A sign outside Chengdu International Airport boasts that Chengdu is the Best Tourism City in China. This seems wishful thinking. True, the city has the excellent Panda Research Base (see my last post) but what else is there for the tourist?
First impressions of this city of 8 million people (China’s 8th most populous) were not entirely favourable – a sprawling mix of modern high rise towers and drab residential and commercial blocks, not helped by the cold grey fog which enveloped the city during our brief stay.
It looked better at night especially in the upmarket shopping area near Yanlord Landmark with Louis Vuitton, Prada, Dior and Boss boutiques catering to the tremendous purchasing power of China’s growing wealthy elite. A recent survey found that 71% of Chinese agreed with the statement ‘I measure my success by the things I own’ (compared to only 16% of British adults). With that kind of materialistic attitude it is not surprising that foreign designer brands see China as their most important market for the future.
Chengdu is more than 2000 years old but you wouldn’t know it with nearly every building seeming to have been built within the last 30 years.
One of the few remnants of the original city can be found in a couple of parallel narrow alleys called Kuanxiangzi and Zhaixiangzi.
These quaint streets, dating from the Qing Dynasty, were busy with tourists (mostly Chinese) in the run up to Christmas.
Even Starbucks has made an effort to fit in with the local architecture. For those preferring a more authentic experience there are plenty of traditional tea shops, cosy courtyard restaurants and street food stalls. This being Sichuan province, the air is full of the peppery spice of Sichuan cuisine.
The shopping is good. Chengdu is famous for its embroidery and brocade work, and examples of this skill can be found in clothing, souvenirs and gifts. There are some quite smart art gallery shops too.
Away from the alleys, a walk along the embankment of the Jinjiang River near Hejiang Pavilion is a pleasant thing to do.
Here the luxury Shangri-La Hotel enjoys a good view of the pavilion and the graceful (but new) Anshun Bridge on which sits a large restaurant.
We enjoyed our stay in Chengdu. I suspect it is one of those cities where the more time you spend there, the more you come to appreciate its charms.