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Infant panda eating bamboo and resting on the belly of its mother panda.

Why Chengdu in China needs to be on your bucket list

Step aside Beijing and Shanghai! Chengdu is the other city you must visit when planning a trip to China. Home to the best food in China, Chengdu delights not just your taste buds, but also your other senses. There are many things to do in Chengdu, so you can easily keep yourselves busy. Here are ten reasons why you should put Chengdu in China on your list of must-go places:

1. “The young do not go in, the old do not get out”

View of the lake at Wangjianglou Park.

This quote is translated from the famous Chinese saying “少不入川,老不出蜀”.

While this may initially sound unappealing, it actually makes sense in a positive way. Chengdu is a relaxing and chill place, so much so that the young would rather have fun than work hard. If you intend to work hard, Chengdu just does not have such vibes. However, if you are retired, Chengdu is the best place to live your remaining years. There are many opportunities to enjoy, relax and be amused!

2. Visit the countless parks in the city

View of the pathways in Wangjianglou Park, which is flanked by various species of bamboo.

Chengdu is one of the greenest cities I have been to in China. There are many parks where you can enjoy an evening stroll or a cool morning run. The Huanhuaxi park (浣花溪公园) is just by the river and is next to the home of one of China’s greatest poets. The Wangjianglou park (望江楼公园) boasts more than a hundred varieties of bamboo and is a beautiful sight on its own. Visit a different park everyday and you will be surprised at how different they can be!

3. Beg the pandas to stop being so cute

This is a picture of the zookeeper handing apples to the pandas. This helps train the pandas to stand up to catch food.

I have to admit: Pandas are the cutest animals you can ever find. I was not too sure about that until I visited the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (成都大熊貓基地). You can easily spend the entire day just watching the pandas do stupid things like fall down while climbing structures or roll on the ground. Did I mention that I also like watching them slip and fall into the moat? If you are lucky, you can spot baby pandas (aka one-month-old) and watch the rare panda feeding by the zookeepers.

4. Experience some vintage bar-hopping at the Eastern Memory

View of one of the streets in the Eastern Memory area. There is a guitar shop along the street.

The Eastern Memory (东郊记忆) used to be a communist-era factory district that has been converted into an artistic space. There are many coffee houses and bars in the area, as well as indie concerts and musicals. If you are feeling artsy or would like an instagram moment (provided you are on a VPN), you really should check this place out!

5. Explore the various ancient towns in the city

View of the main street in Luo Dai Ancient Town, which is flanked by two rows of ancient shophouses of the Hakka clan.

There are at least three different ancient towns in Chengdu, enough to zap away a few days of your time! The ones closest to the city centre are the Kuanzhai alleys (宽窄巷子) and the Jinli ancient street (锦里古街). I would not recommend these two though as they are extremely crowded and overly commercialised. Instead, head down to Luodai ancient town (洛帶古镇), which is a Hakka town or explore Huanglongxi ancient town (黄龙溪古镇) on the opposite side of the city. Spend some time wondering through the ancient streets and saying hello to the locals still living in the traditional houses. Surprises lurk in every corner for the adventurous!

6. Fooooooooooood

A bowl of Maocai (冒菜) which is an assortment of food in a bowl of chili oil.

I cannot stress this more: Chengdu is the city of food. Sichuan food is extremely famous in China, and is probably what you have been eating out of your Chinese takeaways. However, do not say that you have eaten Sichuan food if you have never ate in Chengdu. The best dishes can only be found in the city. Go for some chuan-chuan (串串, sticks of food in a pot of chili oil) or have a bowl of maocai (冒菜, assortment of food in a bowl of chili oil). If you are not done with the chilies, have a pot of fish or meat in chili oil (水煮鱼/肉) or a plate of mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐). If spicy is not your thing, fret not! You can still enjoy Sichuan food with a warm bowl of rice soup together with a plate of cold meats (汤饭).

7. Queue up like a local

Dozens of locals queuing up for desert in Chengdu.

You do not get to see this much in many Chinese cities (especially in the north), but the locals in Chengdu love queuing up for food. Some people will be sitting on stools outside hotpot restaurants and barbecue places, waiting for a spot. Others will be waiting in long lines for dessert shops or even for famous street stalls. If you see a long line, chances are that the food there is great. After all, who knows which places serve up the best food? Yes, it is them, the locals.

8. Climb up the Four Ladies Mountain

View of the Siguniang Mountain in front of one of the lakes around the mountain.

The Four Ladies Mountain, or Siguniang Mountain (四姑娘山) is really close to Chengdu and is a suitable place for a daytrip. Visit the different valleys and the Tibetan villages nested well within the mountains. Some of the valleys are well developed for tourism, while others are still in its most rustic form. If you like trekking, you can venture off the tourist path and seek your own adventures. Nonetheless, the Siguniang Mountain is a beautiful sight that is easily within reach of Chengdu.

9. Explore the Tibetan villages in Danba

View of the centuries-old watchtower in the Supo Tibetan Village near Danba.

They say that Danba is home to one of the most beautiful women in China. When I was there, the women did not look as beautiful as I expected. So they tried to explain that the kings took away the most beautiful ones… Jokes aside, Danba is a really beautiful area. Many of the Tibetan villages in Danba are well preserved, as such they still retain their rich architectural flavour. Each village has its unique architecture features: Danba for its white walls and Suopu for its centuries-old watchtowers, just to name a few. Do prepare for some trekking as the most interesting sights are not accessible by road!

10. Be amazed at the colourful lakes at Jiuzhaigou

View of one of the turquoise lake at Jiuzhaigou National Park

One of the most touristic places in China, Jiuzhaigou receives about 50,000 tourists in the peak season. The tourist numbers is testament to the beauty of this national park (which coincidentally is also one of the most expensive attractions in China). However, there is always a quiet spot for you to take in the views, relax or just have a picnic inside the park. With more than a hundred kilometres of boardwalks and 118 ponds and lakes, there is enough to satisfy the huge tourist numbers. The lakes at Jiuzhaigou are stunning. You will have to see them for yourself to understand what it takes to be beautiful! Unfortunately, an earthquake rocked Jiuzhaigou in August 2017. It is unclear when the park will reopen.

Hopefully these 10 reasons are convincing enough for you to put Chengdu in your bucket list! Chengdu has much to offer for the avid outdoor adventurer, the café and bar hopper, the foodie or the instagrammer. Even if you are none of them, you will still be able to find your place in Chengdu.

Feeling inspired to visit Chengdu? Share this with your friends through the social media icons below. You can also drop me a comment if you have any recommendations or questions!

Image credits: (8) – Baidu

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