Last updated: 12th January 2022
After a short flight from Xian we landed in Chengdu, the third stop on our tour of China. Chengdu is situated in the Sichuan province in South West China and not far from neighbouring Tibet. We stayed for 2 nights, but only had one full day, in this travel guide we’ll show you the 5 best Chengdu attractions.
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Chengdu – China’s City of Tea and Pandas
Chengdu is China’s 5th most populated city and is the capital of the Sichuan Province. It’s one of the oldest cities in China founded in 221BC as the capital of the Qin dynasty. Chengdu is surrounded by an ancient irrigation system on the fertile soils of the flat Chengdu Plain. The city is massive and modern full of huge skyscrapers however some parts of the old city remain (more on that later). Chengdu has a thriving technology industry and attracts large numbers of students who come to study in the city’s many universities. Chengdu has also been voted the ‘Happiest City in China’ in a couple of polls.
We must admit we didn’t know anything about Chengdu but were pleased to see it’s nowhere near as polluted as Beijing. It has a nice laid back vibe compared to other big Chinese cities we’ve visited like Shanghai or Hong Kong. Teashops are an institution here which must be why the pace of life is much slower. The main attraction of Chengdu are the superstar Giant Pandas who we’ve come to see. Chengdu is the home of giant pandas and is such an animal-loving city we saw panda motifs everywhere and on everything from taxis to toilet rolls. Chengdu even has the world’s only panda-themed KFC!
Chengdu Attractions – 5 Best Things To Do In 1 Day
1. Wenshuyuan Street & Wenshu Yuan Monastery
We got up early and explored Wenshuyuan Street, which was brilliantly located right outside our hotel. This is the oldest neighbourhood of Chengdu and the street is lovely, full of old Chinese architecture. Strolling around you can imagine what life might have been like in times gone by. The trees down the street were incredibly pretty with every tree decorated in red charms and lanterns. Red is an important colour in China it represents happiness, success, good luck and good fortune.
Wenshu Yuan Monastery
Further up the street, we found the Wenshu Yuan Monastery. It’s the best persevered Buddhist temple in Chengdu and really old built during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907). It’s home to 80 monks and has 5 halls for worship and a collection of over 300 Buddha statues. It attracts lots of visitors who come to worship or sip tea at the monastery’s tea house which apparently is one of the best in Chengdu, there’s also a vegetarian restaurant. We walked around the peaceful grounds admiring the various buildings. We also saw people doing their morning tai chi exercise in quiet spots, which we felt really privileged to witness. Wenshu Yuan Monastery is the perfect place to soak up Chinese culture.
2. The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
We met our private tour guide for the day, Cecilia she’s ace and drove us to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. We arrived at 9am as it’s important to get here early to see the giant pandas when they’re most active, as during the day they will be asleep. Garth is not comfortable with zoos and was slightly alarmed by the Disney-like theme park entrance, but we were pleased this place is far from it. The base plays an important role in protecting the future of these vulnerable wild animals. It has the world’s largest population of captive-bred giant pandas which began in 1987 with 6 pandas rescued from the wild, that has now expanded to around 120. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) there are just 1,864 giant pandas left in the wild with 80% of them living in the Sichuan province. The hope is to increase the population to 5,000 by 2025.
The Giant Pandas
We arrived at the first enclosure with massive smiles on our faces, OMG! the giant pandas are ridiculously cute and adorable. We stood watching them enjoying their blissful life of continuously eating bamboo or just lazing around and falling asleep when it all gets too much! (a bit like Phil!). The giant pandas are nothing like Kungfu Panda in the movies doing kung fu kicks, instead, they are ridiculously laid back. The more you watch these giant teddy bears you think there must be someone inside a furry panda suit as they are so funny with their childlike and shy behaviour.
Giant pandas are huge eaters! they’re mainly vegetarian eating 2 different types of bamboo 99% of their time. Occasionally they will eat small animals and fish. They are also China’s national animal, what a darling national treasure!
We were pleased to see the enclosures are really large and there are various ones with different settings. Most of all we were surprised just how close we could get to the pandas, which is cool. Our favourite enclosure was where two baby pandas were playing with each other climbing the trees, so cute to watch. We found ourselves wanting to stay but there’s lot’s more to explore. From the nursery rooms where you can look through the windows to see newborn baby pandas being cared for, there was nothing going on when we visited. You may have seen photos of people actually cuddling a panda (how amazing would that be) but that was in the past when you could pay to do this, the ‘Giant Panda Holding Program’ was suspended.
