Chengdu Travel Guide
Chengdu is the capital city of Southwestern China's Sichuan Province. Chengdu is well-known for its cuisine, the leisure of life, and pandas.
Get comfortable in a bamboo chair and watch life go by in one of Chengdu's countless teahouses. Feast on the famously spicy Sichuan cuisine, and don't forget to visit the pandas.
A giant statue of Chairman Mao marks the centre of Chengdu. Surrounded by flashy advertisements, the chairman oversees the movements in the capital of Sichuan Province from atop his podium. The Sichuan is endowed with fertile land and its nickname, "China's breadbasket" and is fitting considering there are more than 40 ethnic minorities living in the province. Chengdu is over 2,500-years-old; paper money was first used here during the Song dynasty, but despite its laidback feel, it’s rapidly developing as an important commercial centre in western China. In the drive to modernise, many of Chengdu's traditional areas have been torn down, but there are still enough traditional areas and historical sites to keep visitors entertained.
The best way to get a good feel for Chengdu is to find a spot in the shade at a teahouse and relax. Teahouses and the local cuisine vie for the top spot as the defining characteristic of Chengdu. There are few places in China where traditional teahouses can still be found. If you're looking to sit back, order a cup of tea and forget about your troubles, then these are the places to visit. Mahjong, a domino-type game, is played everywhere. The click clack of the mahjong pieces being shuffled fill the air with the whistles from songbirds that old men carry in bamboo cages. In some teahouses you can even enjoy your tea with a live performance of acrobatics or Sichuan opera while getting a head massage or your ears cleaned with long metal picks. In the area just north of the Jin River, which traverses the city from west to east, there's an excellent teahouse in the People's Park, eloquently named the People's Teahouse.
Besides teahouses, there are many other attractions in Chengdu. One of the most pleasant experiences is to stroll around, or even better, to bike around the city and see the old residential areas and the food markets. Chengdu is a manageable size on a bike and most hotels will rent them for about RMB 10 to 20 per day. Most streets have a separate lane for bikes, making biking a far safer venture here than in many other Chinese cities. For travellers who have seen many of China’s other cities, the abundance of greenery along the roads is a welcome change. A good area to explore is south of Renmin Dong Lu and east of Renmin Nan Lu. While over there, check out the Qingshiqiao Market, the most dynamic market in Chengdu.
What can't be missed when coming to Chengdu is a visit to see the pandas. Sichuan Province is the home of these celebrated creatures. There are only an estimated 500 to 1,000 pandas left in the wild and most of them live in northwestern Sichuan. The Wolong Nature Reserve is a 3-hour drive from Chengdu. This 200,000ha reserve was created in 1974 to protect the pandas, but is also home to thousands of plant species and 230 different species of birds. Even though the beauty of the area is justification enough for the trip, there is no guarantee that you will get lucky and run into a panda here. However, 10km north of the city centre is the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base where seeing a panda is guaranteed. There are around a dozen pandas here. It's best to get here in the morning between 8am and 10am when the pandas are fed and at their liveliest. There is a museum with exhibits explaining everything there is to know about pandas.
There are some interesting temples in the city and if you only have time to visit one, the first in line should be the Wenshu Monastery. In the Wenhua Park, the smaller Qingyang Temple is worth a visit as it's the oldest Taoist temple in town. The temple also has an eight-sided pagoda made without any nails. The bustling market surrounding the temple is a major leisure area for the locals and at times it may seem like the whole city is shopping. Just east of the temple is the Qingtai Da Jie, where the old architectural Chengdu has been recreated. Close to the Qingyang Temple is Du Fu's Cottage, home of one of China's more revered poets of the Tang dynasty who wrote over 200 poems while living in this simple cottage.
For a flavour of local entertainment, the 200-year-old Sichuan Opera is definitely worth considering. The ear-splitting Sichuan Opera is for those with an acquired taste and can be seen at the Jinjiang Theater or the Shufeng Yayun. The contents of shows vary, but the most important elements are high-pitch singing, acrobatics, slapstick comedy and unique to Sichuan Opera, "changing faces," in which the performer very quickly changes colourful masks. The whole atmosphere, from the show with tea and snacks to the enthusiasm of the audience and performers make it a memorable experience.
For history buffs with a little more time on their hands, a visit to Sanxingdui, the site of the ancient Shu capital will be rewarding. Centred on Sichuan's Yangtze River valley more than 4,000 years ago, Sanxingdui is the largest site of ruins of the Shu Kingdom. Since the discovery of the ruins, more than 10,000 relics including bronze, gold, jade and marble artifacts, pottery, bone tools and ivory objects have been uncovered. The site's museum opened in Guanghan City, about 40 km from Chengdu. Sanxingdui is considered the most important site for ancient Sichuan culture due to its sheer size and the number of artifacts found.
Chengdu Tour Highlights
Explore the city on bike or foot. Dive into the smaller alleys of the city and experience the local markets and traditional architecture.
Treat the taste buds to the exquisite Sichuan cuisine.
Take in Chengdu in slow motion at a teahouse.
Visit the pandas in the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base.
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