Sichuan Province, 154km (96 miles) SW of Chengdu, 36km (22 miles) W of Emei Shan

The carved stone statue of the Great Buddha (Da Fo) at Le Shan is one of Sichuan's top tourist destinations, but whether it's worth a day in a tight travel schedule is debatable. The thrill of Le Shan is in your first sighting of the Great Buddha. Whether that's from the top looking down, from a boat looking straight up, or from the path of nine switchbacks (Lingyun Zhandao) looking somewhere in between, the moment it dawns on you that the large, gracefully curved, stone wall (for example) that you're looking at is actually the lobe of a colossal ear, and that the ear is only a small slice of a well-proportioned giant -- that moment is thrilling. But after you've marveled at the Great Buddha from all the various angles, what's left to explore is not much more than an overcrowded theme park.

The town of Le Shan is not without charm, but with a 2,300-year history and situated as it is at a confluence of rivers, it should offer much more than it does. Mass demolition and reconstruction have rendered it indistinguishable (except for its pretty waterways) from a thousand others undergoing the same process. I suggest you skip the town and go directly to the mountain. Le Shan is best done as a day trip from Chengdu or as a stopover on the way to Emei Shan from Chengdu. Two to 3 hours is plenty of time to enjoy it. Admission to the mountain is ¥70 and includes the Great Buddha, Wuyou Temple (Wuyou Si), Mahaoya Tomb (Mahaoya Mu). It's open from 7:30am to 7:30pm, May through September; and from 8am to 6pm, October through April.