Chengdu was the third step on our trip to China. A young and constantly evolving city, that offers attractions within easy reach by train.
Leshan, Giant Buddha and Oriental Buddha Park
The first reason that led us to include it in our tour was the Giant Buddha of Leshan, carved in the rock over 1,200 years ago. This awesome sized icon looks at you from every angle with a serene expression. It was carved by the Buddhist monk Haidong in the hope that it would calm the rushing waters of the river. The site is popular with tourists, so take into account 2h to get to the feet of the Buddha and feel very small while watching it from below. It is a truly impressive statue both for its size and for the fact that it was carved long ago, when modern technologies and machinery were not yet available.
Going down the long staircase, one can observe more closely all its majesty and attention to detail, such as hands and clothes. Inside the park you will also find several temples and caves, which are skipped by most tourists, even if they are worth a visit.
Within walking distance, you will find the Oriental Buddhist Theme Park, an immense project started in 1989 which contains more than 10,000 Buddha statues carved in the same rock as the Giant Buddha. The statues were made by master sculptors from all over China, integrating and adapting to the natural environment. The result is a wonderful open-air museum with an immense 170m reclining Buddha, the 51m pharmacist Buddha and many fully carved rooms that will leave you speechless. You will find very few tourists and we are sure that this will make the visit even more pleasant.
Giant Panda Breeding Center
The second reason to visit Chengdu is the pandas, which can be seen up closely at the Giant Panda Breeding Center. Pandas are the symbol of the city, they are on t-shirts, bags and on hairbands used by everyone. You will also find one in maxi format, intent on climbing over the IFS shopping center! Go to the Garden roof for a photo with this mascot.
As regards the park, if you will visit like us it in August, we strongly advise you to arrive at the opening hours (7:30 am) or earlier, since they are not so stiff with hours and sometimes open in advance. The pandas have breakfast at opening hours and you will therefore be able to see them active and awake without too many people. After breakfast, many of them are already sleeping on a tree or dozing in the foliage. The second advantage is that the hordes of tourists from the organized tours arrive later and you can enjoy some tranquility. After 9 am, in a short time they will invade all the paths, with their noisy shouting (luckily the signs invite you to be silent!). This does not mean that there will be no one at the opening, on the contrary .. do not follow the main flow of tourists and look for the quietest points on the map. The best shots will be the first of the day.
In some marked areas, you will have the opportunity to see the red pandas, much smaller, active and moving for most of the morning.
From a certain point of view, although the settings are realistic, we were a bit sorry for these pandas that every day have to endure so much confusion.
Starting from 10-11 am most pandas retire to air-conditioned houses and therefore you will be forced to see them through a glass. The park turns completely in about 4h, we advise you not to take the internal bus, for which there are infinite queues and which is not so necessary to move around.
Other points of interest
Chengdu has many other points of interest scattered around the city, which are easily reached by metro and bus.
In the center you will find the ancient Daci Temple (free admission), which creates a point of detachment with the surrounding modernity. It is impressive how as soon as you walk through the gates, you will leave the city to immerse yourself in a peaceful and spiritual environment, where you can stroll observing its numerous temples.
Within walking distance, the Fangsuo library is worth a visit. Characterized by an unusual architecture, its design is inspired by the Chinese Buddhist temples where sacred texts were kept.
If you are looking for relaxing walks among beautiful bonsai trees in an oasis of peace not far from the center, reach by public transport the Wuhou Temple, a complex of over 37,000 square meters. The complex is interesting both from a historical and architectural point of view. The rounded corridor is very original, painted in a red color that encloses the central heart of the complex. It was not easy to photograph it without people, but in the end we did it!
If you want to take a stroll in a nice neighborhood, we recommend a visit to Kuanzhai Alley. In this outdoor commercial area, traditional architecture has been preserved and therefore will allow you to go shopping out of the ordinary environment.
Another route not to be missed is Qintai road. Here you will find traditional buildings and characteristic roofs for some particular shots. Do not miss the bridge at the end of the road for a super instagrammable shot!
For some amazing evening shots, I recommend a walk to the Ashun bridge and the nearby Hejiangting Pavilion.
Our tour of traditional China ends in this beautiful city. From here we reached our next destination: Lhasa, in Tibet!
Before your trip
- How many days? Three nights are definitely necessary if you want to visit both Leshan (1 full day) and the panda center (half day). The city can be visited in one day but with one more day you would be able to do everything leisurely
- How to get to Leshan? Take one of the fast trains that depart approximately every hour from Chengdu East station and arrive at destination in 1h. Once in Leshan take a bus, the fastest is the K1 (35min), alternatively the n.3 (50min) is also ok
- How to get to Giant Panda Breeding Center? Metro line 3 to Panda Avenue, then bus 198, 198A or D025 (which however starts at 8:30 am). You can find all the updated information here
- Should I buy tickets in advance? If you want to skip the queue at the ticket office, we recommend buying the panda tickets on the trip.com website (ex ctrip) at this link. For other attractions, the queues go pretty fast
- Where to stay? For this step we have chosen to stay at Chengdu Flipflop Hostel Poshpacker. The property is located in a building on the 3rd floor, a short distance from the Chunxi Road subway. The room is minimal, but clean, with a fresh towels every day. The common areas are tastefully furnished and it is possible to eat well prepared local and international dishes at a good price. Overall excellent value for money. The only note, the structure does not provide any support to customers on trains and journeys as it is interested in selling its tours
- Where to eat? We didn't find any restaurants that really impressed us. In any case, keep in mind that the menus of the restaurants we have tried are often only in Chinese and sometimes without images, such as in the hot pot restaurants. Among the most bizarre specialties are rabbit heads, which you can find on stalls selling all kinds of delicacies (or so it seems to them). No, we didn't feel like trying them!!!