After Dan finished trekking in Leshan and Emeishan, I flew 7.5 hours to meet him in Chengdu on Friday, March 28 2014. I arrived that evening around 8:00pm and Dan was waiting for me at the airport. We hopped in a taxi and drove to the Buddha Zen Hotel where Dan had already checked in that morning after arriving from Emeishan. We had a cup of tea in the room and then we were off for a late dinner. Dan had already scoped out a spot at a popular hot pot restaurant nearby. Hot pot is a local specialty where you cook your food in a boiling vat of chili oil broth, red peppers, and mouth-numbing spices. We ordered our “pot” and then we selected our food items including prosciutto, fish, meatballs, cauliflower, and mushrooms. I quickly got to experience the “numbing” effect of the prickly ash. Good thing we had some Chinese beer to sip it all down with it.
The next morning we had a Chinese buffet breakfast and then took a taxi over to our first tourist site of the day, Du Fu’s Thatched Cottage Museum. It is named after the famous poet Du Fu of the Tang Dynasty, whose poetry is still read today. We spent a few hours walking around the gardens, checking out the thatched cottage and museums, then stopping for a loose leaf green tea before grabbing a taxi to People’s Park. People’s Park is near the centre of the city and is said to be Chengdu’s most famous and beloved park where locals enjoy drinking tea for hours. There was a lot going on in the Park when we arrived including singing, dancing, Tai Chi, boat riding, tea drinking, eating, badminton and mah-jong playing. We were getting pretty hungry by this point so we grabbed some meat on a stick and wandered aimlessly around the park taking it all in. We also grabbed some local sweet and spicy pancakes. We then made our way to the tea house. Not many people know that some of the best green tea comes from the mountains of western Sichuan and that Chengdu is one of the last bastions of the art of tea drinking. There are six different types of tea produced in China including black, green, white, oolong, flavoured, and pu-erh. When we sat down we could hear the “ear cleaners” twirling their metal instruments and Dan decided to give it a try while I ordered the “Pu-ehr” tea. Pu-erh tea is green, black and oolong teas fermented and compressed into a ball. Dan said the ear cleaning tickled and was quite a strange experience.
After spending the afternoon at the park, we made our way over to Tianfu Square which was only a couple of blocks away. It is opposite an enormous Mao statue and is another public square for the locals to hang out in. We then decided it would be good to end our fantastic day of sightseeing on Jinli Street. Jinli has been renovated in recent years to resemble an ancient market street. By the time we got over there we were ready for a much deserved beer. After our beer, we walked along Jinli Street until we found a nice spot to have dinner. We ordered the Ma Po’s spicy tofu, a local favourite, accompanied by broccoli, dumplings and rice. After dinner we bought a bottle of local wine, Great Wall of China, before heading back to the hotel.
The next morning we started off our day with a walk over to the nearby Wenshu temple, a Tang Dynasty Zen Buddhist temple, which some say is the most widely used temple in Chengdu. After the morning at the temple, we decided to have lunch on Cuisine Street, where a number of vendors are set up serving local specialties. We had some bean soup and steamed dumplings from one vendor and then we decided to get a bit more adventurous so our next stop was fried mini scorpion on a stick with freshly squeezed sugar cane juice! Later that afternoon we enjoyed a milk bath and Chinese massage back at the hotel before getting ready to go to the Sichuan Opera that evening.
We had dinner at the hotel prior to the show and since we were being adventurous we ordered duck tongues to start and kung pao chicken made with prickly ash for the main course. The opera was located at Jinjiang Theatre and the show was called the Legend of Face Changing. The main character Sanqing falls in love with a girl. However, Childe Ma takes away the girl and orders his gangsters to burn Sanqing’s face. Sanqing had to lead a vagrant life on the streets with a mask covering his scarred face. However, he practiced face changing diligently and became the king of face-changing.
We decided to save the best for our last day. The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is located just 30 minutes from downtown and houses approximately 60 pandas. We read that we should go early when the panda’s are most active so we arrived for opening at around 8:30am. We first walked around swan lake towards the sub-adult panda enclosure where we saw a very colourful pheasant before spotting our first panda bear who was happily enjoying his bamboo breakfast. We continued strolling through the 100 hectares by the adult panda enclosure and then we made our way over to the Giant Panda cub enclosure. Our favourite part was watching the baby cubs who were really playful and adventurous.
We got our taxi to drop us off back down at Kuanzhai Xiangzi, which means wide and narrow alleys. The pedestrianized streets have shops and restaurants. We decided it was time for lunch – this time the item to try was chicken feet. Not my favourite however that being said I am willing to give them another try. We ended up wandering around from there, walking along the river, and wound up at Baihuatan Park. Inside we found another local tea house where the locals were hanging out playing mah-jong and serving up the local favourite jasmine flower tea. Our last stop of the day was at Wuhou Temple before we made our way back to the hotel to grab our bags and head up to the airport to make our evening flight back to Abu Dhabi. Chengdu was a great introduction to China and we hope to explore the country further one day!