Experience The Best Of Chengdu In 48 Hours

Whether you have two days or two weeks to travel, our Chengdu city guide covers the must see sites, local food recommendations, where to stay, how much the city will cost, an example itinerary, and how to get around the city - including how to get to and from the airport.

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Chengdu has always been seen as a relatively relaxed place compared to Beijing and Shanghai. Teahouses, Pandas and a general culture of leisure have encouraged this view. As Chengdu pushes to become a tier 1 city, this culture of leisure has started to give way to the more immediate, hustle-and-bustle vibe of an international city. One gets this sense when they visit the often overcrowded tourist spots in the city, such as the Panda Base. Thankfully however, outside of these crowded areas one can easily find locals pottering on sleepily, playing games, drinking tea, and living the life they lived well before the skyscrapers started being built. Situated in Sichuan Province, with its stunning mountains rising up into the Tibetan plateau, and with Chongqing, Xian and Yunnan all within a day’s travel, a visit to Chengdu is an ideal fit for any China travel itinerary. In spite of its general push towards modernization, Chengdu is still a wonderful place to sit back and let things flow, man. Find a back street with a street-side teahouse. Spend the afternoon people watching and playing cards. Find a place to eat, and stay there until you’re too drunk and too full to function. Sleep. Congratulations. You’ve just lived a classic Chengdu day. Everyone deserves a Chengdu day once in a while.


Getting To & From The Airport

There are 3 ways to get into the city from Chengdu International Airport:

If you arrive during the day at the airport, the metro will be able to take you within walking distance of your hotel. Depending on where you are staying, this could take between a half-hour to an hour. All the signs are in English and there is an English language option on the ticket machines. The metro it shouldn’t be more than 6 Yuan.

If your flight is after 11:30pm, your best option is either the shuttle-bus or a taxi. The shuttle-bus is only 10 Yuan and can be found by walking right out the arrivals gate. It is organized so that in theory as long as there are flights arriving there will be a shuttle bus.

If your flight is delayed and arrives after all the other flights have arrived, you may have to get a taxi. Most of the drivers cannot speak English so do be prepared with printouts of addresses or maps of hotel locations in Chinese. You can try to insist on doing your trip price by meter but this is not always possible. Expect to pay around 50-100 Yuan if you do choose to go by taxi. 

If you arrive by train into Chengdu:

Your best option is to take the metro. You take line 7 from the airport. There are 4 major stations located on the line; from those major stations you can get to anywhere in the city. 6 Yuan a ticket. 

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First Things First - Where/What To Eat?

Chengdu prides itself on its cuisine and is justified in doing so. Although it is often intensely spicy, it is also a deeply flavorful cuisine with much more to offer than its famous numbing peppercorns. People in Chengdu love their own local food more than anyone else and are often very discerning about it. Food standards are kept high, so you’re not as likely to end up at a terrible restaurant as you are in other parts of China. Often, the dodgiest looking places are the best!

Haidilao   Hot Pot (huǒ guō 火锅) –  A giant pot of bubbling red oil heated with a kerosene tank under your table. Hot pot is an institution in Chengdu which is impossible to avoid, so why try to? Though it can be incredibly spicy, the process of preparing your dip, feeding your meat and veg into the cauldron and then fishing to find them again has a great sense of occasion, which is why it is the go-to meal in Chengdu for celebrations. Haidilao Hot pot restaurant is a good choice for first-timers with famously good service, an English-language menu, and options for alternative, less spicy soup bases. For four people you can expect to pay around 150-200 Yuan.

Haidilao Hot Pot (huǒ guō 火锅) – A giant pot of bubbling red oil heated with a kerosene tank under your table. Hot pot is an institution in Chengdu which is impossible to avoid, so why try to? Though it can be incredibly spicy, the process of preparing your dip, feeding your meat and veg into the cauldron and then fishing to find them again has a great sense of occasion, which is why it is the go-to meal in Chengdu for celebrations. Haidilao Hot pot restaurant is a good choice for first-timers with famously good service, an English-language menu, and options for alternative, less spicy soup bases. For four people you can expect to pay around 150-200 Yuan.

