The day we decided to see the Leshan Giant Buddha was the first day of the National Holidays in China. We had a rough idea of what we were getting into but we were not expecting the extent of chaos that we got.
We had three days in Chengdu, the first two days were working days right before the start of the big national holiday. On the last day of our three days our flight was set to leave at 9pm to Xi’an. Here is the plan that we had come up with.
Day 1 – Panda love in the Panda Research Base in Chengdu
Day 2 – Two hour bus ride to Ya’an to see pandas in Bifengxia and hike down a nice gorge to grab a bus out of Ya’an to Leshan.
Day 3 (1st day of the National Holidays) – Wake up early and see the Buddha. Get back to Chengdu at noon and quickly hike up Qingcheng mountain. Grab our flight at 9pm out of Chengdu.
How It All Went Down
Day 1 – Perfect!
Day 2 – We grabbed the early bus to Ya’an, saw pandas, hiked the Bifengxia gorge in beast mode. We made it to the bus station with 1.5 hours before the last bus to Leshan only to have the last 2 tickets sold to someone else while we waited in line. Rats!
We grabbed the bus back to Chengdu even though we should have stayed the night in Ya’an and grabbed the early bus. Hindsight is always 20/20, however I don’t know if any of the hotels in Ya’an accept white people. I found out this trip that many hotels in China do not accept foreign patrons, even an international chain like Super 8 was not willing to give us a room in Xi’an. At least I’m glad I didn’t have to figure that one out myself and be forced to sleep on the street.
Day 3 – Day one of the National Holiday Week
We ended up sleeping in till 6:30am as our hotel was 3 minutes away from the bus station. We made the mistake of grabbing the free breakfast offered by the hotel at 7:30am. It consisted of a plain steamed bun and a hard boiled egg. Who needs liquids in the morning, right? You should be satiated from all the swallowing you did overnight.
Fuck my life! It was so rammed with people that they even took out the x-ray machines. We somehow plowed our way through to the ticket counter, then to our line up for the bus. We waited patiently from the back of the line while getting pushed and prodded from all sides. We even ejected line cutters to the applause of others and the apathy of the security guard. When we thought it could not get any tighter or crazier we were spat out onto the bus. It was now 9am and we were two hours from Leshan.
I had thought that there might be traffic and traffic there was. There was traffic, commotion and accidents around every bend of the highway. Two lanes turned into three or four with the shoulders being fair game. It was as if we were in the bus station again and cars were behaving like people. After about 40 minutes of bumper to bumper traffic I began to worry that we were not going to make our flight to Xi’an, let alone see the giant Buddha. We finally made it to Leshan at 12:50pm. It took four hours to cover 118km. We needed to leave the city Leshan at 3:30pm in order to make it back to Chengdu safely on time for our flight. We had one hour to see the Leshan Giant Buddha.
What we actually saw was a lot of people and what looked like a three hour line up to go down the stairs to get a closer look at the Buddha. We also saw the Buddha’s head after elbowing people out of the way. I don’t regret not being able to climb down the stairs to get a view from the bottom, since the pictures wouldn’t turn out so great. I do regret not having enough time in Leshan to grab a ferry to see the Buddha from the water. Maybe another time, when the fast train from Chengdu to Leshan is finally complete.
The 1200 year old Buddha stands tall at 71 meters. He was built by a Buddhist monk to calm the swift river currents. The project was complete after 90 years, slowly filling the river with rocks from the sculpting it calmed the lethal waters of the Dadu River.
We explored the grounds a little more but everything on the site was quite underwhelming. We booted down a hill at 2:40pm where we grabbed a pedicab to take us down a dirt road. The boss pedicab driver was driving faster than Jonathan would have ever attempted. After a taxi ride to the bus station we made it to the bus station at 3:17pm. Wow, we had so much time to spare. Not really, as the bus driver really didn’t want to remain in Leshan a minute longer and we were off 10 minutes ahead of schedule.
China’s national holiday really kicked us in the butt. This is the first time our travel plans were so thwarted. I don’t recommend seeing the Giant Buddha for just one hour. Take some time, grab the ferry and avoid all travel on national holidays.