Chengdu (成都) is the provincial capital and largest city of Sichuan Province. Due to its agricultural wealth, Chengdu is sometimes called the “Land of Milk and Honey”. The Funan river bisects the city, although boat traffic, common until the 1960’s, has all but vanished. Chengdu has the reputation as a very “laid-back” city that emphasizes culture and relaxation and as a result of this and much green space is ranked one of the most liveable mega-cities in China. It is credited with a good nightlife scene and contains many new western style buildings in the large city centre.
The history of the city can be traced back 2,400 when the first emperor built his capital here and named the city. Through thousands of years its original name has been kept and its position as the capital and as the significant center of politics, commerce and military of the Sichuan area (once called Shu) has remained unchanged. Since the Han (206B.C.-220) and Tang (618-907) Dynasties when its handicraft industry flourished, the place has been famous for its brocades and embroideries. The city was also the place where the bronze culture, an indispensable part of ancient Chinese culture, originated; the place where the Southern Silk Road started; and the place where the earliest paper currency, Jiaozi, was first printed.
- Chengdu Panda Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, (taxi from downtown ~ RMB 40-50. This is the biggest facility of this kind in the world. It is home to some 60 giant pandas, but also has some red pandas and a colony of black-necked cranes. The pandas are basically on display for tourists but views are much closer than is possible at most Western zoos. The best time to visit is in the morning (early, once it opens at 7:30AM is best), when pandas are most active and crowds are light. Pandas sleep during the hottest time of the day. Feeding time is around 8:00-9:30 (depending on the time of year). It is recommended to arrive as early as you can to avoid the hordes of school and tour groups that arrive every morning and more importantly because panda are fed between 8h and 10h and most are starting a 6h nap between 10h to 11h. As of August 2016. holding a panda is no longer an option. Admission ~ RMB 58
- Chengdu Zoo (成都动物园), (In the north of the city near the Panda Research Base). Offers all the typical animals that one might expect in a zoo (elephant, tigers, giraffes, monkeys, as well as panda bears). While the zoo itself is large and spread out, some of the cages are woefully small and the facility seems understaffed. Admission ~ RMB 20.
- Kuanzhaixiangzi (宽窄巷子). Very nice place with lots of (expensive) tea houses, restaurants and local snacks. Great for relaxing. Streets date from late Qing-dynasty style but are rebuilt recently. Free government wifi in this place.
- Tianfu Square (天府广场), (In the center of Chengdu). This square, overlooked by an enormous Chairman Mao statue in the center of the city, has been spruced up. Every evening at dusk, as well as at noontime, an elaborate water show, synchronized to music, bursts out from the square’s fountains. Below the square is the hub of Chengdu’s subway system.
- Sichuan Science and Technology Museum (四川科技馆), This huge four-storey museum is filled with interactive exhibits about science, aerodynamics, space, mathematics, robotics and physics. Quite dated and cheeky. Descriptions in both English and Chinese. Closed on Mondays. Most of the exhibits have broken down or have fallen apart. There’s nothing scientific or technological about it that represents the real and new China, more so a 70s cold war relic. On the first floor is a gyroscopic flight simulator where you are strapped in and spun upside down and in all directions. Great thrill ride for ~ RMB 5 and a secret highlight of Chengdu. Admission to Museum is free.
- Jinli Ancient Street (锦里古街). This neighborhood is part of the old city of Chengdu; it features hotels and small stores in old-fashioned style. Antiques are sold in a variety of different stores. It is very popular among both tourists and locals, especially at night, with many bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. Don’t forget to take your camera.
- Sichuan Opera (四川歌剧院). It is more like a burlesque cabaret than an actual opera, sometimes including magicians, traditional musicians, shadow plays, comedy (spoken in Chinese though), and dancers besides the traditional pieces. Most famous for quick face-changing and fire spitting performed by dancers clad in colourful traditional costumes. You will follow the story sitting at your table. Note that there are many teahouses in the city that offer the show every night.
- Wuhouci Temple (武侯祠), (near Jinli street, south-west of Tian fu square). This temple is built for commemorating Zhuge Liang(诸葛亮), he is minister of Shu (蜀) in Three Kingdoms Period. He is famous through the Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. There are dozens of dust covered statues of obscure historical figures behind glass and not much else. The gardens are attractive, but not extensive. It is next to Jinli Ancient Street. Admission ~ RMB 60.
- Jinsha Archaeological Site (金沙遗址), recently discovered site featuring various tools and art pieces from around 3,000 years ago. The amount of unearthed items is just massive. They include pottery, blades, jade items, building foundations and various golden art pieces. There are two main buildings: the hall constructed over the centre of the excavation site and the modern exhibition hall with various artifacts on display. Admission ~ RMB 80.
- Wenshu Temple (文殊院), 15 Wenshuyuan St, (成都文殊院街15号) This Tang Dynasty Buddhist temple is the most impressive, and perhaps also the most used, temple in Chengdu. It is dedicated to the Buddhist representation of Wisdom, Wenshu Pusa, and contains more than 450 Buddha statues and other precious relics. The temple also has a newly (2016) renovated vegetarian restaurant with seats offering views over the gardens. Some of the English signs pointing here say “Manjusri Temple”.
