Chengdu Pictures Guide, China

Chengdu's Tianfu square, Sichuan, China

Chengdu’s Tianfu square. Photo by Fangoufang.

Visit Chengdu

The main home of giant pandas, the city of Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan province, about 1, 828 kms southwest of Beijing by road. It’s known as ‘the land of abundance’ or ‘the land of milk and honey’ due to its fertile terrain but is also land of authentic spicy Chuan/Sichuan cuisine.

The large modern city of Chengdu is not an attractive place with dull weather much of the year, heavy traffic, over-population and distressing levels of air pollution.
But this historic region is one of the most important Taoist (Daoist) centres in China, particularly sacred Mount Qingcheng and its eleven mountain temples near Duliangyan City, 70km northwest of Chengdu.

Sichuan also contains another of China’s most sacred mountains, Mount Emei, southwest of the city and another World Heritage site. Mount Emei Scenic Area includes China’s first Buddhist temple on the summit among over 30 temples on the mountain, as well as Leshan’s Giant Buddha, a must-do expedition from Chengdu.

As primary gateway to Tibet and the Himalayas, the city is an ideal place to get necessary permits and prepare for your trip, but it is also a convenient staging point for traveling nearby to Chongqing for a Yangtze River Cruise, southwest to Kunming/Yunnan for landscapes and culture or northeast to Xi’an for the Terracotta Army and other Tang Dynasty sights.

The magnificent Eight Trigrams Pavilion in the Qingyang Palace grounds, Sichuan, China

The magnificent Eight Trigrams Pavilion in the Qingyang Palace grounds. Photo by Jim.

Chengdu things to do

Panda Breeding and Research Centre (also known simply as Panda Base)

• One of China’s oldest and largest Taoist temples, Quingyan Taoist Temple/Palace (Green Goat Temple)

• Three Buddhist Monasteries of Wenshu, Chengdu and Baoguang.

• Du Fu Poet’s Cottage and Garden

• Wuhou Memorial Temple

Panda Breeding and Research Centre

A giant panda eating bamboo, Chengdu, China

A giant panda (aka panda bear), one of the stars of Chengdu, munching bamboos all day long at the Panda Breeding and Research Centre (Xiongmao Jidi) about 18 km north of the city. Photo by Jim.

Visiting the reserve and seeing endangered giant pandas up close is Chengdu’s top attraction, and one of the most popular in China.

Although it’s more like a zoo than a wild forest, it is a spacious and well managed centre and easy to get to from the city centre (40 mins by the road).

If you visit in autumn or early winter, you may have a chance of seeing babies as March to May is mating season and mothers gestate for about 6 months.

Go early in the morning, especially around feeding time (9: 30am) when the animals are most active. They tend to sleep after the meal in the afternoon, particularly during summer.

Quing Yan Gong (Quingyan Palace Taoist Temple)

A Qing Yang Gong Pavilion, Chengdu, Sichuan, China

A Qing Yang Gong Pavilion, built without screws. Photo by Jim.

The Qingyang Palace, still an active temple, is the oldest and largest of Taoist temple in southwest China, situated along the Jinjiang River 3km west of the city centre.

Qingyang means Green Goat (or possibly Black Goat or Ram), a name derived from a pair of black bronze goat sculptures in Sanqing Hall, the palace’s most important building.
One of the goats – with a single horn – is in fact a mythical creature that contains the features of all 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac.

The palace houses many priceless Taoist relics but by far the most important and valuable one is the wooden engraving of the Dao Zang Ji Yao, the collected Taoist scriptures.

Although the buildings, the statues inside and the grounds are clearly not exactly ancient, it’s a peaceful place to spend a couple hours. A teahouse and a vegetarian restaurant can be found within the grounds. Qingyang is a 45 minute walk from Chengdu centre or take buses No. 11, 27 and 45, or a cheap taxi ride.

the Qingyang 'Green' Goat, though something has been lost in translation, Chengdu, Sichuan, China

And there’s the Qingyang ‘Green’ Goat, which represents an attendant of the mythical and heavenly Green Emperor. Photo by Shizhao.

