A National Geographic "Best of the World" city, Chengdu has a lot to offer. Here I narrow down five of the best things to do in Chengdu. They include seeing giant pandas, learning to make Sichuan dishes, visiting Wenshu Temple, exploring Huanglongxi Ancient Town, and watching Sichuan opera.
1. See giant pandas at Chengdu Panda Base
A tour of Chengdu is not complete without visiting the city's most famous residents-giant pandas. To see them, you have three options – Chengdu Panda Base (short for Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding), Bifengxia Giant Panda Base, and Dujiangyan Panda Center. However, the Chengdu Panda Base is the most accessible one as it's situated just 10 km north of the city. A stop here offers you the chance to catch a glimpse of what the life of China’s most treasured animal is like outside a zoo.
Giant pandas savoring bamboo at the Chengdu Panda Base
The base is home to 152 (till 2015) giant pandas which are bizarrely reluctant to mate. Thus, scientists here are committed to getting these shy creatures to breed, which has played a big part in removing giant pandas from the list of endangered species. Spring is their mating season and if you visit in autumn or winter, you may see new moms feeding their young in the nursery.
This is one of the most visited attractions in the city, so it's best to arrive early to beat the crowds in the morning, when these amazing pandas are most active and when you'll watch them having breakfast（8:00 AM-10:00 AM） or mucking around with each other. If you visit them in the afternoon, chances are that they're sleeping.
Though giant pandas are no longer an endangered species, conservation efforts remain significant. If you share a passion for conserving these cute creatures, you can think about joining a giant panda volunteer program at the panda bases of Chengdu.
You can get to the panda base by bus, taxi, and metro.
Location: No.1375 Xiongmao Avenue, Chenghua District, Chengdu
Opening hours: 07:30 AM - 6:00 PM
Ticket: RMB 58
2. Try your hand at making authentic Sichuan dishes
Asia's first UNESCO City of Gastronomy, Chengdu is known for its fiery cuisine. While most visitors here would try the enticing Kung Pao Chicken( a spicy stir-fry with chicken, peanut, vegetables, and chili peppers) and some other delicacies at local restaurants, learning to make them yourself would be a much more interesting, enjoyable, and rewarding experience. Knowing how to cook some classic Sichuan dishes is possibly the best souvenir you can take home from a Chengdu trip. You'll impress your friends and family with a delicately prepared Chinese meal.
Take a cooking course in Chengdu and you'll learn how to cook traditional Chinese dishes including Kung Pao Chicken, sweet and sour spare ribs, fish-flavored eggplant, twice-cooked pork, dumplings, etc. You can join the Customized Cooking Class in which 4 authentic Chinese dishes are arranged or the Classic Sichuan Cooking Class in which you'll learn to make 8 typical Sichuan dishes.
Chefs are accommodating, friendly, full of knowledge, and speak excellent English. They'll make sure each step is understood, from the selection of ingredients, and the use of utensils, to the art of balancing color, smell, flavor, shape, and nutrition. You are free to ask any questions whenever they arise. And in the end, you'll be rewarded with a well-deserved meal prepared on your own while enjoying the talk with the chefs about each other's insights of cooking, culture, travel, etc.
Custom Cooking Class
- Class runs 10:00 AM-2:00 PM & 4:30 PM-8:30 PM, daily
- Price: RMB680/guest
- Capacity: at least two guests
Classic Sichuan Class
- Class runs 10:00 AM-3:30 PM & 3:30 PM-9:00 PM, daily
- Price: RMB1240/guest
- Capacity: at least one guest
Note: optional local wet market tour can be arranged with an extra charge.
Location: Sanli Consulate Mansion, Zhonghe, High Tech District, Chengdu.
3. Visit the Wenshu Temple
Dedicated to Wenshu(Manshujuri, Boddhisattva of wisdom), this 1,400-year-old monastery is the largest and best preserved Buddhist temple in the city. It boasts a great many cultural relics including over 500 paintings and calligraphies created by well-known artists since the Ming and Qing dynasties as well as some 300 Buddha statues made of stone, wood, iron, and bronze. The temple is frequently visited by crowds of local residents and tourists, yet through the scent of incense and the low murmur of chanting, you can still get a sense of serenity.
The extensive grounds of the monastery are beautiful, which makes a perfect setting for the main buildings. There are small pavilions where you can rest, contemplate, or simply take in the ambiance. There's also a fantastic monk run restaurant that serves excellent vegetarian dishes. Next door is a large teahouse offering a variety of teas and coffees, a great place to sit and absorb the atmosphere of the local life.
Teahouse in Wenshu Temple
Situated near an exit of Chengdu Metro, the monastery is easily reachable. You can also take a bus and get off at the Wenshu Temple stop.
Location: No.66 Wenshuyuan Street, Qingyang District, Chengdu
Opening hours: 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
4. Discover Huanglongxi Ancient Town
Located around 40 km southeast of Chengdu, the historic town of Huanglongxi is a famous shooting location for movies and TV shows. Its history dates back to 1,700 years ago. Today its rustic charm remains, with cobblestone alleys, well-preserved Ming and Qing dynasty houses, wharves, and some famous temples such as Zhenjiang Temple, Chaoyin Temple, and Gulong Temple.
Huanglongxi Ancient Town
This small town can be a relaxing escape from the city. Here you'll see street vendors selling lovely floral decorations, and people sitting along the riverside playing mahjong and sipping tea. Also, you'll feel like a step back in time whether you're strolling through the quaint cobbled streets and shops or having a boat ride through the meandering Huanglongxi River passing stilted houses and millennium banyan trees. If you're a food freak, you can't resist the temptation to try the yummy street snacks. Overall, the town is a fantastic place to unwind and take in the culture, food, and shops.
To get to Huanglongxi Town, take a bus from Xinnanmen Bus Station in Chengdu which takes around an hour.
Location: Huanglongxi Town, Shuangliu County
Opening hours: the whole day
5. Watch Sichuan Opera at Shufeng Yayun Teahouse
After a day of exploring, many visitors would find it amusing and enthralling to watch Sichuan opera while away some evening hours. The opera is one of the oldest and most spectacular forms of opera in southwest China, and compared with Peking opera, it's less constrained and more like a play.
One of the most popular spots to see the performance is Shufeng Yayun Teahouse, located inside the Chengdu Culture Park. What you'll watch here is more than just an ordinary opera performance. You'll enjoy an audio-visual feast of folk music, dancing, acting, acrobatics, and shadow puppets. The ninety-minute performance is smooth, colorful, and delightful.
The most dazzling part is the face changing in which performers switch between masks in the blink of an eye. Other highlights include fire spitting which often elicits oohs and ahhs from the audience and rolling light which involves stunts like jumping over a bench while balancing a lamp over one's head. Though the opera is performed in the Sichuan dialect, you can get an inkling of what's going on between the English of the narrator and translations on the big screen. Even if you don't have a clue what the actors are talking about, it would be great fun watching and well worth the time.
The face-changing scene of the Sichuan opera
The ticket includes tea served on the bench in front of your seat. To get there, take a bus and get off at Chengdu Culture Park.
Location: Chengdu Culture Park, Qintai Road, Chengdu
Performance hours: 8:00 PM – 9:30 PM
Ticket: from RMB 140
These 5 things are recommended for first-time Chengdu visitors. There are definitely other great things to do in this modern yet super relaxed city. And Once you visit, you'll soon find that it offers more than just giant pandas, delicacies, ancient towns, and temples and it's well worth exploring again and again.
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