China is developing rapidly. Although the skyline resembles every other city you’ll see in the country, the atmosphere in Chengdu, capital city of the Sichuan province, remains small-townish – which is why this western province continues to charm with its laidback lifestyle, rich cultural heritage and pandas.
Chengdu is the gateway city to the world’s biggest population of pandas roaming free through bamboo forests and where the Tibetan Plateau descends to the undulating valleys.
What many probably don’t realise when visiting Chengdu is that the city is really big – dwarfing places like London and New York in a heartbeat. Popular attractions here are scattered all around the town, so you may want to stay in the central zone to get the most from this constantly evolving city.
Where to stay
Experience the best of old and new at The Temple House which is nestled in central Chengdu – offering access to many surrounding attractions. Guests can make use of the hotel’s bamboo bicycles and cycle around the nearby Lang Bridge, Jiuyan Bridge and Wangjiang Park. Or take part in traditional Buddhist ceremonies and find calmness at the Chengdu Daci Temple Cultural and Commercial Complex.
The Temple House, which is considered to be the most luxurious hotel in Chengdu, comprises 100 rooms and 42 adjoining serviced apartments as part of an integral conservation project to preserve the surrounding heritage building next to the thousand-year-old Daci Temple. Elegant bamboo trees frame the entrance, which is set in a beautifully restored hundred-year-old Chinese courtyard built during the Qing Dynasty. The communal spaces bear a traditional silhouette while the guest rooms take on a contemporary luxurious approach.
Where to eat
The capital city of Sichuan offers the best and most authentic Sichuan cuisine – nowhere else does it better. Enjoy Sichuan hot pot experiences at Lao Ma Tou Hotpot located behind an ornate temple-style façade. Perfect during the cool weather, diners can enjoy its signature spicy broth with an assortment of fresh ingredients.
Make time to enjoy traditional Sichuan food at Yu Zhi Lan. The restaurant owned by Chef Lan Guijun has only 18 seats and offers a personalised taste of the finest ingredients and masterful techniques China has to offer. There is a 25-course menu featuring signature dishes like sea cucumber in a sour and spicy Sichuan broth, as well as the spiced loach served with roast sweet potato.
And after a long day, unwind at Mi Xun Teahouse and enjoy freshly-brewed premium teas, selected for their natural medicinal benefits according to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine. There is also a vegan menu inspired by the healthy dishes once served at Daci Temple.
If you’re an ardent gastronaut, be sure to make early reservations at The Bridge. This is Chef André Chiang’s first venture in China and his latest restaurant project following the closure of Restaurant André in Singapore last year. The restaurant, set atop the Anshun Bridge is designed by renowned design studio, Neri & Hu. This fine dining concept by the Taiwanese chef will take you on a journey into the complexity and intrinsic elements of Sichuan flavours.
Where to visit
Any trip to Chengdu will not be complete without visiting the Panda Breeding Base located in the suburb of Dujiangyan, north of the city. This non-profit research facility for giant pandas and other endangered species is not a zoo, but a huge conservation base spanning over 7,000 square metres. Feel like you’re one with nature as you meander around the self-sustaining open landscape surrounded by 50 or so pandas that reside there – you’re in the heart of the action. Spend a few hours watching their adorable faces as they laze around without a care in the world. Be there early as the pandas are most active before returning to their sleep in the early afternoon.
There are also plenty of teahouses and temples along the southern and western edge of the Funan River. Enjoy the beauty of old China, especially at night, as you stroll around the neighbourhood looking for snacks and a place for tea.
If you have an extra day to spare, the Flower Town (San Shen Xiang) in the southeast of Chengdu is highly recommended especially during spring. Enjoy being around vibrant blooms at this national park that offers no less of a scenic backdrop for a relaxing day with nature. Spring (April to June) and autumn (September to December) are the best times to visit Chengdu as midsummer can be swelteringly unbearable while winter is generally wet and cold.
There are many travel options with layovers from Kuala Lumpur to Chengdu but the only direct flight to Chengdu is via AirAsia that operates once daily.