Dan Dan Noodles (dan dan mian 担担面) –  If you’re looking for cheap food nothing will fill you quite as well as a big bowl of Sichuan Beef noodles. Like most of the food on this list, it’s oily and spicy but the soup is great (pro-tip, blow on the soup as you’re tipping it to push away the top layer of oil) and at 10-12 Yuan for a big bowl you can’t go wrong. Dan Dan Mian is a smaller dish of dry – without broth – noodles dressed with minced pork, spring onions, oil and peanuts. It’s totally delicious but not always available by that name in noodle places. If you ask for gān bàn miàn (干拌面)you’ll usually get a rough approximation, possibly without the peanuts.

Dan Dan Noodles (dan dan mian 担担面) – If you’re looking for cheap food nothing will fill you quite as well as a big bowl of Sichuan Beef noodles. Like most of the food on this list, it’s oily and spicy but the soup is great (pro-tip, blow on the soup as you’re tipping it to push away the top layer of oil) and at 10-12 Yuan for a big bowl you can’t go wrong. Dan Dan Mian is a smaller dish of dry – without broth – noodles dressed with minced pork, spring onions, oil and peanuts. It’s totally delicious but not always available by that name in noodle places. If you ask for gān bàn miàn (干拌面)you’ll usually get a rough approximation, possibly without the peanuts.

Mapo tofu (má pó dòu fu 麻婆豆腐) –  Possibly the best tofu dish ever, mapo tofu is cubes of tofu in a slick, oily, salty, savory and often quite spicy sauce with minced pork. Chen Mapo Tofu restaurant in Luomashi is famous for their version but most restaurants will serve one that is at least half-decent. Averages around 20-40 Yuan.

Mapo tofu (má pó dòu fu 麻婆豆腐) – Possibly the best tofu dish ever, mapo tofu is cubes of tofu in a slick, oily, salty, savory and often quite spicy sauce with minced pork. Chen Mapo Tofu restaurant in Luomashi is famous for their version but most restaurants will serve one that is at least half-decent. Averages around 20-40 Yuan.

Roast Fish (Kao yu烤鱼)  – My favorite dish in Chengdu. Grilled whole until it’s crispy and then submerged in spicy oil with vegetables. Expect to pay 100-150 Yuan depending on the size of the fish.

Roast Fish (Kao yu烤鱼) – My favorite dish in Chengdu. Grilled whole until it’s crispy and then submerged in spicy oil with vegetables. Expect to pay 100-150 Yuan depending on the size of the fish.

Guo Kui   锅盔 -  A cheap snack that you can find just about anywhere. A circular pastry stuffed with minced pork or beef and flavored with Sichuan peppercorns, they are certain to quench your appetite and make your tongue vibrate with the numbing spice. Try to find some that have just been fried. 2-5 Yuan each.

Guo Kui 锅盔 - A cheap snack that you can find just about anywhere. A circular pastry stuffed with minced pork or beef and flavored with Sichuan peppercorns, they are certain to quench your appetite and make your tongue vibrate with the numbing spice. Try to find some that have just been fried. 2-5 Yuan each.

San Da Pao (三大炮)  – Gelatinous rice balls fried in a sweet sauce. China doesn’t have many desserts I enjoy but this is one I really do. 5-10Yuan.

San Da Pao (三大炮) – Gelatinous rice balls fried in a sweet sauce. China doesn’t have many desserts I enjoy but this is one I really do. 5-10Yuan.


Must-See's Of Chengdu

Most people who come to Chengdu want to see the Pandas. As such, the  Panda Base  has a reputation, particularly during the weekends and holidays, for being intolerably busy. I recommend going on a weekday and early, as in, 7am-8am early. This isn’t just to beat the crowds. In the early morning the Pandas are at their most active, playing and fighting over food. As the day draws on and the temperatures rise they are pretty inactive, sleeping or lying on their backs, chewing bamboo.  Entry is cheap at around 10 Yuan.

Most people who come to Chengdu want to see the Pandas. As such, the Panda Base has a reputation, particularly during the weekends and holidays, for being intolerably busy. I recommend going on a weekday and early, as in, 7am-8am early. This isn’t just to beat the crowds. In the early morning the Pandas are at their most active, playing and fighting over food. As the day draws on and the temperatures rise they are pretty inactive, sleeping or lying on their backs, chewing bamboo. Entry is cheap at around 10 Yuan.

