Chengdu (pronounced chenn-tu – at least that’s how it sounds to me 🙂 ) is the capital city of the Sichuan province that is located in the southwestern part of China. Besides being famous for its spicy and oily food, Sichuan is also known for being the “borderline” between Chinese and Tibetan culture, thus the culture that we see here is very different than the ones that we see in the southeastern part of China, such as Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou.
Chengdu at A Glance
My first impression of Chengdu was that of a more-organized- Jakarta. It’s busy, crowded, people in the airport seem to be in a hurry, the cars honking and squeezing their ways through pedestrians and other cars – much like Jakarta. But a deeper look reveals much more than that.
Chengdu is a developed capital city, with skyscrapers, cultural buildings, wide 6-laned roads, and, if I remember it correctly, 39 fly-overs. In general it’s very modern, and the city has no old buildings except in the Old Chengdu area. Besides that, it’s all new buildings.
The traffic in Chengdu is a typical big-city traffic with some traffic jams, particularly on rush hour and on early Saturday morning. But, it’s better because there are MANY people riding the electric motorbikes in a dedicated lane. So they have their own jams, and the cars have their own. 🙂 The policy to use electric motorbikes is enforced by the government, and it does make the capital has better air quality despite the many vehicles in the city.
Chengdu also is the “shopping capital” of southwestern China – with lots of international brands and local brands. The most famous shopping street is called Chunxi Road, and it’s almost like the shopping street in a European city: wide, vehicle-free, loads of shops, and Louis Vuitton. However, the price is not as cheap as I expected it to be. 😦
The City That Has Everything
Traveling with a group tour to Chengdu, you’re bound to be taken to different specialty showcase factories/stores. This is a place where you will be taken through the manufacturing process and the history of different Chinese specialties – such as silk and tea – and then you can buy them too.
I remember when I went on a tour to Shanghai and its surrounding cities, we were taken to a silk factory in Suzhou and a tea plantation in Hangzhou because these are the top products. In Chengdu, however, we were taken to a silk factory, a tea shop – specialized in Pu Er tea, a pearl showroom, gemstone center, and crystal showroom. All of which located in or nearby Chengdu. So, yes, they do have everything!
The most fascinating one for me is the tea shop, because of the specialty tea they sell, which is the Pu Er tea from a traditional Tibetan village. Unlike the more common Pu Er tea from Yunnan, the ones they have in Chengdu is not mass-produced, and originally handpicked from the trees in a village in the Tibetan area, so the quality is (said) to be much better. The price is also very different. One 100g round block of Yunnan Pu Er tea costs RMB 100, whereas the Tibetan one, weighed 500g costs RMB 1200. This tea, if drunk regularly, can help cure diabetes, obesity, liver problem, and reduce fat & blood cholesterol.
The Best Part of Chengdu: The Wide & Narrow Alley
Despite the shopping road that still hustles and bustles even at 11pm, and the nice city planning, I think that the best part of Chengdu is its old city area called The Wide & Narrow Alley. It is a small complex, consists of, well, 2 alleys – the wide one and the narrow one. Hahaa!! 😀 But it’s true. The Mandarin name is Kuanzhai Xiangzi – meaning Wide-Narrow Alleys.
In this area, you’ll find old historical buildings that are so well-preserved, dated back from the Qing dinasty. It’s said that the buildings along the Wide Alley belong to the rich and influential people, such as the city mayor and other high officers, whereas the Narrow Alley housed the people from the lower position.
Nowadays, the old part of Chengdu is very stunning. It’s clean, pretty, neat, gorgeous, artistic, as well as modern and antique at the same time. Despite the old buildings, the tenants are modern people, selling different things to the fascinated tourists, from hand-rolled cigars, to handbags, to embroideries, to local snacks, to Starbucks. One can find Chinese tea house, beer garden, liqour store, book store, as well as Sichuan Opera here. It is truly a wonderful place to be!!
Coming to this part of the city makes me love Chengdu, and I feel like this area itself is enough reason for me to stay here for another week or two. Just sitting at one of the tea houses, sipping warm cup of tea with a nice book would be just fine….