After walking around Chengdu for a couple days—eating Sichuan-style noodles, drinking tea and checking out the pandas—you might be ready for a little exploration. Chengdu is a great base to dive into one of the most diverse provinces in the country and there is a lot to see. In a few short days, you can broaden your mind, feed your soul, fill your belly and have tons of pics and stories to tell your friends back home.
Dujiangyan and Qingcheng Mountain
It's easy to get to Dujiangyan from Chengdu. Buses run daily from the Chadianzi Bus Station on the west side of the city—a 40-minute trip. From the Chengdu North Railway Station the high-speed rail connection to Dujiangyan runs from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily and takes about 30 minutes.
The Southern Bridge and the River District is a cab ride from the bus station or a short walk from the metro station and brings you to Nan Qiao (南侨) a Ming-style bridge that spans the beautiful Min River. On the far side of the river is the local mosque and on both sides are restaurants and tea houses. During the summer, the bridge is the site of an annual beer festival.
The Irrigation Project and Park is right by the bridge and includes sites such as the Er Wang Temple, which was completely destroyed after the 2008 earthquake and is now being rebuilt. The irrigation project, built more than 2,000 years ago, uses ingenious methods to divert the Min River and irrigate the Chengdu basin, producing the abundant land in the region today. The Taoist influenced design is a must-see. Guides at the gates can give you further detail about how the dam was built.
Like much of Dujiangyan, Qingcheng Mountain was devastated by the earthquake in 2008. Almost all of the villages and smaller, newer temples built on the mountain were flattened or buried, but the White Cloud Monastery atop the mountain survived relatively unscathed. A short cab ride from the city or a walk from the metro station brings you to the gates at the front of the mountain. You can stay at one of the many B&Bs along the mountain or hike up to the temple and sleep at the monastery.
Leshan Giant Buddha
The main attraction in Leshan is of course the Giant Buddha, over 1,000 years old and with toes taller than a man and a body that rises above a turbulent part of water. Buddha's palm is said to keep the local fishermen from drowning. For a few extra RMB, you can take a boat out onto the river and take a picture of the full figure as he gazes down upon you. There is a park on the far side of the Buddha that is kitschy and crowded, with a sculpture garden, some modern temples and many hawkers and stalls.
Leshan is famous in Sichuan for its food. Tian pi ya (甜皮鸭 sweet skin duck) and tofu lao ( 豆腐脑 tofu brain—super soft tofu) are famous dishes, but the shredded beef and veggie burgers (锅盔 guokui) here are good, as are the spicy noodles, any and all duck dishes and the classic bo bo ji (钵钵鸡 chicken on a stick) with a yummy special sauce.
While in Leshan, take a look at the Lingyun Temple and the Lingyun Mountain Museum, both named for the rock the Buddha was carved out of.
Buses leave the Xinnanmen Bus Station for Leshan daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the ride takes a little over two hours.
Luodai is the de facto capital of Sichuan's Hakka people—nomadic Chinese that hail from the eastern seaboard and were lured to the province during the late Ming and Qing Dynasties to resettle and cultivate the wild and ravaged lands. The Hakka migrants brought sophisticated agricultural practices and building methods with them and a lot of these are on display in the town. To get here, take Bus 219—or the Luodai Tourist Bus—from the Wugui Bus Station in east Chengdu. The trip takes a little more than 30 minutes.
The Hakka built ornate guildhalls to represent their families or regions of birth. Some of the more famous guildhalls are the Guangdong Guildhall—a massive structure built in 1746—and the Jiangxi Guildhall. The halls were used as gathering places, religious sites, places to do business and settle disputes and, most importantly, places to socialize over a cup of tea.
The Dongshan Museum tells the story of the Hakka migrants and also has a list of prominent Hakka, including Sichuan's native son and one of China's most revered leaders, Deng Xiaoping.