Hours before I set off for Chengdu last month, I was told of the horrors of Golden Week, learning yet another Chinese saying. Apparently, "if you want to destroy a city in China," then you need only "travel there during National Day Golden Week."
Very promising, yes.
Despite this ominous premonition, my three friends and I figured we might as well make the most of our trip. We decided to venture to Leshan and Emei Shan on October 2, which was both the second day of Golden Week and our last day in Sichuan. This was a last minute decision, to be sure.
Days before we had decided on this last destination, the original plan had been to visit Qingcheng Shan, a famous Taoist mountain, and see what Dujiangyan was all about. We figured we would sleep in a little—maybe until 9 or 10am, grab some Sichuan grub for breakfast, and eventually find our way to the train station to buy our tickets.
Such newbies we were. More on Emei Shan and Leshan after the jump.>>>
After marveling over the fancy metro station in Tianfu Square (Tiānfǔ Guǎngchǎng, 天府广场) and dallying around on the fancy metro, we finally arrived at Chengdu East Railway Station (Chéngdū Dōng Zhàn, 成都东站), only to discover hundreds of people waiting in line before the ticket booths. I spoke to an antsy-looking girl near the end of the line, and she told me she had been waiting in line since 7am! Craziness….
So that was how the four of us ended up booking a tour (after paying a heap of money) through our hotel. The car picked us up right from the front of our hotel the next morning. No lines, no destruction, no problem. Plus the other tourists we rode with were this sweet family of four from Kunming.
Much to our misery at 6am that morning, it had started to rain and continued to do so even when we arrived at Leshan or "Happy Mountain" two hours later.... Luckily, the vendors in town were selling some handy, albeit cheap, raincoats that looked more like coat-shaped plastic bags than rain gear. Needless to say, we looked ridiculous bundled up in our chunky sweatshirts, backpacks and plastic bags... all to see the famed Leshan Giant Buddha.
While the Giant Buddha was great and all, I barely got to see it. The view I got instead was of the hundreds of pink, yellow, green umbrellas open in front of me. I had to push and shove my way toward the guardrail, narrowly missing a fight that had broken out amidst the madness, to even get a glimpse of this huge Buddha.
It was cold. It was early. And it was wet—because even with the cloud of umbrellas over me plus my raincoat, I was still getting soaked. A broken camera and a missing friend later, we left Leshan—and man did we jet out of there fast! If there is any place that's a hell on earth, it is without a doubt Happy Mountain during Golden Week.
Just kidding. It was pretty awful, but the rain eventually cleared and all was well in the world again.
So we climbed Emei Shan.
Okay, so we actually took a cable car halfway up the mountain to Wannian Temple and then made our way down the mountain by foot. Though I would've gladly hiked the entire distance, there was no way anyone could have in only a day's time. According to a cab driver I met in Chengdu, he hiked the entire mountain in 1980—and it took him a grand total of eight days.
Though many people flocked to Emei Shan that day as well, this mountain was a little better than Leshan simply because most people were in a frenzy to get to the peak. That, and the mountain itself is so large. A tip for future hikers: take a page out of Robert Frost's book, and take the road less traveled.
Believe me when I say that photos do not do Emei Shan justice. Though we encountered none of the infamous monkeys that roam the mountain, the views we did see were breathtaking. On our trek down the mountain, we saw lush green forests, flowing waterfalls and the cleanest of streams.
Though I was looking forward to seeing the Golden Peak Temple at the top of the mountain (maybe even spend a night and try to spy upon "Buddha's Aureole" at sunrise), according to our tour guide the cable car to the peak may have taken hours, given how long the lines were.
Despite seeing only half of Emei Shan, all in all, it was a good day.
I would definitely do both Emei Shan and Leshan again. Just not during Golden Week. Shudder.