<A> Chengdu: A city with much to offer

Written by Oct 15, 2006 18:10
Add Friends:
Email 1 Email 2 Email 3

No more than 10 friends at a time, please.



Rich green valleys, rapidly-flowing rivers, jagged mountain peaks and a relatively mild climate help to define Sichuan Province as China’s “heaven on earth” for many people. Planted within this idyllic setting, the capital city of Chengdu charms visitors with its beautiful tree-lined streets, pedestrian walkways along lazy rivers, and ancient traditional temples in the shadow of soaring modern skyscrapers. Choosing Chengdu as a good place for a week’s vacation I arrived at the train station located at the northern end of the main north-south thoroughfare known as Renmin Lu. City buses traverse all sections of the urban area making transportation easy once one becomes familiar with a few major landmarks. The most challenging thing about navigating around Chengdu by foot is that the streets often change names every few blocks. Nevertheless, by relying on the network of rivers which make a natural moat around the city and the heavily trafficked ring roads, one can fairly easily stay oriented when equipped with a good map.

Known particularly for its delicious and spicy cuisine, the city is home to countless tea gardens where visitors can relax in the refreshing shade of old trees and groves of bamboo while playing a game of cards or mahjong with friends. Of course, right after arriving one of the first priorities is to locate a place to stay. Throughout the city reasonably priced accommodations abound and I headed for a popular backpacker destination in the southern part of Chengdu conveniently located across from Wuhou Temple. This temple is over 1,500 years old and is surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens behind an imposing large red wall. The area around has become a busy tourist destination for buying souvenirs and trying out different kinds of local food. The hostel, like most other hostels across Chengdu, provided assistance with travel bookings and hosted special events like free cuisine classes and tai-chi lessons for anyone interested. The travel agencies in Chengdu specialize in arranging trips for the eager tourists who pass through the bustling provincial capital on their way to visit Tibet and China’s sparsely populated western regions which are inhabited by a number of different minority groups.

Exploring the sights

Though Chengdu is a flat city situated on a plain, the famous mountain parks are within easy range to visit and enjoy the views which have inspired the imagination of countless Chinese poets for centuries. Steeped in history, the city of Chengdu is famous as a backdrop for the ancient epic, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which all Chinese schoolchildren are still required to study. During the Tang Dynasty the well-known master poet Du Fu (AD 712-770) penned many poems from his thatched cottage situated just a few blocks from the Qinyang temple in one of the western suburbs. The thatched cottage remains one of the cities most famous cultural relics, and though the original cottage has not survived, visitors can admire a replica and contemplate the same tranquil scenes as the poet himself while gazing across a placid lake with arched bridges. It was in this setting that Du Fu wrote about his own life and period of exile during the late Tang dynasty. In a commemorative shrine on the grounds there are numerous examples of ancient calligraphy woodcarvings and unique exhibits integrating both calligraphy and painting. Surrounding the cottage are many other simple but elegant buildings, winding waterways with connecting bridges, and a maze-like ground network that integrates all the main elements of the classical Chinese garden. One other attractive feature is that no matter which season one chooses for a visit, the gardens display beautiful blooms with plum blossoms filling the garden in the spring, lotus flowers in the summer, chrysanthemums in the fall and orchids in the wintertime. After visiting the cottage one should allow enough time to walk along the nearby “Avenue of Poets” where statues of famous Chinese poets are elegantly arranged in bamboo groves with bronze stars of the poets’ names embedded in the sidewalks.

