The provincial capital of Sichuan Province, Chengdu is one of the most popular tourist destinations in China, and one of the three most populated cities in western China. Surrounded by a vast plain known locally as the “Country of Heaven" and the “Land of Abundance", Chengdu was founded by the ancient State of Shu and is unique in that it is one of a few major Chinese settlements that has not had its name changed over the centuries.
One of the most important economic, financial, cultural, and commercial centers in Western China, it is the hub for transportation in the region. As well as having a huge number of natural and cultural heritage sites within and around the city, the top highlight for Chengdu tour is its giant pandas, and the four panda centers that lie within its sphere.
Giant panda base breeding center
Located just ten kilometers from the city center, in the northeast suburbs of Chengdu, lies the ever-popular Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, commonly referred to as just the Chengdu Panda Base. A breeding and care facility for giant pandas and their offspring, the Chengdu Panda Base was first built in 1987, and began with just six pandas that had been rescued from the wild. One of the most popular destinations for tourists in Chengdu, both foreign and domestic, the panda base now has more than 120 giant pandas within its care, and is now the top research base for the Chinese government’s mission to bring the wild pandas back into their natural habitats.
The panda base is built to protect and breed the rare, and until recently endangered, giant pandas, which have been driven almost to the point of extinction in the past. These lovable, cuddly creatures are the most well-known bears in the world, and are the emblem of the World Wildlife Fund. The base was constructed to imitate the natural habitat of the giant pandas as closely as possible, which is why it lies on Futou Mountain, which closely resembles the panda’s natural range, which was originally within the northern areas of Sichuan Province.
The base is open from 7:30 in the morning until 6:00 at night, and entry costs just 10 yuan per person. The best time to visit to see the pandas is in the morning, when they are more active, once the day gets too hot, the pandas head for shade and sleep through the afternoon, rising again once the heat of the day is done.
Experience tea culture
One of the most popular places to find tea, Chengdu has a unique tea culture within the city, and wherever you go, you can find the traditional Sichuan tea houses. As the home of tea, China has a profound and time-honored tea culture, with the tea being prepared and served in a ritual that has not changed for thousands of years, In Chengdu, this tea culture remains, in its original Sichuan form.
Tea culture can be found in thousands of teahouses throughout Chengdu, and the variety is as profound as the Confucianism that goers hand in hand with drinking tea in China. In Sichuan, tea drinking represents the clear, warmhearted, optimistic, tolerant ideas of Confucianism in its unique tea culture. Chengdu consumes thousands of tons of tea annually, and is rated as the highest consumer of tea in China, possibly the world.
Used for everything from Business meetings and somewhere to get a nice refreshing drink to lounges for relaxing and meeting places for friends and courting couples, the teahouses in Chengdu can be found on almost every street. These ubiquitous teahouses range from the ornate and traditional establishments that have been standing for centuries, complete with antique bamboo furniture, to the modern versions that more closely resemble a Starbucks than a tea house.
The teahouses offer a wide range of teas, including jasmine, longjing, and biluochun teas, as well as plenty of more recent blends of the traditional Chinese leaves. They are also a popular place for groups to play mahjong, and the clack of ivory counters can be heard in most teahouses across the city. Some of the larger teahouses also offer live entertainment, though it is more often in the form of traditional Sichuan opera than wild rock bands.
Enjoying Sichuan cuisine
Known around the world as variously, Sichuan, Szechwan, or Szechuan cuisine, the food of Sichuan Province is one of the most popular cuisines on the planet, In every country in the world you can usually find a Sichuan restaurant, claiming to create authentic Sichuan cuisine, though which is usually altered to suit local tastes. If you want to taste the real Sichuan cuisine, then there is no better place than Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province and the birthplace of Sichuan Cuisine.Sichuan cuisine is bold and brash, with ripe pungent odors and a unique spiciness that comes from the liberal use of garlic and chili peppers, not to mention the unique Sichuan Pepper, one of the spiciest peppers in the world. The province actually has four separate varieties of Sichuan cuisine, which include Chongqing Sichuan cuisine (Chongqing was originally in Sichuan Province), Chengdu Sichuan cuisine, Zigong Sichuan cuisine, and the Buddhist Sichuan cuisine. Chengdu has also been declared by UNESCO as a “City of Gastronomy" in 2011, in order to recognize the unique sophistication of the local cuisine.
Historically, the modern cuisine that is known around the world has only been part of Sichuan cooking for the last 100 years, and the original cuisine of Sichuan at the time of the Shu State was sweet. This changed a little during the Jin Period of China, when the use of ginger and mustard, chives and onions became popular, making the food more pungent and flavored. However, whether sweet or pungent, the cuisine of Sichuan Province was mild in comparison with the cuisine of today. The popular Sichuan Pepper was only introduced into China around 200-300 years ago. This can still be seen in the milder dishes that still remain in Sichuan cooking, such as braised bear’s paw, crisp duck roasted with camphor and tea, minced chicken with hollyhock, boiled pork with mashed garlic, and many other tasty, yet not spicy dishes.
Shopping in Chengdu
A relatively leisurely city, Chengdu allows you to experience the delights of a slower and more peaceful way of life. Little wonder that the city has become a Mecca for shoppers, and has a huge number of shopping streets where you can buy almost anything your heart desires. Chunxi Road is the busiest commercial pedestrian street in Chengdu, and lies in the Jinjiang District, a couple of kilometers from the city center at Tianfu Square. The favored shopping street of most international tourists that come to Chengdu, this historic street is most representative of the Chengdu shopping culture.
Jinli Street, located near the Wuhou Temple Main Street, around 3 kilometers from Tianfu Square, is one of the most unique shopping streets in the world, renowned for its Ming and Qing Dynasty buildings, which can be found lining the street in several places. A peaceful and classical street, Jinli is the main area in Chengdu for shopping for local folk goods, and has specialty stores for all kinds of delights, from chopsticks to leather shadow puppets. Complete with restaurants, bars, and pubs, there is nowhere quite like Jinli Street for shopping.
Made up of three parallel alleys from the ancient city of Chengdu, Kuan Zhai Xiangzi, or the Wide and Narrow Alley, is about as unique as it can possibly get for shopping. Consisting of the Wide Alley (Kuan Xiangzi), the Narrow Alley (Zhai Xiangzi), and the Well Alley (Jing Xiangzi), this amazing shopping area includes 45 small courtyards. One of Chengdu’s ancient historical and cultural preserves, the three alleys resemble a microcosm of the city’s ancient history. As well as having a multitude of stores and small shops selling amazing local souvenirs and gifts, the alleys also feature plenty of restaurants and pubs, and more than enough teahouses to keep you well refreshed during your shopping trip.