Even though I have lived in China for over three years now, I haven’t spent much time traveling around the country. Most holidays I travel outside of China to avoid the crowds. So in September 2018, I had a week off from teaching and I decided to travel to Chengdu.
Chengdu is located in the Sichuan province of China. The city is home to over 10 million people and the largest city in Sichuan.Chengdu is located in the fertile Sichuan Basin region. Today Chengdu has become one of the more popular destinations to visit in Western China due to the economy, culture, food, and major sites.
To get to Chengdu from Tianjin I had two options, fly or take a 10-hour bullet train. I ended up taking the train since it was less expensive, plus I thought would be a great opportunity to see the countryside. In reality, you don’t see much of the countryside on a bullet train since you are going up to 300 km/h. The train system in China is fantastic, but the ride was just way too long and took up too much time.
Chengdu is home to the famous giant panda, which was one of my main reasons I decided to visit Chengdu! As you may already know, the panda is considered China’s national treasure. This makes Chengdu a popular destination for both international and Chinese tourists.
I decided to visit the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. The goal of the Chengdu Research Base is to create a breeding facility to help repopulate the disappearing population of pandas in China. The focus is to help grow the population of pandas where they one day can be released into the wild. Additionally, the center emphasizes efforts on conservation, research, and education.
I purchased tickets to visit the Chengdu Research Base through Klook, a travel activity booking site from Hong Kong. It was really easy to purchase the tickets and then redeem right at the entrance through my phone. I highly recommend if you visit the Chengdu Research Base to go early in the day. Earlier in the day you have a better chance to see pandas and there will be fewer visitors. I enjoyed my time at the research base and would recommend this as a starting point into learning more about pandas when in Chengdu.
Like most of my trips, I also went on a food tour in Chengdu. Sichuan cuisine is very popular and the region has become a major food destination. UNESCO even declared Chengdu a city of gastronomy in 2011. The food tour I went on was the Chengdu Evening Food Tour by Tuk-Tuk with Lost Plate. Since this tour I’ve now been on two additional food tours in China, but the Chengdu tour was truly the best of the three.
During the tour, we tried a variety of local dishes including street snacks, dumplings, and Gong Bao chicken (Kung Pao chicken). In this tour, we could revisit any dishes we liked at each stop. Another nice feature was the use of tuk-tuks. The tour was able to cover more ground in Chengdu over a 3-hours with the use of a tuk-tuk. Plus, the tuk-tuk had a cooler of beer, water, and soda.
Besides the food tour and seeing the pandas, I also went to Leshan outside of Chengdu. I ended up going with a private tour, even though you could visit Leshan on your own. I ended up searching for a private guide through Tours by Locals. Daniel was the guide I connected with visiting the Leshan Giant Buddha. Daniel was very knowledgeable about Chengdu and the Sichuan province. During the tour, Daniel shared a lot of information about the region. The drive to Leshan took about 1 1/2 hours from Chengdu. The main reason to visit Leshan is to see the Leshan Giant Buddha.
The Leshan Giant Buddha was built between 713 to 803. Construction was started by a Chinese monk named Hai Tong. The purpose of building the statue was to calm the rough waters of the river that would often sink shipping vessels sailing in the area. During construction funding for the project was threatened, which caused Hai Tong to gouge out his eyes to show his piety for the project. Funding was provided once again and it took 90-years to complete the giant Budha. Now due to the massive construction of the Buddha and much of the stone being removed from the cliff, it is believed that the turbulent currents were altered to create a safe passage for sailing ships.
Today the Leshan Giant Buddha is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The statue is one of the tallest Buddha statues in the world and also one of the tallest pre-modern statues. When we first arrived, we went on a boat ride to see the Buddha from the water. Seeing the statue from the water really shows its size. After the boat ride, we then climbed the stairs to reach the top of the Buddha, which is carved into a mountain. The climb to the top is long and has a ton of stairs. Plus, there also are stairs down to the bottom of the statue.
After the tour, we headed back to Chengdu. While driving back we stopped at a tea shop where I could sample some local teas. Sichuan is China’s most important tea production region. Here I was able to try samples of multiple teas, including a lower and higher quality green tea. After the tea stop I had a much better appreciation of tea production, especially the harvest process.
Overall, I enjoyed my week exploring Chengdu. Chengdu has a lot of interesting sites to visit and great food.
Accommodation: Crowne Plaza Chengdu City Center
During my time in Chengdu, I stayed at the Crowne Plaza Chengdu City Center. First off the location is great and within walking distance to nearby dining areas and Chunxi Road (a pedestrian shopping street). The hotel was also helpful when needing to call a taxi, even when I was using DiDi.
My main issue during my stay was the air conditioning in my room. During my stay Chengdu was hot and humid, most days the temperature was over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Now even though it was hot, the hotel decided to turn off the air conditioning since it was September (basically a China thing). Most nights my room was hot (well over 24C when the AC was set for 16C). I brought this issue up 4 times to the front desk. It would be fixed for a few hours and then the room seemed to heat up again. The last evening a fan was sent to my room to help cool down the space. The fan helped a little but didn’t solve my complaint about the room being hot.
Due to the air conditioning issues, I wouldn’t stay at the hotel again. Even though the location was great, I felt the air conditioning issue was annoying. I would stay somewhere else if I was to visit Chengdu.