Asia

Best Things to Do in Chengdu, China (PANDAS!)

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Why Chengdu? Besides the fact that we scored a housesit there, we were pretty much sold on one other fact alone: pandas!

I’d recommend Chengdu as an excellent place to visit if you really want to get out of the tourist areas in China (Beijing, Hong Kong, etc.) and want to see some real China.

Here’s the best things to do in Chengdu if you are planning a visit as well as some travel tips.

Things to Do in Chengdu:

The city itself is a mix of old and new, and new trying to look old. Get in one of those little green taxis, and do some exploring!

Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding

Think: An entire zoo, but only with pandas! The red pandas are super cool too. They look like a mix between a fox and a raccoon, and they can climb up and down trees likes squirrels. Weird to think they are from the same family as the giant panda.

Things to Do in Chengdu

Baby pandas are definitely the cutest. They are so clumsy.

We dumbfoundedly watched one baby panda try to climb up a ladder, only for it to wrap around the ladder, fall to the ground, try a few more times, and never actually make it up the ladder. We were crying, laughing so hard.

Tip: Get to the Panda Research Base around 8am as soon as they open. The pandas will be awake, eating, climbing, and wrestling at this hour. If you wait until the afternoon to go, the pandas might all be sleeping. They do that a lot, you know.

Opera House with face mask changing

We went to the Shufeng Sichuan Opera House, and it was fantastic.

The traditional Opera House show has a few acts to it; a puppet show, a comedy act, a professional shadow puppeteer, a small play, and a few guys that change masks so quickly you don’t understand how they do it.

It looks like they are waving their hand over their face at lightning speed, and then all of the sudden they have a different face! Truly extraordinary.

Opera House Face Mask Changing

As a head’s up, the show is all in Chinese, so you won’t really understand what they’re saying, but it’s a very authentic experience and still extremely enjoyable.

Things to Do in Chengdu

Tip: We got all dressed up, thinking we were going to “the opera” but it’s actually outside under a covered tent. So, if you go, dress casual.

At the opera house they offer Sichuan noodles and beer, both worth trying. More on that in a sec.

Chengdu China

Tip: At the Shufeng Sichuan Opera House, you buy the tickets on one side of the street at the box office, and then have to walk to the other side of the street through this weird gate to where the opera actually is. Buy your tickets, and then wait for someone else to buy their tickets, and then follow those people to where you need to go.

Ear Cleaning at the Opera House

People’s Park

Come here to sip tea in the Hemin Teahouse, relax, and try all the snack delicacies offered, like egg crepes.

Egg Crepes at People's Park in Chengdu China

It was in People’s Park that we witnessed our first professional ear cleaning. Literally, a guy walks up to people and asks if they want a cleaning, and then it looks like he sticks these different pipe-cleaner-like tools in people’s ear.

We held our breath while we watched.

Then later, Colton got one.

Kuan Alley and Zhai Alley (also known as Wide and Narrow Alley) 

Really cool place to walk around. They have narrow roads and wide roads, and it’s a cool place to try different foods, and do some shopping.

It’s kind of the upscale place to hang.

Like most places in China, brace yourself for the crowds.

Chengdu, China

Jinli Ancient Street

Best at night. We were lucky enough to explore Jinli on Chinese New Year.

It was jam-packed with people and decorated from the ground up with probably 100 huge air-filled floats in the streets and in the ponds. Red Chinese lanterns everywhere.

We had some of the best Chinese street food here in the food court area.

Jinli Street Chengdu

Jinli Ancient Street

Sichuan Museum

A few floors of China’s full history.

Sichuan Museum in Chengdu China

Where & What to Eat in Chengdu

Enjoy hot pot and Sichuan noodles.

You have to try Sichuan food in Chengdu, as it originated there, and accordingly is all the rage. Sichuan food has a kind of pepper in it that makes your whole mouth go numb when you eat it.

Swear to god.

It’s a different kind of “spicy” … Think: Novocain in food-form.

Sichuan Hot Pot

With hot pot, there is a hot boiling bowl of different oils with Sichuan peppers right in front of you in the middle of the table, which you dip raw food into.

I would highly recommend BaShu Da ZhaiMen Hotpot (Ke HuaJie). You might have to wait outside for a half hour, but it’s worth it. You can go grab a drink across the street while you wait.

Then, when you do get in … Get ready for an explosion to take hold inside your mouth! My mouth is still on fire after hanging out in Chengdu.

When it comes to Sichuan food and hot pot, you’re either going to love it or hate it. But you absolutely must try it.

Other foods worth trying:

  • Egg crepes. These things are absolutely delicious. Eat them! Find them at People’s Park.
  • Rice balls. They kind of look like donut holes from Dunkin’ Donuts. Not quite the same, but still worth trying. Find them on any street.Streetfood in Chengdu China
  • Chengdu-style Bing. Like steam griddled sandwiches with the Sichuan peppers. Yum. Find them at Jinli.Bing in Jinli

The street food is way better than any of the restaurant food — not including hot pot. As a head’s up, if you order chicken anywhere, it’s still going to have all the weird parts in it.

Getting Around

They do have a subway system. If you can read Chinese characters, go for it, as it is the cheapest option.

Since we could not read Chinese characters, and were there for a short time, we took taxis everywhere. They are pretty inexpensive. A forty minute ride for us was around $8.

However, be prepared!

The Chinese taxi drivers don’t always want to drive you where you want to go. Typically, we were rejected a couple times before we’d convince a taxi driver to take us where we needed.

Although pretty much everyone we met from China was super friendly, the taxi drivers are not. But I think taxi drives in all countries are crabby.

In Chengdu, practically nobody speaks english or reads Chinese in English, which leads me to my biggest tip for you…

Have screenshots on your phone in Chinese characters of all the places you want to go to show the taxi drivers.

Also have screenshots of the addresses to these places in Chinese letters.

We had a little “taxi book” that our house owners gave to us, which we used every time we went out. It has all the popular places to go in English and in Chinese, so you can show your driver where you want to go.

Here is one available on iTunes.

I’m sure you’ve heard it before but, Google and Facebook don’t work in China… So you can’t rely on Google Maps.

Tip: Even if you can get on Google through a VPN, like we did, the “Google Maps” feature doesn’t sync up like it should, and it will lead you to places you don’t want to go. You’re better off using the “Maps” app that comes with your iPhone.

Always in search of worldly knowledge and broader understandings, Kaitlyn has been freelancing while traveling since 2015. She's passionate about digital content, being environmentally friendly, and surfing. 16+ countries and counting.