Today I’m taking you to a place which is very close to my heart; Chengdu (成都) is the capital of Sichuan Province, Southwest of China. Although I have never lived there, over the years I have been a number of times as a visitor. It is a city I now go back to if I want to see the rest of my family.
Situated on the fertile plains of the Sichuan Basin and blessed with abundant agricultural produce as well as being known for its light industry, Chengdu is of great significance as a hub for economy, transportation and communication, a pivotal link to Tibet, recently voted one of the top five most liveable cities in China. The greater urban area is home to around 14 million inhabitants, according to the 2010 census, and this is just one indication of the sheer size of Chinese cities, staggering and ever expanding. Every time I have gone back, it has got bigger and the city borders pushed further out into farmland.
Chengdu’s reputation is built on many different aspects, one of which is its ‘laid-back’ tea-shop lifestyle, a haven for cultural pursuits and relaxation. If you have the fortune to have been or intend to go, there are many attractive tourist sites to visit during the day, and a wonderful night scene throughout the city sprawl, bars, restaurants, tea houses, night clubs, catering for both home and foreign visitors.
It is impossible for me to cover all the fabulous attractions in this mega city in a short blog, but I’ll offer a few insights and hopefully entice some of you to experience it yourself. If you are like me, you probably will avoid the busy shopping Chunxi Road during the day, but you may wish to have a saunter at dusk around Tianfu Square, where fountains burst out with synchronized music, and you can watch pensioners dancing to keep fit.
If you are into history, pay a visit to Jinsha Excavation Site, which offers various metal tools and jewels from the cradle of Chinese civilization over 3000 years ago. There is exquisite pottery, jade objects, blades, gold and many other ancient pieces on display, giving testimony to Chengdu’s long and colourful past, as a key stopping point on the famous Silk Road from East to West.
Some accuse Chengdu of being a tourist trap, but Jinli Ancient Street is worth a visit. This newly built ‘old street’ is located in the old city, boasting a variety of small stores selling everything under the sun, from antiques to tasty local snacks, which Chengdu is famed for. An evening wander after a full meal is a real treat.
There are a number of museums and parks within the city for you to explore, but if you are a fan of wild animals, you may wish to take the chance to watch Giant pandas at close range. Chengdu Panda Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is the biggest facility in the world, where you can watch pandas being fed. Not far from Chengdu, and higher in the mountains there is a Nature Reserve where more pandas are being cared for.
Another feature that Chengdu is famous for is its bountiful of Tea Houses, where drinking tea of various kinds and playing the gambling game of Mahjong is how many locals spend their weekends and free time. Rain or shine, you’ll find residents of Chengdu sitting around tables in a park, or the ever-more popular farm houses refurbished as Tea Houses, especially built to entertain these city folks, with wood, plastic or ivory Mahjong sets, playing to their hearts’ content. I must admit that this is one pastime which my family, and especially my Mother loves and I absolutely abhor! They will go to a most beautiful location where bamboo trees whisper, waterfalls sing and wondrous mountains beckoning their attention. But no, all they wanted to do is the find a table and listen to the clicking and clattering sounds of the all-consuming game of Mahjong!
Personally I have particularly enjoyed one aspect which Chengdu excels in: its many Foot & Body Massage parlours. You can either go with friends and family or simply have a treat all by yourself. As a group, you can have your private room, equipped with a TV, fruits, tea and snacks, beds for you to lie down, receiving a full body massage or having your feet washed by a trained masseur. Man, let me tell you, that is a heavenly – you’ll forget whatever stress you have in life and happily drift away to another world!
This is by no means a comprehensive guide to the great city of Chengdu, but it gives you a flavour. I have not yet introduced you to the awesome selection of Sichuan food, which you will have to wait and sample them another time, very soon.
If you can’t wait, take a look at my video below and go there NOW!
Chengdu “Country of Heaven” 天府之国