Some 150km southwest of Chengdu lies the edge of the Red Basin and the foothills of mountain ranges that sprawl into Tibet and Yunnan. Fast-flowing rivers converge here at Leshan, where more than a thousand years ago sculptors created Dafo, a giant Buddha overlooking the waters, one of the world’s most imposing religious monuments; an hour away, Emei Shan rises to more than 3000m, its forested slopes rich in scenery and temples. As Sichuan’s most famous sights, Dafo and Emei Shan have become tourist black holes thanks to easy access – don’t go near either during holidays, when crowds are so awful that the army is sometimes called in to sort out the chaos – but at other times they are well worth the effort.
Leshan’s accommodation is poor, so Dafo is best tackled either going to or coming from Emei Shan, just an hour distant. If you’re on your way down south to Yunnan, you might also want to break your journey at Xichang, a Yi minority town with a backroads route to Lugu Hu, right on the Yuannanese border. Emei and Dafo are best reached on buses, but it’s easier to get to Xichang via the Chengdu–Emei Shan–Kunming rail line.