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Readers Aeric L. and Allan S. have patiently waited for an uncharacteristically plodding Rapid Traveler to reply to their inquiry on his favorite sightseeing place in China: Chengdu. The ‘one-stop shop’ of China sightseeing, Chengdu provides a wonderful, diverse experience that outshines the Beiing-Xi’an-Shanghai triangle. Though few first-time visitors will give up seeing the Great Wall or the Terracotta Soldiers, Chengdu is a superb add-on to a long trip or as a second trip.
Chengdu is both energetic and relaxed. The highlight of the city itself are temple teahouses, such as at Wenshu Monastery. Even The Rapid Traveler has paused to pass some time (well, a few minutes) at these teahouses with their laser jets of hot water sprayed from ultra-long-stemmed pots. Some temples have opera performances. History buffs can inspect 4500-year old relics at the Jinsha Museum and the particularly interested can travel 40 km to see the site at the Sanxingdui Museum. And the famously spicy food can be enjoyed on nearly every street.
Most tourist leave China having never seen a panda. Naturalists with days to spare can try their luck at the Wolong Nature Reserve (a UNESCO World Heritage site) but chances of spotting a panda in the wild are slim. The next best thing is the Giant Panda Research Breeding Base, a half-hour taxi ride to the north of the city. Visitors can even pay to take a picture with a panda but should contemplate the size and power of panda claws and fangs before embracing their new friend. With an early start it is possible to continue northwest to Dujiangyan, 3rd-century BC hydro-engineering marvel, and Qingcheng Shan, Taoist Mountain (joint UNESCO site).
But these are overshadowed by the treasures to the south: Leshan and Emeishan (both UNESCO sites, notice the pattern). Leshan‘s 232 ft (71 m) Giant Buddha is a speedy two-hour bus ride from Chengdu. See the statue from all angles and consider a boat ride from the opposite (city) shore to round out the views, but make sure to find a full boat ready to depart.
Emei Shan is less than an hour from Leshan and has good hotels with hot springs in the village, while there are basic guesthouses at temples on the mountain. Days can be spent at sprawling Emei Shan, though the challenge level can be reduced with buses and chairlifts. Whatever route or sites are visited, make sure to encounter the aggressive monkeys in their hangouts. Leshan and Emei Shan can be packed into two days but three is more reasonable, especially with the four-hour bus back to Chengdu. The Rapid Traveler and friend once saw Chengdu, the pandas, Dujiangyan (but skipped Qingcheng Shan), Leshan and Emei Shan all in two days, but spent the next week at work recovering.
Beyond greater Chengdu, Sichuan province has boundless beauty, capped by Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong (separate UNESCO sites, but near to each other) which require short flights and a minimum of two days, but are extraordinarily beautiful. There is also bus service from Chengdu that victims will regret for a long time.
So, invest a few days in Chengdu and see a bushel of UNESCO sites and the best China has to offer.
Readers, what are your experiences in Chengdu?