Chengdu & China’s Treasured Pandas, China

China’s national treasure, the panda, calls Chendu home. They are the main attraction and well worth visiting, but when you aren’t admiring these adorable creatures, here are a few tips for enjoying the rest of Chengdu:

Must know – getting around

  • It’s difficult for Westerners to hail a cab, and although Uber is available, it’s difficult to use as the drivers will often cancel the request.
  • Public transportation is readily available and reliable so is your likely bet for traveling around, but do get the address of your final destination written for you in Chinese and star it on your map so the subway or bus attendant can help get you to the right place.
  • If you’d prefer hiring a driver for the day, email Sam at SamTour@yahoo.com. He also offers private and group tours with English speaking guides.

Must dine

Chengdu is located in the Sichuan province, known for it’s loud flavors, and tongue-numbing spices. Here are a few highly local places we were recommended that you can’t miss. Insider tip: It’s generally a good idea (unless you’re on a tour) to ask your hotel for dish recommendations, written out in Chinese, to take with you to the restaurant to ensure you end up with the best dishes. (We attempted ordering on our own and ended up with a few questionable items we could have done without!)

  • Chen’s Mapo Toufu Mapo Toufu. No.197-1 East Yulong Street
    Long Chao Shou. Chun Xi Road (notably for dumplings)
    Zhong’s Dumplings (Yangshi Street Store). No.17 Yangshi Street, Qingyang District
  • Lao Ma Tou Hot Pot. 3F Platinum City, No.27 Blue Dragon Street
    Laogeming (Old Revolutionist) Hot Pot (Yusha Road Store). No.113 Yusha Road
  • Within each underground road crossing tunnel, you’ll find massive food courts- similar to what you would expect from a mall. You’ll find everything from sushi to Italian food, along with the expected Chinese. Note: We didn’t stop to eat at any of these places, but it certainly looks like an experience if you opt to try!
  • Caffe Bene. If you’re looking for something familiar, head to Caffe Bene. They offer a simple variety of delicious Western comfort food, and the interior makes you feel at home as well.

Must explore

  • Kuanzhai Lane/A Wide and Narrow Lane. This is one of Chengdu’s three historical conservation districts, and filled with a number of local artisans ranging from calligraphy painters to sugar sculptors where vendors will make animals that look like blown glass out of sugar. Notice also the vendors intricately painting glass snuff bottles. This is a preserved Chinese art that dates back to over 800 years ago to the Qing Dynasty when a monk began painting them as a hobby. The then Emperor caught wind of his work and employed his top artisan to learn the craft. Though still practiced today, the pieces have become more of a souvenir item, but original pieces remain a prized collector’s item.
  • People’s Park. A beautiful park where you can relax and get a feel for life as a local in Chendu.
  • KIRI Street. This is more of an artistic road with many cafes, restaurants and galleries.
  • Chunxi Road. A strictly pedestrian street, here you will find a number of high end retail shops, both Western chains and private boutiques. There is a wide variety of restaurants for your choosing here as well.
  • Tangba Street. A “holy place” for Chengdu’s artistic youth.
  • Xiangxiang Lane. Said to be a “paradise for dinners” but do have a few recommended dishes written in Chinese from your hotel in your pocket to ensure you have a great dining experience.

Must visit – pandas

You can’t visit Chengdu without a trip to see the pandas. The Giant Panda Breeding Research Base in Chengdu is home to adult giant pandas, toddler giant pandas, and infant giant pandas, as well as the rare red panda. This base also houses a museum and former research facility, both open to the public. Try to arrive between 8am and 11am as this is when the pandas are the most active (this is when they’re fed), and don’t miss the Sunshine and Moonlight Nurseries where you can see the helpless infant giant pandas- some just weeks old! Insider tip: If you need to rest your feet, head to the Panda Cafe- a tea house on site, where each table seats a stuffed panda or two that you can snuggle with while you enjoy your tea.

Baby Panda Fun Facts

  • Mothers lick their babies stomachs to help them go to the bathroom, as the baby’s muscles aren’t yet strong enough when they’re born to go by themselves
  • Giant pandas of less than one year are called yearlings, and are just like human infants growing into toddlers
  • One or two weeks after birth, infant pandas will develop their black coloring around their ears, eyes, shoulders, and legs
  • Around six to eight weeks, their eyes will open
  • Around ninety days their first tooth will appear (pandas have two sets of teeth)
  • Around 100 days, their limbs will support their body and they will begin to crawl
  • Around one year they will start to eat bamboo
  • All baby pandas born abroad come back to China by age 2 as China owns all the pandas in the world

Must volunteer

CCRCGP Dujiangyan Panda Base. Volunteering directly on a panda base has slowly become unavailable to the public at most places in China, as many people who were signing up, came to the bases sick, which in turn was causing illness and sometimes death in the pandas. CCRCGP Dujiangyan Panda Base however still runs a very monitored but incredible volunteer program, and we were lucky enough to secure two spots. Much smaller than The Giant Panda Breeding Research Base in Chengdu, Dujiangyan doesn’t have any infant giant pandas on site, but they do have a baby (roughly 10 months at the time this is being written). The program is very well run, with opportunities throughout the day to observe, feed, and clean up after the pandas. You also get to make “panda cakes” for them, which consist of rice flour, corn flour, soy flour, and eggs. After a full day of work, complimented by a tasty Chinese lunch, you receive a certificate with your name and photo along with a swag bag, and are sent on your way. It’s a truly memorable experience! If you’re interested in volunteering, check here for more information.

Must day trip

  • Visit the Giant Buddha in Leshan. Though skewing on the touristy side, this is truly an impressive sight and well worth the trip if you have the time. Initiated by a monk during the Tang Dynasty in the year of 713, this Buddha, currently the largest of its kind in the world, was carved into a cliff face to calm the turbulent waters below for safer passage of the ships passing through. It was completed in the year of 803, and sits alongside many smaller Buddha statues and temples that you’ll see on your ascent. Note: This is about a 2-hour drive from Chengdu city center. Day tours are widely available, starting around 930 yuan/person, but if you’d rather prefer, you can rent a private car (we’d recommend going through SamTours noted above), who will simply drive you there and back for 800 yuan. Entry is 90 yuan/person.
  • Mt. Emei. Take the cable car 3,000 meters up to the Golden Summit. See the golden Puxian statue, and visit the Wannian Temple, where you’ll be able to get a glance into the world of China’s Buddhist monks. Don’t miss the Qingyinge Pavilion, known for its mishevious monkeys (keep a close eye on any food you may be carrying!).

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