Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, will become the fourth Chinese city after Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou to adopt a 72-hour visa-free policy. The policy, which will go into effect on Sept. 1, 2013, will allow transit passengers from 45 countries who have valid visas and a flight ticket to a third country to stay up to 72 hours in Chengdu and cities and counties under its administration.
With three days in Chengdu which is known as the hometown of the Giant Panda and hotpot, you can spend two days exploring local culture and food, and reserve one day for the pandas.
Day 1: Downtown pleasures
The moment you arrive in the city, you’ll be surrounded by teahouses. One of the best places to enjoy a cup of tea is People’s Park, where there is a traditional-style open-air teahouse called Heming Teahouse. Take it easy and follow the locals. Get seated in the bamboo chairs and start with a jasmine tea. Meantime, enjoy the tea-pouring show. Performers pour steaming water from a pot with a meter-long spout. Then just relax and chat, play cards, or join in the mahjong games.
The restaurant Dumpling Zhong is next to the teahouse, offering genuine Chengdu snacks. Order a set of special delicacies for around 30 yuan ($5), and you’ll have more than 10 dishes including dumplings, wonton soup, cold dishes and desserts.
The park is also home to a monument commemorating the events that triggered the 1911 Revolution that changed the country dramatically.
Jinsha Site Museum, located in western Chengdu, preserves one of the 21st century’s most significant archaeological discoveries on the original site. Among the gold articles, the “Gold Foil of Sun and Immortal Bird” and a “Golden Mask” are representative items, which date back about 3,000 years.
Then, head to Wide and Narrow Alleys for a walk, which are traces of old Chengdu. Once home to Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) Emperor Kangxi’s aristocratic soldiers from northern China, the alleys offer rare samples of northern courtyard houses found in southern areas. You’ll also find stores, bars, restaurants, teahouses and even hotels. Immerse yourself in the hot and spicy world at Damiao Hotpot, or treat your eyes and stomach with Chengdu-style architecture and dishes at Chengdu Impression. Both host lively and humorous Sichuan Opera shows. Watch closely! The actor’s made-up red face can change to a white one in the second he’s talking to you.
Day 2: Panda, panda
A visit to Chengdu is not complete without getting up close and personal with the pandas. As the habitat of the giant panda, Chengdu offers many chances to be up close and personal with these cute animals. Chengdu Zoo is one option, but many visitors prefer going to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, which is about 10 km from the city. There you can observe 121 pandas placed in different areas by age groups and every panda has a name. They play with toys or with each other. If you’re lucky to be there when there are newborn pandas, you can see the infants and how they are nursed.
Returning downtown after spending most of the day with pandas, you can jump into the city’s night life. Two sub-branches of the Minjiang River merge in the city’s southern part. Hejiang Pavilion overlooks the scene. Near the pavilion and alongside the river, the Chengdu version of Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong is a new landmark for the city’s young people and night owls. Order anything and take in the beautiful views and interesting people around you.
Eastern Suburb Memory is a music-themed park. Like Beijing’s 798 Art Zone, the park was formerly a factory that produced engines for aircraft and refrigerators. The industrial roar is long gone. The night is now filled with the sounds of music from the bars and stages.
Day 3: Suburban delights
The essence of touring Chengdu is actually in suburbs and their countryside attractions.
Option 1: Mount Qingcheng and the Dujiangyan Irrigation System
Mount Qingcheng, located about 70 km away from downtown, is one of the Taoist sacred mountains. Besides the cultural sites, the tall trees and clean brooks create a wonderful place for a hike in the fresh air.
The Dujiangyan Irrigation System, built around 2,200 years ago, is the only oldest extant grand water conservancy project featuring the method of drawing water without a dam in the world, and it still functions.
Option 2: If you prefer China Ancient Town, you can go to Luodai Ancient Town or Huanglongxi Ancient Town.
East of Chengdu’s downtown, Luodai Ancient Town is known for the spicy snacks and traces of former immigrants from other provinces. The most famous is a restaurant serving Tear-Drawing Bean/Rice Jelly. It’s so hot and spicy that you can’t hold back tears when eating it, but you can’t quit because it’s too delicious.
Huanglongxi Ancient Town is 40 km to the south of Chengdu. The town features ancient streets, trees, temples, ferry terminals, houses along its curving alleys, and simple and unsophisticated folk customs that have been passed on for generations, and has been the setting for a lot of kung fu movies. You can cruise along the river while enjoying a meal on a boat.
Or you can have a meal at a family inn in the countryside. Many families have turned their courtyard houses into inns. Every venue has its signature attractions, from specialty chicken dishes to picturesque fishing ponds, or simply beautiful natural scenes.