Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province in south-west China. Chengdu is located on the edge of the fertile plains of the Red Basin in China’s Sichuan Province. Due to its agricultural wealth, Chengdu is sometimes called the “Land of Milk and Honey”. The Funan river bisects the city, although boat traffic, common until the 1960’s, has all but vanished. The greater city area is divided into five districts and 12 counties, altogether home to more than 9.2 million people. Chengdu has the reputation as a very “laid-back” city that emphasizes culture and relaxation and as a result of this and much green space is ranked one of the most livable mega-cities in China. It is credited with a good nightlife scene and contains many new western style buildings in the large city center.
Summer weather is hot and humid, as the city is surrounded by small mountains to the east and sits in the Red Basin. Furthermore, an hour to the west lie the foothills of the mighty Tibetan Plateau and the fabulously scenic mountains of west Sichuan.
There are plenty of airlines offering flights to Chengdu from major UK airports including London Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester, Aberdeen, Belfast, Glasgow, Cardiff, New Castle, London Gatwick.
Chengdu International Airport is located 20 km outside of Chengdu center and is one of the main air hubs in China, ranked 5th in passenger volume. It serves flights to/from most major cities in China, many smaller cities within Sichuan, and some international destinations including Amsterdam, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Osaka, Phnom Penh, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, and Singapore.
Bus #303 operates between the airport and the city center, costing ¥10, stopping at the Air China airline office on Renmin Nanlu (2. Section) next to the entrance of the Minshan Hotel (there is no bus stop! just look for a bunch of taxis/pedicabs, since they are also waiting for the bus. The last bus leaves the airport around 1AM.
Taxi fare from the airport to the city center averages ¥45. There is no extra charge for luggage or additional passengers. When going from the city to the airport, add an additional ¥10 to cover the toll on the Airport Expressway. If you intend to take a taxi from the airport, be sure to turn LEFT when you exit the domestic arrival area toward the taxi stand and get in a marked, green-and-yellow or blue-and-yellow taxi. Turning right may lead you towards scammers who are waiting to prey on foreign tourists with unmarked vehicles. Beware as these people sometimes sport official-looking, but fake, identification. The fare offered will often exceed ¥100, and if you bargain with them, you may find yourself sitting in the cab for a while until agreeing to raise the price back up.
Chengdu does not have a raised highway system or a subway system (slated to open in October 2010), and consequently rush hour traffic can be hellish. Plan your itinerary around not having to be on the road during these hours.
Chengdu has an extensive system of city buses plying the streets. At each bus stop, there is a list of the bus lines coming through on this road, and on some city maps the whole network is displayed. However, the bus lines and maps only use Chinese characters, and even if the bus announces the station, it will usually only be in Chinese. Tickets are ¥1 for common and ¥2 for air-conditioned buses. After 10PM, tickets are ¥2 for common and ¥3 for air-conditioned buses.
Taxis are equipped with meters, which should be used, although they can be very difficult to find. A free taxi will display an illuminated sign with Chinese characters in its dashboard. Taxi fare is ¥5 on flagfall for the older taxis ¥7 for the new ones, and and increase at ¥1.4 per km (for the first 7 kilometres – after that, it’s ¥2.1 per km). At night, the fare is ¥7 on flag fall and increase at ¥1.6 per km. The meter records fares in increments of ¥1. Try to have small change on hand for taxi rides. Taxis can be extremely difficult to find, particularly during rush hour or when it is raining.
By motorized pedi-cab
There are still some motorized bicycle-propelled pedicabs called san lun che (三轮车) which can take you moderate distances. Fix a price (¥4-10) in advance. The passengers ride behind the driver. The ride is fun, but san lun che are being phased out and are forbidden cross or ride on certain streets, and may be gone altogether soon. Originally, all of these pedicabs were powered by a 2-stroke engine; lately, most have been replaced by electric ones.
Most guest houses have bicycles for hire. Check for technical problems before starting out unless you want to be held responsible for it later. If you leave your bicycle, do so in one of the designated “bicycle parks”, where it will be guarded over for a small fee. If you can not find such a place, be sure to lock it securely against some structure. Be careful as the bike traffic flow can be intense.
The Chengdu Subway is under construction. The first line is slated to open in October 2010. It will start at Tianfu Square and extend southward down Renmin South Road. The second line is also under construction and will travel to the East (roughly along Jing Dong Road). It is hoped to be complete in 2015.
Places to see in Chengdu
- Tianfu Square. This square, overlooked by an enormous Chairman Mao statue in the center of the city, has been spruced up. Every evening at dusk, as well as at noontime, an elaborate water show, synchronized to music, bursts out from the square’s fountains. Below the square will be shopping and the future hub of Chengdu’s subway system.
