Lè Shān is a town located 75 miles south of Chengdu and is most famous for its Grand Buddha. The Grand Buddha of Lè Shān really lives up to its name – 71 metres tall, this sculpture carved into the side of a cliff face is an impressive sight – so why has it taken us so long to visit it?
If you ask people what they think of when you say Sichuan, they would probably say the pandas. If they know a little more about Sichuan, the second sight they mention is likely to be the Grand Buddha. I think the popularity of the Buddha statue has probably put us off visiting. We’d heard tales of three hour queues to reach the bottom of the statue and didn’t fancy the crowds. Besides, there are plenty of other cool things to see and do in Sichuan.
But we’ve had a new set of TEFL interns turn up at our University who were keen to visit Lè Shān, so we decided to travel with them and see if the Grand Buddha lived up to the hype.
You can now reach Lè Shān from Chengdu by high speed rail, so we took the train. Tickets cost 54 yuan for a single (the equivalent to approx. £5.40) so overall a return cost 108 yuan (approx. (£10.80). You can also get the bus from Chengdu’s Xinnamen bus station in Chengdu but it will take you longer to get there – anywhere between two to three hours (compared to an hour and a half on the train).
Once at Lè Shān railway station you will need to get the bus to the Buddha. This is very simple – walk out the station, turn right and walk to the bus stop (you will see it). Catch the number 3 bus for 1 yuan (10p) and stay on it for 45 minutes, or the third stop once you cross the big river. You’ll know you’re there as everyone gets off the bus!
The entrance fee for the park containing the Grand Buddha costs 90 yuan, whilst entry to the Grand Buddha and another park costs 170 yuan. As we weren’t sure how long it would take to get round the Grand Buddha park we only bought entry for one.
And finally, the Buddha
Once we’d bought our tickets (a long thin line which moved surprisingly quickly) and fought our way through the ticket barriers, we walked up the side of the cliff and in just over ten minutes got our first view of the Buddha, or to put it more accurately, our first sight of the queue to see the Buddha.
To get to the bottom of the statue a narrow staircase zig zags down the side of the cliff – but the queues to get on this staircase were extremely long. At this point our group split up – three of the party decided to join the long queue whilst the rest of us decided to explore the park and meet them later.
We spent the next hour or two wandering through the park. Was it nice? Yes. Was it worth looking around? Not really. And unfortunately, the main attraction, the Buddha, can only be fully seen from the bottom.
A “cruise” along the river
Before coming here I’d read that you could pay to go on a cruise of the river and see the Grand Buddha from the boat. With this course of action decided we left the park and headed back to the bus stop. If you get the bus back towards the railway station for one stop (or alternatively you can walk for 20 minutes) you will reach the ticket office for the river cruise.
Tickets cost 70 yuan (approx. £7) and boats leave frequently. No sooner had we got on our boat when it started to go. After putting on our life jackets we headed straight to the roof to watch our progress.
We quickly reached the Buddha and the boat turned around and came to a stop right underneath the statue. It stayed there for about ten minutes, giving us plenty of time to view and photograph it. We then headed back to the dock. The whole thing took about thirty minutes.
The hunt for food
Once off the boat we met up with the rest of our party and headed back on the bus towards the railway station and in search of dinner before our journey home. We didn’t eat at any of the restaurants next to the Grand Buddha park, thinking that they would be pricey and touristy. Instead we got back on the bus and headed towards the railway station.
It took us half hour of walking and asking a shop owner in poor Mandarin where a restaurant was in order to find a place to eat. There really aren’t any places to eat around the station. Thankfully we turned a corner and came across a quaint little restaurant whose owners seemed very amused to have six laowai in their restaurant.
Was it worth it?
So in the end, was the trip to Leshan worth it? The Buddha was a mighty thing to behold and I do wish we could have had time to wonder around the other park. But in terms of overall experience, I think there are better alternatives for things to do in Leshan. We went to the Jiayang steam train a few months ago. The steam train is also in the Leshan area but receives far fewer tourists, particularly foreign tourists. I much preferred our trip there. A blog post on our travels there will appear soon!
So, a few tips:
- If you can, don’t visit on a Saturday. Weekdays are much quieter!
- If you can’t face the queues you can always take the boat
- Eat in the city centre. The railway station (which is not in the centre) has nothing around it and hunting for places to eat around there is tiresome
If you like, you can also check out our LeShan vlog on YouTube: