Chengdu

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has managed to retain its easygoing Sichuan charm, despite many of its old wooden buildings and narrow streets having been replaced by glittering skyscrapers and shopping centers.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 mouthnumbing 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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From the cheap and dingy to the deliciously plush and all in between, Chengdu has it all. Surprisingly enough, it's not too hard to find rooms in relatively luxurious hotels in Chengdu for very reasonable prices.

Many of the hotels in Chengdu are located on or around north-south running Renmin Lu (Rénmín Lù, 人民路). Getting around the city is fairly inexpensive so make a choice based on hotel facilities or price without worrying too much about transportation costs.

A number of budget hotels and hostels are also scattered about town offering bargain prices for those on tight budgets. Not all hotels are certified to receive foreign guests, so don't be offended if you are rejected without explanation.

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Think Chengdu food and think hot and hotter. Chengdu's cuisine doesn't skimp on the local chilies, nor does it go light on mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns. Locals claim the sweat-inducing dishes cool the body in the summer and warm it in the winter while Chinese tradition says chili protects you from illnesses and infection—medicine never tasted so good. If you're not into the heat, there's plenty to eat that's gentle on the taste buds.

If you do like it spicy, be sure to try kung pao chicken (gōngbǎo jīdīng, 宫保鸡丁), chicken and peanuts served with chili, and mapo tofu (mápó dòufǔ, 麻婆豆腐), spicy tofu with minced beef and dry chilies. Milder options include fish dishes, often served in a yuxiang sauce (yúxiāng, 鱼香) made of vinegar, ginger, sesame and soy; or cold chicken with sesame and soy sauce (bàngbàng jīsī, 棒棒鸡丝). Hotpot (huǒguō, 火锅), meat and vegetables cooked in boiling broth at your table can be had either mild or spicy.

Try Sichuan cuisine at the city's Chengdu Restaurant on Shandong Dajie (Shāndōng Dàjiē, 山东大街), Longchaoshou Restaurant on Chunxi Lu (Chūnxī Lù, 春熙路), or Grandma Chen's Beancurd Restaurant (Chén Mápó Dòufǔ, 陈麻婆豆腐), which was established in 1842—people say the first owner invented mapo doufu).

Distributed throughout the city, teahouses are more than places for drinking tea and snacking. They are places for relaxation and socializing and as such are a reflection of local life. Here you can enjoy such Chinese favorites such as jasmine, maofeng and zhuyeqing teas and, at a number of teahouses, catch Sichuan opera performances as well—Yuelai Teahouse stages free Sichuan opera performances from 2 to 4pm every Tuesday and Saturday. Heming Teahouse in People's Park is a great place to sit outside, sip and people-watch. Wenshu Monastery Teahouse inside Wenshu Monastery has a good Buddhist vegetarian restaurant next door, Xiangzhai Tang.

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two days in advance. Some Chengdu hotels arrange train tickets for guests. The railway station is in the north part of the city, a half-hour drive from the city center.

Bus

Buses offer easy access to most of the scenic spots around Chengdu including Yibin, Emei Shan, and Leshan. The bus to Chongqing takes five hours. Three bus stations service Chengdu. The Xinnanmen Bus Station near the Traffic Hotel travels to most southern, western or eastern destinations around Sichuan, the North Bus Station near the North Train Station offers frequent minibuses to Chongqing, and buses departing Ximen Bus Station head north to places like Jiuzhaigou and Songpan.

Chadianzi Bus Station:

Chadianzi has buses leaving regularly for destinations to the west and northwest of Chengdu such as Dujiangyan and Ya'an. The Chadianzi Bus Station is located in the west of Chengdu about twenty minutes from the city center.

Xinnanmen Bus Station:

Xinnanmen Bus Station has regular buses going to every major city and town in Sichuan Province, including Chongqing. The station is the official “tourism” bus station so buses to places such as Emei Mountain, Leshan Grand Buddha, Kangding, Jiu Zhai Valley etc. leave several times daily from Xinnanmen. Xinnanamen is located on the south side of the Fu Nan River, right by the traffic hotel.
 
Moving on to Lhasa:

There are regular Chengdu-Lhasa flights but remember that foreigners can only acces Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as part of a Tibet tour and require an official Tibet travel permit. This can be purchased, along with the flight, at a travel agent when booking your tour to Tibet. 

