was all about health preservation in China. We were set to learn about Taoism, an ancient tradition of philosophy and religious belief that is rooted in many Chinese customs. Our Taoism adventure would see us learning Tai Chi and meditation from a Taoist Master as well as trying the traditional food and drink of Qingcheng Mountain, a place believed to be the birthplace of Taoism.

The Chengdu Government invited us along to show us the other things that wanderlust travellers like us could do in the area besides just the Giant Pandas.

As much as I dig all that stuff, I was still hoping to see pandas.

I was determined to make that happen. More about that in Part Two!

In the meantime, here’s our first instalment Exploring Chengdu China Part 1: History and Hot Springs!

First on the itinerary, a speedy trip on the bullet train!

Did I mention that we were accompanied by a film crew on this trip?

We discovered on our first morning that our travelling companions were a film crew who would be filming us for the entire duration of our trip. Apparently we are going to be featured on a reality TV show. Wow. Yep, we were pretty surprised too.

The good thing about having a film crew chaperone us the whole time was that we just went with the flow and didn’t have to worry about communicating in Chinese when buying a train ticket. I guess that’s half the fun of travelling but we were more than happy to roll with the situation. Our translator Christi had everything under control. First stop was the bullet train from Chengdu to Dujiangyan. What was awaiting us in Dujiangyan? We had no idea!

The bullet train network in China is the fastest in the world with millions of people using train as their preferred daily mode of transport. The trip from Chengdu to our destination took around 40 minutes with the speed of the train picking up to over 190km/h. This was my first experience travelling by bullet train; I was pretty impressed by how smooth the train was considering how fast we were travelling.

Dancing in the streets

Did you know that people in China love to dance? Specifically square dancing. When we hopped off the train the first thing we saw was a whole bunch of people dancing together in the square.

We asked our crew what they were doing and found out that the older generation like to square dance every day to keep fit! This seemed pretty cool to us so we had to jump in and have a dance with them.

We weren’t too crash hot at it but we gave it a good crack. There was also a group of ladies practicing a war dance which is a form of Tai Chi. They trusted us with their swords and put us through our paces. Super fun and definitely different!

Dujiangyan City…home of some seriously old stuff!

After our dancing interlude we headed into Dujiangyan City we were given a run down of the local history, namely their famous irrigation system. Now I know an irrigation system doesn’t sound particularly sexy but this one was super old dating back over 2,000 years to 256BC. It’s also listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and even survived a major earthquake in 2008 with minimal structural damage. An engineering miracle if you will.

The local people LOVE this irrigation system so much that there have been songs written about it and we were even lucky enough to see a traditional performance in Dujiangyan City all about the back-story. Here’s the short version for you…back in the day, people living on the banks of the Min River were plagued by flooding year after year. The governor at the time, Li Bing of the State of Qin, was a total legend and decided to solve the problem by constructing an artificial levee to redirect the excess water to the Chengdu Plains that were experiencing major drought.

It was a win for everyone; no more floods and the dry plains now had more water than they knew what to do with!

It’s still used today to irrigate over 5,300 square kilometers of land in the region. Pretty impressive for a piece of 2,000 year old engineering don’t you think?

History buffs will love this place. We visited a tea house to watch the Changing Faces Chinese Opera. The subject matter? Yep, you’ve guessed it. That famous irrigation system again! I have to admit, the Chinese put us to shame when it comes to being grateful for things like this. They go all out, full operas all about the history of their most valued engineering assets.

Imagine if Taylor Swift wrote her songs about more compelling subject matter like this?! Some might say it would be an improvement on her music. Don’t worry Tay Tay, I still love you just the way you are!

Next up, some down time in the Hot Springs!

We love a bit of relaxation when we travel so you can imagine how excited we were to hear that next on the agenda was the Qingcheng Taoism Hot Springs.

The natural springs are located at the Howard Johnson Resort where we were staying for the night. They are open to the public and guests at the hotel; if you’re not staying at the resort you can buy a single entry pass for 148 RMB (about $32 AUD).

This place is a super popular weekend destination for people in and around Chengdu and we can see why. There are no less than 40 different hot spring pools here. One rather amusing feature was the menu of health benefits for each different pool. From obesity to gout, there was a pool dedicated to the treatment of an array of health challenges! Winning.

The freezing temperatures outside (3 degrees Celsius that day!) made for a really awesome experience at the pools.

We were also treated to a pretty incredible traditional Chinese massage or Tui na as it’s known. This is a one of the Taoist practices and works on bringing the body into balance by opening up the defensive chi and moving energy around the body and into the muscles. Sounded good to us after a long couple of days of travelling!

At first we weren’t sure that getting massaged on a sun lounger in a wet cossie wrapped in towels would be particularly pleasant but it turned out to be seriously amazing. They start on your feet getting in to all your acupressure points and work their way up the body focusing on the joints in particular. We both agreed it was one of the best massages we’ve ever had…if not the best!

Stay tuned for Part Two of our Chengdu Challenge mystery tour. Next up, climbing mountains, Tai Chi, a spot of meditation…and a whole chicken in a bath of soup!

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