Home to more than its fair share of bubbling hot pots and adorable pandas, Chengdu—the capital of the central Chinese province of Sichuan—is on most China shortlists. It’s easy to navigate, food is cheap, temples are everywhere and did I mention the pandas?
What to Do
So, about those pandas: the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (1375 Xiongmao Avenue, (+86) 28-8351-0033, www.panda.org.cn, entry RMB58 (US$9)) is a 100-hectare site dedicated to conserving the species.
If you have you heart set on holding a baby panda, then have your concierge make a reservation. Alternatively, you can race to the base’s Sunshine Nursery House and sign up at 8:30am. It ain’t cheap, either: a two-minute cuddle and photo op will set you back RMB2,000 (US$320), although it’s all donated to breeding research.
After getting your fluff fix, relax at Renmin (People’s) Park (12 Shaocheng Rd.), a green oasis where locals hang out. Take a seat at Heming Teahouse, the oldest in the city, to enjoy a brew (from RMB13, US$2) and watch the colorful paddle boats circle the lake. Next door is Zhong’s Dumplings, where you can try their famous Sichuan pork dumplings (RMB12 ( US$2)).
For a feel of old Chengdu, wander through Jinli Ancient Street, one of the oldest in Chengdu, and taste-test the local food stalls hawking everything from dan dan mian to steamed buns. Also check out the Wenshu Monastery (15 Wenshu Yuan St.), a Tang Dynasty Buddhist temple surrounded by beautiful parks.
What to Eat
If you love spicy food, then don’t miss the Sichuanese mapo dofu (RMB$20) at Chen Mapo Tofu (208 Shuanglin Rd., (+86) 28-8432-5493 or 19 Qinghua Rd., (+86) 28-8731-7216). Hot pot lovers will want to stop at Bashu Dazhaimen Hot Pot (36 Qingjiang East Rd., (+86) 28-8525-5222) with some Putonghua key words at the ready.
For a more upscale dinner, head to Veranda Bridge Restaurant (Anshun Veranda Bridge), a Sichuan seafood restaurant which is literally built over the Funan River. For drinks? Check out Chengdu’s LKF, helmed by the same owners as Hong Kong’s. It’s much spacier, with upscale clubs and alfresco bars… oh, and lots of expats. Some things never change.
Where to Sleep
It was opened just a few months ago, and The Ritz-Carlton Chengdu is bliss from start to finish. It’s home to impeccable service, plush beds, a luscious spa and the brag-worthy Li Xuan Chinese restaurant (try the flaming charcoal beef!). Rooms have panoramic views of the city. And as far as Ritz-Carltons go, this one’s a steal.
From RMB1,388 (US$223). 269 Shuncheng Avenue, (+86) 28-8358-8888, www.ritzcarlton.com.