- New Century Global Center (新世纪环球中心), Opened in August 2013 is the World’s Largest Building. The building houses a large mall, indoor water park, IMAX movie theater, skating rink, and a couple five-star hotels. It is located on top of the Jincheng Plaza metro station. The water park, known as Paradise Island, is about ~ RMB 250 per person for a pass and is not really worth the money. The wave pool requires life jackets to be worn by all swimmers, something that will be new to Western water park goers. The water park is over securitised. Behind the Global Center is Jinsheng Park and Jinsheng Lake.
- Happy Valley (欢乐谷), Moderate size amusement park with 3 main roller coasters, Water Rides, Kids zone and water park (in Summer). Overall Good day out for both adults and families, makes a nice break from the city and has enough attractions to fill a full day out, As of 2011 the entrance to the park is now a sports retail outlet, Imax and Indoor Sky diving Centre with Restaurants.
- Sichuan Provincial Museum (四川省博物馆), No.251 Huanhua South Road, Wuhou, A wide range of excellent collection (Bronze wares, Chinese paintings (with a featured collection of Sichuanese painter Zhang Daqian, Buddhistic sculpture of various periods; Tibetan artefacts, objects of anthropological interest from ethnical minorities within the province and a live show of Sichuanese silk weaving, etc.) on permanent display. Admission ~ Free
Chunxi Road (春熙路). Take an afternoon or evening to walk down this shopping street, located in the center of the city. Makes for a good change of pace. Various clothing stores, bookstores, restaurants, arcades, and cinemas. Good place to find something to eat; including a hotpot buffet, Japanese restaurants, Western food, and much more. However, the major disadvantage with this area is that each brand has many stores in this location (similar to other parts of China) – Nike, Adidas, and Li-Ning, each have about 4-5 stores in Chunxi Road alone which reduces the variety of things to buy.
Songxian Qiao Antique Market (送仙桥古玩市场), Qing Yang District, Song Xian Bridge (Close to the Green Ram Taoist Temple in the western city, from the temple walk straight west, it is on your right hand side after you crossed the bridge over the channel). Big market with communist relics, old porcelain dishes, jewellery, calligraphy equipment and also some Tibetan stuff. Great bargains can be found here if you are into antiques, jewellery, and gifts.
Lotus Wholesale Market (荷花池), (Next to north railway station, take the metro there and cross the road to SE block). A huge area of shops selling all kinds of local stuff from clothes to kitchen ware and home decoration to toys. The area employs over 100,000 people and its daily sales are over RMB 10 million.
You will find no shortage of fiery Sichuan food in Chengdu. Most of the food is quite spicy, be sure to specify whenever you order: non-spicy (不要辣), a little spicy (微辣) or ‘old’ (very) spicy (老辣). If you are not accustomed to it yet, peanut sauce will work much better than water to quell the fire. If you are used to the hottest of authentic Indian or Thai food, the level of spiciness in Sichuan food should be no problem at all. However, Sichuan food also makes heavy use of Sichuan pepper (花椒), which looks like but is not a true peppercorn, and causes your mouth to become somewhat numb. Sichuan pepper is added in most spicy dishes. If you can eat spicy food but do not like Sichuan pepper, you need to order so (不要花椒).
The spiciest food in Chengdu is hotpot, although the tradition originated in Chongqing, so it is not really Chengdu food. Sichuan hotpots are basically a big pot of soup and spices simmering in a hole in the middle of your table. Patrons choose from a large selection of meats, vegetables and other add-ins. Most popular include: lamb, mushrooms, beef, tofu, quail eggs, potatoes and various others (pork, green vegetables, fish balls, carrots, and even pig’s brain!) You can choose spicy pot or non spicy pot. With spicy hot pots, unlike eastern hot pots, the soup is NOT for drinking; instead, fish out your cooked items with chopsticks (do not fish the liquid out with a spoon, it is too spicy even for locals to drink; the fished out vegetables will be spicy enough), dip them in the small bowl of oil provided to each person, and enjoy.
There are also a lot of weird local snack type of food, such as spicy dragon prawns (look like small crayfish; 麻辣龙虾), spicy snails (香辣田螺), Chongqing duck neck (九九鸭脖子), Bangbang chicken (棒棒鸡), spicy rabbit meat (二姐兔丁).
Thieves are prevalent around certain areas of Chengdu. Be careful around the Yanshikou markets and especially around the North train station. There are also many thieves on crowded buses who use razors to cut open pockets and bags. Also watch your bag at all times around the city, thieves like to come alongside on bicycles at traffic lights and reach into bags.
Traffic can be insanely hectic and motorists as well as cyclists and other pedestrians often have a complete disregard of you. Beware when crossing streets; even when the WALK sign is green, (this means nothing to them or to the Police), traffic taking a right or left turn even when they are not permitted to turn will try to run you over or honk at you to make way for them. Accidents are commonplace as are deaths. Look every direction but up. Watch out for taxi drivers, bus drivers and car drivers who have absolutely no regard for your life. Also watch out for unlicensed silent electric motorbikes coming at you from the left, from the right, from behind and from the front. To stay safe, it is best to walk with a crowd, preferably in the middle.