When we think of travelling to China, a lot of people (myself included!) tend to think of just Beijing and Shanghai (and also Xi’an!) as potential destinations, which, if you think about it, is quite surprising, given the sheer size of China and its population. If you’ve heard of Chengdu before, chances are you’re familiar with it for being the home to arguably one of the cutest animals ever – the giant panda.
But did you know that this city, which is the capital of the Sichuan province, has so much more to offer in addition to being the country’s Panda Capital? Here are 7 reasons why you need to visit Chengdu!
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A good place to start this list is with the journey and logistics to get there. Chengdu is located in the southwest of China, about a 3-hour flight from Beijing and only a 4 and a half-hour flight from Singapore or KL! You can take a direct flight to Chengdu’s Shuangliu International Airport through a number of flights from Singapore (including Singapore Airlines, Sichuan Airlines and Air China) as well as KL (AirAsia), so getting there is a snap.
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In addition, did you know that Chengdu is a 3-day visa-free transit city? This means that if you are a traveller transiting at Chengdu (with tickets for a flight to a third country or region within China), you can stop in Chengdu for 72 hours without requiring a visa.
#HHWT Tip: The best periods to visit Chengdu are from March to June (during spring) and September to November (during autumn). There is substantial rainfall during the rainy season (July and August), which will probably be best to avoid.
2. Home of the wonderful giant pandas
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Chengdu is considered the panda capital of China, and for good reason: pandas are native to Sichuan, and Chengdu is home to a number of panda research and conservation centres, making it THE place to get up close with these majestic creatures!
For tourists, the most popular destination for viewing pandas by far is the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (also known as the Chengdu Panda Base). This non-profit research and breeding facility for giant pandas is located just outside town (about 10km from the city centre or 40-minute drive) and can give you rare access to the adorable animals. With an area covering about 165 acres, you’ll be able to roam around the large facility and observe pandas in its breeding centre, while also learning everything you’d ever want to know about them, including the centre’s breeding and conservation efforts.
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The centre is open daily from 7.30am – 6 pm, and you’ll need to pay an entrance fee of RMB 58 to enter the area. You can also book your tickets ahead of time on sites such as Klook.
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#HHWT Tip: The best time to visit is early in the morning, as there will be fewer people, and also because the pandas will be more active (with feeding times happening in the mornings between 9 – 10 am). Towards the latter half of the day, the pandas tend to stay indoors to keep cool.
Besides the Chengdu Panda Base, three other notable centres are the Dujiangyan Panda Base (where you can experience the giant panda volunteer program), Bifengxia Panda Base (the largest giant panda base) and the Wolong Panda Research Center (native panda habitat).
3. Halal local food in the culinary epicentre of Sichuan
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Sichuan is famous for being the culinary haven of spicy Chinese food centred upon the iconic Sichuan peppercorns. And in Chengdu, you’ll get to experience its renowned and diverse food offerings, such as the popular ma la hot pot synonymous with the region.
If you’re worried about finding halal food, don’t! The city has a number of restaurants that offer halal local cuisine, so you won’t miss out! 😊
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There is a number of notable halal restaurants serving local food that has been around for a while and are a must-try. These include the Tianfanglou Restaurant, which is located near Tianfu Square next to Huangcheng Mosque (which is Chengdu’s most prominent mosque) and is known for serving Sichuan and Xijian-style cuisine, including beef and mutton dishes.
Address: Floor 1, Huangcheng Mosque, 108 Xiyu Street, Qingyang District
Opening Hours: 11 am – 10 pm
Credit: Huangchengba Beef Restaurant on Daiping
Another popular restaurant is the Huangchengba Beef Restaurant, which serves special dishes such as ox lungs in chilli sauce, steamed beef with rice flour, and beef soup. The restaurant has a few different outlets throughout Chengdu, so you can have it as an option in more than one place!
- Sangui Qianjie outlet: No. 51, Sangui Qianjie, Qingyang District;
- Xiaojiahe outlet: No. 1, Xiaojiahe Street, Wuhou District.
- Wulicun outlet: No. 123, Chadianzi East Street, Chengdu
Contact no.: 028-86622057 (Sangui Qianjie outlet); 028-89657240 (Xiaojiahe outlet)
Opening hours: 11 am – 9 pm
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#HHWT Tip: The area surrounding Huangcheng Mosque (also near Tianfu Square) has a number of halal eateries, and also has some shops that sell halal groceries – keep an eye out for Vancorner, a halal convenience store located near the mosque!
[P.S.: Craving Sichuan food at the moment but haven’t booked a trip to Chengdu yet? You can still savour the delicious spicy food here in Singapore!]
4. Cultural attractions filled with stunning traditional architecture
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One of the appeals of Chengdu is that while it has all the advantages of a large city (such as established infrastructure and transport systems), it has a more relaxed vibe than larger cities such as Beijing or Shanghai, with areas dedicated to preserving tradition and local arts.
One of Chengdu’s must-visit areas is Jinli Pedestrian Street. This 550m stretch of road is a walking street lined with shops, restaurants, and souvenir stalls. The street has become famous as it comprises historical townhouses that have been converted to shophouses. Best of all is that this attraction is free, so you can stroll along the streets and soak in the atmosphere (including the beautiful lanterns that are lit up at night).
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Don’t forget to pick up popular souvenirs such as Bamboo Leaf Tea (Zhu Ye Qing), tea sets, or giant panda-related goods such as plushies, keychains, and so on.
