LearnChinesewith Us!Start Learning!
Our short visit to Sichuan’s capital of Chengdu has been a good one so far. The first day gave a good glimpse into both the ancient and modern sides of the city, as we saw the countless skyscrapers going up around Tianfu Square and took in the local culture at the People’s Park. For the second day, we’re heading out of town a bit to get up close and personal with Chengdu’s most famous animals.
For many, the highlight of a trip to Chengdu is seeing the giant pandas (大熊貓 – dà xióng māo). Get up early on day two and head out to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base (大熊貓繁育研究基地 – dà xióng māo fán yù yán jiū jī dì).
This research base was founded back in 1987 with just six giant pandas that were rescued from the wild. Over the following decades, the base has achieved great success – it’s home to the world’s largest artificial breeding population of captive giant pandas. The latest figures available on their website says there are currently 113 pandas who call the base home.
It’s far more than just a zoo, as the beautiful and massive grounds have been carefully planned out to imitate the panda’s natural habitat. This is also a world-class research facility, with several labs and a large staff constantly working on saving the once endangered “bear cats.” It must be working, as the giant panda was reclassified as “vulnerable” just last year.
You’ll want to make sure you get out there early in the morning to see the pandas at their most active – feeding time! Once the bamboo has been devoured, they will engage in their other favorite activity for most of the day – sleeping.
On our visit, we saw a group of pandas playfully wrestling each other while another furiously worked to alleviate a back itch by rubbing up and down against a wooden pole. One super tired panda climbed to the top of a rock structure and promptly passed out. He must have had too much bamboo!
Every enclosure at the base has information on display introducing the pandas that live inside. There’s also a museum, where you can learn all about the giant pandas and the ongoing efforts to protect them.
In addition to the giant pandas, you’ll also see red pandas (小熊猫 – xiǎo xióng māo) – their Chinese name means “small panda” – as well as plenty of birds such as cranes and storks. It’s a beautiful place to explore, and you’ll learn a ton about pandas in the process. While it’s possible to get out here by public bus, you’re better off just joining a tour from one of the hostels in town.
After spending your day with the pandas, it’s time to enjoy another Sichuan specialty – hot pot (火锅 – huǒ guō). There are tons of restaurants in Chengdu where you can sit down for a hot pot experience. We tried Fat Mom Hot Pot (胖妈火锅 – pàng mā huǒ guō) and absolutely loved it.
Order up a whatever meat, seafood, and veggies you want, as well as the type of broth you’re going to cook it in. Sichuan is all about the “numb and spicy” (麻辣 – má là) flavor that comes from the liberal use of peppercorns (花椒 – huā jiāo). To combat the intense flavor, mix up a bowl of sesame paste (麻酱 – má jiàng). You can add things like garlic, green onion, cilantro and more. If you can’t handle the heat, you can order a split pot and get one side with a clear broth. This is Sichuan, though, so power through and eat it the way the locals do. Get a cold beer or a glass of plum juice and you’ll be just fine!
You might as well go for the trifecta and make it a totally Sichuan day. After dinner, head to the Shufeng Opera House for a performance of Sichuan opera (川剧 – chuān jù).
It’s a fantastic show with many different types of acts. There’s singing, dancing, traditional music, comedy, acrobatics, and the famous face-changing (变脸 – biàn liǎn). You’re sure to be impressed by the quick movements and you’ll be left wondering how they manage to pull it off.
After a day full of pandas, hot pot, and Sichuan opera, you might think that’s a wrap for our time in Chengdu. Think again, as we’ve still got one more day in this bustling city to visit a few historic sites and take part in a dumpling party.