With a population of 10 million, Chengdu, meaning ‘Perfect Metropolis’, is Sichuan’s capital city. From here it is possible to visit the Giant Buddha of Leshan, the Giant Panda Research Station and Wolong Nature Reserve. As the dominant economic, educational and cultural centre of South-West China, Chengdu is experiencing rapid development and relative prosperity. However, it is still possible to glimpse the old ways of life – traditional wooden houses are still in abundance and there are numerous bustling backstreets crammed with artisans, markets and street-stalls to explore. Some fine examples of the spicy style of Sichuanese food can be found in the city.
Click on your destination of interest
Top things to do in Chengdu
See pandas at Chengdu research centre
The Giant Panda Research Base has been in operation since 1990. Pandas at the base live in large enclosures designed to resemble their natural habitat, which helps the visitor to understand how these animals live in the wild. The base is dedicated to the research, breeding and conservation of the giant panda, as well as keeping the public aware of the status of this endangered species, of which there are estimated to be just 700 to 1,000 left in the wild. Writings about the panda can be traced back 3,000 years, and they were once believed to have magical powers that could ward off evil spirits. In addition to the giant panda, visitors will also be able to see its smaller and more active cousin, the red panda.
See the Giant Buddha statue at Leshan
South of Chengdu, the small town of Leshan at the confluence of the Dadu and Min rivers is home to the incredible site of the Leshan Giant Buddha, carved into the riverside cliffs. It measures around 71 metres in height and is the largest Buddha in the world. Even its features are huge: the toes alone are 8 metres long while the ears are over 7 metres. The carving was begun in 713AD by a Buddhist monk called Haitong, and took 90 years to complete. The hope was that the Buddha would subdue the swift river currents and protect boatmen who used to vanish in a nearby hollow. The plan did work as the surplus rocks from the sculpting filled the hollow, although Haitong died before completion of his life's works.
The sacred mountain of Emei Shan
Emei Shan is one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China, whose slopes are covered with 76 temples and monasteries dating from the introduction of Buddhism to China. There are around 100 temples and other holy buildings with several thousand monks in attendance, including the impressive Wannian temple. A cable car is available to take walkers to the summit at Jin Ding (Golden Peak), and there are various trails on the mountain slopes to quiet, scenic spots away from the more visited areas.
Volunteer at Bifengxia panda research centre
The Bifengxia Giant Panda Base is set in 72 hectares of dense forest, and assists in raising, breeding and rescuing giant pandas. Among the 80 resident pandas, about 30 were relocated from Wolong National Nature Reserve, which was severely affected by an earthquake in 2008. Visitors can view the pandas behaving as they would in their natural environment, as the centre rehabituates the animals in simulated natural enclosures, preparing them to return and survive in the wild. There is also the opportunity to learn about these amazing mammals as well as having the chance to do some volunteer work, including preparing food for the pandas.
The latest from Compass - our online travel magazine
"Every moment was special, there were so many amazing events - walking along the Great Wall of China, looking down over the rice terraces in Longsheng, seeing the giant pandas in Chengdu, watching the shiplocks do their work on the Yangtze."