By Bo Liu, Lost Plate Food Tour’s Chengdu Manager
May 13, 2019 – Are you planning your trip to China and not including Chengdu? I’ve lived in many cities across China and I believe Chengdu is one of the country’s most underrated travel destinations. Aside from Chengdu’s biggest claim to fame (the furry black and white pandas that are native to Sichuan province), I’ve put together 5 of my favorite reasons to come visit Chengdu.
1. Sichuan Cuisine
Sichuan cuisine may be China’s most popular and beloved! In fact, 35% of all restaurants opened in China serve Sichuan cuisine which is distinctive and flavorful, with many dishes utilizing Sichuan peppercorns to give the food a signature “ma-la” or numbing spiciness that you won’t find in other cuisine.
Chengdu, Sichuan’s capital, has a lot to offer for foodies. To better understand the cuisine and what makes Sichuanese food in Chengdu so special, join a Lost Plate Food Tour. Our tours will get you off the tourist trail into local neighborhoods that serve authentic food where the locals eat. You’ll not only get to try a lot of dishes, but you’ll learn about (and taste) all of the complexities and influences that make Chengdu food more than just spicy.
2. Open & Laid-Back Lifestyle
When you say “let’s grab a drink” in Chengdu, it could equally mean a cup of tea or a cocktail in a club. As a famous local saying goes “The mountains are high and the emperor is far away.” This motto has created a distinctly laid back and open way of life compared to the rest of China. People in Chengdu love to eat out, hang around in teahouses, and enjoy hotpot for hours while socializing with their family and friends – not in the same hurried and hectic way you might see in Beijing or Shanghai. Go to a local park any time of day and you’ll find teahouses packed with people sipping tea, playing games and socializing with friends.
On top of the relaxed vibe, I find Chengdu to be more inclusive and welcoming of ethnic minority groups and alternative lifestyles. Chengdu has the largest Tibetan community outside of the Tibetan plateau and has a very accepting LGBTQ+ community. Further, local people are open and welcoming about different lifestyles that might be a bit taboo in other more traditional parts of China.
Check out some of these spots to experience it for yourself:
Name: Arè Tibetan Restaurant (阿热藏餐)
Address: 25 Gaohuaheng Street
What to order: Beef Covered with Thin Pancakes(牛肉盖被), Baked Bread with Yak (牦牛肉烤饼), Yak Buns (牦牛肉包子), Yak Yoghurt(牦牛酸奶); English menu available.
Show your taxi driver: 阿热藏餐，高华横街25号
Maps: Google Map (VPN required in China), Chinese Map
3. Ancient Shu Kingdom History
Chengdu has several fantastic museums that are not to be missed for history buffs. The Jinsha Site Museum is close to the city center and the Sanxingdui Museum is about one hour drive from the city. Seeing relics from 3000 years ago really shapes one’s understanding of how human civilization has evolved, and provide context for modern day China.
4. Take In China’s Modern Urban Life
Chengdu has a modern, big city vibe too. Tai Koo Li is one of the city’s newest developments and a hot spot for people to go to dine and shop. From luxury products to boutique cafes to micro-breweries, you name it – this mall has it. Don’t miss the international grocery store and upscale movie theater all underground. Next door, the IFS mall has a Singapore-style food court above an ice skating rink and a rooftop sculpture garden.
The city also has two big busy bar streets, Lan Kwai Fong and Jiu Yan Qiao, both of which offer a vibrant nightlife for residents and tourists alike. The comprehensive (yet still growing) metro system with English signage and announcements can get you almost anywhere within city limits.
Name: Tai Koo Li (太古里)
Address: Taikooli, Jinjiang District
Show your driver: 成都远洋太古里
Things to do: See the Daci Temple and explore the outdoor shopping area. Check out Starbucks Reserve, The Abbye Restaurant & Brewery and trendy Beijing chain Moka Bros.
Maps: Google Map (VPN Required in China), Chinese Map
5. The Great Outdoors
Most people don’t realize that Chengdu is situated at the foothills of the Himalayas and is a major gateway to the Tibetan Plateau. This means that there are endless opportunities to see some of the most beautiful natural places not only in China, but arguably the world. The Chengdu International Airport has daily flights to Lhasa in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, as well as Jiu Zhai Gou, a nature reserve and national park in northern Sichuan province.
We have plenty of recommendations depending on how much time you have, keeping in mind that most of the best scenic areas can take 4-8 hours by car/bus from the city.
Songpan with Adventure Access
Whether it’s staying in a Tibetan village, hiking around glacier capped peaks & crystal clear lakes, or mountain biking down 1000s of meters, the team at Adventure Access have you covered. They’ll even sort out your transportation to/from Chengdu which is a huge benefit. Check them out for the best mountain adventures in China.
Siguniang Mountains (四姑娘山)
The Four Sisters Mountain area includes four peaks over 5000 meters with incredible opportunities for hiking, backpacking and horseback riding. Some areas are only accessible by shuttle bus, which makes it easy to explore. All hiking, including a peak summit, requires a local guide which can be hired locally. English services are very hard/impossible to come by so come prepared for a true adventure.
How To Go: Public buses leave from Chengdu’s Cadianzi bus station and take 4-6 hours. This blog has a good overview of the area.
Qingcheng Mountain (青城山)
A bit closer to the city, decent hiking is available and don’t miss a visit to the Dujiangyan Irrigation Project if staying overnight.
How To Go: Take Subway line 2 to the last stop at Xipu Station, then take a train to Qingcheng Mountain Station (trains go frequently, tickets are normally available on spot).
Want to Eat Local in Chengdu?
Come Join Us!
Our Chengdu Food Tours will take you away from the tourist areas to visit the kind of neighborhood spots that don’t show up on popular tourist lists, to eat where the locals eat. Click Here for more info.