On my first visit to Chengdu, I experienced so many facets that I wasn’t expecting. Often seen as just another modern sprawling Chinese city, this gem is generally left out of holiday itineraries. But why?
Having explored Chengdu first-hand, I’m excited to report there are so many things to do in Chengdu. It has so much to offer its visitors who decide to grab the gem as part of their trip!
“I promise it has more than Panda bears on offer!”
On the surface
As the capital of the Sichuan Province with its own international airport, Chengdu is a massive business hub, don’t be fooled by this though. The city has an inexpensive and easy to use metro system to get around town. The metros shortest routes only cost CNY2 (£0.25) and if you plan to travel on the longest routes around the city, it will cost about CNY10 (£1.20) – pretty bargainous! But I chose to walk with my friends to soak up the sites and sounds of the city at our own pace.
Chengdu Base of Giant Panda Breeding
During our two-night visit to Chengdu, we made the obligatory visit to the Red and Giant Pandas – when in Rome right? It was captivating to see and learn more about these fluffy wonders. We had booked return transfers to the research base and had pre-paid our entrance fee, so there wasn’t anything to worry about logistically. We then had a good couple of hours to explore the grounds of the base under our own steam. Travelling in a group of four, we were able to head off and do our own thing which was great, allowing each of us to see our animals of choice. As gorgeous as the Giant Pandas are, I have a soft spot for the Red Pandas (they are just too cute…). Make sure that you get there as early in the morning as you can, as the Pandas will be more active before nap-time!
Food in the city
If you stay central to Chengdu, the best place to enjoy a diverse range of food for varying taste buds is the Jinli shopping street. This network of narrow, vibrant alleyways are bursting with smalls and sights. You’ll find local artwork, laid-back tea houses, food stalls as far as the eye can see as well as opera theatres (it’s a glorious assault on the senses)! My friends and I spent both nights greedily trying out various kinds of food; from spicy kong pao chicken to Potato Tornados to fresh squid fried up before your eyes, spiced to taste.
– One thing is for sure, we didn’t go hungry!
From Chaos to Peace
If you head a little further through the Jinli Streets, you’ll come to Nanjao Park and Wuhou Temple complex. I highly recommend in the early morning or the late evenings for a bit of peace and tranquillity. We spent a morning in the park walking through Temple Gates, over bridges and passing peaceful lakes. We also enjoyed delicious rosebud tea, coffee and calm atmosphere that set us up for the day. You can enjoy the stunning Wuhou temple too, for CNY60 you can head in and explore. The temple honours several historical figures from the Three Kingdoms period and features Gates, Stele from the 9th Century and sacred way lined with various stone animals; it’s a real glimpse into the past.
My favourite memory of Chengdu was probably the most stressful one too (Ying & Yang and all that)! The four of us decided to head out and find The People’s (Renmin) Park which was recommended to us for some of the best tea houses in the city. However, finding it on foot with Chengdu tourist maps being a bit basic, made the experience a little stressful… or maybe our orientation skills were lacking that day (I recommend using the metro system for this one!)!
We eventually found the park, and it was the perfect remedy after all that (flustered) walking. We found ourselves a table, picked our tea leaf choice from the menu and then sat back and relaxed for at least an hour. Having made quick friends with the little girl and her family on the next-door table, we were soon offered a biscuit treat by her granny to enjoy with our tea. A local mother and son were brave enough to sit down with us and practice some English and teach us a few useful phrases to help us in our travels. A real meaningful moment being able have this cultural exchange in such a genuine way.
The People’s Park, the gift that keeps on giving, also had another hidden surprise, being able to watch the dance groups and opera singers doing their thing dotted across the park. We spent at least an hour meandering around the park venues and stalls, taking it easy before attempting the journey home.
Why go to Chengdu?
Chengdu is a city of contrasts vibrant streets, peaceful parks, and lovely people. I would definitely go again to spend more time in the local shopping streets, seeing the real Tibetan influence on the city. The Le Shan Grand Buddha site which lies roughly 2.5 hours south of Chengdu city is also worth a visit… Maybe I’ll add on a trip to Mount Emeishan another 90 minutes further along the road, as one of China’s four sacred Buddhist sites and an UNESCO World heritage site…
… Let’s put it this way, Chengdu has so much to offer; this gem isn’t to be missed if you’re heading to China, it’s one for the bucket list.