Wenshu Monastery  is the best-preserved Buddhist temple in Chengdu and is always worth a look. In a lot of parts you will be aware you are in a tourist area, but it is still a very pleasant place to walk around and explore. What’s more, If you are wanting to explore more after the monastery, the back streets of the northern part of Chengdu are much less developed than those in the south, and is a prime spot for some street photography or just soaking in the culture of past times.  Free.

Wenshu Monastery is the best-preserved Buddhist temple in Chengdu and is always worth a look. In a lot of parts you will be aware you are in a tourist area, but it is still a very pleasant place to walk around and explore. What’s more, If you are wanting to explore more after the monastery, the back streets of the northern part of Chengdu are much less developed than those in the south, and is a prime spot for some street photography or just soaking in the culture of past times. Free.

Some people will use Chengdu as their base and head to Leshan (乐山) to see the  Giant Buddha . While undeniably spectacular, it can also become torturously busy, so consider staying for a night in Leshan (it’s famous for its snacks) and waking early to go the Giant Buddha. If not, there are clearly marked buses from the train station and a lot of taxi drivers who know where you want to go and are very eager to offer their services to you.

Some people will use Chengdu as their base and head to Leshan (乐山) to see the Giant Buddha. While undeniably spectacular, it can also become torturously busy, so consider staying for a night in Leshan (it’s famous for its snacks) and waking early to go the Giant Buddha. If not, there are clearly marked buses from the train station and a lot of taxi drivers who know where you want to go and are very eager to offer their services to you.

If you’re into hiking, there are some incredible mountains that you can climb nearby Chengdu. While  Emei mountain and Qingcheng mountain  are the most popular and the easiest to get to, it’s worth asking the owner of your accommodation if they can arrange you joining a tour to one of the more remote and less-visited options. The nature is stunning and it’s a great opportunity, particularly once you start heading further west, to experience Tibetan culture as well. Photo credit:  KeepCalmAndWander

If you’re into hiking, there are some incredible mountains that you can climb nearby Chengdu. While Emei mountain and Qingcheng mountain are the most popular and the easiest to get to, it’s worth asking the owner of your accommodation if they can arrange you joining a tour to one of the more remote and less-visited options. The nature is stunning and it’s a great opportunity, particularly once you start heading further west, to experience Tibetan culture as well. Photo credit: KeepCalmAndWander

One of my favorite markets is 罗马假日广场, or  ‘Roman Holiday Square’  in the west of the city. Take the line three metro to Gaoshengqiao (高升桥) and get out at gate B. Take the first right away from the main road and work your way down through the alleys until you find it. On a good day it’s bustling with local people and Tibetans. Inexplicably, looming over the whole thing is an enormous Walmart, but pay no mind to that. Outside the market is a prominently Tibetan population with some great restaurants tucked away.  Wuhou Temple  and  Jinli Street  are also nearby, and while the latter in particular is quite touristy, they are worth a look.

One of my favorite markets is 罗马假日广场, or ‘Roman Holiday Square’ in the west of the city. Take the line three metro to Gaoshengqiao (高升桥) and get out at gate B. Take the first right away from the main road and work your way down through the alleys until you find it. On a good day it’s bustling with local people and Tibetans. Inexplicably, looming over the whole thing is an enormous Walmart, but pay no mind to that. Outside the market is a prominently Tibetan population with some great restaurants tucked away. Wuhou Temple and Jinli Street are also nearby, and while the latter in particular is quite touristy, they are worth a look.

If you’re wanting to party, tell your cab driver to take you to Lan Kwai Fong - a long strip of bars of variable quality and questionable music. For my money, pre-drinks in  Commune Bar  or  Mccelroys Irish Pub  are far more pleasant and cater much more to an expat clientele. Drinks are cheap, particularly at Commune (10-25 Yuan a beer) and are generally good places to meet new people and start your night.  Hakka Bar  or  Jah Bar  (by the river) offer chill vibes and good music. Almost every night at Jah Bar people will be jamming, and you are welcome to join them if you want. If not, their beer garden is large and has reggae playing on the outdoor speakers.

