Pandas and Sichuan Opera do not usually fit together. But they do in Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan Province, known to be home of giant pandas, and definitely the best place to discover Sichuan Opera!
While some could think it’s just another big city in China, there are a lot of natural and cultural sites to discover in or around Chengdu.
What to do around the city
- You can’t go to Chengdu without visiting the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. The Research Base is dedicated to preserve and increase the panda population. It replicates the natural habitat of the giant pandas in a much better way than the Chengdu Zoo, where the pandas are enclosed in small concrete cages and the only greenery in their cages is the bamboo they have for food… It’s located about 20 km out of Chengdu and cost 58 CNY per person. Visiting the Center is really pleasant and feels like wandering in a large garden with bamboo forests, swan lake, and lush trees. You will see lots of pandas (adults, babies and juvenile) eat bamboos, drink, climb trees, or sleep. The Center also houses red pandas, which look like really cute red raccoons. You can visit the Giant Panda Museum to learn more about pandas and finish your tour at the gift shop.
There are at least 2 travel agencies that offers volunteer day tour at the Research Base: China Highlights and CTrip (2,380 CNY).
- Here’s another sight you cannot miss: Leshan Giant Buddha
What to do in the city
- Tianfu Square: similar to Tiananmen Square in Beijing. There are many attractions around Tianfu Square: Sichuan Science and Technology Museum, Sichuan Art Gallery, Chengdu Museum, etc.
- People’s Park (located on Shaocheng Road, in Qingyang District): great place to witness the authentic leisure life of locals; people go there to sing, dance, play chess, work out, and practice calligraphy. There are many tea houses in the park, the most famous being Heming Teahouse.
- Baihuatan Park: Great park to eat your picnic (less crowded than People’s Park). Best place to take a slow and relaxing walk, on the peaceful and landscaped paths.
- Wenshu Yuan Street (on your way to Wenshu Monastery)
Wenshu Monastery (Ticket price: 5 CNY; No. 66 Wenshu Yuan Street; only a 10-minute walk from Mix Hostel): Wenshu Monastery is a famous Buddhist temple in China and is one of the four major temples of Zen Buddhism. Founded during the Sui Dynasty (605-617), it was destroyed in a war that occurred in the latter stage of the Ming Dynasty and then rebuilt. I really liked that place, not only because of ancient architecture and monuments, but also because there were many cats there! And I LOVE cats!
- Just walk around! Walking is the best way to discover Chengdu (although you could also use Chengdu subway system). There’s always more to explore by yourself; just wander in the streets, you’ll see!
- Chengdu Zoo (20 CNY; located on South Zhaojuesi Road in Chenghua District): it’s the largest zoo in southwest China (43 acres/17 hectares), where over 3,000 animals from more than 300 species live. Although I liked wandering in the zoo, surrounded by green trees, bamboos and flowers, it’s really not the best zoo I’ve seen, in regards to the animals’ welfare. Pandas, tigers, and lions were walking in circles in their concrete cages (smaller than my own bedroom), uttering cries of despair. I felt really sad for them. I shortened my visit at the zoo because I felt bad. And also because Chinese kids were finger pointing at me and laughing at me. At first, I thought they were cute and I thought it was funny too. But I changed my mind when they started poking me, and even throwing things at me… Yep, for real… Once again in China, I was myself a popular tourist attraction!
Watch Sichuan Opera
It’s a must if you’re travelling to Chengdu, since opera is a major feature of Sichuan’s culture.
I booked a tour with Chengdu Mix Hostel Backpackers. The opera show was presented at Jinjiang Theater (54 Huaxingzheng Street), lasted 90 minutes (8 pm to 9:30 pm), and cost 120-280 CNY. The theatre itself was pretty, with its ancient architecture. The show was really diversified: traditional musical instrument (Erhu) performance, hand shadow play, puppet show, Sichuan Opera, clown play, face changing, fire-spitting, etc. Although I did not really understand the opera, I was fascinated by the fire spitting, face-changing and colorful costumes. I didn’t worry about the language when I watched the performance, but if you do, know that there are 2 small screens at each side of the stage with English explanations to help with language barrier.
Other option: Shu Feng Ya Yun Theater (23 Qintai Road, Qingyang District)
Go shopping at night to make the most out of your day
- Chunxi Road (commercial pedestrian street): You can eat, shop, or wander here. At the north end of the road, there’s a group of bronze statues, which represent the contrast of the development of this road (in the front, an old man dressed in traditional Chinese clothes represents the past and a modern young lady in fashionable clothes represents modern young people).
- Sino-Ocean Taikoo LI Chengdu: similar to Sanlitun in Beijing (modern buildings, fine restaurants).
- Yan Shi Kou Commercial Area: things are quite cheap here (you can bargain), tasty local food in the area.
- Most popular bar streets
- Fangcao Street
- Fangling Road
- Shaoling Road
- Jinli Bar Block: reasonable prices, mostly visited by tourists
How to go to Chengdu:
I took a plane from Beijing and it cost me 1,810 CNY roundtrip (in May 2011, ~270 CAD). I left Beijing at 11 pm and landed in Chengu around 2 am. I often travel at night; that way, I don’t spend money on hotels and I have more time to enjoy my trip during the day. I bought my plane ticket online with Ctrip, which has reasonable fares.
– At Beijing Airport, I bought a bacon cheeseburger at Burger King and I was so happy to finally eat bacon! (I lived in Beijing for a few weeks, was unable to find some good bacon there, and I was craving for some)
You can also travel to Chengdu by train, but it’s not always easy to book a train ticket, especially if you don’t speak Chinese.
– Recommended length of stay: 3-4 days
How to get from Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport to downtown Chengdu
It’s quite easy to get to downtown from the airport; it’s only a 16-kilometer ride and it doesn’t cost much (about 80 CNY for one-way trip = ~11 CAD). You could also take an airport bus; it’s cheaper, but maybe a bit more complicated.
Chengdu Mix Hostel Backpackers (#23 Xing Hui Xi Lu Road)