Things to Do in Chengdu
There are few images more iconic to southwestern China than that of the giant panda. Unfortunately, despite its status as a Chinese national treasure, the giant panda population has been whittled down to just 1,000 pandas due to mass human development over the last century.
As a response to this ecological crisis the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding was opened in 1987 and began caring for six pandas rescued from the wild. During the 25 years since its founding the Chengdu Panda Base has employed some of the world’s leading giant panda researchers to manage an open air sanctuary where giant pandas can be bred and raised in an effort to eventually be reintroduced into wild populations.
Located only seven miles from downtown Chengdu, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is inarguably one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of southern China.
The 233-foot (71-meter) tall Grand Buddha in Leshan (also called the Leshan Giant Buddha) holds the record as both the tallest stone Buddha sculpture and one of the tallest sculptures anywhere in the world. Construction of the Buddha, carved out of the mountain, began in 713 when a Buddhist monk by the name of Hai Tong decided to carve the statue as a way to gain divine protection for local fisherman who were getting killed each year by violent river currents.
Ninety years of work went into the carving of the Grand Buddha, but the river rages on. After earning a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list, the statue has undergone extensive repairs, and today you can see it in much of its original glory with a day trip from Chengdu.
To see the statue from all angles, take the stone staircase down the statue's right side from the gift shop just behind his head. Once you've zigzagged your way down, you'll find a viewing platform at the statue's toe level.
Located in the Chengdu Culture Park, the Shufeng YaYun Teahouse was once a gathering place for famous Sichuan operatic actors. Now, it is one of the hot spots for visitors to Chengdu and holds the China Sichuan Opera Unique Skills Performance each evening. This helps preserve and share traditional Sichuan arts while providing a glimpse into the past as one of the most popular Sichuan Opera theaters in the area.
Don’t be misled by the term "opera" in relation to the performance that takes place here; instead, it’s more of a variety show of traditional Sichuan exhibitions like puppetry, dancing, singing, music, hand shadows, comedic theater and the culmination: face changing. The performances take place in an open-air theater, and light snacks are served. Knowledge of Mandarin is not necessary, as there is a translator at the show.
At a user friendly height of only 1,290 meters (4,234 feet), Mount Qingcheng is one of the best day trekking options surrounding Chengdu. Due to its lush green surroundings, numerous waterfalls and 36 peaks which stretch towards the sky, Mount Qingcheng has historically been referred to as “the most peaceful and secluded mountain under heaven.” Located 64 kilometers (40 miles) outside of Chengdu, a trip to Qingcheng is frequently combined with a visit to the nearby Dujiangyan Irrigation System. The mountain is regarded as one of the most sacred in Taoism and has a history which dates back over 2,000 years - to the very founding of the religion. While the most popular route for ascending Mount Qingcheng is to take a short ferry across Yuecheng Lake and ride the cable car to within a 20 minute walk of the summit, this route bypasses a number of the temples which make this mountain famous.
Commonly known as “People’s Park” this lively open green space in southwest Chengdu is full of exactly that: people playing cards, people doing tai chi, people dancing and people squawking karaoke into microphones. Simply put, People’s Park is a people watcher’s dream.
Famous for its popular teahouse where locals will often linger all day, the park also boasts a long lakeshore where visitors can hire a pedal boat to observe the action from a different vantage point. Open from dawn to the wee hours of the morning, the admission is free and the atmosphere is unique. On one visit you may be swept up by the energy of an impromptu dance session whereas on a separate day you could be sitting in bamboo chair drinking tea and be offered to have your ears cleaned by an elderly ear-cleaning vendor.
When Qin Dynasty traders started selling baldachin cloth on Jinli Street in 220 B.C. they set in motion a chain of events which would turn Jinli into the busiest commercial hub in the city of Chengdu. Known as “The First Street of the Shu Kingdom” for its commercial activity during the “Three Kingdoms Period” (221-263), the boulevard now known as Jinli Ancient Street was recently restored in 2004 in an effort to return it to its former glory.
Running for 382 yards just east of the Wuhou Memorial Temple, the green flagstone of Jinli Ancient Street weaves a pedestrian thoroughfare teeming with local Chengdu merchants and traditional Sichuan architecture. In a nod to the lengthy history of the boulevard many shopkeepers and street merchants continue to dress in a traditional Sichuan style in an effort to fuse the modern elements of Chengdu with ancient Sichuan custom and design.
When Chinese soldiers of the Qing Dynasty returned from war with Tibet in 1718, many of the soldiers and their families based themselves around Kuan-Zhai Lane in the Sichuan city of Chengdu. Though only 3 of the original 42 lanes remain from the period of military housing - Kuan, Zhai, and Jing - these three lanes collectively comprise an area of Chengdu now known to travelers as China’s Lane.
Although the name literally translates to “Wide-Narrow” Lane, both Kuan and Zhai lanes exist as narrow alleyways, with one being imperceptibly wider than the other. Along with the third lane, Jing, these three parallel alleyways are recognized as one of Chengdu’s three historic conservation districts. Ranking as one of the finest pedestrian thoroughfares in downtown Chengdu, Kuan-Zhai Lane offers a visually pleasing blend of traditional Sichuan architecture fused with modern Chengdu commerce.
Despite being constructed in 256 BC, the Dujiangyan Irrigation System continues to serve residents of the fertile Chengdu Plain. A marvel of ancient engineering, the irrigation system was built in response to destructive springtime flood waters. It was commissioned by Governor Li Bing who began work on the project to divide the river into more manageable streams so as to not breach the riverbanks. Once separated, the diverted water was to be funneled through the nearby Mt. Yulei en route to irrigating the surrounding fields and plains. Needing to blast through the mountainside in an age before gunpowder, Li Bing and his son employed a system where the heating and cooling of stones would crack an eventual path through the mountain. After four years of heavy construction the miraculous project was completed, and in doing so, created the world’s oldest no-dam irrigation system. In 2000 the Dujiangyan Irrigation System was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
China is known for its tea, which comes straight from Mengding Mountain. Considered the birthplace of the world's tea culture, as well as being home to the earliest plantations, Mengding Mountain is located on the Tibetan Plateau in northwest Sichuan Province.
More than 2,000 years ago, Wu Lizhen, "the ancestor of tea planting" began to plant domesticated wild tea in the area due to its suitable altitude, soil and climate. The tea from this region, Mengshan tea, has been regarded as a magic bullet for curing diseases and has garnered the appellation, "Holy Tea.” Because of its unique flavor and favorable characteristics, great poets from the Tang, Song, Ming and Qang dynasties wrote verses describing the virtues of the tea; thus, the Mengshan tea culture was formed. Also of interest in the area are the Tiangai Temple, the Imperial Tea Garden, the Celestial Ladder and the Tea History Museum.
Set in northern Sichuan Province, Jiuzhaigou Valley is regarded by many Chinese as a place akin to being heaven on Earth. One of China’s most famous National Parks, Jiuzhaigou Valley is also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site where giant pandas (albeit only about 20) still roam the forested hillsides. A remote wilderness set on the steps of the Tibetan Himalayan Plateau, Jiuzhaigou Valley is a 278 square mile (720 square kilometer) wonderland of turquoise lakes, cascading waterfalls and snowcapped mountain peaks which form the southern edge of the Minshan mountain range.
Jiuzhaigou Valley is literally translated as “Nine Village Valley,” of the nine Tibetan villages from which the park derives its name, and seven are still inhabited and accessible to park visitors and trekkers. With a population numbering little more than 1,000 inhabitants, the simple villages of Jiuzhaigou are an alluring and mystical complement to the pristine panoramas and scenery.
More Things to Do in Chengdu
Dujiangyan Panda Base is situated near Chengdu in China’s Sichuan province. It’s the world’s only center dedicated to giant panda care, disease prevention, and research. The giant panda is one of the rarest animal species in the world, with a population of less than 2,000. They only inhabit the major mountain ranges in the Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu provinces of China and are recognized as a special-class protected species under the country’s Wildlife Protective Law.
The Dujiangyan Panda Base is home to 170 of these much-respected national treasures. It’s a huge, sprawling site covering more than 500 square-meters and divided into separate zones dedicated to six different area of research and care. These include: rescue and quarantine, disease prevention and control, recovery and training, education, vegetation, and service.
At 3,117 meters (10,226 feet) tall, Mount Emei is the highest of China’s four sacred mountains of Buddhism. Buddhist monks have made pilgrimages to the temples and monasteries of Emei Shan for nearly 1,800 years. As a nod to the religious and cultural importance of Emei Shan, in 1996 UNESCO opted to name the entire mountain as one of its World Heritage sites. Though a cable car now carries most visitors to the lofty summit, those wanting to commune with the mountain can trek the same pilgrim trails as those from centuries past. For a rewarding cultural experience it’s also possible to punctuate the journey with an overnight stay in a monastery. While a two-day trek to the summit to catch the Sichuan sunset is a favorite activity among local trekkers, all visitors must walk through the forests of wild monkeys who have become accustomed to human handouts. Consider bringing a stick.
This popular museum is a rare blend of modern Chinese civilization and old-world Shu State history, known for its “three mosts” distinction. Opened in 2006, the Jinsha Site Museum is recognized as holding the most ancient ivory; unearthing the most gold artifacts and uncovering the most jade during the Bronze Age. It is home to a Relics Hall, Exhibition Hall, Cultural Heritage Protection Center and an Ecological Garden. Travelers are drawn to the museum’s rich history, well-kept gardens and impressive collection of lifelike, hand-carved stone figures. Visitors can wander the grounds and take in scenes from daily life dating back some 3,000 years in the famous exhibition hall, then catch a colorful performance at the Cultural Heritage Protection Center.
An early Tang Dynasty classic, Qingyang Palace is considered to be one of the oldest and most important Taoist temples in all of China due to its location near the boyhood home of Lao-Tzu, the father of Taoism.
This palace is often referred to as the “Green Ram Temple,” the “Green Ram” refers to a pair of bronze goats which inhabit the temple’s Sanqing Hall. While one of the statues is decidedly a goat with horns, the second sculpture is a strange creature like no animal you’ve ever seen: with a mouse's ears, an ox's nose, a tiger's claw, a rabbit's mouth, a dragon's horns, a snake's tail, a horse's face, a goat's beard, a monkey's neck, a chicken's eyes, a dog's belly and a pig's thighs. The statue is an embodiment of all 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. Despite their strange appearance, the two statues are easily the temple’s largest draw.
Located on Lingyun Mountain, Lingyun Temple is also referred to as the Great Buddha Temple because of its spot at the head of the Leshan Great Buddha, the largest stone Buddha in the world.On both sides of the entrance gate to the temple are four memorial monuments, with the principal building composed of the Tianwang, or Heavenly King Hall, the Precious Hall of the Great Hero and the Scripture Collection Hall, all of which neatly form a multi-tiered courtyard house.
It’s said that in the year 713, the confluence waterway of the Dadu, Min and Qingyi rivers was a rushing torrent and a danger to both shipping vessels and the livelihood of the local people. A monk of the Lingyun Temple believed that the waters might be calmed if a giant likeness of Buddha was chiseled out of the cliffs, facing the turbulent waterway, so the Leshan Grand Buddha was created and has been protecting the people who navigate the river ever since.
There aren’t many places on the planet where you can visit the ancient home of a poet who lived over 1,200 years ago. Chengdu’s Du Fu Thatched Cottage, however, is a 24-acre shrine to Chinese literature that honors the work of the poet Du Fu who made his home at this very spot in 760 AD. During the four years that Du Fu resided at his cottage in Chengdu he crafted over 240 masterful poems which are considered to be some of the finest in the history of Chinese literature. One such work, “My Thatched Roof is Ruined by the Autumn Wind," is regarded as one of his finest pieces and was written about the plight of poverty-stricken artists and their basic need for shelter. Though the original thatched cottage he was ultimately destroyed, various memorials and newer structures were rebuilt during the Song and Qing Dynasties as a way of honoring one of southern China’s most revered artists.
An ancient town located about 18.6 miles (30 km) southeast from Chengdu, Huanglongxi is named for the Huanglong River, which flows through it. The town consists of seven well-preserved, ancient streets, which were built during the Ming and Qing dynasties, and also includes three temples: Gulong, Zhenjiang and Chaoyin. These three, along with two others in the immediate area, are what attract visitors to the site. Pay particular attention to the preserved stilt houses (built in levels to hold livestock on the ground floor), which are remnants of the Shu people, as well as the ancient 800-year-old banyan trees.
Also near Huanglongxi are the Ancient Buddha Cave; the Buddha Weir, a narrow, stone-walled canal that leads fish into a closed tank where they can be caught; and an old military encampment called the Old Battlefield. Huanglongxi is also home to cliff tombs, which are burial sites of the Han Dynasty that have received architectural interest in recent years.
When a Sichuan peasant in 1929 unearthed a piece of jade while digging ditches in a field, he set in motion a chain of events which would lead to the largest discovery of Shu relics known to modern China. Located 25 miles (40.2 kilometers) north of the city of Chengdu, the Sanxingdui (Three Star Piles) Archeological Site covers an area of nearly 5 square miles (12.9 square kilometers) and has yielded thousands of cultural Shu relics which are now on display at the Sanxingdui Museum.
Though mass excavations began in earnest in the early 1930s, it was the unearthing of two sacrificial chambers in 1986 which sent shockwaves through the archeological community. Included amongst the buried relics were ornate and peculiar bronze facial masks dating back nearly three thousand years as well as gold and jade objects which help prove that the Sanxingdui area was the capital of the Ancient Shu kingdom.
Learn where Sichuan got its spice at the Museum of Sichuan Cuisine. Located about a 1.5-hour drive by car outside of downtown Chengdu near Pixian Old Town, the museum not only gives a history of Sichuan cuisine but is also home to a tea house and a restaurant where guests can sample typical Sichuan food and, possibly, prepare a dish of their own.
The museum consists of halls that show various elements of Sichuan food, from antique tools used for processing to a collection of more than 3,000 bronze, pottery, porcelain and wooden cookers that span 2,000 years. Perhaps most intriguing are the giant open-topped clay pots containing fermenting chiles and beans that are on their way to becoming douban jiang, a red, fermented paste of erjingtiao chiles and broad beans that is responsible for the deep umami flavor and penetrating heat in famous Sichuan dishes.
Song Xian Qiao Antique City is the country's second-largest antiques market and an excellent place to shop for souvenirs. With more than 500 separate stalls selling everything from exquisite watercolor paintings to fake Buddha statues and everything in between, Song Xian Oiao market is a treasure trove for shoppers and people-watchers alike.
The market stretches over five acres and houses between 500 to 800 stalls at any given time. For the most established vendors, look in the three-story buildings along Modi and Huan Hua creeks, and if you're looking for a true treasure, compare and contrast pieces and be on the look out for clever replicas.Stalls are not the only place of commerce here; lined up along the creeks and beneath the shop awnings, hawkers from around China display their wares on carpets. It’s a hustling, bustling, overwhelming display that is not to be missed. The market is also a great place to sample fresh, local snacks.
Visitors flock to Luodai, an ancient town located in the Sichuan area of China, about 12.8 miles (20 kilometers) from Chengdu City. Situated at the base of Er’eshan Mountain as part of the Longquanshan Mountains, Luodai is considered the largest and best-preserved Hakka ancient town in the western part of the country. Ninety percent of Luodai’s inhabitants are Hakka, and the Hakka language is still spoken here.
Built more than 1,000 years ago, Luodai has a long history and, now, a vibrant tourist culture. The architecture and layout of the ancient town preserves the typical styles from Ming and Qing dynasties, with old streets, Hakka folk houses and narrow alleys. There are also several parks, a museum and four guildhalls, which add great historical and artistic value. Created in the typical architectural style of the Ming and Qing dynasties, the guildhalls feature exquisite carvings of Chinese motifs like dragons, flowers, phoenix and other birds.
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