Giant Panda Facts
- They can spend up to 16 hours a day eating bamboo.
- Their black and white fur is excellent camouflage in snowy mountain environments.
- Pandas can poo 40 times a day! 💩 not surprised eating all day.
- Unlike other bears, pandas have thumbs and do not hibernate in winter.
- They live between 15 to 20 years in the wild and 25 to 35 years in captivity.
- Pandas look the same but can be individually identified by small markings around their mouth or nose.
- Having sex is not a high priority, which is one of the reasons they’ve become a vulnerable species.
- Male pandas will sometimes stand up to have a wee against a tree to mark it.
- They have lived on earth for 3 million years.
Leaving the giant pandas behind we watched their documentary film. There’s a section where there were gasps of horror and laughs from the audience as the English subtitles were somewhat lost in translation as they described how they masturbated the pandas! 🙈.
After a quick purchase at the shop (a fridge magnet obvs), we walked the rest of the park and saw the red pandas, yes red pandas! and no we’d not heard of them either! Unlike the giant pandas, these red ones are tiny in comparison and just roam around. You can get really close to them which is cool, but don’t get too close as they bite!
3. People’s Park
After spending 2½ hours meeting the pandas Cecilia took us to meet the locals at ‘People’s Park’ also known as Renmin Park. It’s a brilliant place to go for people watching, we found it fascinating seeing the local life and how older people come to relax and have fun. The park has designated areas for singing, dancing, calligraphy and there’s even a ‘love lane’. We’ve never seen anything like it before, so varied and we didn’t see any western tourists here either, they must all be with the pandas! Quite a few people were staring at us which was quite amusing, just like we experienced in Beijing.
Groups of 4 people were playing ‘mahjong’ which looks like dominos but it’s a game using 136 tiles similar to rummy the card game. Other people were doing tai chi in group classes, women were dancing on stages under the trees, whilst others were getting massages or having their ears cleaned, all in public. Our highlight was watching some ladies sing, it was like something from Britain’s Got Talent with the stereo on full blast and ladies singing their hearts out.
We went on to ‘love lane’ this is where single locals looking for love, husbands or wives write down their interests on paper for people to read, who needs a dating app when you’ve got a love lane! We finished off relaxing with a cup of green tea from the city’s famous Heming Teahouse located here and sat by the lake chatting to Cecilia about what it’s like to live in Chengdu. If you visit Chengdu then make sure you come to People’s Park as it’s so interesting.
4. Wide and Narrow Alley
Our next stop was for lunch on ‘Wide and Narrow Alley’, one of the main attractions of Chengdu. This is what remains of the old town and is actually 3 streets – Wide Alley (Kuan Xiangzi), Narrow Alley (Zhai Xiangzi) and Well Alley (Jing Xiangzi). The 3 streets run parallel to each other and are full of lovely Chinese architecture. The buildings have been restored and modernised or rebuilt but still have the ancient courtyards leading off the street to various tea houses, loads of them! In fact, China’s tea culture originated in Chengdu. These streets were once home to the soldiers of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)
It’s fun and touristy here with street performers and guys dressed in Chinese opera costumes posing for photos. It’s busy with people browsing the souvenir and confectionary shops. The specialist shops are really nice selling things like embroidery, porcelain, calligraphy and Chinese art. Cecilia told us it looks amazing at night with the soft glowing light from the red paper lanterns and is a good place to come for the nightlife.
These streets are definitely the place to come to eat or drink tea – everyone drinks it. Let us talk about the tons of exotic street food for sale here like deep-fried chicken feet, pig snouts, rabbit heads all looking strangely appetising covered in BBQ sauce and spices. Cecilia thought it was very funny that we didn’t fancy trying them, her favourite are the spicy rabbit heads!
5. Eat Spicy Sichuan Food & Chengdu Hot Pot
Chengdu is famous for spicy food because of the Sichuan peppercorns used in cooking which are grown in this part of China. Sichuan cuisine is an important part of the culture here and because many Sichuan dishes were invented in Chengdu, the city was awarded City of Gastronomy status by UNESCO.
