72 Hours in Chengdu
Our founder, Katy, traveled to Chengdu, China in November 2018 on a trip hosted by Hainan Airlines, WildChina and Shangri-La Hotels. This whirlwind 72 hour experience (not including the 30 hours spent flying there and back) packed in the best of what to see, do and eat in the capital of China’s Sichuan province.
Hainan Airlines flies daily non-stop flights between New York JFK to Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport. Their new business class product featuring 1-2-1 herringbone seating provides a comfortable, private and delicious (!) way to spend 15+ hours in the air. Prior to take off, friendly and attentive flight attendants came around the cabin offering beverages and cocktails. Shortly after our 1:50 am departure time, we were introduced to their “Hai Chef” who personally greeted business class travelers and asked if there were any dietary restrictions or if she could prepare us something special.
Shortly after takeoff, they took our “dinner” orders and were served promptly. Hainan offers both Eastern and Western food options, as well as an Express Meal Service and A La Carte Dining. Due to the late departure, and eagerness to get some rest, I ordered the Udon Soup with Dim Sum from the Express Meal Service Menu, which was delicious! There were also several wines to choose from (1 champagne, 3 whites and 3 red).
Now - it’s time to sleep! Following dinner, the flight attendants made up our “beds” with a plush down comforter, mattress pad and pillow. They also offered pajamas which were some of the most comfortable I’ve experienced in the friendly skies! It was easy to sleep a solid 7 hours on this flight due to the comfortable bed set-up and cozy pajamas. The lights came on around 3:00 pm New York time, at which point they offered breakfast (Western and Eastern options). I ordered noodles, which were once again accompanied by the delicious dim sum. With only a couple hours left in the flight, I started to get myself ready for a full day of touring ahead in Chengdu!
Upon touching down in Chengdu at 5:55 am local time, we were quickly ushered through customs and met by our WONDERFUL guide, Kun, who accompanied us to our hotel, the Shangri-La Chengdu, located within the city centre. After checking into a spacious Deluxe River View room, we had some time to freshen up before we met our group for lunch at 12 pm. Having had a good night’s rest on the flight, I wandered around Chengdu’s Lan Kawai Fong area conveniently located next to the hotel.
After lunch we departed for the Jinsha Site Museum. Our guide, Kun, has a wealth of knowledge about virtually every topic imaginable! His enthusiasm surrounding the sites we were visiting, as well as the city itself, truly made the experience - especially as the jet lag started to set in! The Jinsha Site Museum was accidentally discovered in February 2001 during real estate construction. Located about 50 km away from Sanxingdui, the site flourished around 1000 BC and shares similarities in burial objects with the Sanxingdui site. Ivory and jade artifacts, bronze objects, gold objects and carved stone objects were all found at the site. We entered through the South Entrance, paved with unearthed jade and small pebbles. Continuing along the path brought us to the Memorial Scuplture of Chinese Cultural Heritage. It is both the logo of Chengdu city and the Symbol of Chinese Cultural Heritage - definitely a “must see” spot! From there we entered Relics Hall - the original excavation place of the unearthed relics and original sacrificial place where tens of thousands of cultural relics were found. We concluded our visit of the Jinsha Site Museum at the Exhibition Hall, featuring 5 different exhibits covering the history of Chengdu.
The WildChina team worked quickly to re accommodate us after the weather wasn’t conducive to a traditional tea ceremony in the park. Instead, they planned a lovely cocktail reception at the hotel featuring the traditional tea ceremony and Guzheng performance (traditional Chinese plucked string instrument). A traditional hot pot dinner followed the performance and was the perfect cap to an incredible first day in Chengdu!
Panda day!! Our day started off with an impressive buffet breakfast at the Shangri-La Chengdu. They had just about every breakfast item available, along with a noodle bar, dim sum station and a plethora of other Chinese options. I think one person could live off this buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner and still have a variety of items to choose from!
