Grand Buddha, Leshan, Sichuan Province, China

This post starts a series on a 3 week trip to Sichuan Province and Tibet we made in May of 2006. In a Covid-19 cleaning project I ran across a detailed journal I had kept of the trip and since forgotten. Looking back this was a remarkable time to travel in China because the government had loosened restrictions on independent travel in Tibet. All you needed was to sign up for an unguided “tour” to obtain your flight into Lhasa and then you were free to go where you wanted. Today you must have a tour guide with you.

Grand Buddha, Leshan

The Grand Buddha, set on the confluence of the Min and Dadu rivers, is the largest Buddha in the world. The way to get there to see it, however, was not so obvious.

After an overnight heavy rain in Leshan we waded down to the boat dock to try and catch a ferry to the Grand Buddha, but they weren’t running.  In fact, the dock was mostly deserted.  A man in a minivan stopped and asked in Chinese if we wanted to go to Dafo for 5 yuan (63 cent).  I couldn’t believe the price at first and asked the price two more times to make sure I wasn’t confusing 50 and 5.  He had two other Chinese passengers and simple as that whisked us off to see the Grand Buddha on the other side of the river. 

He let us off at the Oriental Buddha Park – a theme park of sorts.  Turns out the sights are connected.  You can buy a pass that gets you into all of them for 105yuan ($13) – very steep.  The theme park had some new but impressive-in-size Buddhas.  The steps to the largest one were dizzyingly steep.  

After winding through the forest on a maze of steps we found Dafo (Grand Buddha).  Your first sight of him is the top of the back of his head looming above the railing.  Looking down, you see that he is carved into the cliff of a large U-shaped notch. I had high expectations and they were met.  Not the most elegant Buddha I’ve seen, but the size and location make him spectacular. 

After more up and down on staired, winding paths, we made our way to the last sight – Woyou Temple.  We stopped to buy water, told the guy we wanted two bottles and asked how much?  He said 3 at the same time his wife said 2.  She kind of socked him in the arm and said, “two bottles”.  We got them for 2 yuan each.

Best part of Woyou was Luohan Hall with 1000 arhats (Buddhist angels) all posed in different positions with different facial expressions.  The boats still weren’t running to the Wuyou dock so we found the bus back to town.  We had lunch on the dock.  Although there was an English menu there was very little English spoken.

Sleeping in Leshan

In Leshan we stayed at the Duiyangwan hotel, reported by Lonely Planet as the nicest place in town.  Obviously they haven’t been there in a while.  At 100yuan ($12.50), it’s really not good, but for one night it wasn’t worth finding something else.  The bathroom was poorly ventilated and smelled of sewage and the carpeting was coming up off the floor and hadn’t been cleaned since it was installed.

Don made coffee with the new butane camping stove he got in Chengdu.  First time I’ve had a fire in a hotel room.

Arrival in China and Night in Chengdu

Backtracking to the trip over – everything went well, no big delays and we made all our connections. 

When we got to Chengdu someone from Sim’s Cozy Guesthouse was waiting for us, as advertised.  Driving into Chengdu at night was very impressive – nice expressway, new buildings, Western-style shops.  We wondered if this was really China.  In the daylight the flaws started to emerge – run down buildings mixed in with the new glitz.

Sim’s is a very friendly backpacker haven with a bounty of services – restaurant, bar, movies, travel agency etc.  We met Bill, the guy I’d been working with on the Lhasa plane tickets, the first night. 

I splurged and got the most expensive room available – 150yuan ($20).  That got us a big bed, private bath and air conditioning – not that we needed it.  The noisiest bed I’ve ever slept in.  Every time you rolled over, it sounded like the wooden frame would come crashing down.

The next morning we couldn’t find baozi (filled buns) or anything on the street so we had breakfast at Sim’s.  Surprisingly good at 4 yuan (50 cents) each for the Chinese set of zhou (rice gruel), pickled vegetables (gives flavor to the flavorless zhou), salty duck egg, (again, for flavor), and two mantou (steamed buns) each.

We set out to do our errands.  Saw Bill – he could have our plane tickets by noon that day.  We needed more money so we went to the Bank of China, Central Sichuan Branch very impressive operation with an electronic-take-a-number system and better rates on Traveler Cheques than at the airport.

We had lunch at Sim’s – quite good and reasonably priced – and took a taxi to the bus station.  We stopped by the outdoor recreation store – two in fact – looking for stove fuel.  No gas. No English.  Ended up buying a butane stove instead.

The bus ride to Leshan was expressway all the way, about one and half hours past rice fields.  Many fields were being harvested, others were being planted – all by hand, and some others were being burned.

May 12, 2006