Resting in a couple of massage chairs, the unmoving parts jabbing into our backs and bums, we dried off our bags. The rain outside hadn’t slowed us down — we had a cab within moments of splashing into the curbside puddle, and were at the train station 10 minutes after that.
We had the dark entry hall to ourselves, and almost an hour to spare.
Perhaps, it seemed, we had been a bit overzealous in our early departure.
In Sichuan Province, Emei and Leshan are practically neighbors. This makes them prime candidates for precisely the pairing we had in mind — a grand hike up Mount Emei, followed by a good long look at Leshan’s Giant Buddha.
And while we had only finished our trek up Mount Emei the day before, our aching feet needed to suck it up. Even if it meant daydreaming about the snooze button in a still-sleeping train station.
Our defense for such an early start: We knew the Giant Buddha would be a major tourist draw. Standing at 71-meters, it had been watching over the nearby forceful rivers since around the eighth century.
We had also lived in Asia long enough to never tempt fate when Chinese tourist groups would be involved.
And so while the train ride from Emei to Leshan was a quick one, we still erred on the side of caution.
Almost absurdly so.
By the time we arrived outside the park’s entrance, tickets in hand, it was only us and a few monks ready to start the climb up.
Yep, we’d safely beaten the crowds.
As luck would have it, though, our eager arrival gave us a leisurely experience few others would get. We stood gaping at the ever-incredible Buddha from every angle, precariously, even, from some of the more narrow steps on our way down. We posed in front of his mighty toes, attempting to catch a glimpse of his face behind ours.
And about 30 minutes later, we arrived back at the top, looking across from where we started, utterly shocked by the sight.
Where we had stood alone only a half hour before, was now flooded with tourists. The queue was six rows deep and growing fast. The stairs down were jammed — hundreds of folks were snapping their photos, successfully ruining the solace we’d luxuriated in.
We smiled smugly: These early birds had feasted, delightfully so. And as the trip continued, we would remember that satiated satisfaction each time those alarms rang.
At each stop from then on, this night owl kept her grumbles to a minimum as sunrise rolled around. Because whether it was the mist rising with the chants of Buddhist monks at Labrang Monastery, or solitude while touring the grottoes of Mati Si, in Gansu Province, we were always glad to be there first.
Nothing an afternoon coffee couldn’t fix, after all.