After exploring historic Xi’an and hiking Mount Hua, we continued our journey further west to Chengdu, Sichuan. We debated between Chongqing and Chengdu, and Chengdu won mostly because of its proximity to panda.
Panda panda panda 🐼🐼🐼
Definitely one of my dreams to be surrounded by bamboo forests with so many pandas of all ages. There are three main panda research bases in Chengdu metro area: Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, Dujiangyan Panda Valley and Wolong Giant Panda Reserve. The first one, Chengdu giant panda breeding research base, is the closest and the most popular. Actually, we went twice during our 4 days here 😝. (I forgot to bring closer 30mm camera lens on our first visit, never seeing too much panda.)
The park is very crowded in the summer. On both days, we got there right after they opened (taking DiDi), and headed right to the two nurseries. Sun nursery is about 10-15 minute walk from the entrance, and moon nursery further up. Both nurseries get super long lines and staff rushing later on. Generally pandas are more active during the day when it is cooler. At certain hours, staff feed the panda! Staff sometimes disclose the time and location of the events, doesn’t hurt to ask.
Drinking tea at Heming Teahouse (鶴鳴茶舍)
Situated in People’s Park, it is probably the best place to see the relaxing side of Chengdu. There were only one or two tables available, and we ordered a pot of tea. Many flavors are available, price ranging 16-30 RMB. We sat near the pond, people chatting over tea and snacks around us. Another fun service here is ear cleaning and massage. They come to the table with the tools, and customers just relax.
Cottage of Poet Du Fu (杜甫草堂)
I grew up memorizing tens of poems by Tang dynasty poet Du Fu. He is one of the two most famous poets from Tang dynasty, along with poet Li Bai. Du Fu’s poems reflected a lot of the joy and pain in the society, portraying everyday life among people from all walks of life. He served in the government (emperor back then), and actually had to flee to Chengdu after a war started. Du Fu was known for his honest opinions while many in the palace fell into corruption or the power game.
He came to Chengdu in his late 40s. His supporters built this cottage for him. We rented audio guide, very helpful with understanding more about the history of this place. The whole cottage area felt very poetic and calm. I really enjoyed strolling in the bamboo forests, taking a break in the gazebos and reading the poems. After the cottage, we headed to Chen’s Mapo Tofu (in food section below) nearby.
Jiuyan Bridge (Nine-eyed Bridge, 九眼橋)
The Jiuyan bridge was built in Ming dynasty around 1593, and was rebuilt in 1992. The bridge with light in the photo is actually Anshun Bridge, with five eyes (holes at the bottom of the bridge). I did not realize Jiuyan Bridge was actually where I took photos. After crossing the bridge, there is a street of bars. We walked past maybe 10 bars, not so lively yet at 8pm, but some already had singers or bands. Some were performing outside that attracted crowds.
Walking around Chunxi Road (春熙路步行街)
We walked about 10 minutes from our hotel to the famous commercial pedestrian-friendly Chunxi Road. It is a neighborhood surrounding the road, with many shops, restaurants and malls within 15 minute walk. Sometimes, there are live performers playing tricks or music in the plaza right off the sky bridge. Taikoo Li is a new modern mall, with pretty fancy western shops and fun to browse. We had dinner at a wonton shop in this neighborhood, more on that below in food section.
Other than the above highlights, we also visited Kuan & Zhai Alley and Wenshu Monastery. Kuan & Zhai Alley felt a bit commercialized, with a bunch of souvenir shops. On the other hand, Wenshu Monastery is a Buddhist temple founded in Sui dynasty around early 600AD where people still worship. We took a walk in the monastery, and had lunch nearby.
Another place we considered going is Dujiangyan (都江堰), about an hour outside of Chengdu. It is known for its large scale irrigation system around 250BC led by Li Bing and his son. However, it was raining quite a bit during our stay and far from our hotel. It might be worth staying a night or two in that area. There is also a panda park in Dujianyan area.
Food we had
Unfortunately we eventually felt sick after eating many spicy meals in the past week. Until then, we did eat quite a bit and have a few dishes to recommend.
The authentic Sichuan style Mapo Tofu. It was definitely the spiciest one we have ever had. We had it at Chen Mapo Tofu, a popular place near Poet Dufu residence. It also has other locations in Chengdu.
View this post on Instagram
Kungpao Chicken （宮保雞丁）
Kungpao chicken in Sichuan is quite different from the West. We tried this dish at Shijing Life (normal people’s life) (Dianping) near Kuan & Zhai Alley area. The menu is pretty huge, many options of Chinese/Sichuan dishes.
Wontons in Chili Oil（紅油抄手）
The plain thin chewy wonton wrap dipped (or soaked if preferred) is like torture but also tastes so good. We had it at Long Chao Shou around downtown area. They do not provide water, so I’d recommend bringing some cold beverage to cool down.
We picked HDCL Service Residence (壹都錦服務公寓), an apartment style hotel given its convenient location near Chunxi Road and in-room laundry facility. The room is not huge, but we had a great view of the city from the patio. There is also a FamilyMart across the street and quite a few food vendors right near the hotel. We had steamed buns at one of the vendors for breakfast on two mornings.
From Xi’an, we took Gaotie (high speed railway) for about 4 hours and 42 USD.
In Chengdu, we took DiDi when going farther like Giant Panda Research Base. Chunxi Road was walkable from us, and we also took subway a few times. To get to Jiuyan Bridge, we rode MoBike.
Chengdu Wrap up
Chengdu or Sichuan in general is a long travel from outside of China. However, I had so many fond memories here watching pandas, sitting down for tea or coffee, and walking around the old and new neighborhoods. Below is our itinerary, and our lists of places.