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krisek Chengdu - A travel report by Krys
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Chengdu,  China - flag China -  Sichuan
14827 readers

krisek's travel reports

The capital of Sichuan and its little treasures.

  11 votes
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The 4000000 inhabitants of Chengdu may not have a metro system yet, but are fortunate to enjoy a few magical places, so great for a large metropolis. And I saw the locals of all ages taking advantage of them! And for visitors, there were the Giant Pandas.

Giant Panda cub
Giant Panda cub
The size of Sichuan's capital city was slightly overwhelming. I know that, as I ended up walking everywhere. Not all of the walking was planned, and although initially frustrating, I did enjoy it in the end. The majority of the architecture was not terribly inspiring, I must say, but there were bits of the city that were fortunate to had been built in a more appealing Chinese or Sichuan styles. These pockets of authenticity set Chengdu apart from all other Chinese cities I had seen by that time. Also, for the first time, I saw a myriad of teahouses, which were used more for socialising rather than quenching thirst.

The city appeared as a good example how the development in Chinese economy had been changing the urban face of the nation. The remnants of traditional housing, parks, temples, and teahouses were mixed with excruciatingly ugly high rise blocks of flats with Starbucks coffee shops, and modern glass-and-steel skyscrapers housing offices of banks and mobile phone companies. Very interesting sight for sure, but perhaps a little disappointing. China started to look like America rather than a country with fascinating thousands of years of history and beautiful traditions.

The capital of Sichuan was the best place to organise a trip to Tibet, which the Chinese authorities had been making extremely difficult for foreigners, as if they wanted to hide something. I managed to gather enough information and contacts to get myself organised for the next attempt. It only takes four days to get things sorted in Chengdu, and had I not been viciously misled in Shanghai, I would have gone to Lhasa from Chengdu this time round. But it did not happen.

I had good time in Chengdu. The highlights were the Giant Pandas (and many of the red pandas), dancing in the parks, sipping hectolitres of green tea, and getting lost between narrow lanes lined with curved roofs and wide traffic-frenzy avenues dotted with high rise office buildings.

Favourite spots:
Jinly Street
Jinly Street
The Jinly street running next to the Wenshu Temple was great for feeling how Sichuan's capital might have been one day, or perhaps how less commercialised Sichuan towns might look like. The narrow lane flanked by teahouses, eateries, shops and simple food stands was very atmospheric. The many red paper lamps hanging from the bent roofs added this extra spice to the scents of tea and chilli oils wafting in the air. The lane was interrupted with a few tiny single arch bridges spanning little streams flowing fast. In the evening, the ambiance and animation was augmented by the sound of music played by artists striking ancient string instruments, and a little theatre of shadows offered for free to the pedestrians. The theatre was in its miniature version but it was interesting and attracted tons of Chinese children cheering characters they chose to prefer during the small show. I really liked to watch the older people to exercise, do a form of Chinese aerobics, and dance - all in public.

What's really great:
DuFu's Thatched Cottage
DuFu's Thatched Cottage
Movement to the Chinese must have been a really important aspect of life. I only heard about those activities, and saw a few very small examples of that before, but in Chengdu I saw all three forms exercised en masse. It was like watching an army of people moving according to instructions of a conductor, almost as if directed to an orchestra. Many colourful fans, made of various materials, moving with the ladies' arms looked incredible and harmonic!

But watching hundreds of pairs dancing together right next to music played from a large CD player was something I saw for the first time! I had not seen so many pairs dancing together before. And in Chengdu they were dancing in a park, under an open sky. On a weekday! What an experience! I was wondering what would have happened if I joined. But since I was travelling on my own, and the fact that I was shy to ask a Chinese lady, this never happened and I never found out.

Adult Giant Panda
Adult Giant Panda
Chengdu had a few interesting places to visit. The key sights included: the Wuhou Temple, where one can also relax over tea and try some of the Sichuan cuisine; Dufu's Thatched Cottage - the poet's home complete with a delightfully shaded park and his statues; Wenshu Temple, and the Quingyang Temple.

Chengdu also had a number of interesting parks with some great structures like: Baihuatan Park; Wenhua Park; Bamboo Park with its famous River Viewing Bridge; Renmin Park with the pond and a couple of teahouses at it, and the great Xinhua Park, where no tourists went.

The Giant Panda Breeding Base was however the reason why I selected Chengdu for my intinerary (the other reason was food!). It was located a few miles north of Chengdu's centre. It featured 3 enclosures; adult Giant Panda, Giant Panda cubs, and Red Panda. One could hold Giant Panda cubs and Red Panda for ¥1,000 (€100) and ¥100 respectively, and pat an adult Giant Panda on its back for ¥500.

Holly's Hostel - common area
Holly's Hostel - common area
I was staying at the Holly's Hostel. They did not honour my reservation and the deposit I paid through an associated website of theirs and demanded twice as much for the room I booked. Not a first impression I would wish for! Anyway, the staff spoke good English and seemed helpful. They swiftly booked me for a visit to the panda reserve.

