There is a popular local saying that goes: “When a married man arrives in Chengdu, he wishes he were still single.”
capital of Sichuan, with a population of over 11 million, is renowned
not just for its spicy cuisine but also for its beautiful women. Some
credit the local chillies, which are said to purge the body of toxins,
resulting in purer complexions. Others say it’s the mild weather.
the reason, Chengdu is uniquely different. Unlike the pressure-cooker
environment of cities like Beijing or Guangzhou, the pace in Chengdu is
more laid-back. As evening settles, locals are out walking their dogs,
setting up mahjong table or dancing in local parks.
There’s so much to see and do in Chengdu.
• Old towns and temples
the city proper, near the Wuzhou Temple, is the popular Jinli Street.
Start your tour with a visit to the temple, a memorial to the hero Zhuge
Liang, who was immortalized in the classic “Romance of the Three
When the temple closes for the day, take a stroll along
the old cobbled streets of Jinli. In the evening, the place comes alive
with the buzz of teahouses, cafes, restaurants and shops. As with all
tourist spots, prices here tend to be more expensive than elsewhere. A
less crowded alternative would be the Wenshu Fang old quarter beside the
About an hour’s journey outside Chengdu is Luodai,
also known as Hakka Ancient Town because about 90 percent of its
residents are of Hakka origin. Luodai’s history dates back to the Han
Dynasty (202BC-AD220), and the houses, courtyards and streets are in
typical Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) style. If you have even more time,
travel 90 kilometers west to Pingle — which the locals pronounce
“ping-lo” in dialect — an old village frozen in time.
and solitude, head toward the ancient Taoist Qingyang Temple where you
can chill out over Sichuan tea and the background incantation of monks.
• Meeting giant pandas
Province is home to China’s giant pandas, and no trip to this region of
the country would be complete without a close-up encounter with these
beloved animals. The best place to view pandas is the Chengdu Research
Center of Giant Panda Breeding, located about 10 kilometers from
downtown. A good tour guide should be able to lead you through the
meandering paths and directly to the panda enclosures.
rights to cuddling a panda, with a photo to prove it, will set you back a
whopping 1,000 yuan (US$155.8). Otherwise, the entrance fee to the
center is just 58 yuan, and a taxi ride from downtown shouldn’t cost
more than 60 yuan. It’s best to arrive before 8:30am, when it’s feeding
time and the pandas are most active.
• Eating out like a local
is popular in the neighborhoods of Chengdu, but if you want to rub
elbows with the local, head for restaurants serving traditional hotpot,
or mala huoguo. While in Chengdu, be sure to try other local specialties
like Kung Pao chicken, mapo tofu and Dandan noodles. Famous restaurants
for Sichuan hotpot include Huang Cheng Lao Ma (www.hclm.net), Shi Zi
Lou (2 Wannian Road) and Tan Yu Tou (227 Qingyang Street, Qingyang
District). Grandma Chen’s Mapo Tofu (19 Qinghua Lu) is also legendary.
into the Chengdu lifestyle is not quite complete without a visit to one
of the city’s famous teahouses (chalou) for Sichuan green tea
(chuancha). There is one at every corner, but the more popular venues
are in People’s Park, River View Bamboo Park near Sichuan University,
Yue Lai (2 Yinhe Beijie, beside the Jinjiang Theatre) and Shun Xing
(3/F, Chengdu International Exhibition Center, 258 Shawan Road). Both
Yue Lai and Shun Xing feature Sichuan opera performances while you sip
• Check out the flower villages
is a sense of joyful exuberance when spring rolls around, especially
for the younger folks. Many head outdoors to enjoy the refreshing cool
weather and sunshine. Some can be seen playing mahjong, a local
obsession, under the peach blossoms, while families and friends gather
A popular getaway, about 15 kilometers southeast of
the city, is Sansheng Flower Village. Locals go there not just to enjoy
the floral beauty but also for a breath of fresh air. Local guesthouses
provide nice weekend getaways. You won’t find this information on the
tourist maps, so just hop into a taxi and head to the village. The
30-minute taxi ride should not cost more than 50 yuan.
flower villages east of the city are Longquan and the Hakka Xinghua
Village in the Qingbaijiang District, where the annual Apricot Flower
Festival is held, starting from the end of March.
• Soaking up the night life
Road is the main shopping strip, popular among the young as the place
to meet and dine. It is no secret that Chunxi is also the best place for
people-watching. Directly across the road from the Shangri-La Hotel is
Bar Street, where all the watering holes are arrayed. Walk even further
toward Disco Bar Street and you will find more of the same.
Tianxianqiao Road, just around the corner from the Shangri-La, is the
brand new and more upscale Lan Kwai Fong entertainment complex, which
houses several classy bars, cafes and restaurants. At night, the river
alongside the complex is beautifully lit up with colored lights.
When to go
you’re an outdoors person, the spring season between March and April is
the best time to visit Chengdu. July and August are the hot months,
while December and January are the coldest time of the year. If you hate
crowds, avoid the big Chinese holidays during the Chinese New Year and
October’s National Day.
Where to stay
Chengdu (www.shangri-la.com) is arguably the best five-star hotel in
town. Service is above average, the location is ideal and, best of all,
its CHI spa takes wellness to a whole new level with Tibetan-inspired
treatments. A tip: if you like a good choice of Western, Japanese and
local dishes, head to Cafe Z, one of the hotel’s restaurants. On
weekends, even locals make a beeline for their buffet spread.
The new St Regis Chengdu (www.starwoodhotels.com) is also highly recommended for its top-notch service and downtown location.
Getting there and around
Most of the airlines in China fly directly from Shanghai to Chengdu, with the journey taking three hours and 30 minutes.
From Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport, it’s a 40-minute taxi ride to the city, costing around 60 yuan.
the city, taxis are relatively cheap but you have to fight for one. You
may also try to take in the city sights on public buses. At a flat rate
of 2 yuan, you simply double back if you hop onto the wrong bus.
The Chengdu Metro, opened in 2010, also makes it getting around the city easy.
Chengdu is not a very large as Chinese cities go. A good map should be enough.