Chengdu is best known as the home of the panda or the city of hot pot. And while those both will be integral to your trip to Chengdu, here are 5 unique ways to spend your time and fill your belly in Chengdu!
See the Big Panda’s Face at IFS
Chunxi Road is known as a shopping hotspot – with the huge mall at IFS, the outdoor mall at Taikooli, and several smaller malls and shopping streets. You’ll probably be tempted to spend time shopping and strolling around, seeing more of the life of a modern Chengduer.
While you’re there, you won’t be able to miss the giant panda climbing up the building! That’s right, IFS has a large panda sculpture climbing up its side. It’s awesome to see from below, but the trick is to go into the building, up to the top floor, and walk out to the rooftop. There are rooftop restaurants, which are pricy but lovely, and then you can stare the panda straight in the face! This photo-op is not to be missed.
Listen to “Chengdu” by Anshun Bridge
Anshun Bridge was originally built in the 1700s but was reconstructed in 2003. It crosses the Jin River and is lit up beautifully at night. One of the most peaceful things you can do on a nice night in Chengdu is walking along the Jin River and admire the view of the bridge.
Along the sides of the river, you may occasionally hear some music. There are lights and a sound system on the river, that happen to play the instrumental version of “Chengdu” on repeat. This song by Zhao Lei is one of the most popular modern Chinese songs, and as it is a love song for and about Chengdu, you may hear a lot of it on your trip.
As you walk you can hear the soft instrumental version of the song, but keep an ear out for the live version! There are always musicians with an acoustic guitar singing on the sides of the river, and you can bet they’ll play “Chengdu” at some point in their set. Spending a night sitting by the river, with a beer and good music, is a lovely way to spend the evening.
Get Your Ears Cleaned at Jinli
Jinli ancient street is a popular attraction, for both Chinese and international visitors. To start, it is a great place to find trinkets, try street food, and even sit down for a beer or watch Sichuan face-changing opera. But there is one truly special (and strange) Chengdu experience I think everyone should have at least once – ear cleaning.
While you’re wandering around Jinli, look out for the men with headlights and long, thin excavation tools. You’ll probably spot them digging into the ears of their customers, right there on the street. For 20 or 30 kuai, you can experience the joy of someone else gently de-waxing your ears. Enjoy the rest of your night with improved hearing and squeaky clean ears!
Have a Silent Lunch at Aidao Nunnery
This is truly a hidden gem. Aidao Nunnery, just a few blocks from Wenshu Monastery, is run by Buddhist nuns. The nunnery itself is small, but the real draw is their lunch, which is open to the public every day! There’s a bit of ceremony to it, but it’s also a fairly simple meal. The meal is vegan, due to Buddhism’s principles of non-harm and non-violence.
Come in at 11:45, they start at 12:00 sharp. You’ll see people grabbing bowls and chopsticks from the sink area. Go in and grab 2 bowls and a pair of chopsticks and head into the dining hall, at the end of the meal you’ll need to bring them back and clean them. With the ring of a gong and some chanting, some of the nuns begin serving food as the others sit in the center waiting for their meal. This is a silent meal, so keep that in mind on your visit. You will be served rice, and varying dishes of beans and vegetables, sometimes noodles or buns! It’s a little different every day, but the principles of simplicity are clear.
The cost is only 5 yuan, and you can look around to see when others leave their bills to be picked up.
To me, this is a must go, not because it’s the best food in Chengdu (although it is really good, and you are offered each dish and seconds of some things, so you can bet you’ll get full!), but because the experience is lovely, and you get a peek into the lives of these nuns but also the locals who come to the lunch every day.
Learn Everything You Can About Sichuan Food
Sichuan cuisine is well renowned all over China, has been deemed the City of Gastronomy by UNESCO, and its spicy flavors are building traction elsewhere in the world. More than just hotpot, Sichuan cuisine takes ma(麻) and la(辣), or numbing spice and hot spice, and balances those flavors with more delicate flavors of other dishes. After trying the food of Chengdu, you’re sure to want more.
If this is the case, you should head to the Chuancais (Sichuan Cuisine) Museum. You can learn all about Sichuan cuisine’s history, including seeing relics, antique utensils, and even learn about Sichuan wine, tea, architecture, and gardens.
If you are a cook as well as a foodie, you will definitely want to add on a cooking class to your trip. The museum offers classes taught by professional chefs where you’ll get a chance to learn how to make some of the dishes you’ve got to try on your trip!