Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province, is ideally placed for exploring this south-western region of China, famous for its spicy cuisine, its stunning mountainous scenery and for its native pandas, those most charismatic, and most endangered, of the country’s wild animals. And you can discover this very special destination for yourself on three of our tours, with a three-night visit on our 14-day ‘Treasures of China’ tour and a two-night stopover on ‘Grand China’ and ‘Essential China’.
Chengdu’s biggest draw, for both foreign visitors and tourists from elsewhere in China, is undoubtedly the Panda Breeding Centre. Some 80% of the world’s wild panda population live in Sichuan, and this scientific research institute was established in 1987 to conserve these critically endangered animals, beginning with just six pandas rescued from the wild. Since then, the centre has been running a successful captive breeding programme and there are now more than 100 resident giant pandas living in the large enclosed parkland here, along with a smaller number of red pandas, which are also endemic to this part of China. The grounds have been designed to recreate the animals’ natural habitat, and nowhere else can you get so close to so many of these wonderful and endearing creatures. The best time to visit is the morning, when the pandas are most active, and when feeding takes place, and if you are here in autumn, you may well get to see some baby pandas in the nursery!
There is much more to see and do in Chengdu while you are here, of course. Take a walk along Jinli Street, which is lined with Qing dynasty-style buildings, operating as shops and food outlets, and step inside the nearby Wuhou Temple. Rebuilt in the 17th century on the site of a much older foundation, it houses the tomb of the Emperor Liu Bei, a leading warlord during the Three Kingdoms Period of the 3rd century. Also well worth a look is the Taoist Qing Yang Gong, or Bronze Goat Temple, which is one of the biggest in China, with a highly ornate octagonal pavilion at its heart. One of Chengdu’s real highlights is the Jinsha Site Museum, which displays a treasure trove of gold, ivory and jade artefacts excavated from this vast archaeological site. A city dating back to the Shang Dynasty, which flourished some 3,000 years ago, once stood here, and notable finds include gold face masks, bizarre bronze humanoid heads and the Golden Sun Bird, an exquisite gold disk depicting birds flying around the sun.
Take time out in one of the sociable tea houses which can be found all over the city, where you can try a variety of Chinese teas as well as light snacks, perhaps even joining in with a game of the ever-popular mah-jong. And before you leave Chengdu, don’t miss a traditional Sichuan Opera performance, a colourful and unforgettable spectacle. One of its most distinctive features is the ‘face changing’ show, in which the actors magically change their brightly painted masks with a quick wave of the hand or sweep of a fan.