Chengdu China is probably best known for its Giant Panda Research Center. And while this is a highlight of our Chengdu itinerary, it's only one of several fascinating things to do in Chengdu and the surrounding area.
Panda research centre
Whether you come here to learn about pandas, or just to see the adorable animals enjoying a more natural surrounding, we highly recommend coming here. Visiting pandas in Chengdu is one of several highlights of our time in China.
The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is the first open laboratory for endangered animal research and conservation in China, and a site. With displays also in English, we learned about the giant panda, the research currently being done, their current troubles, and how we can help. The centre is also home to other endangered wildlife, including red pandas, swans, peacocks, birds, butterflies, and hundreds of insects. And, the grounds are stunning.
But let's get real, we came for the pandas, and boy we enjoy what we saw. There was an overdose of adorable even before we made our way to the enclosure housing the baby pandas. Here, our timing was perfect. Mama panda was assisting baby panda as he tried to climb a tree. The Panda Research Centre is a must-do on any Chengdu itinerary. We took transportation provided by our hotel. Had that not been an option, we would have gone with a tour that picks up and drops off at Chengdu hotels.
Having the ability to attend a Sichuan opera was our initial motivation for spending the night in Chengdu. However, in the end, we wished we had more than two days on our Chengdu itinerary. Sichuan opera is a colourful mix of styles, each act being completely different than the one before.
Learning to eat hot pot
If just hearing the word 'Sichuan' conjures up hot and spicy flavours, you won't be disappointed. Spicy aromas surrounded us in the Sichuan province, yet we nearly always found a mild option. A new favourite for us was learning how to eat hot pot. Our day two guide took us to an authentic restaurant where being the only English speakers around was not a problem - mostly because he was with us. The beauty of the traditional Sichuan hot pot is that we have control over the level of spiciness, although my definition of "mild" was probably stretched a bit here. Jeff was ready to brave "hot" but followed our guides advice and went for the medium temperature, which was more than enough spice.
Visiting the Giant Buddha in Leshan
Carved into the hillside on Mount Lingyun, the Giant Buddha of Leshan is the world's largest Buddha. Created in 713 AD during the Tang Dynasty, the seated Maitreya Buddha is 71 metres high and overlooks the confluence of the Min and Dadu rivers. The area, known as the Mount Emei Scenic Area, is an site. It was home to the first Buddhist temple in China and is considered one of Buddhism's holiest sites. If time permits, it is a lovely area to explore. The drive from Chengdu to Leshan Buddha takes about 2 hours. Viewing options are either from the river on a boat, or walking the steep and narrow plank pathways alongside and in front of the Buddha. Our plan was to do both, with the boat first.
Jiajiang Tianfu Tea Plantation
Another stop between Chengdu and Leshan is the Jiajiang Tianfu Tea Plantation. A few samples and I purchased an interesting buckwheat tea. However, it was the terraced tea fields and the huge teapot fountain that we found the most interesting.
Ancient village of Huanglongxi (a last-minute add to our Chengdu itinerary)
By skipping the multi-hour walk along the giant Buddha, we had time to visit the ancient village of Huanglongxi and enjoy some of its folklore and customs. While it's free to enter, it was definitely more fun with our private guide as he told stories that we just wouldn't know otherwise. It's a place with over 1700 years of history, highlighting a culture embedded in water, tea, farming, and Buddhism. Be sure to take a boat ride down the river, as that was one of our highlights.