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A gateway to Tibet and the start of the southern Silk Road, Chengdu remains a confluence of local and regional goods. Shop for of the city's famous Shu silk brocade, Qingcheng silk tapestry, bamboo wickerwork, and silver jewelry.

The Qingshiqiao Market, a street market next to the Jinjiang Hotel and the Minshan Hoteloffers some of the best souvenir shopping in the city. Visitors should also browse the antiques market on Chaotang Bei Lu and spend an evening wandering the art galleries on Renmin Nan Lu. As ever, don't forget to bargain.

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The administrative seat of several ancient kingdoms, Chengdu has a 2,300-year history as an important center of study and trade. During the Han Dynasty, the city was called Jincheng (Brocade City) after its thriving silk brocade industry. Once the Han Dynasty fell, giving way to the bloody Three Kingdoms Period, Chengdu became capital of one of the Shu Han (Kingdoms of Shu).

The city continued to develop as a regional center into the Tang and Song dynasties and is known for certain innovations—for example, paper money was first printed and used in Chengdu during the Song Dynasty. During the Tang Dynasty, it was home to China's best-known pair of poets, Du Fu and Li Bai, perhaps the most famous of many artists and writers who have lived and worked in Chengdu over the centuries.

During World War II, Chongqing, then a part of Sichuan, served as the Nationalist fallback capital after Japan's brutal seizure of the previous capital of Nanjing. Thousands of Chinese officials, scientists, scholars and businesspeople came to Sichuan at that time, bringing a wave of industrial development. After 1945, the Communists rapidly beat back Nationalist forces throughout China, finally besieging Chengdu, where Chiang Kai Shek's army made its final stand before fleeing to Taiwan. The People's Liberation Army took the city on December 10, 1949, and with it, all of Mainland China.

The surrounding Sichuan countryside suffered greatly during the Great Leap Forward (1958-1960), with many perishing of starvation, and Chengdu lost a number of historical monuments, buildings and artifacts during the tumultuous Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). In recent years, the city has come roaring back and now exists as a modern industrial metropolis of over 10 million inhabitants.

 

ch Sichuan opera at the Sichuan Opera Theater, in the Shunxing Old Tea House, in Shufeng Square inside People's Park, in Shufeng Yayun Garden, in Culture Park and in other teahouses and small theaters around town.

Museums & Galleries

For insight into regional culture and history, head to the Sichuan University Museum. You can view ethnic minority Miao, Qiang and Yi handicrafts, Tibetan artifacts and examples of the exquisite silk pieces that have given Chengdu the name "Brocade City." The Three Kingdoms Culture Exhibition Hall, situated within Wuhou Temple, provides a fascinating glimpse into the history of the Three Kingdoms Period of China's history in which Chengdu was capital of Shu Han (the Kingdom of Han). The Chengdu Museum of Modern Art hosts the Chengdu Biennale in even years, though at present a new museum complex is being built (call ahead to make sure it's open). The Giant Panda Breeding Research Center includes a panda museum. And don't forget exemplary Tang poet Du Fu's Cottage.

Festivals & Events

Chengdu is a great place for traditional celebrations. The Chengdu Lantern Show and Huanglongxi Fire Dragon Festival warm up late winter in the first weeks of the Chinese New Year. March, April and May see a series of festivals devoted to flora—welcome the arrival of spring at the Chengdu Flower Fair, Pengzhou Peony Festival or Chengdu International Peach Blossom Festival. You can bid summer farewell in at the Xindu Sweet-scented Osmanthus Festival during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

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Chengdu attractions

Of the many famous China's classical poets, Du Fu (712-70 AD) is up there with Tang Dynasty master Li Bai as the best known and one of the most well loved. After travels around eastern China and his home province of Henan, Du Fu arrived in the conflict-torn Tang capital of Chang'an (today's Xi'an) where he worked to establish himself as a civil servant at the behest of the Tang emperor. But the emperor was much too busy..

The main shrine to Sichuan's ancient Shu Kingdom and the heroes that made it legendary during the Three Kingdoms..

For many, the image of a panda is intrinsically linked with that of China. The Giant Panda Breeding Research Base..

Chengdu's oldest and largest temple is the Wenshu Monastery (Wénshū Yuàn, 文殊院). The temple that stands..

Replicas of Qing Dynasty mansions line Jinli Old Street (Jǐnlǐ Gǔjiē, 锦里古街) selling local souvenirs as well as tea,..

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