China is undoubtedly one of the fastest-growing economic superpowers in the world. In modern cities like Chengdu, whose success is largely owed to Information Communication Technologies and effective urban planning, citizens take the time to appreciate the city’s rich culture in the midst of rapid growth.
Located in the Sichuan Basin, this city proudly boasts its uniquely spicy cuisine, historical sites, and “Panda Style” Culture.
Here are our experiences in one of the best model cities in China…
CHENGDU RESEARCH BASE OF PANDA BREEDING
Sichuan is the hometown of the beloved Giant Panda. At the Chengdu Research Base of Panda Breeding, you can view these cherished creatures that captivate visitors from all corners of the world.
With the basic entrance fee of about USD 10, you can choose different itineraries that suit your schedule.
You may avail of the shuttle services that take you to designated stops.
Be sure to wear comfortable shoes since the tour also involves a lot of walking.
Crowds gather in awe and frantically capture the baby pandas’ every movement on their smartphones.
Panda babies, usually born in captivity, weigh about 80-120 grams at birth. They are more active than their adult counterparts and are often found hanging about on trees for fun.
Note: there are currently 1,864 Pandas left in the world due to low birthrates (females ovulate once a year and sometimes give birth 234 days after mating).
Babies will stay with their mother for up to 3 years until venturing into a solitary lifestyle.
Note: mothers identify their babies through scent—the wrong scent can mean instant rejection, or death, for the cub.
You may be entertained by some of the resting positions the baby pandas get into when they’re too tired to climb. It’s apparent this little guy is practicing his Kung-Fu!
Pandas have 5 fingers and a pseudo-thumb that helps them grasp onto trees…
…or bamboo stalks.
Pandas are naturally carnivores and enjoy a Bamboo Rat or insect once in a while.
By the time they are adults, Giant Pandas are simply too heavy to climb trees—so they enjoy a comfortable life full of naps and bamboo eating.
According to our guide, the Panda’s leisurely lifestyle strongly reflects the typical Chengdu resident—they wake up later, walk slower, and enjoy a quieter life than other urbanites in China.
If you are lucky, you will see the adult Giant Panda in his most active state. Be sure to go early in the morning or during rainy weather—afternoons are too warm for our fuzzy friends.
Due to flash photography, the Pandas will turn their backs to people while eating. Please refrain from using flash since it startles the Pandas.
Adult Pandas weigh up to 120kg and are more than capable of injuring a human. As highly sensitive and territorial animals, Pandas dislike loud sounds and sudden movements.
You can also enjoy the company of the 80 resident Red Pandas around the sanctuary.
These creatures are harder to spot, but you can catch them enjoying a meal or drink at lunchtime around designated eating zones.
Note: please treat them with the same respect you give our black and white Pandas.
Don’t forget to take a picture with the Panda statue near the exits before you go!
History lovers can experience a glimpse of the ancient Shu Culture of Sanxingdui, the archeological site discovered in 1929 and re-discovered in 1986.
The Kingdom of Shu, now known as Sichuan Province, had a largely undiscovered Bronze Culture up until the 80’s. Most artifacts, like this large sacrificial mask, date back to the 12th-11th centuries BCE.
This special mask emulates the shamanistic nature of the Shu, whose spiritual pursuits are reflected by the mask’s distinct features.
Prominent eyes and ears mirror the Shu’s aspirations to see and hear like their legendary ancestor, Cancong.
Aside from the beautiful masks, there are large-scale replicas integrated into the museum…
…as well as their genuine counterparts in striking glass cases.
This artifact, called the Holy Tree, represents Fusang (a tree in the east) and Ruomu (a tree in the west). Legend has it that the sun, carried by one of the 10 resting ravens on the tree, rises in Fusang and falls in Ruomu.
Outside of Sanxingdui Museum is a massive tree and flower park with various attractions.
Small monuments and statues inspired by the Sanxingdui culture are scattered about the park.
People with resident IDs are granted free entrance to the parks, with the reason being that Chengdu is highly dominated by vertical living; as such, most citizens don’t have gardens or backyards to enjoy.
Don’t forget to visit Echo Grounds to experience the surprising acoustics of the area in one special spot.
