Pandas in Chengdu: Photo Essay

Where is Chengdu you may ask?  And why should you go?  Located in Sichuan Province, Chengdu has been called the “Land of Milk and Honey”, because it’s so rich in resources.

Truly, there are so many things to do in Chengdu.  Wenshu Temple.  Taking the bus to Leshan town and checking out the 71 meter Buddha.  Climbing Mount Emi where the legend of Kung Fu was born within the respected monks of Emi.

Myself?  Pandas!  It’s no mystery that I love animals.  You’ll always find me petting anything furry, despite warnings of rabies and fleas.  I seriously can’t help myself.  Which is why a visit to the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Research was high on my list.

The Research Base is a non-profit and was founded in 1987 to focus on protecting and breeding the endangered giant panda.  Their emphasis is on wildlife research, captive breeding and educating people on conservation.  What is most unique about the Base is the educational tourism aspect.  As you move through each section of the grounds, you’re encouraged to understand a panda’s life span and behaviors.  There’s even a panda movie theater that shows educational films.

With about 200 hectares of land to play with, the Research Base carefully reconstructed the natural habitat of pandas and created a haven for other animals like red pandas, swans, peacocks, birds and golden monkeys.  Humans are also privy to a calming atmosphere with gardens to explore and the addition of a manmade lake and teahouse.  It was relaxing to hang there after gushing over the pandas.  Unabashed admiration is hard work.

The Base is located about 30 minutes from Chengdu.  If you plan on going on your own the entry fee is 58 RMB or  you can book transport through your hostel or hotel. My hostel provided a van and driver with a guide for 98 RMB, which is a pretty decent price.

By |November 28th, 2011 |Categories: Chengdu, Featured |39 Comments

The Baffling Delights of China

After my recovery in Saigon, I did the train trip from Vietnam to return to China yet again.  This time it’s travel at my pace.  S-l-o-w.

I’ve been in China a little while, and forging solo has allowed for some interesting moments of discovery without distractions.

China is a combination of massive development, grit and well.. quirks.  It’s maddening and delightful at the same time.

Not to mention familiar to me.  Some of the habits that regular ol’ people do everyday remind me of childhood.  Like, the spitting.  It’s to cleanse out all that bad energy, but those human sounds of horking at six in the morning as I lie in my hard sleeper on a train? Well, I get kind of misty.

Mysteries abound.

The dogs:

At least he gets carry around service.

The drinks:

For only 8.00 RMB, you can sip some tasty corn juice, see it just splashing around in your glass?

By |November 24th, 2011 |Categories: Culture |21 Comments

Back of the Bike Tours in Saigon

People ask me frequently if tours are worth it.  I get the feeling the general consensus is that they are rip-offs, only marketed to travelers who crave coddling.

I use to be a tour snob, but frankly, tours are useful.  It depends on what you want to see and how much.

In Saigon, I got the chance to see a side of the city that otherwise would have escaped me.

Back of the Bike Tours is a fairly new company and they offer unique motorbike tours of Saigon.  I felt an immediate kinship with owners, Chad and Thuy Kubanoff, two young entrepreneurs. It was like hanging out with friends, but the benefit is they have the inside scoop on the best places to shop or eat.

I’m mostly an adventurous gal, so the chance to hop on a bike again was thrilling.  What’s interesting about their tours are a few things:

1.  Fully customizable.  They ask what you want to do.  Totally unusual for a tour.  I loved it.  For instance, we wanted to pick up a few items, but wanted to stay away from the tout heavy Bến Thành Market, and they suggested Saigon Square, which was less hectic.

By |November 21st, 2011 |Categories: Saigon |9 Comments

What is Your Moral Compass?

My head is pounding.  I have a cold, a surprising turn of events because I haven’t had one since 2010.  Sure, I’ve complained about a list of ailments I suffered from in India, but a common cold?  Ghastly!  It’s so… well, “common”.  At least when I bled to death, my writing was soaked in drama.

My headache grew worse upon discovering something shocking in my world.  I use the term “my world’, because truly, travel writing, blogging, and ‘living the dream’ is really what I do all day long now.

What I discovered this week was bad behavior.  Travel bloggers pitting against travel industry people.  Articles were written, which inflamed people and ruckus exploded.  With social media, you post opinions, respond with a cheeky comment, which is returned in kind.  Soon, low blows and nasty comments are being flung like poo in a monkey cage.  Then, everyone storms off to stew in their corners.

I won’t cite specific incidents or rattle off names.  I don’t even know how it started exactly.  The fact is it did, and I’m sure you can relate.  Maybe the association of engineers you belong to has a few misbehaving members or that new guy in accounting really isn’t a team player.

Right now, I act alone in the world and all this hoopla nudged me to ask myself, who do I answer to?

Going beyond a mere typed comment, which can be rightly understood or horribly misunderstood, is the real world of travel, of movement.

As a solo gal, I meet many long or short term wanderers.

Each group shares stories, tales of first person or third person, and I’ll be honest, some of these stories can be shocking.  Just like I was shocked this week.

Why I Love Vietnam, Why You Hate It

You hate the traffic, the incessant honking, the lack of personal space, the uneven, jagged sidewalks or the aggressive touts at the markets.

I love it all. 

The Motorbikes

This is light traffic!

My expat friend, Max Murta describes riding a motorbike in Saigon like being in a school of fish.  Weave with the group, never against it, and all will be okay.  You probably laugh at the motorcyclists wearing those ‘surgical’ masks, but there’s a practical reason for wearing them.  To deter exhaust.  And when crossing the road?  Just close your eyes, say a quick prayer and walk diagonally, the fish always go around you.

Animals, Everywhere

Fattening up

You whip your head around, gawking with disbelief.  Did I just see that?  A rooster.  There’s another one!  And another one!  How disgusting. What you don’t know is cock-fighting is a popular underground sport in Vietnam.  Households will raise two kinds of chickens, white and brown.  Generally, the white chickens are for eating, the brown ones for fighting.  What you find odd is fairly darn normal here.

By |November 16th, 2011 |Categories: Culture, Saigon |39 Comments

Learn – BootsnAll 30 Days of Indie Travel Project

Once in a while, something tugs at you. The BootsnAll Indie Travel Project did just that.

For the entire month of November, BootsnAll has been posting concepts. Not just monosyllabic concepts, but those devoted to the enriching experiences that can be gained from traveling.

And BootsnAll wanted me to share one. Another chance to open my big mouth? Something I just can’t pass up.

Day #8′s concept stuck with me. Learn. We learn how to write and utter the alphabet at a young age. Yet, how does it benefit us? A barrel full. We are able to write words, which turn into sentences, which allow us to communicate. We can converse with people in our own language. We sound smart.

Learning reaps so many deep seeded benefits that we might only fathom them much later. It doesn’t matter if you embark on short or long jaunts. Benefits from traveling can come at anytime, for any duration.

There I was on holed up in my Saigon room trying to figure out what I’ve learned from travel. I already gave you a lady’s point of view, but a general one escaped me.

Then, like a hole in a dam, it suddenly came pouring out.

By |November 14th, 2011 |Categories: Life |5 Comments