Chengdu had definitely exceeded my expectations, the food was scrumptiously hot, the pandas were super adorable, only wish I could spend a couple more days to explore the food scene in this city. Instead, we decided to head further south and spent a night in Emei Shan city for more adventures.
Emei Shan city is actually not far from Chengdu and is still within the Sichuan province. It is only a two-hour trip by car, so it can be easily a day trip and back. But since we wanted to climb Mount Emei the next morning, that’s the only reason why we decided to spend a night here so we could have an early start.
Day 1 – Le Shan Giant Buddha
From Chengdu, we hired a taxi driver who drove us all the way to Emei Shan city and we arrived at our hotel around mid morning. After dropping our bags off at the hotel (as it was still too early to check in), we took another taxi and went to the first tourist attraction – Le Shan Giant Buddha. Le Shan is another city in Sichuan province not far from Emei Shan city, it was only a 50mins drive to get there. But by the time we arrived at the tourist site, there was already a sea of visitors queueing up to see the main attraction – the Giant Buddha. Among all the visitors, there was quite a number monks who travelled from another cities to here to pray at this sacred site.
From the top, we were able to see the top half of the statue and hundreds of tiny people crawling slowly down the side of the cliff like little ants to the bottom of the hill, that’s where you get a full view of the whole statue. It took us a good hour to queue up and descend to the bottom of the cliff.
The Giant Buddha is sure a huge one, in fact, it claimed to be the biggest carved stone Buddha in the world. It was a monk called Hai Tong who initiated the project back in year 713 during the Tang dynasty and completed by two of his disciples in year 803, some 90 years later. The stone carved Giant Buddha is sitting gracefully on the cliff side overlooking Min, Qingyi and Dadu river. It is 71 meters high and 9 meters wide and there are 1,021 buns in the Buddha’s coiled hair embedded in the head.
What goes down, must come up, we followed a narrow track along the cliff side all the way back up to the top. Thankfully it was not as bad as I would have imagined, we paced ourselves and didn’t rushed as the scenery was quite spectacular along the track. Apart from the Giant Buddha, there are many temples at the site that you can explore or stroll at the garden to enjoy the tranquility.
By now, we were already used to The Pom being the center of attention wherever we went and there were no exceptions here at the temple. He was mobbed by the locals who wanted to have photos with him. Bless him…
We exited the site through East Gate and here we found a strip of restaurants ready to feed the hungry visitors. Most of the restaurants we found were pretty fancy and very likely to be tourist traps, until we saw this little shop with a few tables and plastic stools outside with a few locals chitchatting away. That’s the one we’d like to try and it was the best decision. The sign “home cooked” in Chinese is an assurance as the food was homely and very delicious.
First one must try the Sichuan version of soybean curd as known as Doufu Nao (tofu brain). The silky smooth tofu was served with chilli oil, soy sauce, sichuan pepper, coriander and lots of peanuts and fried crackers for the texture contrast. It usually eaten as breakfast or lunch but damn, it was so good. We also ordered beef noodle soup, Zha Jiang noodle and a bowl of wontons to go with it. The Zha Jiang noodle was simply comforting, slippery wheat noodle with the ‘fried’ mince sauce was unprecedentedly spicy. But we both loved the beef noodle soup, chunks of tender beef briskets swimming in a hot and spicy broth, I kept going back for more on every slurp. And total cost, RMB34 ($6.50), absolute bargain.
Delicious Street in Emei city
We didn’t stay long in LeShan and headed straight back to Emei city. We finally able to check in once we got back to the hotel. A quick freshen up and it was time to head out to look for more and this time, we didn’t have to look far as the “Delicious Street” was just around the corner from our hotel.
Appropriately named “Delicious Street” is one of the most famous streets where you can find a plethora of local snack food and delicacies of Emei City. The Delicious Street is more like a complex with restaurants and food stalls sprawled along alleyways. Emei City is famous for its fresh produce, here you will see fresh produces like vegetables, seafood and even live animals are on display outside the restaurants, so menu is not needed.