Kun taught us how to say “panda” in Chinese on the hour drive to the Dujiangyan Panda Research Centre. We made up a little song and dance to remember the inflection of our voices while saying xióngmāo, as otherwise, you could mispronounce the word and instead say “chest hair” (Chinese word for chest hair is xiōngmáo - so as you can see, same spelling but different inflection). Upon arrival at the center, I was quite surprised at I envisioned the pandas behind glass or wire fencing, but instead they were in enclosures surrounded by a high stone wall so they wouldn’t be able to climb out.
We spent several hours walking around and observing the different pandas (red pandas too!) and learning more about this adorable animal’s behavior. The Dujiangyan base includes a panda hospital, medical lab, 10 sets of monitoring enclosures, 30 sets of enclosures, a panda kitchen, educational center and staff housing. We learned that due to the extra special care and treatment pregnant pandas receive, many pandas feign pregnancy in order to receive this preferential treatment! The Dujiangyan base also places a major focus on senior and disabled pandas, essentially serving as a a panda “nursing home”. Staff takes extra care in stripping bamboo for the older pandas at mealtime.
From the research centre we traveled to nearby Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain to enjoy a tour of the hotel and lunch at their Thai Restaurant, Sala Thai, highlighting produce from the resort’s organic farm. The hotel offers a tranquil setting and would be best fit for a two night stay to enjoy the Panda Research Centre and a hike up the nearby Qing Cheng Mountain.
We began a trek up Qing Cheng Mountain, but unfortunately the weather once again was not on our side. Kun gave us a brief history recap of the mountain before driving the 90 minutes back to the city center. We enjoyed dinner in a famed local restaurant featuring several authentic dishes, one of which is the famous Chinese Mapo Tofu, consisting of tofu set in a spicy sauce.
From dinner we traveled to the Sichuan Opera House to experience the magical face changing as well as a slew of other traditional performances. They also offered an option of traditional ear cleaning and massages during the show. When in China!!
Our final day exploring Chengdu! This morning we enjoyed breakfast at the hotel’s Horizon Club Level Lounge. Keeping true to a Chinese breakfast, I enjoyed Dan Dan noodles, my new favorite dish!
We were sent off by Alfred and his team at the Shangri-La Chengdu and drove 90 minutes to the Sichuan Culinary Museum where we rolled up our sleeves and participated in a delectable cooking lesson. The museum is the only “eatable museum”, showing visitors a new way to experience Sichuan cuisine culture. Prior to the lesson we enjoyed a tour of the museum lead by none other than Jon Snow (his English name)! The tour included an exhibit of over 6000 pieces of antique kitchen wares, books, pictures and manuscripts, which record the history of the Sichuan culinary culture dating back more than 3000 years to the Ancient Shu Kingdom as well as a demonstration of noodle cutting. Their talented and fearless chef even preformed the cutting blindfolded! From there we tasted various Sichuan foods including Zhong dumplings, stuffed pancakes, jellies, tofu budding, Sichuan pickles and more!
Finally, it was time for our cooking class with tour guide turned chef, Jon Snow! We made panda inspired dumplings, Sichuan chicken and Mapo Tofu! Cooking classes are always an incredible experience as it allows you to immerse yourself in a deeper understanding of the local culture and cuisine. We were all awarded with the official “Master of Chuancais” certificate!
With full bellies, we drove the 90 minutes back to “downtown” Chengdu to explore the Wide and Narrow Alleys, a popular shopping district. The low buildings gave an authentic experience and feel in an otherwise crowded and touristy area. Restaurants, pubs, teahouses and stores can all be found in the alleys. The Wide Alley exhibits the leisurely life of natives and represents the most typical forms of Chengdu folk culture, while the Narrow Alley features the typical slow life of the Chengdu natives.
After we all enjoyed some free time exploring the alleys, we set out to the airport where we said our goodbyes to Kun, Isabelle and Sherry (from WildChina), all of whom were wonderful and instrumental in creating such a seamless Chengdu experience in such a short amount of time. Another 15 hours in the air and we were back in New York tired, but feeling extremely grateful, satisfied and fulfilled from an incredible 72 hours in Chengdu.