Chengdu (Chéngdū, 成都) is a city that has managed to retain its easygoing Sichuan charm, despite many of its old wooden buildings and narrow streets having been replaced by glittering skyscrapers and shopping centers. Full of lush, green parks, lively temples, outdoor markets, bustling open-air restaurants and a maze of side streets, a tour of Chengdu makes for a unique and pleasurable China experience.

Far from the central powers of eastern China, rugged Sichuan has maintained its distinct culture. From Sichuan Opera, with its distinctive "face changing" tricks, fire breathing and gritty humor, to mouth-numbing spicy food and the stunning natural beauty of the region (and its women, so they say), Chengdu is not to be missed. And of course, no visit to Chengdu is complete without going to see the pandas. Venture out of the city to the nearby mountains and drop in to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base where hordes of Sichuan's famous bamboo-munching giant pandas live in a protected environment.

Sichuan cuisine is famous throughout the world for its tongue-numbing pepper, fiery chili and steamy hot pot, making the province's capital a delicious place to be (those who don't care for spicy fare shouldn't worry—there are plenty of milder alternatives among Chengdu's many restaurants). For a real taste of Sichuan culture however, follow the lead of the locals and head to a Chengdu teahouse. But don't rush it—the idea's not to grab a quick pick-me-up, but to unwind and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.

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Chengdu Nightlife

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