Recently the government of Chengdu created the slogan: Fast City, Slow Life and it has really stuck. Chengdu is home to more than 14 million people but it doesn’t have the frantic feel of Beijing or Shanghai. Wherever you are in the city, the population’s respect for the panda is clear to see. Shop fronts are adorned with panda-branded merchandise and taxis have pandas plastered on their bonnets, so animal-loving visitors will not be disappointed. Chengdu is a city deserving of as much attention as its pandas gets, with its giant monument to Mao, museums, operas and teahouses, the capital of Sichuan province should not be overlooked.
What to Know
On the edge of the fertile plains of the Red Basin in China’s Sichuan Province, Chengdu is a place people have called home for more than 4,500 years. Due to the fertile nature of the land, Chengdu is sometimes called the “Land of Milk and Honey”. Nowadays the city is known for poetry, superb cuisine and of course pandas! It’s known as a very “laid-back” city and with so much green space it is ranked as one of the most liveable mega-cities in China. Chengdu’s geography means it is home to a diverse population, so visitors get a chance to taste not only the local delicacies but also traditional dishes from minority groups.
Chengdu is known for its lack of sun, even during the summer months when the climate is hot and humid. It is often quite foggy but don’t let this deter you as the fog can make for some attractive photos. Winter temperatures average around 5°C but as the air tends to be moist meaning that it can feel quite a bit colder than it actually is, so anyone visiting the city between November and February would be wise to bring warm clothes!
What to Do in Chengdu
While you’re in Chengdu, The Dragon Trip will take you on a whistle stop tour to see the best of the city. The Panda Breeding Research Centre, a delicious hotpot meal and a blind massage to help rid you of aches and pains – and we’ll help you practise your Mandarin too!
Fast City, Slow Life. This love for enjoying life in this city can be experienced in many ways. The first stop in any Chengdu adventure is to visit the giant pandas. Open since 1988, the centre includes an open research laboratory, veterinary hospital, enclosures, and an activity ground for the resident pandas; it is one of the most important ecological institutions in China. Over the past 25 years, the centre has been crucial to the survival of critically endangered species, taking care of over 80 giant pandas, as well as 30 red pandas. Fun Fact: people actually get paid to walk around the forest in a panda suit!
Feeling exhausted? Take a stroll around the grounds of the Wenshu Monastery and Temple. Regarded as the best-preserved Buddhist temple in Chengdu, the Wenshu monastery was built over 1000 years ago during the Tang Dynasty. Over 500 cultural relics, renowned paintings and works of calligraphy have been stored here since the Tang and Song dynasties. Arguably the rarest of the precious relics is a piece of Xuan Zhang’s broken skull (Zhang was a renowned monk of the Tang Dynasty).
If you haven’t had an opportunity to experience park life in China, Chengdu’s People’s Park is well worth visiting. Strangers stand shoulder to shoulder, gathered round stereo systems watching and cheering as someone sings karaoke. Wander through old-style flower gardens and feed the fish, or choose a teahouse to sit in and relax as you watch the locals getting their ears cleaned by professionals. Watch as street food vendors spin gorgeously impossible shapes out of sugar and visit one of the stalls selling popular Sichuan snacks.
If it’s souvenirs that you’re after, take a walk around the market next to Wenshu Temple. Be tempted by the wonderful fragrances diffusing from incense stores and food stalls as you haggle for a Tibetan-style singing bowl or a colourful hat. With a huge selection of products, ranging from antiques and minority-style wares to cuddly toys and jewellery, you’re sure to find the perfect memento of your visit to Chengdu.
After all the sightseeing, you may feel it is time for some rest and relaxation. To experience the real China, get a blind massage. In China it is common for those that are visually impaired to work as massage therapists, as it is believed that losing one sense (e.g. sight) means that your other senses (in this case, touch) improve. It is therefore thought that these blind masseuses are some of the best people to be rubbing out all those aches and pains you may have acquired throughout your journey.
What to eat?
Only a fool would miss out on the chance to indulge in one of Chengdu’s most famous past times: eating. But be warned, Sichuan food is renowned for being the spiciest in China! The local people love to discuss food almost as much as they love to make and eat it, so come armed with opinions and an eager appetite. “Eat the best to live the fullest” is a popular saying in Chengdu, and its people definitely do their best to live up to that saying. The city is famed for having China’s most beautiful women, and locals say that their spicy food is to thank for it, as they believe it is good for the skin.
With their uniquely spicy flavour coming from Sichuan pepper and an alarming number of chillies, Sichuans signature dishes include hot pot, mapo tofu, and an endless list of snacks such as Dan Dan noodles, Chengdu wontons, and Sichuan sticky rice balls. If you aren’t a fan of spicy food, don’t worry, just remember the words ‘bu yao la de’, to let your waitress know you don’t want your food too fiery!
After a spicy meal, keep the fire roaring by enjoying a sizzling night out in Chengdu. With everything from English style pubs to bustling local clubs, the area around Sichuan University is buzzing with nightlife. However, don’t be surprised if you walk into a club and find the dance floor empty with everyone sitting at tables or booths; it is a popular pastime to play drinking games with dice while you’re out so pull up a chair and learn the rules to Liar’s Dice.