Cecilia took us to her favourite courtyard restaurant where we ordered a selection of dim sum and lots of little Chinese dishes to try, a bit like Spanish tapas – it was far too much food! oh well, we’re on our holidays! Later that evening we tried Chengdu’s signature hot pot dish also called Sichuan Hotpot. It’s nothing like our Lancashire hotpot, instead, this is a fiery hot pot made with loads of pepper and chillies. You basically cook the vegetables and raw meat by yourself in a big pot of boiling spicy broth in the middle of your table. We both love spicy food, but be warned the hot pot is sweat-inducing and mouth-tingling hot.
Other Chengdu Attractions & Things To Do:
- Sichuan Opera -More like a burlesque cabaret show than an opera. Includes quick face changes & fire-eating.
- Tianfu Square – Large square bit like Tiananmen Square surrounded by skyscrapers with shops, eateries and a statue of Chairman Mao.
- Du Fu Thatched Cottage – Scenic spot with replica home of one of China’s best-known poets, Dù Fu Cao Táng.
- Anshun Bridge – A stunning bridge that looks amazing at night. A replica of the original from 1746 was destroyed by floods.
- West Pearl Tower – Sci-fi looking tower, 339 meters tall with an observation deck and a revolving restaurant.
- Leshan Giant Buddha – The world’s largest Buddha carved out of a red sandstone cliff at Leshan, 2½ hours away.
- New Century Global Center – China’s biggest shopping mall and the world’s biggest building!
Our 5 Star Hotel Accommodation
We stayed at the 5 star Old Chengdu Club hotel, which was fabulous, a luxurious huge room, huge bathtub – you get the idea. We arrived late at night so everywhere was closed and we were still hungry so we had no option but to try the king-size pot noodle in our room, which was surprisingly ok. It was also the first hotel we’ve stayed at where nobody spoke English, not even at the front desk, so it was kinda fun checking in!
Chengdu Facts & Useful Advice
Phil and Garth’s Top 5 Chengdu Tips
- Tip #1: Winter is the best time to avoid the big crowds at the Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.
- Tip #2: Chengdu’s location means it’s often foggy but don’t let that put you off visiting.
- Tip #3: When finished eating place chopsticks on top of the bowl, never inside.
- Tip #4: Tipping is not generally expected in China.
- Tip #5: Got more time? Go see the world’s largest stone Buddha at Leshan – 2 hours away.
- Chengdu airport code? CTU – Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport.
- What time is it in Chengdu? GMT +8 hours. China Standard Time.
- What currency is used in Chengdu? Renminbi (symbol: ¥ or CNY and RMB)
- What language is spoken in Chengdu? Mandarin.
- What is the population of Chengdu? 16.33 million.
- What number should I call in an emergency? Call 110 for police, 120 for ambulance or 119 for fire.
- What electric plug is used in Chengdu? Plug Types A, C and I. The 2 pin Type A with 2 flat pins is most common. Voltage is 220V / 50Hz.
- When is the best time to visit Chengdu? April to June and September to October when temperatures are warm.
- When is the worst time to visit Chengdu? December to February as it’s cold, damp and foggy.
- What is Chengdu famous for? Giant Pandas, Teashops, Sichuan Pepper & Chinese Opera.
- What’s the history of Chengdu? In 221BC Chengdu was established as the capital of the Qin dynasty.
- What are Chengdu’s 5 must-see sights? Panda Research Base, Wenshu Monastery, Wide & Narrow Alley, People’s Park & Leshan Giant Buddha.
- What’s the Chengdu local dish? Chengdu Hot Pot also known as Sichuan Hot Pot.
- What is the best way to get around Chengdu? The easiest way of getting around Chengdu is by taxi or the underground Metro.
- What’s a fun fact about Chengdu? Paper money was invented in Chengdu.
- What movies have been filmed in Chengdu? Film location for The Amazing Panda Adventure (1995).
- Where is the best photo spot in Chengdu? Wenshuyuan Temple.
- What’s a Chengdu hidden gem? People’s Park.
- What is the best Chengdu souvenir? A panda cuddly toy.
How We Did It
- We visited Chengdu at the beginning of April.
- We paid for a self-guided tour of China with The China Travel Company and had an English speaking private guide for the day – Cecilia who was just wonderful.
- We stayed for 2 nights at the 5 star and stylish boutique hotel, The Old Chengdu Club. Check out their website here.
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