- Sichuan Science and Technology Museum (四川科技馆), (Take a taxi or bus to Tianfu Square and walk to the large building directly behind the Chairman Mao statue), . This huge four-storey museum is filled with interactive exhibits about science, aerodynamics, space, mathematics, robotics and physics. Children will love the interactive displays and indoor playground on the 4th floor. Adults will appreciate the descriptions in both English and Chinese. Everyone will love the crowd-pleasers like the robotic orchestra and walk-through maps of Sichuan’s waterways. During weekdays this museum can either be overrun by local school groups or be so deserted it’s almost creepy. Closed on Mondays. Overall, quite good value for money, especially on a rainy day. ¥30 per adult, free for children.
- Chengdu Zoo, (In the north of the city near the Panda Research Base). Offers all the typical animals that one might expect in a zoo (elephant, tigers, giraffes, monkeys, as well as panda bears). While the zoo itself is large and spread out, some of the cages are woefully small and the facility seems understaffed. Might be good for a family to visit. The zoo has vendors selling Chinese snacks as well as some carnival type rides. ¥12 per adult.
- Sichuan University Museum (四川大学博物馆; Sichuan Daxue Bowuguan), Wangjiang Road (望江路) (About a 15 minute ride from Xinnanmen bus station or a 40 minute walk), ☎ +86 028 85412313, . 9AM-5PM. Excellent display of local artifacts and is worth while way of spending an hour or two. The museum is one of the better in China and there are four floors of well lite, air conditioned displays with decent English translations. Starting in the basement, enter the first room where dozens of stone carvings dating from the Han dynasty to the Tang are on display. The room next door has a moderately interesting display on the museum’s history and numerous examples of ancient bronzes and stone age artifacts. The first floor is mostly artifacts from the Ming and Qing dynasty, including furniture, silk clothing, and an interesting display of leather puppets. The second floor has the perhaps the most engaging display: artifacts and daily use items from ethnic minority groups in China’s southwest, including Tibetans, Miao, Yi, Qiang, Jianpo and Naxi. The third floor has a decent display of calligraphy scrolls, paintings, and ceramics. The museum is currently closed after the city changed the location of several universities. Plans are pending for a new museum to be built. ¥30 (students ¥10).
- Sichuan Opera. Most guest houses and travel agencies offer to arrange visits to these traditional shows. It is more like a burlesque cabaret than an actual opera, sometimes including magicians, traditional musicians, shadow plays, comedy (spoken in Chinese though), and dancers besides the traditional pieces. Of course the most famous is never omitted: quick face-changing and fire spitting performed by dancers clad in colourful traditional costumes. You will follow the story sitting at your table, sipping on your constantly refilled tea cup and nibbling some salted snacks. Note that there are many teahouses in the city that offer the show every night. Try the local favorite at Shu Feng Ya Yun (蜀风雅韵) teahouse located in Chengdu Culture Park (文化公园) on Qintai Road (it is beside Qingyang Temple). You will be seated on a covered open ground (cooled by fan; no A/C), which is actually the center of the traditional teahouse building. You might have to book in advance or just ask the concierge of your hotel to book it for you. ¥150 for back rows; ¥220 for front rows.
- Jinli Ancient Street (锦里古街). This neighborhood is part of the old city of Chengdu; it features hotels and small stores in old-fashioned style. Antiques are sold in a variety of different stores. It is very popular among both tourists and locals, especially at night, with many bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. You will find a lot of famous local snack food over there, prices ¥1-10. Restaurants and bars in Jin Li are more expensive than outside. There are also antique hotels in there. Some consider Jin Li is to be tourist trap, which is partly true. However, this ‘new old street’ offers regional and fairly affordable street food specialties as well and can be combined with a visit to the Wuhouci Temple (entry fee 60 yuan, unless you are the holder of a Panda Card). Don’t forget to take your camera.
- Jinsha Excavation Site. Recently discovered site featuring various tools and art pieces from around 3,000 years ago. The amount of unearthed items is just massive. They include pottery, blades, jade items, building foundations and various golden art pieces. There are two main buildings: the hall constructed over the centre of the excavation site and the modern exhibition hall with various artifacts on display. Entry: a rather steep 80 yuan (adults). But it’s worth seeing it.
- Wenshu Temple (文殊院), 15 Wenshuyuan Street, (成都文殊院街15号) (Off Renmin Zhong Road). This Tang Dynasty Buddhist temple is the most impressive, and perhaps also the most used, temple in Chengdu. It is dedicated to the Buddhist representation of Wisdom, Wenshu Pusa (Manjusri Bodhisatva), and contains more than 450 Buddha statues and other precious relics. In addition to the halls and gardens, the temple also has a charming tea house that offers an insightful window of Chengdu life as it is frequented by locals who engage in games of chess, reading, knitting and just chatting with family and friends. The temple also has a delightful vegetarian restaurant with seats offering views over the gardens. Entry fee is a steal at only 5 yuan.
