Article by XIANEASE
Anyone living in Xi’an who’s tried to take a quick sojourn to Chengdu might have caught a case of sticker shock when they saw the cost of the flight. A round-trip ticket from Xi’an to Chengdu has typically been as expensive as a round-trip flight from Xi’an to Bangkok, turning many dreams of a weekend getaway into a tragic case of “so close, yet so far.” Thankfully, that’s about to change.
This month we’ll be seeing the long-awaited opening of a high-speed train from Xi’an to Chengdu, which should do a lot to improve travel between the two cities. It might even have you considering a trip to see what’s going on in Sichuan. For those people, we consulted our staff, the Internet and Sai Gopalan, Xianease’s erstwhile fitness guru (who relocated to Chengdu from Xi’an earlier this year). We don’t promise that this will be an extensive guide, but, like always, it should be enough to inspire you or to help you start planning your trip.
THE TOURISTY STUFF
Giant Panda Breeding
Chengdu has many pandas. Pandas are the national treasure of China. You probably knew that; the city of Chengdu will never let you forget it. If you didn’t know, now you know.
No.1375 Xiongmao Avenue the Outside Northern Third Ring Road, Chenghua District, Chengdu.
The market at Jinli Street has been around since as early as the Qin Dynasty, when it was famous for its ornate cloths. It’s part of Chengdu’s old city and has endured as a place rife with traditional architecture, local snacks and crafts and more. A very popular destination, you can expect crowds here, especially on weekends. It’s also got all the trappings of your typical Chinese tourist trap, but if you’re an old hand at Xi’an’s Muslim District, you should have a good idea of what to expect (and therefore a good idea of how to avoid getting tourist trapped).
No.231 Wuhouci Street, Wuhou District, Chengdu.
Stick with us here for a second, because if you’re conjuring up the sights and sounds of Beijing or Shaanxi Opera, stop. Sichuan Opera is its own unique beast, sometimes described as something more akin to a cabaret than a stodgy opera. It’s most famous for two things: the first is fire-breathing; the second is “bian lian” (变脸), a type of illusion that involves changing the mask they wear, as if by magic. How to perform bian lian is a fiercely guarded secret, often passed down through family lineage, and you should definitely try to see it performed at least once. It’s big business for hotels and the like to try to arrange trips for their guests to see Sichuan Opera, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find a show if you’re interested.
No.132 Qintai Rd, Qintai District, Shu Feng Ya Yun Sichuan Opera Chengdu Culture Park.
WHERE TO EAT
This recommendation comes from our illustrious art editor, Jing, who says that Chengdu Chi Ke was a highlight of her visit. This unpretentious restaurant specializes in the local Sichuan cuisine and is always mobbed by locals for lunch and dinner.
No.10 Kuixinglou St, Qingyang District, Chengdu.
BIG DRAGON YI HOT POT
If you’re any good at reading Chinese, you’ll notice that there are not one but five characters for “fire” in this restaurant’s name (just in case you forgot that Sichuan food brings the spicy heat, I guess). Hot pot may be native to Chongqing but it’s ubiquitous in Chengdu, where you’ll enjoy more authentic variations of a food you’ve perhaps only tried in meaty, salty, sour Shaanxi. People seek out Big Dragon Yi for their famously spicy and delicious hot pots, so you’ll likely be breathing not one but five fires after a visit.
No.166 Xia Dong Da Jie Duan, Jinjiang District, Chengdu.
MIKE’S PIZZA KITCHEN
Since it’s an almost certainty that some of you reading this are the kind who say “bu yao la zi” every time you order food (wusses), Mike’s Pizza Kitchen is American food all the way and should be lighter on the spice. There’s also an assortment of sandwiches, pastas and other western fare should you not feel like a pizza, but if you’ve had enough Sichuan food and are looking for something more along the lines of comfort food, this is the spot.
No.4 Tongzilin Rd, Wuhou District, Chengdu.
WHERE TO Drink
Shamrock Irish Bar & Restaurant
If you’ve been missing the “sports bar” vibe, this Irish pub should deliver in spades. The Shamrock is known for having a few drinkable beers and some good pub food, but everyone is very quick to mention that just about any major sporting event can be watched on their TVs. Sources also claim that the Shamrock is or was a sort of hub for Chengdu’s expat community, so if you’re looking for a place where you could meet up with some local laowai and get your bearings, this probably wouldn’t be a bad option.
No.17 Renmin South Rd 4th Section, MeiLingShiGuan MeiShi Qu, Wuhou District, Chengdu.
This place is apparently really hot with the younger crowd, a true-to-life party bar where locals and expats meet for affordable libations and a night of dancing like no one is watching. Trip Advisor’s got only a few ratings for this place but they’re uniformly glowing and, during a conversation about this article, Sai spoke at length about all the nights of fun (and perhaps debauchery) that could be had there.
No.143 Kehua N Rd, JiuYan Qiao, Wuhou District, Chengdu.
THE BEER NEST
With more than 50 imported beers on offer, alongside a few of their own brews, the Beer Nest should satisfy any hop head who needs a fix. They’ve got specials most nights, usually a happy hour at the least and something like Ladies’ Night or German Beer Night. If you’re getting dragged there by a beer lover, there are alternatives if you don’t feel like getting sudsy.
No.34 Jinxiu Rd, just down the street from the United States Consulate.