Whatever color it is, it is definitely not your average goat, something leonine and majestic about it? Visitors seem to agree judging by the amount of rubbing and fondling that has been going on for years. Personally I can’t see 12 animals morphed into this one but then I’m not Chinese.
I don’t want to carp, Mr Shizhao, but next time could you focus on the subject? Or perhaps the cheerful dude in the background is your Dad and it’s a clever portrait?

Further information: The hall is guarded by two bronze goats. The left one (above) is definitely odd. It looks like a goat at first, but is in fact a construct of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals comprising ear of rat, ox snout, tiger claw, rabbit back, dragon horn, snake tail, horse mouth, goat beard, monkey neck, corn eyes, dog belly, pig butt and so on. According to legend, the goats are the incarnation of the attendant of Green Emperor (one of five emperors of heaven in Chinese mythology). The goats can eliminate your sickness if you touch the place corresponding to your pain.

Du Fu Caotang Museum and Park

The Du Fu Thatched Cottage, a museum and park, Chengdu, Sichuan, China

The Du Fu Thatched Cottage, a museum and park built to honour Du Fu, a famous poet during the Tang Dynasty. Photo by Jim.

Even if you are not a poet yourself, walking around the peaceful garden makes you wonder if you had gone back in time. Du Fu lived in the cottage for four years in 8th century and wrote more than 200 poems there.

Wenshuyuan (Wenshu Monastery)

Cangjing Tower in the Wenshu Monastery, one of the top sights in Chengdu, Sichuan, China

Cangjing Tower in the Wenshu Monastery, one of the top sights in Chengdu. Photo by Jason Zou.

The home of Sichuan’s Buddhist Association, Wenshu Monastery is the largest, best preserved and the most important Buddhist temple in the province. The temple faces south with five complexes of buildings, Tianwang Hall, Daxiong Hall, Sandashi Hall, Shuofa Hall and Cangjing Tower.

The highlights of the monastery are cultural relics and treasures including the Huayan Scripture written in human blood; the Diamond Sutra; the cranial bones of Master Xuan Zang of the Tang Dynasty. It also houses around 300 Buddha statures made of different materials.

With its thick air of perfumed incense and quiet chanting of prayers the monastery gives you a sense of serenity. The 19th day of the second lunar month is a big day (look it up if it matters to you! ) when the monastery celebrates the birthday of Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy.

The Temple also enjoys a great reputation for its vegetarian food, teahouse and old neighbourhood filled with food stalls and shops, always popular with both visitors and locals. Sadly recent renovations to the surrounding area has made the entire neighbourhood a massive souvenir shop. Take Metro No. 1 to get there.

Wuhou Memorial Temple and Jinli Ancient Street

Wuhou Memorial Temple in a southern suburb of Chengdu, Sichuan, China.

Wuhou Memorial Temple in a southern suburb of Chengdu, a Tibetan community. Photo by Jim.

Wuhou Temple, known as the Temple of Marquis Wu, was built to honour Zhuge Liang, one of China’s well-known historic figures who was a minister and military strategist for the first emperor of the Shu Kingdom. It is just west of Jinli Gujie (Jin Li Pedestrian Street), another must-visit place in the old part of the city.

Jinli Street is all about atmospheric ancient alleyways, rebuilt as they once were and filled with teahouses, food stalls and souvenir shops, great for dining and particularly lively in the evening. It is fun but a tourist trap. A similar street is Wide and Narrow Street (Kuan Zhai Xiangzi) northwest of People’s Park.

Sichuan Food

There is no shortage of restaurants offering fine, authentic Sichuan food in Chengdu. Most local food is spicy hot so make sure to ask for non-spicy or less-spicy if you are not accustomed the intense hit of chili peppers.

The spiciest dish in the area is hotpot (steampot), a large pot of spicy soup with meats and vegetables, though the soup is not for drinking. The city also offers some good western cuisine as well as other asian dishes such as Japanese.

Nightlife

Chengdu has a lively nightlife scene, especially the southern part where many young people live. Another fun way to spend time in Chengdu is to watch a Sichuan Opera show known as face changing opera, which is traditional, musical, vivid and acrobatic!

