Chengdu is a city of great cultural, gastronomical, historical, environmental (pandas!) and economic importance. Situated in the west of China, this unique city deserves a place on any traveler’s China itinerary. The birthplace of paper money, Chengdu has been influenced by the cultures of Tibet and Mongolia over the course of its thousands of years of history. This cultural uniqueness can be experienced in its spicy and lip-numbing cuisine (a UNESCO City of Gastronomy), the local dialect (quite unlike Mandarin), the overall slower pace of life, and through its museums and archaeological sites.
Just to the north of Chengdu sits Sanxingdui (Three Star Mound). Sanxingdui is an archaeological site of great interest, pointing to a separate Bronze Age culture outside the historical narrative of the Shang dynasty (c. 1600 – c. 1046 BC). It is unique for its bronze artifacts depicting the human form and the large gold-plated bronze busts. This kind of depiction of humans is not found anywhere else during this period of history in what we now know as China. Even stranger, there are no historical records that refer to this culture, although their kingdom is now considered to have been quite substantial.
In the northeast of the city lies a research base with the cutest of subjects: pandas. This is the highlight of many a trip to Chengdu, and the reason many people visit in the first place. Here visitors can act as keeper for the day, preparing food, feeding, and playing with the lovable bears. Note that a visit to the research base is pretty hands on, so be sure to wear something practical.
Visiting one of Chengdu’s many parks is an enjoyable way to unwind. Locals can be seen practicing tai chi and playing games, and visitors may even be asked to rest and try their hand at Mahjong amongst the lush, green surroundings. The people of Chengdu are famed throughout China for being more relaxed and enjoying a slower pace of life than the inhabitants of other big cities, and this is reflected in the huge number of restaurants and teahouses in the city. Chengdu’s teahouses are filled with locals who will happily spend the entire afternoon playing cards, chatting, playing Mahjong, and sipping on freshly brewed tea.
Chengdu is also the perfect launch pad for a trip to Sichuan’s many other attractions, such as Leshan Giant Buddha, Mount Emei and mesmerizingly beautiful Jiuzhaigou.