Chengdu was definitely my favorite city in China–I’m not sure if it was the peeking sun and blue sky (that definitely helped), or the fact that the city is much more walkable than others (finally), but Chengdu was a great way to wrap up our trip to China. I thought that Chengdu would seem “small”, but it is still a massive, massive city. Just a mere 14.4 million people. Yikes.
In the morning we headed out to the Chengdu Panda Base, to see the animals which were the real reason we came to Chengdu! I’ve recapped that here, and recommend it wholeheartedly. We spent the entire morning there (morning is the best time to see them, since pandas are big sleepers). But there is a ton of interesting stuff to see and explore in Chengdu beside the pandas. Here are some fun places to wander about in the city.
Chengdu People’s Park. First, visit the city’s monstrously large park area in the center of town, complete with some pretty neat Bonsai and other ancient and landscaped trees. I do dream about one day not killing a bonsai. You can have tea at the teahouse, take a little boat on the lake, or just wander around. It was not busy when we were there and while there is a strange/flashy mini-amusement park for children, the rest of the park is beautiful and very tranquil.
There is also a place in this park where parents leave information, on a single piece of paper, about their single sons or daughters looking for a match! Like, “25 with a good job ready to settle down, call this number.” I only wish I could have read some Mandarin to really know what they all said. And, to see their older parents wandering around reading them was just fantastic. I’m not really sure how much of it is tradition (guessing not many matches are made…) considering how tech-savvy young Chinese are! But it’s a really interesting blast to/from the past.
Chunxi Road. The largest pedestrian area in Chengdu, Chunxi Road has everything. From luxury stores to typical chains, it is a monstrous expanse of shopping that is fun for wandering. The luxury market is insane in China. As is the market for fake luxury goods. And fake Apple stores. So many fake Apple stores in China. I guess imitation is the best form of flattery? #dontbuyfakegoods. Chunxi Road is a great place to walk and people watch, away from the traffic that does not stop for pedestrians. We were staying at the St. Regis Chengdu, and Chuxi road is just a few quick blocks away.
Jinli. Re-constructed to look like a traditional street in the Qing dynasty style, this street has tons of street food and little stores and is known as the “Ancient Pedestrian Street.” It is busy, but a lovely place to stroll and shop. And gawk. Particularly at the street food. Some of it looked pretty appetizing, some of it….not so much. I asked our guide if Chinese people actually usually eat fried rabbit head and to little surprise she said, “well, some…but I’ve never tried it” with a giggle. I think some of the street food in China is for the shock, rather that to actually eat. We did try the fried rice balls, they were pretty tasty though I’m not huge fan of sweet sticky rice. Jinli also has a lot of restaurants.
Shockingly, since I am known for loving to shop for souvenirs when I travel, did not buy pretty much anything in China. It was close, I almost bought a huge silk embroidery of some carp…but I abstained. The only reason I bring this up is that Jinli was pretty much the only place that seemed to have items of relatively good quality (not plastic crap, of which there is plenty) that were also things that you would want in your home. So, if you are looking for something to take home particularly for gifts for others, Jinli (though probably overpriced for China) would be a great place to look.
You could definitely spend a full day exploring these places in Chengdu–it does take some time get from place to place. We had a car for the day with a driver and guide, which was nice since we had no idea where we were going and do not speak or read the language. Parts of Chengdu made it feel much smaller than it actually is. I wouldn’t hesitate to return to Chengdu (to see more pandas, obviously!).