If you’re wanting to party, tell your cab driver to take you to Lan Kwai Fong - a long strip of bars of variable quality and questionable music. For my money, pre-drinks in Commune Bar or Mccelroys Irish Pub are far more pleasant and cater much more to an expat clientele. Drinks are cheap, particularly at Commune (10-25 Yuan a beer) and are generally good places to meet new people and start your night. Hakka Bar or Jah Bar (by the river) offer chill vibes and good music. Almost every night at Jah Bar people will be jamming, and you are welcome to join them if you want. If not, their beer garden is large and has reggae playing on the outdoor speakers.


Exploring Chengdu On Public Transportation

Traveling around Chengdu has become much easier in recent years thanks to the progressive development. The best and easiest way to travel around the city is by taking the  metro . Tickets cost about 6 Yuan. Unfortunately there is currently no night service, so after around 11:30pm you’ll have to travel by other means.

Traveling around Chengdu has become much easier in recent years thanks to the progressive development. The best and easiest way to travel around the city is by taking the metro. Tickets cost about 6 Yuan. Unfortunately there is currently no night service, so after around 11:30pm you’ll have to travel by other means.

Taxi  drivers in the city are generally good and certainly get you to where you want to go very quickly, but speak very little English. Prepare addresses in Chinese in advance or get a local who speaks English to help you. For most of your journeys you shouldn’t spend more than 30Yuan, and often it will be a lot less.

Taxi drivers in the city are generally good and certainly get you to where you want to go very quickly, but speak very little English. Prepare addresses in Chinese in advance or get a local who speaks English to help you. For most of your journeys you shouldn’t spend more than 30Yuan, and often it will be a lot less.

Buses  are regular and cheap at around 2 Yuan a trip, but the bus stop signs are all in Chinese and so it’s quite hard to navigate the city with them.

Buses are regular and cheap at around 2 Yuan a trip, but the bus stop signs are all in Chinese and so it’s quite hard to navigate the city with them.

There is also an APP for hiring cars called  DIDI , which is like Uber and is cheaper than standard taxis, but without a Chinese bank card or phone number you won’t be able to use it.

There is also an APP for hiring cars called DIDI, which is like Uber and is cheaper than standard taxis, but without a Chinese bank card or phone number you won’t be able to use it.


Where To Stay

There are tons of accommodation options in Chengdu, from hostels, Airbnb, bed & breakfasts, or many five-star hotels.

Hostels in China in general are disappointing compared to their South-East Asian counterparts. Far from being bohemian paradises full of hammocks and hair braids and young Australians eager to tell you about their last three months in Malaysia, Chinese Hostels tend to be a little more utilitarian. Having said that, I would recommend STEAM hostel, which has okay rooms, a decent bar and occasionally quite cool music nights, or Button-Wood Hostel, which has nice rooms and showers, an outdoor pool table and an (often unmanned) bar, but is generally a quieter hostel than STEAM. Both clock in at around 40 Yuan a night ($6 USD). 


Travel Tips & Helpful Hints

Do I need a visa?
To travel to China you will need to get a tourist visa, the price of which varies from country to country, but is generally over 1000Yuan. Beyond this, it is recommended that you keep your passport on you at all times. In reality, no-one does this, and the police presence in Chengdu is basically zero so there is essentially no chance you would be asked about this. But for buying tickets for things occasionally you will have to provide it, so it’s best to always have it with you for peace of mind. 

What is the power voltage?
China uses 220 Volt power. If you have an adaptor you should bring it with you.

What about smoking weed or drinking in the streets?
Drinking on the streets is not common but it is also not prosecuted or even really frowned upon. If you smoke weed, a lot of people, including police, will not understand what it is they’re smelling, but of course they might and so you do this at your own risk. It’s unlikely that you’ll get into serious trouble for it but certainly in many bars it won’t be tolerated, and the letter of the law is pretty cut and dry on the matter if you do get caught by police.

What is the currency and its value?
The currency used in China is called the Yuanrenminbi (LE or EGP).
The current value (Oct 2018) is 6.9 Yuan = $1 USD.

Tipping?
Tipping is not expected at all, and in fact you’re more likely to offend and confuse by doing it than by not, so don’t worry about saving 15% for the server. 

