I caught yet another early morning bus, this time a 7 am bus to Chengdu. It was nearly a 12 hour trip, initially across the plateau, and then on a seemingly endless descent though the mountains. There must have been at least 8 hours of driving on mountain roads. A new road was under construction and in places the bus was forced to use alternative dirt roads. At one point we passed a truck that was completely stuck in the mud.
In places the scenery was dramatic. The road followed a river downwards towards the town of Songpan. Parts of the town were still surrounded by the original city walls, while other parts were surrounded by what looked to be an oversized reconstruction. Below Songpan the river spilled into a decent sized lake. The road wound along cliffs high above the lake. Near the base of the lake was an imposing Qiang minority watchtower. The position of the tower at the top of the sheer cliffs was so commanding, and yet the tower was itself completely dwarfed by the surrounding mountains. It would have made for a truly amazing photograph but unfortunately the bus shot past far too fast. After the tower the scenery became a little more mundane. The road turned into a new valley and the river disappeared. The vegetation increased as we drove steadily downwards, the mountains shrank and the towns grew. In the foothills of the mountains were a couple of sizable but extremely elongated towns that sprawled barely a street wide along the length of the valleys. Eventually we emerged onto the plain an hour or two away from Chengdu and the scenery became more typical suburban China.
I took a taxi from the bus station in Chengdu and ended up in a slightly overpriced hotel in the central city. The taxi driver probably got a commission from the hotel (another taxi driver told me later that that particular hotel was well known for paying drivers to bring guests in). Unfortunately it was rush hour and there were few free taxis around so it seemed too much hassle to change hotels. The next day I changed to an equally good but significantly cheaper hotel across the road.
I took a wander around the city. The center of town was a little antiseptic but the place felt very comfortable. The sub-tropical weather and greenery reminded me of Taipei. I had some simple Sichuanese food ‘yu xiang rou si’ (é±¼é¦™è‚‰ä¸ – or fish flavored meat strips, which doesn’t involve any fish but supposedly tastes like fish) and a spicy mushroom dish, then dropped by the Shamrock Irish pub for a drink. The Shamrock had a good crowd in, mostly foreigners.