Unlike many Chinese cities, Chengdu offers a variety of ways to pass the evening. Sichuan opera is a favorite for foreign and Chinese tourists alike. Known for its humor and dynamism, an integral part of every performance is bianlian or "changing faces." The character is often a villain who changes his face to escape recognition. The reputed record is 14 changes in 24 seconds. Over its 300-year tradition, the trick has changed, but it has always been a closely guarded secret within the operatic community. Traditional stick puppets and flame balancing are also incorporated into the drama. Performances are held at the strictly-for-tourists Shufeng Yayun (tel. 028/8776-4530; www.shufengyayun.com; 8-9:30pm) in Wenhua Gongyuan, on 33 Qintai Lu; the fee is ¥160 and performances are held nightly. Take bus no. 25, 46, or 103 to Wenhua Gongyuan.

Another highlight is the Jiuyanqiao Bar Street, along the river near the Jiuyanqiao Bridge and across the river from the Shangri-la. The street is filled with plenty of pubs of different ambience as well as outdoor pubs. It is one of the most popular nightlife spots among locals and the entire street is lively from dusk till dawn. Kehua Bei Lu, in the Sichuan University area, has several clubs which are party-goers' favorites. Kuan/Zhai Xiangzi also has a list of lounge bars which are well-liked by the white-collar and sophisticated crowd. The Lotus Palace Bar and Restaurant (Lianhua Fudi; tel. 028/8553-7676; 3pm-3am) is nestled halfway down Jinli Ancient Street. The entrance to the bar itself is hidden behind two heavy black doors and walled in by a granite facade in the traditional Sichuan style. But once inside the designers have tweaked the traditional design with some modern license: red decor throughout the bar, a Perspex ceiling above the dance floor to see the night sky, silver faux bamboo hanging from the ceiling. If you go early in the evening, the music is sufficiently loungey and good for enjoying a quiet drink; go later and the music gives way to heavier dance mix enjoyed by Chengdu's young, bright things. It is worth a visit to see how China is trying to reclaim its cultural heritage -- without giving into kitsch.

If you are interested to explore the mainland underground music scene, go to Little Bar (Xiaojiuguan), Fangxin Jie 87 (tel. 028/8515-8790; 5pm until late), on the ground floor of the Hengfeng Yinhang next to the Yongfeng Stereo Bridge. You won't miss the red table and chair hung on exterior wall next to the glass door. First established by local musician Tang Lei in 1997, the Fangxin bar is the second branch of Little Bar. Being a popular stage for local and overseas bands, the bar organizes band shows every Friday and Saturday nights. You can also find a large variety of mainland underground acts' CDs on a big shelf inside.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.