- Qingyang Temple (青羊宫; Qingyanggong; lit. Palace of the Green Ram), 9 Xierduan, Ring Road One (一环路西二段9号). This Taoist temple is the oldest and biggest of its kind in the area, located in the west of downtown. A large and still-active temple that takes into consideration Taoist philosophy in its construction, and with both a park next door and a number of relaxed courtyards inside. While it has a long history, the buildings are modern, cheaply-made concrete constructions, and it quite frequently shows. The statues inside are also cheap modern constructions of no real interest. A teahouse and a vegetarian restaurant can be found within the temple complex. ¥10.
- Happy Valley (欢乐谷; Huanlegu). Great amusement park with roller coasters and water park.
- Floraland (国色天乡), (Expect an expensive taxi ride out to the suburbs, or take one of the buses that will guide you to the park). The park includes a moderate selection of rides (water, relaxing and thrill), and various recreation activities. Weekends can get packed, so try to go during a weekday. ¥60.
- Panda Research Base, (Bus 198, from the local bus-terminal get off when you see a big white panda statue in the middle of the street, ot take a taxi from downtown for ¥30), ☎ +86 28 83510033, . This is the biggest facility of this kind in the world. Due to habitat destruction and other reasons, the giant panda is maybe the most famous endangered animal. It is home to some 60 giant pandas, but also has some red pandas and a colony of black-necked cranes. Views of the pandas from much closer than is possible at many Western zoos. Also a small museum and a cinema screening related documentaries. A restaurant and souvenir-stalls top off the tourist installations. The best time to visit is in the morning, when pandas are most active. Entrance: ¥60; Holding a baby panda: ¥1100; Standing next to a large panda: ¥500; Hold a red panda: ¥100; English-speaking tour guide: ¥100.
Things to do
For up-to-date information on activities, places and attractions you should check out the CHENGDOO citylife magazine’s listings. You will find copies in most bars, restaurants, cafes, hostels and hotels.
- Chunxi Road (春熙路). Take an afternoon or evening to walk down this shopping street, located in the center of the city. Makes for a good change of pace. Various clothing stores, bookstores, restaurants, arcades, and cinemas. Good place to find something to eat; including a hotpot buffet, Japanese restaurants, Western food, and much more. However, the major disadvantage with this area is that each brand has many stores in this location (similar to other parts of China). For instance, Nike, Adidas, and Li-Ning, each have about 4-5 stores in Chunxi Road alone which reduces the variety of things to buy. If you are looking for stores in the same vein as Louis Vuitton and Ermenegildo Zegna, these stores are located outside of the Chunxi Road area and near the Tianfu Square district.
- KTV, various locations. Spend an evening singing with friends, enjoy popcorn, beer and other refreshments. Songs available in English, Chinese, and more.
- Foot and body Massage. Chengdu is famous for its relaxed and laid back lifestyle. Foot and body massage is very popular in Chengdu with a lot of varieties. Generally, these places cater to groups of people who come in together, relax in a private room, perhaps eating fruit, pig ear, or sipping tea, while receiving a fully-clothed massage or foot washing. Prices are very reasonable, often well under ¥80 per person. Some places offer ¥25 per hour for a very nice foot massage, including washing, soaking and massaging feet, free hot/cold drink (tea, coke or juice), fresh fruit. A great way to relax with friends.
- Read a Book. The Chengdu Bookworm (see listing in the Eat Section) has a membership-based lending library of English language books, as well as travel guides for sale. Peter’s Tex Mex, as well as some of the other restaurants that cater to foreigners, have book exchanges.
- Play Weiqi (the game of Go), . As a symbol of Chinese culture, Weiqi is one of the world’s great strategy games where a few simple rules lead to limitless possibilities. Weiqi is hugely popular in Chengdu to the point where it has been nicknamed Weiqi City. Chengdu Weiqi Classroom is the only place where foreigners can study this game with English speaking assistants.
- Cosmetics and Hair. Local woman love to get their nails and hair done at the mall. You can get your nails done beautifully (filed, buffered, polished and hand painted with beautiful patent) between ¥10-20 at most shopping centre. There are quite a few very popular ones located on the ground floor of Beijing Hualian (北京华联）in Yanshikou. You can also get your hair temporarily straightened or curled at ¥10-15. They do very nice style and it will last until you wash your hair.