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Another popular cultural area is the Kuanzhai Xiangzi, otherwise known as the Wide and Narrow Alleys. Consisting of the Wide Alley (Kuan Xiangzi), Narrow Alley (Zhai Xiangzi), Well Alley (Jing Xiangzi), the Wide and Narrow Alleys also comprise 45 courtyards that run along the three alleys. The area dates back to the Qing Dynasty and has been renovated and revived to become a culture and tourism hub. The Wide Alley is supposed to be a display of Old World Chengdu (with shops and shops built in traditional folk styles), Narrow Alley is meant to exhibit the typical slow life of Chengdu natives, while Well Alley has a more modern theme and is filled with trendy restaurants and bars.
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Fun fact: Wide and Narrow Alley is supposedly the inspiration for many of the settings for Kung Fu Panda!
#HHWT Tip: While visiting Jinli Street and the Wide and Narrow Alleys, don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for cultural performances such as shadow puppetry and Sichuan Opera. Sichuan Opera is particularly special as unlike Chinese opera in other parts of China, it includes circus-like elements, including acrobatics, magic shows and fire spitters as well as face-changing (performance involving the use of multiple layered masks that can be changed at lightning speed).
5. Historic sites filled with artefacts of ancient civilisations
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Chengdu’s history dates back to at least the 4th century B.C. when it served as the capital for the Shu Kingdom, and it is the only city in Chinese history that has survived to date with its name and site remaining unchanged.
One of the most fascinating historic sites in Chengdu is undoubtedly the Jinsha Site Museum. This museum sits on an archaeological site that was discovered in 2001 containing relics and artefacts from the Shang and Zhou dynasties period of the ancient Shu kingdom. Excavations at the site uncovered palace foundations, a burial area, common dwellings as well as thousands of artefacts made of gold, bronze, jade and lacquered wood as well as and ivory and boar tusks. These finds are now displayed at both the site’s museum and a covered section of the original excavation area.
The museum is open from 8 am – 6 pm and has an entrance fee of RMB 70.
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If you’re interested in seeing historic engineering feats, then you’re in for a treat with the Dujiangyan Irrigation System. While it might not seem like an obviously interesting place on paper, don’t be fooled. This ancient irrigation system dates back to before 3 B. C. and was named a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2000. The site sits within a park that not only promises a fascinating look into how water from the river was channelled for consumption, but also beautiful scenery and architecture.
6. Incredibly beautiful religious sites
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Chengdu is home to some amazing religious sites, one of them being the Leshan Giant Buddha. Many travellers to Chengdu take a day trip to Leshan (located about two hours drive from Chengdu) to see the world’s tallest Buddha statue at this UNESCO Heritage Site. The 71-meter figure is carved directly into the red sandstone cliff and depicts a sitting Maitreya (a form of Buddha usually represented as a very stout monk with a broad smile on his face and with his chest and stomach area exposed to view).
The site has areas where you can visit and view the statue from below (at the feet) or even at the head, though the best way to view the Giant Buddha is by boat from the river below.
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Another popular religious site (which also requires a day trip out of the city) is Mount Emeishan (also known as Mount Emei). This UNESCO World Heritage Site is considered one of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China and stands at over 3,000 meters high. The mountain is home to a vast array of monasteries, with more than 70 of them, mostly located near the top of the mountain.
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Tourist and locals alike make their way to the Golden Summit at the top of Mount Emei, where there are two temples, including a massive golden statue of Buddha. While some opt to hike up the mountain the whole way (a journey that is usually broken up between one to three days and includes overnight stays on the mountains many guest houses available), most journey up the mountain by bus and cable car for a much quicker trip. But whichever way you choose to ascend, you’ll be met with some breathtaking views.
7. Gateway to Tibet
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One of the most unique aspects of Chengdu is its function as a gateway to Western China. The city is often used as the main entry point to more remote destinations on the western side of China, including the wondrous and mysterious Tibet.
There are many ways to get to Tibetan areas from Chengdu: by flight, train, or car. While the train is a popular option (via the beautifully scenic Qinghai-Tibet railway, which is also the world’s highest railway), you can also take one of the many flights that service the Chengdu Lhasa route from Shuangliu Airport (with flights taking approximately 2 hours).
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A trip to Tibet promises a once-in-a-lifetime journey like no other. Knows as “The Roof Of The World” for its high altitudes, you’ll be able to have a glimpse at the awe-inspiring views of nature as well as man-made monuments such as monasteries, as well as observe the culture of Tibetan people.
8. Home to amazing nature spots
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Chengdu is renowned for its proximity to some amazing national parks, including the Jiuzhaigou National Park and the Huanglong National Park. These nature reserves have some of the most beautiful spots filled with lakes, waterfalls, colourful pools and gorges.
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#HHWT Tip: The Jiuzhaigou National Park is currently closed following landslides that happened last year and has been undergoing renovations, however, it is set to re-open by summer of 2019. You can keep up with its status on its Facebook page.
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The distance to the parks are quite lengthy – travellers to Jiuzhaigou usually either go to Jiuzhaigou by flight from Chengdu (40-minute flight to Jiuzhaigou airport), or opt for the bus (cheaper, but it will take an 8-9 hour drive). Visiting Huanglong will require another 3-hour drive from Jiuzhaigou. But the stunning sights you’ll behold will make the journey worth it!
Chengdu promises a spectacular trip – whether you’re there to see the pandas, soak in the other-worldly nature spots, or try famous Sichuan cuisine, you’ll be amazed by all it has to offer. It’s time to start planning a trip to this marvellous city!