Dragon City – Chengdu in Spicy Sichuan

Why Chengdu? It holds mighty strategic status in the Middle Kingdom era, but now? People seem to go to see the pandas, but what else? I really didn’t know it would be such a vibrant dragon city – mythical, powerful, monstrously alive while seeming to sleep.

I spent 4 days in Chengdu in November and, as always, I had a guided day tour to see the city highlights, a day out driving to a destination attraction, an evening foodie tour, then a day lounging like a local. Chengdu has a reputation as a laid-back place where locals know how to relax and sit for hours in tea houses.

My city tour started there, and I learned how to drink tea properly with two hands. People’s Park in the centre of Chengdu is the favorite for sipping and snacking, dancing and posing. I joined in. 😄

In People’s Park there is a corner where parents market and research suitable marriage partners for their children who are, I’m told, too busy to find their own spouse. We saw this in Shanghai too. Maybe it is everywhere in China? Not very creative, though.

We pass through Tianfu Square – the giant Central Square with its revolutionary images and iconic dragon. Me and Mao, as usual.

It’s a short distance to Kuanzhai Alley – Wide and Narrow Alley, a walking street of imposing Qing dynasty architecture.

enchanting shops

selling unique and precious items.. unlike the usual tourist stuff.

Very up-market and enticing, but I managed by purchasing urge, maybe because I was hungry?Naturally I had to have a traditional Sichuan hotpot lunch with my sweet guide Hayley – delicious and hot like dragons breath. The soup, not Hayley!

And then on to Jinli Ancient Street, a different, more relaxed tourist shopping experience, especially enchanting in the early evening. This is Qin dynasty architecture, less imposing stone. 

Food stalls everywhere!!! We lingered a bit, but we still had two more destinations.

Iconic Anshun Bridge represents the past splendour of Chengdu. It is an image often used to represent Chengdu, along with pandas.

Chengdu Tower represents the achievements and future promise of Chengdu.

Hayley and I were exhausted from our splendid day exploring the tourist heart of central Chengdu.

Traveling outside the city, tourists are encouraged to visit the panda conservation station. I declined, but I did drink the local Panda beer. 😁

I decided instead to take a private tour to the Leshan Giant Buddha, a long and interesting day trip.The Chengdu countryside is rolling and irrigated, with abundant fruit farms.

The Leshan Buddha is as impressive as I hoped. It can be accessed by climbing 2 million steps – or so it seemed to me.

I elected for the boat trip to see it from the water – naturally!

The Giant Buddha was built at the confluence of 3 rivers, rushing from the mountains of Western Sichuan, to protect the mariners for whom the rivers were the only highway to transport people and products.

Walking around Leshan, I was attracted to the images celebrating heritage and tradition.

And I was inspired to find room in my suitcase for this.

I couldn’t resist the temptation to add it to my Red Lantern teacups from Pingyao.It was a great day with my guide Bella and driver Sean.

On this drive I came to see how huge, prosperous, modern and expanding Chengdu – home to 23 million people.

Next morning, I set out to visit my neighborhood ancient attraction, the sprawling Wenshu Temple complex.

Peaceful and beautiful.

The usual feast of details that each tell a story.

My evening was an epic foodie tour with 3 bumpy tuktuks, 10 amusing fellow-travellers, our talented guide Lixan, and 5 amazing venues.

We ate street snacks, bowls of noodles, 6 kinds of dumplings, a traditional spicy Sichuan dinner – tuktuking between venues.

The most memorable was an impromptu restaurant inside a private apartment – in through the living room and out through a window in the back.

I highly recommend the Lost Plate Tours to see the treats only the locals can show you. This was my second, having enjoyed one in Xian, and I look forward to gathering all the other beer coolers.

So now I had a day to laze Chengdu-style. I found a teahouse where I sipped and watched passers-by, intrigued by the different bicycle sellers. In Chengdu, the food seems to come to you!And not just the food, the ear-cleaner passes by regularly and I worked up the courage. His implements were a little daunting!People said it was relaxing….So I relaxed and assembled my memorable collection of Chengdu images.

When I remember Chengdu, I will recall the local food specialties.Some of which I ate and some I didn’t.Fall in Chengdu was a little grey and gloomy, and I concluded that the city is impressive by day, but most beautiful at night.I stayed at the Lazybones Poshpacker Hotel and it was great – nice room, super staff, warm ambience, and superb location, set in an authentic community within minutes of major attractions.I had arrived on the sleeper train from Hefei, and I left on another sleeper train for Fenghuang – the Phoenix city that would complement the Chengdu Dragon.