Every big city has a major attraction, the modern skyline in Shanghai, the Wall in Beijing or the Terracotta Army in Xi’an. In Chengdu there are the pandas.
Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center is committed to preserving the endangered Giant Panda and it holds around 50 breeding pandas. When we visited there were also 6-7 baby pandas about 3 month old and I cannot describe how adorable they are.
When to see the pandas in Chengdu and how to get there:
The best time to visit is early in the morning, preferably before 10 am, when the pandas are fed and they are more active. Otherwise, they spend most of the day sleeping, especially during the hot summer days. The buses take about an hour/hour and a half from the center (very regular).
The great thing about this place is that the pandas are not behind glass so you have a more up close and personal experience. We could have easily spent the whole day there. The park is very tranquil, away from the constant city loud hum, and carefully landscaped with bamboo trees, lakes or streams. This is definitely not a zoo.
For a steep 150$ you can hold a baby panda and play with it for about 5 min and supposedly the money goes into research, but be prepared to wait in line.
The Center also breeds red pandas. They are a strange combination between a raccoon, a bear and a cat and they look like this:
Chunxi Street is the most renowned shopping street in Chengdu. Another authentic and important street is Jinli, where you can also grab some great snack. Across the road is the Tibetan Quarter, which I think is far more representative for the Chengdu lifestyle.
Also worth seing are the Renmin Park, People’s Park and Wuhou temple.
Day trips from Chengdu:
Emeishan Baoguo Temple – You can take the Chengdu-Leshan-Emeishan Intercity High-Speed Train (C Train) to Emeishan Train Station (not Emei Train Station), which is near to the entrance of the scenic spot.
Leshan Giant Buddha – a taxi would cost around 500 RMB for a whole day to go to Leshan and back. And the bus cost 50 and lasted 1 hr.
For a cultural evening Shu Feng Ya Yun Sichuan Opera is the best choice for a variety show. I would recommend to pre-book the ticket via email from here.
Tip: if you’re shopping in China, always be prepared to bargain! All you need to do is say a price that seems fair to you (usually, half of what they’re asking, as the original prices are way too inflated). Stay firm and walk away if they won’t take your price. 95% of the time they will run back to you giving you the price you asked! It’s fun.
What to eat:
Being the capital of the Sichuan province, Chengdu is usually characterized by its extremely spicy food. But for me, heat makes the food taste better; probably that is why the Sichuan cuisine is so popular all over the world.
If you want to be safe, order qingtang which is not that spicy, or use the Chinese words for non-spicy: ‘bu la’. For a special hot pot you can adjust both the “hot” and the “pot” (by adjusting the cooking time) try the Long Sen Garden. If you’re into tofu (we’re not) but also want to enjoy great Sichuan cuisine, Chenmapo DouFu would not disappoint.
Ohhh, just in case you missed the panda gallery above, here are some more cute bears: