From enjoying tea over chess and watching pandas to exploring centuries-old temples and shopping, there’s plenty to do in Chengdu.
From ancient city to modern metropolis, Chengdu has held sway over the Sichuan Basin for centuries. In recent decades it has once again become western China’s economic powerhouse, while still retaining much of its cultural charm and historical interest. Chengdu doesn’t receive as much attention from tourists as Beijing or Shanghai, which is a great shame. The locals are friendly and proud of their city’s heritage, the Sichuanese cuisine here is divine, and there’s a wide range of things to see and do to keep a visitor busy for days on end.
Whether it’s kicking back with teahouse regulars over a game of chess, exploring the world of Taoist and Buddhist deities in one of the city’s many centuries-old temples, watching young pandas at the Giant Panda Breeding Research Facility, or spending a day emptying your wallet at the shopping paradise of Chunxi Road, Chengdu ticks a lot of boxes. This is a city whose star is rising, giving the place a fun, confident vibe, and making it a great weekend destination.
Chengdu has a generally mild climate throughout the year, but due to high levels of humidity July and August can be sweltering. In addition, from December to February the winter months can be quite cold, with many places devoid of central heating, making spring and autumn the ideal times to visit.
Singaporean citizens can visit China for a period of 15 days without a visa, while most other nationalities require a visa in advance. Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months and that you have a return or onward ticket.
China's currency is the yuan (Y), also known as renminbi, or colloquially as kuai. There are currency exchange booths and ATMs at Chengdu Shuangliu Airport and there are a number of ATMs in the city itself. Most of the large Chinese banks (including Bank of China and the Construction Bank of China) accept international credit and debit cards.
Chengdu is a large city and despite recent efforts by the city government the road network suffers from congestion. Metro coverage is reasonable but, with only two functioning lines, not yet comprehensive. Taxis are common and are the quickest way downtown from the airport (Y50-70).
Chengdu is generally safe, even late at night, though as with all cities in China travellers should remain vigilant in crowded shopping areas and nightlife hotspots. There are numerous hospitals throughout the city though service and cleanliness levels can be inconsistent and fees high.
The Singapore Consulate is located at Level 30-01, Yanlord Landmark Office Tower, No.1 Section 2, Renmin South Road, Jinjiang District (tel: (86) 28 8652 7222).
Dial 110 in an emergency. Police stations and police officers are a relatively common sight especially in and around the city centre. English-speaking walk-in inquiries should be directed to Chengdu Public Security Bureau, 391 Shuncheng Street, Qingyang District (tel: (86) 28 8640 7769).
|How are you?||Ni hao ma?|
|Fine, thanks||Hen hao, xie xie|
|Excuse-me! (to get attention)||Qing wen!|
|Thank you||Xie xie|
|What's your name?||Ni jiao shen me ming zi?|
|My name is…||Wo jiao…|
|Nice to meet you||Jian dao ni hen gao xing|
|Are you on Facebook/Twitter?||Nin zai shi yong Facebook/Twitter ma?|
|Where’s an internet café?||Wang ba zai na li?|
|Where can I get a taxi?||Wo ke yi zai na li zhao dao chu zu che?|
|Where is the bus/train station?||Qi che zhan/huo che zhan zai na li?|
|A one-way/return ticket to…||Yi zhang dao…de dan cheng/shuang cheng piao|
|Do you have a room for one/two?||You yi/liang ren de fang jian ma?|
|When's check out?||Ji dian tui fang?|
|Can you recommend a good restaurant/bar?||Ni neng tui jian yi jia hao can guan/jiu ba ma?|
|A table for two, please||Qing gei wo liang ge ren de zhuo zi|
|A menu, please||Qing gei wo cai dan|
|The bill, please||Qing gei wo zhang dan|
|Where's the toilet?||Xi shou jian zai na li?|
Chengdu is famous for its teahouses, which often have free performances of Sichuan opera and are popular gaming hangouts, particularly for older men playing weiqi, or Chinese chess. To sample this thriving teahouse culture, take a walk around People’s Park (Renmin Gongyuan), a short distance west of Tianfu Square. For some visitors the sprawling park leaves lasting impressions of the city, with its crowds at leisure, sipping tea in wicker chairs, playing cards and Chinese chess, and as evening approaches, perhaps practising ballroom dancing en masse.
Giant Panda Breeding Research Facility
Some 6km (4 miles) out of town lies the Giant Panda Breeding Research Facility, which is far preferable to the city zoo as a natural environment for both the giant and lesser (red) pandas. There are more than a dozen pandas living here, and the centre includes excellent exhibits and a museum. The museum in particular makes the facility worth visiting, and its exhibits explain how the panda lives, its habitats and the efforts that are being made to protect the species from human encroachment.
Sichuan Provincial Museum
It is worth visiting the Sichuan Provincial Museum, near Du Fu’s Thatched Cottage, as it contains the most comprehensive collection of Sichuan’s bronze, porcelain, textiles, calligraphy, sculpture and other archaeological finds on display in Chengdu. The museum also includes some interesting Tibetan artifacts.
Qingcheng Mountain, 64km (40 miles) west of Chengdu, is a Daoist peak providing a city getaway and great hiking opportunities in a mountainous landscape of temples, caves and lakes. To the north is Qingcheng Hou Shan, a further expanse of rambling walks and trails. There is a steep but not too strenuous hike to the summit, where it’s possible to shelter in temple tea gardens and admire the views.
Du Fu's Thatched Cottage
Out towards the western suburbs is an attractive park containing Du Fu's Thatched Cottage. Du Fu, who lived in the 8th century and is possibly China’s most famous classical poet, fled an official post in Chang’an (now Xi’an) and sought refuge in Chengdu with his family. He built a straw hut on a friend's property, where he lived for three years in very modest circumstances, and wrote more than 240 of his popular poems. The memorial to Du Fu has been renovated or rebuilt several times during the subsequent dynasties, and today there is an active Chengdu Du Fu study society.
Wuhou Ci and the Tibetan Quarter
Wuhou Ci and the Tibetan Quarter lie southwest of the city centre. Wuhou Ci (Temple of the Duke of Wu) was built by the king of the Cheng empire in the last years of the Western Jin period (AD 265–316), and named after the Three Kingdoms military strategist Zhuge Liang. The temple seen today was rebuilt in the late 1600s. There are more than 40 sculptures of famous personalities from the Shu and Han periods, plus memorial stones and scrolls. To the south of the temple is the Tibetan part of town, with its own distinct atmosphere and some interesting shops.
Chengdu has been the heart of Sichuanese culture for millennia. Artists, poets, writers and musicians have all called the city home, and that rich heritage is reflected in some of the city’s sights. What adds to Chengdu's cultural richness is the warm and relaxed attitude of its residents, and the best place to see this in action is People’s Park, which is a hive of activity, especially in the morning. Stop by a teahouse and soak up the atmosphere, play chess, and enjoy the Sichuan opera that is regularly performed in these places.
From the park, head to the western side of the city and Du Fu’s Thatched Cottage. Set in the pleasant Huanhuaxi park, this atmospheric place is a good spot for peaceful contemplation when visitors are scarce. Du Fu is one of China’s most famous classical poets, and is treated with reverence in Chengdu. He wrote almost 240 poems in a dwelling on this spot, making it hallowed ground for Chinese literature aficionados.
Near Du Fu’s old residence is the Sichuan Provincial Museum (Renmin South Road), another interesting stopping off point. Afterwards, head back into the city proper to Wuhou Ci and the Tibetan Quarter. The sculptures in Wuhou Ci (a memorial temple on Wuhou Street) are remarkable, and comprise something of an ancient hall of fame. South of the temple, the Tibetan Quarter reveals Chengdu’s diversity and is a reminder of how close the city is to the roof of the world. Round off your day with a hot cup of sweet Tibetan milk tea.
People's Park, Du Fu’s Thatched Cottage, Sichuan Provincial Museum, Wuhou Ci and the Tibetan Quarter.
Chengdu is something of a paradise for food lovers, and with good reason. Sichuanese cuisine is world famous, and Chengdu can lay claim to offering the very best of it. With contemporary twists on old themes, and traditional dishes that haven’t changed for centuries, the city has plenty to offer. Kick off with a traditional breakfast, consisting of chaoshou pork dumplings in spicy soup, or some delicious steamed dumplings from Han Dumplings which lies a block south of Chunxi Road Metro station, on section 4 of Hongxing Road.
Lashings of tea is the best way to digest a good breakfast, so head to one of the teahouses in People’s Park and sit on bamboo chairs sipping your brew with the locals. The cups are bottomless here, and are constantly topped up, giving a rich experience and amazing value for money. Make your way from here to Kuanzhai Alley, a Qing Dynasty-style street five minutes' walk northwest of People's Park, for a peek at some Sichuanese snacks and good lunch options. This is the ideal place to sample mapo tofu while in the city, a dish that should not be missed.
Locals will tell you that you can’t leave Chengdu without having gorged yourself on a Sichuanese hotpot, and while there are countless choices of restaurant, we recommend finishing the day at Huancheng Laoma for its great tasting soup base and classy ambience. A little baijiu or beer also go remarkably well with hotpot, and help take the edge off the heat of the chillis.
Traditional breakfast, People's Park teahouse, Kuanzhai Alley, Huancheng Laoma.
Chinese cities aren’t renowned for being kid-friendly but Chengdu does offer a range of great activities for children of all ages. Beginning the day in People’s Park, close to Tianfu Square, is a good way to get some fresh air and see Chengdu’s locals do the same. The park is a popular place with retirees, many of whom bring their grandchildren along to play with those of their friends. There’s also a picturesque little lake, and it’s possible to rent small boats and pedalos by the hour.
From here hop in a taxi and head to the northwest of the city, to Happy Valley, Chengdu’s best-known, albeit relatively small, theme park. The rides and rollercoasters are generally quite tame, which means they’re suitable for kids. There are also plenty of snacks to keep the kids happy, with the Turkish ice cream stall being perennially popular. Local opera shows are also a feature, adding another option to a visit.
If there’s one thing kids (and adults) want to see when they’re in Chengdu it’s giant pandas, and from Happy Valley it’s only a short taxi ride to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Facility (1375 Xiongmao Avenue). Well organized, informative and (if you’re willing to pay extra) hands-on, the facility is endlessly fascinating for both children and adults, and is a really rewarding way to spend an afternoon, thus rounding off an action-packed day. Before setting out for dinner it's worth bearing in mind that most local restaurants allow smoking, which is very common. Eateries in larger hotels, on the other hand, will cater for children and normally provide smoke-free areas.
People’s Park, Happy Valley theme park, Giant Panda Breeding Research Facility.