Not far away to the east, the Sichuan Opera district is an interesting historic area just northeast of Qingyang Temple and Baihuatan Park. Qingyang Temple remains a famous Daoist Temple to this day and is an active center of worship for many people. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties Qintai Road functioned as an important venue for holding temple and flower fairs. Today many of the traditional buildings have been restored and eager vendors sell a wide variety of antiques in the small market stalls. The road itself is lined with historical markers in both English and Chinese to better tell the story of the important thoroughfare. Farther north, Yongling Museum was built for Emperor Wang Jian and is the only above-ground royal tomb found in China. The tomb is designed in a combined Buddhist and Taoist style with large stone lions lining the entranceway. Inside the tomb one can view the exquisite stone carvings of twenty-four court musicians playing rare forms of ancient musical instruments. The accompanying exhibits are an interesting source of information that has been uncovered on music and dance performances during the late Tang dynasty. Of course, after a full day of sightseeing and a meal of Sichuan hotpot, an evening at the opera is a must. Sichuan opera is distinctive for its fire-breathing and colorful face-changing stunts. Historically these impressive skills evolved out of necessity in a time when people roamed the area as hunter-gatherers. In order to protect themselves from wild beasts the people painted their faces to look fierce, and today’s modern opera continues to entertain guests with this tradition.

Wangjiang Tower Park in the southeastern section near Sichuan University is a nice place to get away from the crowds of people and take a walk along the river shaded by willow and bamboo trees. Here ever-diligent gardeners spend a great deal of effort in creating a peaceful haven of lily and lotus ponds with jade rocks springing up making the natural illusion of mountains and lakes. The park is located on the south bank of the river and is dedicated to a famous female Tang poet, Xue Tao. Inside the small museum a collection of memorabilia tells the fascinating story of her rise to prominence in classical Chinese literature despite being born into a turbulent society. The writing instruments that she used can be viewed in a glass case as well as collections of her work. Outside over 150 different species of bamboo are planted in the gardens in her honor with an elegant pagoda towering overhead to provide a panoramic look at the surroundings.

Around the city

Just sixteen kilometers northeast of the city center, the Giant Panda Breeding Research Center is home to the adorable giant pandas and their less famous smaller cousins the red pandas. Strolling casually through this pseudo-natural environment, one can get a close-up view of pandas lounging, napping, climbing trees, eating and playing in the large forested areas of bamboo. As one of the mascots of the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games, these “living fossils” are a popular sight and numerous tours are available each day which include transportation to and from the city as well as admission into the park. By going to the research center in the morning one has a better opportunity to observe the animals’ behavior as they are being fed by the workers. A museum just inside the front gate provides detailed information about the evolution of pandas, their feeding habits and specifics on their mating behavior based on studies conducted at the research center.

Further afield visitors to Chengdu can conveniently join one of the many buses which rattle up and down the bumpy road to Jiuzhaigou with its thundering waterfalls and turquoise lakes approximately 450 kilometers north of the city. A slightly shorter trip of 6-7 hours by bus leads to the mountainous old city of Songpan. Interesting for its traditional wooden houses, local mosques and temples, Songpan is a quaint town with friendly people. Surrounded by terraced grasslands and ancient city walls which guard the community, horse trekking companies provide well-planned excursions into the heart of the area. Opting for a three day trip to view the Ice Mountain glacier, I was astonished at the variety of beautiful views of the countryside in all directions while riding on the back of a horse. The price of the trip included all meals, tent, bedding, cold/wet weather gear, experienced guides and well-trained horses and ended up being one of the highlights of the entire Chengdu experience. Enjoying the clean glacier fed rivers, snowy peaks, isolated valleys with grazing yaks and colorful wildflowers, I could only imagine that one day I’ll return to Chengdu and Sichuan to enjoy more of its beauty.

 More Chengdu Travel Reviews
1. Living in Chengdu LIVINGINCHENGDU from CN Sep 9, 2006 09:09
2. Pleasures of the Leaf MISHEN from NZ Apr 12, 2006 11:04
3. Journey to Jiu Zhai Gou JOSHUACHONG from SG Feb 14, 2006 19:02
Comments (0)

Write Your Comment

You can post as a member (Login first) or a guest!

*Name: Country:

No more than 2,000 characters, please.

Send me an Email if anyone replies.

Your Reply to

You can post as a member (Login first) or a guest!

*Name: Country:

No more than 2,000 characters, please.