Staying connected:
I would recommend getting WeChat for the duration of your stay in Chengdu and in China in general. It is basically the Chinese version of Facebook and will be great for keeping in contact with the people you meet, be they fellow travelers, locals, or the owner of the place you’re staying at. I would also recommend buying a Chinese sim card (Any China Mobile will be able to provide you with a monthly plan) as navigation and translating can be difficult, so being able to use your 4g for maps or a translation app will be invaluable. 

You might feel like a celebrity:
When you are out in public, particularly if you are in tourist spots, people are liable to stare and take pictures of you. You are welcome to become irritated by this, as we all do, but the best approach is to let it wash over you.  In the end, it’s only because they’re curious. I draw the line at hair touching though. 

Stand in line < Fuck it
When queuing for things, expect people to push in. People don’t line up well in China, so instead of being irritated by it it’s better to do as the Romans do and get involved in the scrum.

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48 hours in Chengdu Example Itinerary:

Day 2

Start the morning with a freshly fried Guo Kui and a piping-hot soy milk. 

Travel to people’s park. Watch the old ladies doing their morning stretches and dancing. Take a boat on the water if you like, or find a tea place and relax for a while.

Find a nearby restaurant and get some noodles or a couple simple dishes. Most places will have pictures to help you decide. Twice-cooked pork is always a solid option.

Take the metro to gaoshengqiao and visit the market

Visit the nearby Wuhou Temple and Jinli Street. If this doesn’t appeal to you, You can enjoy the back streets of the Tibetan housing areas, or alternatively you can go back along line 3 of the metro towards Xinnanmen, and visit the Sichuan University area. There’s lots of nice food, a great park, the music university area is quite interesting, and there’s a solid ‘old-Chengdu’ vibe about the area.

Head back to where you’re staying to chill. If you’re still full of beans, I really like taking pictures at Raffle City (Go to Sichuan Gymnasium metro stop at the intersection of line 1 and 3), which is where you can find big sprawling mazes of small stores selling electronics. Comes out great on camera.

Go to KaoMaster in Nijiaqiao for some grilled fish. 

Go to some of the nearby bars (there’s lots), or alternatively head to Saibaidee restaurant (10 mins by taxi) which has a beautiful roof terrace on the 19th floor overlooking the whole city. It’s a thai restaurant, but they also do a 99Yuan all-you-can-drink cocktail offer. 

Day 1:

Wake up and take a taxi or the metro to the Panda Sanctuary. Get some Baozi (steamed pork buns) on the way for breakfast.

Leave the Panda Sanctuary and take the metro to Luomashi (Intersection of line 1 and 4). Spend some time walking round the back streets and old housing complexes.

Grab lunch at Chen Ma Po Dou Fu.

Take the line one metro to Wenshu monastery. 

Find a place either in the temple or on the local back streets nearby with a teahouse. Chill. Alternatively head south to Chunxi Road to see modern China’s consumer culture at full tilt. There is also a teahouse in the temple within taikooli, the main shopping area, if you want to rest your legs. 

Either retreat to the place you’re staying to chill for a while, and see if you can find people to come for hotpot. If you’re traveling with friends, you’re already set!

Go to Haidilao Hotpot, or any Hotpot restaurant that takes your fancy. Sweat and start to drink China’s best 2% beer, Snow. 

Head to a Commune bar (there are 3) near you and fill your tank. 

Pick what kind of night you’re on. Jellyfish or, if you’re at the Commune in the north-east, Propaganda are good choices for those who want to party. Finish at SPACE. Alternatively, Find a perch at Jah bar or Hakka and enjoy the finer things in life, like conversation, and funny-smelling smoke. 

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So What's It Going To Cost?

Where's Your Money Going?

What You Can Expect To Spend In 48 Hours:

Total for Transportation: $14 USD

Total for Activities: $10 USD

Total for Accommodation: $12 USD

Total for food: $30 USD

Total for drinks: $30 USD

Total: $96 USD for 48 hours.

Thats $48 USD per person, per day!

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This city guide was written and contributed by SMP Ambassador, Jonathan Moore. Jonathan is from Durham, England and has lived in Chengdu for 2 years as an expat and English teacher. ”My favorite aspect of the city is the ease of existence (with the exception of the morning commute). I decided to move to China because it sounded like more fun than being a waiter in London”.


Enjoy Your Trip!


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