If you want to explore nice places in China for a weekend trip, I can recommend Chengdu and surroundings. Not only the very green city centre of Chengdu (with real birds!), but also the Sichuan typical Hot Pot, Sichuan Opera, the Panda Park and the nearby Le Shan with the worlds biggest (sitting stone) Buddha are worth the visit!
The first we did when we arrived in Chengdu where of course: the pandas. From our hostel we booked a trip to the Chengdu Panda Base, the biggest Park in China to cocker up the constantly fading population of Giant Pandas and Red Pandas. Cocker up seems to mean feed them constantly with bamboo so they become really fat and even cuter. Especially the baby pandas: you could just stand there watching them for hours how they played with each other, totally clumsy climbing around in their “kindergarten”. For everyone who is wondering what Red Pandas are: they look more like foxes, but also feed off bamboo and are also considered as endangered species. The highlight of the park, after having taken millions of photos of the pandas sleeping or eating, is the offer of taking a picture together with a panda (!). Unfortunately, they charge you at least 1000 RMB for that, so not student-friendly prices.
Besides the pandas, Chengdu is a really nice city. With lots of parks and tea gardens, the city centre is a surprisingly nice place to relax and experience China without skyscrapers and traffic. Chengdu, as the capital of Sichuan province, is also famous for veeeeery spicy food, especially Hot Pot. Being aware of that fact, we ordered “bu la” and got a soup, were you couldn’t even see your food next to all the chillies. After trying one little piece of mushroom, my mouth was burning like hell and I wasn’t able to taste anything else than hot any longer. My travel mate was being a real man and ate till every plate was cleared. I am not sure, if he was really feeling well afterwards, he became pretty red in the face.
Another thing you should see when visiting Chengdu or other parts of Sichuan province is the Sichuan Opera. Unlike in Beijing Opera, the singing performances play a smaller part in Sichuan Opera. Consisting of different parts like comedy plays, instrumental performances, marionette plays, shadow plays and face changing, it’s a very varied and entertaining programme. Nevertheless, the singing parts are still a little disturbing for everybody not used to Chinese opera.
When you leave Chengdu to explore the surroundings, visiting Leshan is a must-see. The city, which is a two hours bus drive away from Chengdu, is famous for its Giant Buddha. Before we went to Leshan we were told that their Buddha is really the biggest Buddha statue in the world. After some research we finally found out that you have differentiate between biggest stone, bronze, sitting, lying, standing Buddha in the world. Hence, the one in Leshan is supposed to be the biggest stone carved sitting Buddha. Nevertheless, it’s a massive impressive statue, 71 metres tall and facing the river Yangtze. The most impressive thing though, after having made our way through masses of Chinese tourist, was the surrounding temple area. Just as in the Indianer Jones movies, the deserted complex was surrounded by a jungle and many hidden caves. A really great experience for all who want to escape the big and crowded cities!
So for any travel plans you have in China: Chengdu is a must on your list!