If you stand in the middle and speak, your voice is projected decibels higher.
Our guide tells us that this was how ancient government officials would deliver speeches to their communities.
Take some time to visit other buildings around the area, which feature the trade, agriculture, commerce, and ancient weaponry of the Shu people.
Wine-drinking became popular with the Shu culture as soon as they began to cultivate rice.
The “Shu” in ancient Chinese is written with a silkworm symbol in the middle—this is because the legendary Southern Silk Road started in Chengdu.
Apart from the rich history with bronze and silk, the Shu are also famed for their jade artifacts.
Note: any precious stone to the ancient people was considered Jade, no matter the color or type.
Jade was crafted into assorted forms—from jewellery, tools, and ritual weapons.
KUANZHAI XIANGZI (WIDE & NARROW ALLEY)
Commonly referred to as Wide & Narrow Alley, Kuanzhai Xiangzi is among Chengdu’s prime historical reserves—the architecture still dates back to the Qing Dynasty!
The Wide alley appeals mostly to older locals who enjoy Sichuan food and traditional tea drinking.
The Narrow Alley features modern boutiques, galleries, and souvenir shops that cater to the younger urbanites.
If you are souvenir shopping and have a small budget, try opting for outside kiosks that sell most objects at lower prices compared to shops that rent spaces within the ancient houses.
Note: in lesser known tourist spots, language barriers are more apparent. Either learn Chinese or bring a friend who can speak the language for easier transactions!
We highly recommend you try out the tasty local street snacks like steamed buns, Mapo Doufu, and Potato Jelly.
Chengdu’s version of the roast duck is smoked with tea—this variation tastes less sweet, but is more savory than our typical Beijing (Peking) Duck.
Our favorite snacks are the sesame Dragon Beard Candies—their threaded, chewy texture may surprise you. The harder to you bite, the harder it is to eat!
You can find Dragon Beard stalls that make assorted flavors all over Chengdu, with most packets costing no more than 15RMB.
Jinli Street is a 550m pedestrian zone brimming with traditional eateries, boutiques, and souvenir shops. Must like Kuanzhai Xiangzi, the original architecture of the Qing Dynasty is well preserved.
Be sure to pack light and watch out for your belongings, since the already narrow street has a tendency to become crowded and claustrophobic.
Outside the main street, you can explore a huge array of Chengdu Street foods and snacks.
Flavors here range from spicy, sour, citrusy, and salty.
Our favorite snacks from are the crispy potatoes on a stick—choose to dust them with hot peppers or eat them plain.
Since we were on a diet of 50% Sichuan pepper, we tried the potatoes as is and enjoyed the tasty combination of fatty, salty, crispy, and starchy.
Some free tourist photo-ops can be found around Jinli Street…
…and others are paid. For a small fee, you can pose with these comedic “live statues”!
Make sure you look around some kiosks for some awesome souvenirs!
In general, we found the souvenirs a little cheaper and more interesting than the ones we found at Kuanzhai Xiangxi.
SHUFENG SICHUAN OPERA HOUSE
This traditional Sichuan opera house is one of the top tourists destinations in Chengdu—its dramatic, comedic, and acrobatic acts have captured the hearts of locals and foreigners alike.
As the home of the greatest Sichuan operatic assembly, it still maintains its reputation even after its hundred-year history.
The opera is celebrated for the Face-Changing & Fire Spitting acts that originated from the Old West Shu Country.
Actors magically change their masks in an instant with their sleight of hand.
The Fire-Spitting is unique to Sichuan opera and is considered a highly complicated skill—if you are close to the stage, you may even feel some heat!
Sichuan Opera is derived from old Chinese myths, novels, legends, and folk tales that draw inspiration from daily life and nature.
Its uniquely colorful singing, acrobatics, percussion, and high-pitched voice acting are considered among one of the most creative operatic styles in China.
Prominent characters of Chinese history inspire the drama-styled performances, called Baixi Zhengba. This art form was developed back in the Han Dynasty.
Other performances, like this Stick-Puppet Show, also provide variety to our opera visit. The level of dexterity the puppeteer employs is amazing!
