The best way to enjoy Chengdu is to take long walks or cycle through the city, relax in a few teahouses and hot pot restaurants, and spread your visits to the best sights over a few days -- or longer if you're using Chengdu as a base from which to visit out-of-town attractions. Here are some of my favorite strolls:
- Much of Chengdu's Tibetan community lives southeast of the Wuhou Temple, and the area around the Southwest Minority Nationalities College and the Tibetan Hospital is interesting for its bookstores, Tibetan shops, and people. Wuhou Ci Heng Jie, in particular, has lots of shops selling Tibetan and minority goods. Have lunch at Xizang Fengqing Wu.
- Directly to the east of Wuhou Temple is Chengdu's entertainment landscape, Jinli Gu Jie (Jinli Ancient Street).Completed in early 2005, this narrow strip of restaurants, bars, and souvenir stores is built in the style of traditional Eastern Sichuan architecture and is surprisingly tastefully done. Catering more to locals than tourists, the walk is as interesting for the architecture as it is for the opportunity to just mingle with middle-class Chinese. The strip is also well worth visiting for its alley of traditional Sichuan street food -- an infinitely more hygienic environment than where you'll usually find it.
- To truly experience local people's lifestyle, one of the best ways used to be heading to Kuan/Zhai Xiangzi (Wide/Narrow Lanes), located in the west of the city center, which were full of teahouses and traditional Chinese architecture erected back in the Ming and Qing dynasties. However, a under redevelopment plan, most residents have been evacuated and old buildings on Zhaixiangzi were demolished. The then-residential area has transformed into another entertainment spot like Jinli Gu Jie, with cafes, restaurants, bars, and souvenir stores. But few residential courtyards still remain on Kuan Xiangzi. Locals still love to spend their day on Zhaixiangzi, enjoying a cup of tea, playing cards and mahjong.
- Chengdu's art students used to sell their work on the roads leading into their campus, but the art trade has since been institutionalized and moved into the government building Songxian Qiao Yishu Cheng (Songshan Bridge Art City) on Huanhua Bei Lu. While all this might make the complex seem tragically bereft of bohemian spirit, it is worth taking an afternoon to wander through the stalls of "antiques," old party propaganda, Chinese handicrafts, and art. While much of what is on offer is indistinguishable from the pap passed off as Chinese culture in every city you are likely to visit, there are enough gems to warrant some of your time. Of particular interest is the Zhongchuan Shoucang (Zhongchuan Collection; A Qu, second floor no. 53), run by Yang Xiguang, a former cadre selling off his extensive personal collection of Cultural Revolution propaganda. Mr. Yang does not speak English, but the collection more than speaks for itself.
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