Getting In and Around

Chengdu has an international airport 20 km west of the city centre, Shuangliu International Airport, with flights to/from most of China’s main cities as well as cities in Sichuan and international direct flights from London, Amsterdam, San Francisco and Tokyo.
To get to the city from the airport, bus No. 1 is the most direct.

As a major city and the largest railway hub in southwest China, inter-city train connections and long-distance bus networks are both excellent with reasonably priced (except for the bullet trains which are high calibre).

You can get around almost anywhere in the city by local bus if you get a grip on system. Before getting out into the city, look at a map! At least stops are written in both Chinese and English!

Although the destinations are limited, the Metro (subway/tube) is also a convenient. Currently there are two lines across the city meeting at Tianfu Sq. Line 1 runs north and south. Line 2 runs east and west. Further Lines 3, 4 and 7 are under construction and will be completed in 2015 .

The easiest way to get around Chengdu is probably by taxi which is inexpensive.

Best seasons in Chengdu

The best time to visit Chengdu and Sichuan is spring and autumn, March to April, mid-October to November.
OK in May (though some wind and dust is possible, pollution too).

Time to avoid: December, January (very cold); July, August (hot, humid and even more crowded), 1st weeks of May and October (Chinese holidays so attractions are very crowded) and the Chinese New Year (sometime January/February).

Note that blue skies are rare and a bleached haze – or grey pollution – will be the default view.

Outside Chengdu but not far

Leshan Giant Buddha

Leshan Giant Buddha, Sichuan, China

The Giant Buddha Statue carved on the Xiluo Peak of Mount Lingyun in the early 8th century. Photo by Bernt Rostad.

Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area covers 25 square km, encompassing the world’s largest rock-carved Buddha (8th century, 71m high) and overlooking the confluence of three rivers, Min, Qingyi and Dadu.

Mt Emei

The Golden Buddha on the Golden Summit on Mount Emei, Sichuan, China

The Golden Buddha on the Golden Summit, 3079m above sea level on divine Emeishan (Mount Emei). At a height of 48 m this is the highest golden Buddha in the world. Photo by Staceynyx.

This magnificent mountain used to house more than 100 Buddhist temples and monasteries (currently down to about 30), and is one of China’s most sacred places and one of The Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China.

Highlights of the mountain are the Golden Summit with a multi-faced Buddha statue (Samantabhadra, photo above) and the Wannian Monastery with a statue of Puxian Bodhisattva riding a white elephant with six-tasks.

The most scenic area is arguably between Niuxin Pavilion and Xianfeng Temple, known as Magic Peak Monastery.

Hiking to the top is one of main attractions here, though it takes 2 days and is very challenging and steep in some parts.

Most monasteries offer accommodation which is an ideal option but guest houses along the route are also available.

For non-hikers take the bus from Baoquo Temple up to Leidong Ping (2, 430m) for 2 hours, then take a cable car to the Golden Summit. If you wish to walk a bit, this part climb to the summit takes 2-3 hours.

Together with nearby Leshan’s Giant Buddha, Mount Emei scenic area is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

It’s 150 km south of Chengdu, 2 hours by train, or an overnight train from Kunming. 28 km from Leshan city, one hour by bus.

Dujiangyan Scenic Area (Mount Qingcheng and irrigation system)

The entrance gate to Mount Qingcheng, Duliangyan, Sichuan, China

The entrance gate to Mount Qingcheng. Photo by jetsun.

Mount Qingcheng is near Duliangyan City, 70km northwest of Chengdu, another very significant place in Chinese Taoism.

1, 600 m above sea level, this lush green mountain area houses numerous temples including Fujian Temple, Sanqing Hall, Shizu Hall, Tianshi Cave and Laojan Pavilion on the summit.

One of the highlights of Mount Qingcheng is the nearby Dujiangyan Irrigation Project, a 2, 500-year-old water conservation system. Dujiangyan Project is the oldest and only surviving non-dam irrigation system in the world. The best view of the Project is from the spectacular Anlan Cable (suspension) Bridge crossing Minjiang River.