We walked past a restaurant that is famous for smoked duck and decided to give it a try. We ordered half a duck and sides of steamed fermented rice cake and purple yam buns, both are Emei’s specialties The duck was nicely smoked from the charcoal grill and the meat was juicy, came with a tangy sour dipping sauce that really elevated the sweetness of the meat. I also loved the yam buns, probably not a good combo with the duck, but the sweet pasty taro filling was delicious. The steamed fermented rice cake is a must try in Emei. It is made from a different type of rice that only grows in the southern part of China, the rice is soaked then grind into liquid and let it ferment. Then wrapped in corn husk and steamed into rice cake. The cake was tangy with a sour note from the fermentation.
The duck was just *ahem* an appetiser, as we were still on the hunt for a proper meal. The choices were endless, from braised rabbit heads to deep fried locusts, not quite sure we were ready for that. Apparently fresh local yabbies is also another specialty of Emei.
We eventually came across a strip of restaurants where all the locals were having meals al fresco by the river. It would be rude not to join in. We had some real spicy food in Chengdu so we kind of expected the food here would be just as lethal. We were being real careful on what to order, but without real success. We ended up with two hot spicy dishes and one stir fried veggie to compensate the heat.
One dish I really wanted to try while in Sichuan was Mapo Tofu as I am pretty sure that it would taste different compared to the imitations I’ve had back home. The one we had I assumed is what an authentic Mapo Tofu should be, chunks of silky tofu and pork mince were braised in chilli oil and lots of Sichuan peppercorn, it was fiery hot. One distinctive difference was the amount of Sichuan peppercorn used in the dish, I couldn’t feel my tongue half way through the meal.
Another spicy dish we ordered was the Sichuan chicken hot pot. Little did we know it came out the size of a small tub, can easily feed ten. Inside the well was chunks of chicken pieces swimming in a fire hell of chilli oil with lots of dried chillies, Sichuan peppercorn and black pepper. Despite it was so hot, it was actually very addictive and I kept going back for more even though I was already in excruciating pain! We were sweating, hissing, burning and swearing at the same time, but we eventually gave up with half of the dish left untouched.
Climb Mount Emei
Mount Emei is one of the four Buddhist sacred mountains in China. At 3,099 meters, Mount Emei is more than 1,000m higher than the other three mountains. The slopes of Emei Shan have been inhabited since as early as 10,000 years ago. Once a Taoist retreat, but became a sacred Buddhist mountain by the 3rd century AD. Mount Emei has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1996.
We checked out the hotel first thing in the morning and headed straight to the mountain. If you have the time, energy and ambition, then perhaps you would like to take up the challenging and hike 5km all the way to the top. Or go for the easy route, take the modern cable car up then hike the last kilometre to Jinding, the Golden Peak. Most visitors will take the cable cars. I am glad we did.
It was a foggy morning the day we were there, the misty fog added an ethereal beauty to the scenery. The hike up to the peak takes about an hour and there were many steps to climb at certain parts of the track. Not to mention the high altitude where the air was thin, it made the hike even more challenging.
There were many stalls set up along the path where locals were selling Chinese herbal plants foraged from the woods including the highly sorted Lingzhi medicinal mushroom.
We were also pretty lucky and spotted a few monkeys during the hike. They were so fluffy (but apparently very cheeky and steal things)! So beware of your belongings.
As we got closer to the peak, we saw a few visitors were suffered from high altitude sickness and couldn’t walk further. The official has provided delivery service where they can carry you all the way up (or down) for a fee.
We made it to the top eventually. Sadly it was foggy still and could hardly see a thing. Jinding, meaning Golden Summit, here lies two golden temples. The awe-inspiring Huazhang Temple was constructed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1640) and restored in the 1970’s. There is also the highest golden Buddha Statue of Puxian in the world, casting in copper and plated in Gold.
We didn’t stay there for long due to low visibility. We soon headed back down to the cable car and back to the base. It was a great experience nonetheless, but it was time for us to get ready and head back to airport as we surely didn’t want to miss our flight back to Beijing to conclude our journey in China.