The ensuite air-conditioned twin room (¥180) was nothing special. There was not much space around the two beds, an old tv on a small cupboard and the armchair, which was on its last legs. The bathroom was rather drab although appeared relatively clean. Towels, shampoo, shower gel, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste were all provided.

The common area had a pool table but I did not see anyone playing at any time.  Wifi was widely available including the third floor restaurant.

Credit cards were accepted with 5% surcharge, which was very convenient if one planned to take a few side trips around Chengdu, to Tibet or purchase flight or train tickets.

Chengdu's centre by night
Chengdu's centre by night
MGM was famous for the Filipinos singing Western hits, if that was your thing. I would only stand one song, as their accent was too peculiar for my hearing... ;)

Top One was amongst the most popular disco places in Chengdu. So was the Age of Red, which managed to attract a range of known DJs. Known in China, I mean. However, the places were a bit too pretentious to my liking. I always preferred more local, lower key clubs, unless I am in a large party...

Anyway, staying at a hostel would normally guarantee nights with travellers from around the world playing games with them and exchanging stories. A traveller would not need more from their nights. Also, since hostels had typically late bars stocked with drinks. This was not the case at Holly's Hostel. There was no social area, and the restaurant, which was a substitute for a bar and common room, but there was not much space for socialising between the dining tables, closed at 11:30pm. A bit early for those long travel stories.

Dancing in the People's Park
Dancing in the People's Park
Tianfu Square was a large square in a geographical centre of the city. It was surrounded by high rise offices but the piazza had a good feel of being the centre of things.

The People's Park with several teahouses was the greatest. It was perfect for watching people exercise and dance. There were also singing performances and games. Some were also playing badminton. I went to the park at 7:30pm and all of the teahouses were virtually empty. Their chairs were still stack on one another. And only tourists were drinking tea. The fact that tea cost ¥10-¥25 might have been a factor why locals were not attending. Surely, the price included a cup of loose leaf tea and a large thermos of hot water, so one could refill several cups, but strictly no tea sharing was allowed. I thought my tea would become watery after a third or fourth cup, but in contrary, the leaves managed to produce ever more flavour with each additional pour of water.

Cafe at Holly's Hostel
Cafe at Holly's Hostel
The cafe at Holly's was great. They served Chinese, Sichuan and Western dishes, which were delicious. Well, I only ate the Sichuan ones (¥18), but I saw others digging in the pizzas, spaghettis, burgers and salads with a lot of satisfaction! The cafe served bottled beers (¥6-¥10) and lassis (¥7). Also for breakfast I ate Chinese food that usually consisted of fried rice with some sort of meat or flesh. Large and filling soups were ¥6.

Having missed on a tour to Tibet, I decided to try some Tibetan cuisine at the Khampa Tibetan Restaurant.Their menu was short and the lady insisted I ought to try the yak. I was not sure about that but I eventually caved in and ordered the yak noodle soup. It came in two sizes, the large one was ¥10. It was tasty and slightly spicy, yet the yak was a bit chewy for my liking. I had difficulty eating the soup with chopsticks. Five minutes into the meal I thought it was ridiculous. So, in a traditional way, I ate the noodles and meat and drank the soup.

Other recommendations:
Red panda
Red panda
The Golden Panda Card (¥1) obtainable from a few supermarkets gave free access to 11 attractions in and around Chengdu, including The Giant Panda Breeding Base (normal entry fee ¥58) and DuFu's Thatched Cottage. The card was a great saving. One card per passport was allowed and had to be activated.

To catch a taxi in Chengdu neared a miracle. Particularly at about 7pm, where shifts were changing and drivers, although empty, would not stop rushing to hand over the car to the other driver.

There were two types of buses in the city. The hundreds number buses, such as 307, and single (eg 004) and tens number (eg 047) buses. The last two types were less crowded, had tv screens broadcasting live news, and were air conditioned. They were twice as expensive than the other buses, and cost ¥2. Uh, and announcements were made in both Chinese and English! Very convenient for foreign visitors. The only trouble was to find out what routes were actually covered by any of the city buses.

Published on Friday August 21th, 2009

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Mon, Aug 31 2009 - 11:40 PM rating by gloriajames

a well-written report Kyrs...
btw....did u manage to venture to Jiuzhaiguo or Hailuogou?
the panda shot is adorable, how about an album of panda shots???

Sat, Aug 22 2009 - 01:57 AM rating by magsalex

A great report to wet the appetite for a visit.

Fri, Aug 21 2009 - 11:02 PM rating by pesu

You tried to eat a soup with chopsticks? ;-) Very fine report, this time you made me want to go there... Thanks for your great contribution about your China trip on Globo!

Fri, Aug 21 2009 - 04:00 PM rating by jacko1

A very well written, informative and interesting report.

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