One of the highlights of our visit was “Rolling Light”, a comedic drama where the wife punishes the husband by forcing him to balance a flame on his head.
We were impressed by the acrobatics and were constantly laughing even if we could not understand a word!
Enjoy your opera visit with complimentary tea, snacks, or a massage and ear cleaning for a small fee!
Due to the vast globalization and rapidly growing economy of China, large corporations like SM have decided to establish themselves in lesser-known areas like Chengdu as “Pioneers”.
The interiors are no different from when you go your regular SM in the Philippines, but the brands they carry are based off of local customer demand.
They carry international brands like Mini So and Walmart—something we haven’t see in the Philippines yet.
CHENGDU PLANNING EXHIBITION HALL & THE MODERN CITY
This building attests to the well-documented history, fast-paced level of modernization and urban planning of Chengdu.
One of the most interesting discoveries about the city is that it still keeps its original name, location and natural formations from more than 2,000 years ago!
Ancient Chengdu was composed of 5 historic towns like Jinli and Kuanzhai Xiangxi.
Throughout the 3-floor exhibition hall, photos of Old Chengdu can be viewed—one may notice how well preserved their ancient buildings are.
This overview shows the major roads and transportation hubs, such as railway networks, of modern Chengdu.
Chengdu plans on having 9 metros and subways by 2020, as well as double its airports for further globalization.
The increased use of public transportation and integration of an eco belt shows how Chengdu aims to become the most environmental and progressive city in China.
At their main exhibition hall, visitors watch an overview video of Chengdu’s current state and future plans to beautify the city.
Their biggest plan is to separate 12,100sqkm into 4 major districts: The East will harbor the Creative Industry, the South will be the home of Governing Bodies, the North will handle agriculture, and the West will be the industrial district.
If you explore further, you may visit each of the 9 current districts of Chengdu in 1/1000 scale!
You can interact with these impressive dioramas by toggling their lights—too bad there were no English options to explain each district in detail.
Outside the Exhibition Hall, you experience Chengdu’s modernity simply just by using your eyes.
While beautiful during the day, these brightly lit edifices are so much more captivating at night.
Chengdu loves glassy facades, odd shapes, and modern architecture.
Notice how spacious the pedestrian zones are even on busy nights.
Indoors, many establishments appear to be equally as spacious, modern, and clean.
There are areas around the city, however, that still maintain the Old Chengdu such as this night market beside our hotel.
In most of the shops, you can buy spices, dried goods, and local snacks.
In other areas, you may find open-air shops still selling fresh fruit and other goods so late at night.
If you are eating local in Sichuan, you will no doubt encounter an array of uniquely spicy dishes to combat the cold climate.
The cuisine is noted for its heavy use of pungent ingredients such as star anise, garlic, ginger, and of course, the Sichuan Pepper. This kind of pepper tastes citrusy, hot, and leaves a numbing aftereffect on one’s lips and tongue.
Most ingredients are simple and often use whatever produce is abundant in the fertile Chengdu Plain.
Tripe, cabbage, assorted meats, mushrooms, and mixed pickles, are the main ingredients to the Sichuan Hotpot.
The left side is the spicy broth, while the right is the clear broth.
You may choose a clear broth base…
…or mix it according to your spiciness threshold.
Some of the memorably less-spicy foods we encountered were these addictively crispy fried fish on sticks…
…and hallowed bamboo with cilantro, pepper oil, and beef.
Although Sichuan food may not be for everyone, the cuisine provides an unforgettable gastronomic experience that all tourists must try.
In spite of Chengdu’s staggering economic development, we loved how the city still maintained its cultural identity as a means to move forward.
One of the most striking observations about Chengdu is how well planned everything appears to be—solutions are never short term and are always in the interest of the citizens. So should you ever want to take a trip to China, make sure Chengdu is your first destination!
Live an Awesome Life,
Team Our Awesome Planet
Disclosure: Our China Trip was courtesy of Huawei. We wrote this article with our biases, opinions, and insights. Read Our Awesome Planet Complete Disclosure Policy here.
P.S. Always check the weather before you go to Chengdu. During April it tends to get quite chilly!