Ah Chengdu – now this was a place that really surprised us. After our incredible overland journey from Shangri La through the Tibetan Kham province, we really weren’t looking forward to getting to a big city. We had visions of crazy traffic, heavy pollution and relentless crowds. Instead we found Chengdu to be a relaxed destination with a hip and fun vibe. It was quite clean (by Chinese standards) and not too bad to get around. We spent three days in Chengdu and honestly, we would have happily spent an extra few days hanging out. But if like us you are on a tight schedule when you are in the city, here are some of the best things to do with only three days in Chengdu!
Day 1 – Research Base Of Giant Panda Breeding
It would almost be criminal to come all the way to Chengdu and not see those black and white bundles of cuteness. Indeed, the panda bears usually are the main reason people visit this modern city in Central China. Even if you aren’t the type of person to buckle at the knees at adorable, cuddly creatures, you still need to go visit the pandas. Even if you hate zoos, you still need to go. No arguing.
We suggest waking up early and aiming to be at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding for when it opens at 8am. Not only will you beat the majority of the crowds, but also this is when they feed the pandas. During the day they tend to sit around and scratch themselves, those damn cute bastards, but when it is feeding time they are full of energy. We arrived just as the gates open and sprinted to the enclosures like crazed Justin Bieber fans (don’t laugh, you will too). Our timing was perfect, as the pandas spent the next hour munching on bamboo, wrestling with each other and climbing trees (then falling off of them). We had managed to visit a good part of the centre before the stampede of camera happy domestic tourists showed up, so it almost felt like we had the pandas all to ourselves.
We stayed at the centre until about 2pm, watching the bears drift off to sleep and then checking out some of the documentary movies and the museum that is also included in your entry price. After that we (reluctantly) jumped on a bus and headed back into Chengdu for some spicy Sichuan food and cold beer. A nice solid day out.
Panda Breeding Research Centre
- Opening Hours: 0800-1700
- Cost: 58 RMB
Day 2 – Walk Around Chengdu City
For a city of 14 million people, Chengdu is surprisingly civilised, organised and clean. Normally we shy away from cities, but walking around Chengdu turned out to be a pleasant and enjoyable experience.
From wherever you are staying, make your way to visit Chairman Mao’s Statue as he keeps watch over the adjoined square. Take the obligatory selfies with Uncle Mao, and then move onto the massive People’s Park.
You can easily spend a couple of hours wandering around the People’s Park, watching the locals practice Tai Chi and harmoniously serenade each other with ear-splitting renditions of top 40 Chinese love songs. Don’t worry – If you think you hear a pack of spider monkeys being slaughtered with circular saws, it is just Chinese karaoke. There are plenty of tea houses scattered throughout the park as well, so pull up a chair, order a pot of your favourite jasmine-scented hibiscus tea and do as the locals do – talk very loudly.
When you have finished with the People’s Park, there are quite a few temples to enjoy. The Qingyang Temple is next to a lovely Park and is worth a portion of your time. Actually, the park itself also deserves at least a wander through, so do that as well while you are in the neighbourhood.
The Wenshu Temple was another top attraction in Chengdu and we spent quite a while savouring the quiet corners of the grounds. The cost is supposedly 5RMB, but no one ever stopped us to pay.
Day 3 – Leshan And The Grand Buddha
On day 3 head to the Xinnanmen bus station and on to Leshan, home to the world’s largest stone Buddha. It will take about 2 hours to get to Leshan, depending on traffic, so leave early. Once you get there jump on bus number 13 and take it right to the gate of the Grand Buddha (this will take 30 minutes at least).
The grounds for the Grand Buddha are massive and quite beautiful to walk around, even with the thousands of flag-following tourists stumbling in front of all of your photos. What you are definitely going to want to do is walk down the steps to the Grand Buddha’s feet so you can stare up at the 71 metre tall peaceful sculpture. Unless you are like us and timed your trip on a Sunday and there is a 3 hour wait to get to the bottom. In that case, you might decide standing in line for three hours sounds horrible and you will skip it. Shame.
You can easily spend at least half a day wandering around to the little pagodas. Don’t miss the temple over the bridge, with its hundreds of slightly spooky looking statues.
You can take a boat trip along the river to get a great view of the Buddha from the water, but we skipped this. Another thing we have heard is you can take a bus and walk to the shores across from the Giant Buddha and enjoy the view for free. Worth doing if you have the time.
Once you’ve ticked off this must see attraction in Leshan, time to head back to Chengdu for some more spicy food and cold beer! The last bus leaves about 8.30pm, but this could change. Check when you get off the bus to avoid being stranded.
Note – We actually really liked the look and feel of Leshan, and if we our visas weren’t about to expire, we would have happily stayed in Leshan for a night or two. Perhaps consider this when making your plans for Chengdu and the surrounding areas. Add in a climb of Mount Emei, which is also meant to be awesome.
Where To Stay In Chengdu – Mix Hostel
We stayed in Mix Hostel, and were absolutely stoked with the place! Awesome staff, decent location, cheap beer and delicious food all made this what we would consider to be one of the best hostels in Chengdu.
Want to book a room at Mix Hostel? Book here with Hostel World.
It had a great social atmosphere as well, making it ideal to meet other travellers and exchange information. On Friday nights they do a free hotpot dinner and they can organise all kinds of tours from the desk there, including some to Tibet. If we come back to Chengdu we will definitely stay here again.
- Dorm Bed – 35-45 RMB
- Twin Room With Shared Bathroom No A/C – 98 RMB
- Twin Room With Shared Bathroom And A/C – 108 RMB
A hostel not your style? No worries! Check out the hotels on Agoda.com
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