Xi'an has its Terracotta Warriors; Chengdu has its pandas. Each city offers much more, of course, but a visit to Chengdu without a stop at its Panda Breeding Research Center would be almost criminal. Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan, perhaps one of the best-known provinces of China, largely because of its fiery regional cuisine.
The city dates back over 3,000 years and has matured into a mellow (hot cuisine aside!), charming urban center whose pace and energy is quite different from that found in Beijing and Shanghai. One of Chengdu's "firsts" is paper money; it's here where its use first became commonplace, around AD 960.
With over 3 million residents - almost 10 million in the metropolitan area - Chengdu is a big city with its share of shopping malls, high-rises...and traffic jams. Still, just a step around a corner often opens to a lush, serene park with the almost obligatory teahouse! The city's official tree is the Gingko; its official flower is the Hibiscus. You'll see plenty of these, too!
Major Attractions of Chengdu include:
Panda Breeding Research Center: Despite efforts to protect them, Pandas remain endangered, their numbers hovering around an estimated 1,600 in the wild. Their chief threat is not poaching – now punishable by life imprisonment or public execution – but loss of habitat. Bamboo forests, the source of 95% of a panda's diet, are diminishing. In the wild, pandas are reclusive and a sighting is rare, but here at the center, you're guaranteed a look at them as they munch a meal. And your Let's Travel China tour takes you here in the morning, during feeding time when the pandas are most active.
Du Fu's Thatched Cottage: During the Tang Dynasty, art, literature and music flourished. Of special note were the Tang Dynasty Poets, who were revered then, as they are today. One of the most famous, Du Fu, lived in Chengdu for five years. His home, a simple thatched cottage, is a well-visited attraction in town.
Chengdu Teahouses: Even in China - a nation of serious tea drinkers - Chengdu's teahouses are acclaimed. The city has thousands of them. Once the province of men conducting informal business gatherings, Chengdu's teahouses now cater to just about everyone, and run the gamut from almost impossibly small hideouts to elaborate, parkside settings with Chinese opera performances. (Source: letstravelchina.com)
(China.org.cn October 21, 2007)