I was in Chengdu, China, this week and was fortunate enough to have 3 hours before my flight out to take in some of the city’s sights. I was also lucky as the weather was nice (above 20c) and, so say the locals, uncommonly sunny (Chengdu sits in the middle of a huge plain, locked in on all sides by mountains, resulting in a permanent cloud cover).
Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province in China, the fourth largest city in China (population: 14 million). I found it to be cleaner and prettier than Beijing or Shanghai, and the people seemed more friendly and less in a hurry to get somewhere. Drivers still honk their horns all the time, but they are more prone to respecting a red light and smile more readily than Beijing or Shanghai drivers.
For dinner I joined my colleagues at a local, apparently famous, hot pot restaurant. Not my cup of tea (for obvious reasons), but an experience all the same. A local explained to me what the various dishes were. The clotted duck blood was definitely the highlight of the evening!
My hotel was located within a walking distance of the heart of the city: Tianfu Square. So before going to bed I took a short walk around the area. The square is surrounded by tall office buildings, all brightly lit up and housing top brand stores. To the north lies the Science & Technology Museum, an imposing building that dominates the square. Yes, that’s Mao waiving to the masses…
The Wenshu Monastery was my first stop. It is a huge Buddhist temple, or rather a series of temples, open to the public. It is dated back to the 7th or 8th century. The place was teeming with worshippers, some local but also many that were obviously tourists (from China). The air is infused with incense and monks walk around busily, hurrying from building to building. A couple of them took some time off to practice their badminton skills before sitting down to rest.
From there I took the subway again, southwards, to the JinLi area. I got off at the nearest stop (Huaxiba), and instead of taking a taxi (5 minutes) I decided to walk. It was late morning and the streets were crammed with people, especially around the local hospital area. Felt like China.
First I visited the Wuhou Shrine. Admittance is 60RMB (about $10). It is basically a closed park with buildings and temples interspersed around beautiful gardens. It dates back to the 3rd century, erected in honour of the local Prime Minister, during the Three Kingdoms period. Many people seemed to enjoy the day off in the park, snacking on local food or simply taking a nap under some tree.
The nearby Old JinLi Street is a classic tourist trap. The street used to be the main commercial area in old times, and was renovated to preserve the architecture of old Sichuan. It is now lined with shops and stores, tea houses, artists of various kinds – and bustling with tourists taking in the local scene and sampling the local dishes. This being China, though, it is a relatively cheap tourist trap. I paid only a few cents for a bottle of water.
That’s all I managed in the little time I had. I will add that Chengdu’s main tourist attraction is the Panda breeding center just outside town. Everyone I talked to urged me to “go see the Pandas”. Frankly, I don’t see the point of looking at bears, even if they happen to be black/white instead of brown… Maybe next time.