Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and even Hainan are the popular tourist destinations that come to mind when one thinks of China.
However, for our first trip to China, we picked Chengdu (a 2nd tier City), which doesn’t see many foreign tourists, and we were pleasantly surprised with our trip far exceeding our expectations.
SilkAir flies direct from Singapore, but the airline tends to be the most expensive at tickets costing S$600 onwards. Sichuan Airlines and Air China also fly direct from Singapore starting from around S$350. For this trip though, we flew Thai Airways (via Bangkok) for about S$380 each.
Here’s a tip for accommodation: Try staying at International 5-star Hotel Chains like Shangri-La, Hyatt, Hilton or The Ritz-Carlton. They are significantly cheaper in Chengdu than in Singapore.
Our stay in The Ritz-Carlton Chengdu cost us S$300 per night including airport transfer, breakfast and a Kids Club experience. The room was big enough for us to pitch a tent for our kid! Other 4/5-star International hotel chains can be had for about S$100 – S$200 per night.
Need a little more convincing? Here are five reasons why Chengdu should be your next destination in China:
Unlike the two pandas we have in River Safari (that are in hiding more than 90% of the time), at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding you’ll get to marvel at more than 50 pandas in the open, ranging from baby pandas (a few days old) to toddlers, teenagers and adult pandas.
They even have a panda nursery and kindergarten! The place is very similar to our open zoo concept, so be prepared for lots of walking.
We started our day early with a visit to the Panda Base. Pandas are most active in the early morning and they tend to sleep from 10am – 11am onwards after their feeding time. Going early also avoids the crowds of local tourists.
Admission fees are S$12 per person (children can enter for free). Besides pandas, you also get to enjoy walking through a bamboo forest, parks and lakes. Exploring this panda base would take about half a day.
Fun fact: Coming from the bear family, pandas also eat fish and fruits, but they are usually too lazy to catch them, and just prefer to be fed with bamboo.
There is also a volunteer day program where you can get to feed the pandas, clean their enclosures and just hang out and admire them all day long.
Price: S$12 per person, free admission for children
Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding: Xiongmao Ave West Section, Jinniu, Chengdu Shi, Sichuan Sheng, China 610016
Heading to Chengdu is the cheapest and fastest way from Singapore to experience snow. Direct flights take about 4 – 5 hours and the cheapest flight costs about S$350 return.
Temperature in Winter (Dec – Feb) is about five to 10 degrees, with snow in the mountains. March to June would be Springtime, with a cooling temperature of 15 to 22 degrees. If you head there during that period, you’ll also get to see flowers in full bloom!
Best Time to Visit: December – February (To experience Winter), March – June (To experience Spring)
Chengdu was awarded the UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2010. It has a rich history and culture, and more importantly, is renowned for its spicy cuisine in this part of China. You’ll find lots of places serving hotpot (like Hai Di Lao) and Sichuan Peppercorn & Chilli dishes, which will leave a numbing sensation in your mouth for a few seconds.
For those who can’t take spicy food, there is also Dim Sum and a wide variety of Cantonese cuisine as well as familiar dishes like Fried Rice, Roasted Duck, etc.
Chengdu is also only two hours away from Tibet. Do visit the Tibetan Street in Chengdu to sample Yak Butter Tea and other traditional Tibetan Dishes.
There is quite a substantial Muslim community as well in Chengdu (The Han Chinese Muslims). So Muslim travellers should not face too much of an issue either in terms of finding Halal food.
Unlike traditional opera, this show features elements of fire, magic and the highlight (which remains a trade secret until today), the Sichuan face mask changing act.
You’ll get to see how these performers change face masks in a split-second right before your eyes! At the end of the show, you can even dress up in traditional opera attire.
Although the show is mainly in Mandarin, the visual elements are very entertaining and have been conceptualised with tourists in mind. You’ll definitely not be bored!
Price: From S$30 per ticket
Shu Feng Ya Yun Sichuan Opera House: Chengdu Culture Park, Qintai Road, Chengdu, China 610072
Take a break from the hustle of busy city life at one of Chengdu’s many parks, which exude a sense of peace and calm. Waterfalls, bonsai plants, flowers and teahouses await you!
Get a table, order some tea and join the locals for a game of mahjong if you are up for it. There are also loads of sections dedicated for kids with amusements rides and other activities.
Who knew that there were so many cool things to do in Chengdu? While you’re in this underrated destination, don’t forget a trip to the Giant Buddha for Insta-worthy shots and a visit to some of the shopping alleys to grab your souvenirs.
*Contributed by Matthew Kumar, a Singaporean traveller who loves taking his family on holidays to underrated destinations