I am trying to fly like a bird. With limited success, I hasten to add but my tai chi teacher gives me a thumbs up. I must be doing ok. With the Qing Cheng mountain as a backdrop, I am taking full advantage of the opportunity to learn some of this art form in the Taoist area where it was first conceived.

Just one and a half hours from Chengdu, the Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain Retreat has brought me away from the crowds to a peaceful, rural, luxurious alternative to the busy city of Chengdu. The Tai Chi class, just one of the many ways to relax into mountain life here.

Pandas. That, of course, is what Chengdu is famous for and I too am here to meet some of this fascinating species and the Dujiangyan rescue centre is just 15 mins away from the resort.

These black and white bears are solitary creatures, so each panda has its own sanctuary: an outside area to explore as well as an indoor air-conditioned escape. Having pandered (no pun intended) to these creatures for many years now in the race to save their species, they lack the ability to manage their temperature hence the seemingly extreme necessity for air conditioning. There are no fences just plenty of trees, water and green space in a low walled paddock. There are about 30 pandas here currently, all adults and they all look very relaxed; either appearing to be stuck in trees, sleeping in weird positions or munching on bamboo. If it’s young, cute, playful pandas you want to see then in Chengdu you can call into the Giant Panda Breeding Research Institute and with over 100 pandas it’s busy but that’s China. The Dujiangyan option is quieter, there were times when it was just me and the precious primate within metres of each other.

Dujiangyan is renowned for where you can get the closest and learn much more about the pandas. As well as a controversial 20-second photo opportunity sat next to a panda, you can opt to take part in a day volunteer programme. After plenty of camera snapping and panda souvenir purchased, I was ready to move on and see what else I could learn about this area of China. As a local saying goes; there is more to Chengdu than pandas.

Chengdu is actually one of six UNESCO cities of gastronomy, due to its position in the province of Sichuan. This popular style of Chinese food has 23 different flavours, most based around chilli and Sichuan pepper, which numbs your tongue. A strange sensation and to be honest one which I don’t particularly enjoy but each to their own I guess. During my cooking course I held back on both the chilli and the pepper but the Kung Pao Chicken and the Mapo Tofu plates I dished up still tasted pretty good to me. I do love learning how to cook alongside a local; the different ingredients, as well as the methods, always inspire me when I return home. And leaving aside the Sichuan pepper, I’m sure there will be more Chinese food on the menu soon, and I’m not referring to ordering regularly from the local takeaway.

With a satisfied stomach, I was then driven back to the Six Senses. Back to the mountains. Back to a haven of serenity. Whether you prefer to indulge in a spa treatment, take a dip in the outdoor pool or wander around the private garden and rice field, the six senses experience is just that: an experience. Slightly different to everyone I’m sure but with its contemporary, timeless and warming décor and exceptional level of service, it can’t fail to impress. The moon bar was a personal favourite with its fairy lights glittering as you listen to the nearby waterfall.

Now I’m sitting watching the mountains disappear into darkness over dinner. My time in China has been incredible. So much history, so much amazing scenery but also so many people in the cities. This mountain escape has been the perfect way to relax before my onward flight.

Thanks for reading

Clare Higginson, Borneo

Author: Clare Higginson