There has been a big buzz ever since Edinburgh Zoo announced that two giants pandas Tian Tian and Yuan Yuan from China would find their new home in Edinburgh. Just looking at pandas makes me chuckle: clumsy moves, balloon-like bouncy bodies and the ‘legendary’ black eyes as if they’ve been deprived of sleep. But where exactly area are they from in China? It’s Si Chuan province in southwestern China! I have been there once and would like to share something special about Si Chuan.
Jiu Zhai Gou
Jiu Zhai Gou is epic! It wouldn’t be an overstatement if I say it is a real wonderland hidden in a holy valley. Jiu Zhai Gou is famous not just for one part; instead it’s its whole package that makes it stand out: its lakes, gushing waterfalls, forests and its rich cultural heritage. Even the fresh air is filled with special ‘Jiu Zhai Gou branded’ scent. It is said the hundreds of colourful lakes were formed in ice age when the calcium carbonate was left to sediment. When the climate warmed up, the calcium carbonate ‘came back to life’ and attached to other substances in the water. That’s how the various colours were created over the past thousands years.
Jiu Zhai Gou has been a sacred place in Tibetan people’s heart; you would probably understand why when you face the masterpiece of nature. As the valley is carefully protected, all the tourist cultural programmes are held just outside the valley. When I was there, I saw the Tibetan dance and singing show, dressed up in their ethnic clothes, and tasted the famous butter tea (the butter is made from yak milk) and roasted lamb … overall it was a great experience. In terms of how to get there, you can fly from Chengdu (the capital city of Si Chuan Province) for about 30-40 minutes and then switch to a bus for another half an hour. Or, if you don’t get car sick, you can just take a bus from Chengdu to get there directly, but it’s about 10 hours on the bus, quite a long journey. Another heads-up: the latitude is quite high, so please do bring a warm coat even if it’s summer time.
Bifeng of Panda Protection and Research Centre
Ah, of course, it’s my personal must see – lots of pandas (16 in total). The centre is in Ya An, a small city about 2 hours drive from Chengdu. The centre is for giant panda research and breeding, but also opens to public to have a look at the giants pandas living in a luxury lifestyle: air-conditioned room, independent water supply system, playing ground and the bathrooms! But in order to survive in tough conditions after they are returned to nature, there’s a special training area that simulates wild nature conditions. A tip for you is that you need to book a ticket in advance as it’s quite popular. There are some nice tea houses outside the centre where you can have a taste of the authentic Chinese tea culture if you have time.
The spicy food
I have to say the Chinese food in the UK is always greasy and sweet. The food in China is amazing, but when it comes to Si Chuan, you’d better prepare yourself for some heart-burn as the food there is very spicy; but the local people can’t live without their chili! You’d better always check the spicy level before you order any dish, and always remind yourself of the different spicy levels: when the locals say it’s moderate, it might be hot for you; when they say it’s light, then it might be medium hot for you. Or just tell the chef ‘no chili please’. A must try is the hot-pot. Basically you have a pot filled with your chosen sauce (don’t get overwhelmed by the wide choice of different sauce flavours), and then you can order meat or vegetables, throw the meat/vegetables in the pot, wait till it cooked, and then you are ready to pick them up to your small bowl! I am still so proud of myself trying the medium spicy hotpot and I loved it!
James Baddiley is Founder & CEO of Chillisauce Ltd.