The hike up was steep and lined with conifer trees, but the path was made up of stone steps, so it didn’t seem as difficult as it could have been. Sichuan province is not heavily traveled by foreigners, so the hoards of Chinese tourists were intrigued by us. Many of them were taking pictures of us, and a few people yelled out, “Welcome to China!” We were the only Western women on the trail, and we were also the only women wearing sneakers. It was really interesting to see all of the Chinese women wearing kitten heels and stilettos with fashionable outfits for the hike. Although the air was thick with humidity, it was a welcome change from the thick, gray smog that hangs over Chengdu. We arrived at the top of the mountain at dusk and spent the night in Shangqing Palace, where the monks have their quarters.
Upon our return to Chengdu the next day, we had an amazing lunch at a restaurant called Lao Chen. Sichuan province is known for its spicy food and rich culinary history. In fact, this year Chengdu was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, only the second city in the world to receive the designation. Food in China is inexpensive, so it pays to order several dishes and eat what you can in order to try new things. It can be difficult to order food in Chinese since the names of dishes are not typically descriptive, so ordering several dishes allows you to be adventurous without leaving you hungry. We ate several signature Sichuanese dishes: mapo doufu, kung pao chicken, tea-infused wild mushrooms, spicy cold chicken noodles and leafy greens with fresh chilies. Most dishes are made with málà spice, which literally translates to “numbing and spicy,” which makes the flavor complex and delicious.
We ended our first day with full body massages and tea along the river. A wonderful welcome to China!