We were impressed with Chengdu the moment we stepped off the train. It was by far the cleanest, friendliest and least chaotic city we’d visited since arriving in China. The cab ride from the train station to our hostel was even somewhat relaxing and I don’t think we swerved into oncoming traffic once.

Our stay was quite short, just three full days after an afternoon of relaxing and refueling upon arrival, but we enjoyed a variety of sights during that time and I wouldn’t mind a return visit sometime to explore more. Here’s a few of the things we got up to while visiting Chengdu.

Chengdu Researh Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Leshan Giant Buddha, Chengdu, Visit Chengdu, China, tourism, travel, backpacking, traveling in China,

Day 1- Pandas!

After years of stalking them through popular online webcams, Britnee finally got to meet her favorite pandas at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, and they didn’t disappoint. The facility was 24 miles from where we stayed at the Hello Chengdu International Youth Hostel, and while I’m sure one can make the trip via bus or taxi, we opted for the tour provided by our hosts for a price of 88 CNY per person. This included POV transport, (like a F1 driving through the city even though we were in no apparent rush), entrance fee at the park, an “English-speaking guide”– although we heard few words the whole time, and a souvenir keychain.

Chengdu Researh Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Leshan Giant Buddha, Chengdu, Visit Chengdu, China, tourism, travel, backpacking, traveling in China,

While the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is more of a panda reserve and breeding/research facility, it still had a zoo-like feel. We moved from one spacious enclosure to the next where we joined the crowds of other camera-weilding tourists, all marveling at these beautiful creatures. Meanwhile the pandas ignored us while lounging around and stuffing endless amounts of trimmed bamboo into their faces. It was amazing.

Chengdu Researh Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Leshan Giant Buddha, Chengdu, Visit Chengdu, China, tourism, travel, backpacking, traveling in China,

There are pandas of all ages and sizes there, but to see the smallest and youngest of them one would need to visit the reserve between February and April. There was also a large area dedicated to raccoon-like red pandas and a panda hospital, where we watched vets treat a sedated panda on an operating table of sorts.

Our tour only lasted three hours, mostly during the feeding time when the animals were eating massive amounts of food. The only other action we saw was some youngsters climbing and nearly getting stuck in trees, much to the crowd’s enjoyment. It might get repetitive looking at one specimen after the other, but I could have done with at least an extra hour or two at the reserve and taken a more leisurely pace than our tour guide did. It’s not everyday one gets to admire such rare creatures so close.

Chengdu Researh Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Leshan Giant Buddha, Chengdu, Visit Chengdu, China, tourism, travel, backpacking, traveling in China,

Day 2- Leshan Giant Buddha

It’s one of those things that just leaps off the page of your guide book as a must-see destination, months before you even depart for vacation. We first learned about the Leshan Giant Buddha in our Eyewitness Travel Guide: China book last year and came face-to-face with the awesome sight on our second day in Chengdu.

Getting there took an additional few hours on three different buses, but it certainly was worth the journey. From the Hello Chengdu International Youth Hostel we took the eastbound No. 28 city bus, (2 CNY each), to the Xinnanmen Terminal where we purchased tickets for Leshan, (47 CNY each). That ride was on a direct line and took two hours, which was long enough, but the day before we had talked to some fellow tourists at our hostel who had been stuck on the non-direct bus that made more stops along the way and took far longer. Upon our arrival in Leshan we went into the station and bought our return ticket to Chengdu at 6 p.m. for the same price before catching the No. 13 Leshan city bus to the Giant Buddha, (1 CNY each).

Chengdu Researh Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Leshan Giant Buddha, Chengdu, Visit Chengdu, China, tourism, travel, backpacking, traveling in China,

Entrance through the north gate was 90 CNY each which, I was told, was cheaper than the east gate but didn’t include access to some other temples on site. From there it was a short walk up to the main attraction and the masses of tourists admiring it. If I could give one piece of advice it would be this- try to visit the Leshan Giant Buddha on a weekday, not Saturday. I could be wrong, but it seemed like we picked the busiest day of the week, to visit and paid for it with a long, sweaty, frustrating wait in line to shuffle down the Grand Buddha Cliff Road.

This walk carried us down 217 steep steps, past many other smaller carvings in the rock, to the foot of the Buddha where we stared up in wonder at this massive monument. Meanwhile, more sensible tourists avoided the crush and took in the view from boat rides on the river below, (for a price I’m sure). At 233 feet tall, this is the largest stone Buddha in the world and the tallest pre-modern statue in the world. It was built in 713 by a Chinese monk in an attempt to calm the turbulent waters of the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers, which it towers above.

Glad that we purchased our return tickets upon arrival in Leshan, our journey back to Chengdu was easy but still quite long for a day trip, especially after suffering in the heat all afternoon. However, seeing this wonder was well worth it.

Chengdu Researh Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Leshan Giant Buddha, Chengdu, Visit Chengdu, China, tourism, travel, backpacking, traveling in China,

 Day 3- Jinli Street

Don’t get your hopes up, this one is a straight up tourist trap. Best thing I could compare it to was a Saturday stroll in Park City in the summer, where there is little to do but shop and eat. This is exactly what we did on Jinli Street and it was a nice way to round out our visit to Chengdu.

Chengdu is recognized as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy and while I’m ashamed to say we didn’t make it to a hot pot restaurant, we did make up for it by enjoying some amazing street food on Jinli Street, (and on the streets outside our hostel, but more on that to come later).

Chengdu Researh Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Leshan Giant Buddha, Chengdu, Visit Chengdu, China, tourism, travel, backpacking, traveling in China,

After browsing the many high-end souvenir shops along the historic street, where we finally bought our first nice souvenir, I began looking for lunch and found it. First was spicy steamed beef wrapped in bamboo leaf followed by sweet dough balls with sesame seeds. Next came a bowl of freshly-pressed buckwheat noodles in a beef broth before I found myself stealing some of Britnee’s pineapple-honey-rice bowl, which she’d patiently waited in line for before fighting her way through a mad crush to buy.

Chengdu Researh Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Leshan Giant Buddha, Chengdu, Visit Chengdu, China, tourism, travel, backpacking, traveling in China,

All of it was delicious and we were barely scratching the surface. We have to stick to a rather tight budget on this trip and spending lots of money on lunch in tourist traps like this probably isn’t wise. But if I ever get the chance to come back to Chengdu again, there will be a big budget set aside just for lunch.

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Mark is currently traveling for a year with his wife Britnee. Besides that stuff, (traveling and his wife), Mark's other likes include: mountain bikes he can’t afford, eerie movies starring Paul Dano, morning coffee--preferably brewed by someone else, and at least one song by Iggy Azalea.

4 Responses

  1. Vaibhhav

    I have 7 hrs break between flights, what’s the best I can explore in chengdu, I know it’s short but maybe instead of staring at walls in hotel, it’s worth to explore.

    Reply
    • Mark Johnston

      We went to Chengdu for the pandas but fell in love with the Leshan Giant Buddha, but it’s a bit far for just a layover. If you’re new to China you might enjoy Jinli Street and the Tibetan Quarter and you won’t have to go too far for it–I don’t think. The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is more of a zoo than a preserve, but still cool to see if you’re a fan of these magnificent animals.

      Reply

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