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Although China is not exactly known as a hotspot for backpacking like Southeast Asia or South America, there are plenty of great places across the massive country for travelers seeking such an experience. Perhaps one of the best spots is Sichuan province – home to some of the country’s most stunning national parks, mouth-numbingly spicy cuisine, and of course the adorable giant pandas. In my 5+ years of living and traveling in China, one of my favorite experiences was taking a 2-week backpacking trip around Sichuan. Here’s a little rundown of our trip, with plenty of videos to get you excited about traveling there:
With a major airport and train station in the provincial capital of Chengdu, it makes the most sense to start your trip there. There’s a lot to do in this big city, so it’s best to give yourself a couple of days here to take it all in. Spend a morning wandering around the People’s Park (人民公园 – rén mín gōng yuán) and Tianfu Square (天府广场 – tiān fǔ guǎng chǎng) to take in a bit of the local culture.
In the evening, make sure you catch a performance of Sichuan opera (川剧 – chuān jù). The show features dance, acrobatics, comedy, and the famous face-changing.
Without a doubt, the highlight of any visit to Chengdu is a trip out to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base. Get here early to see the “bear cats” (熊猫 – xióng māo) – the literal translation of their Chinese name – while they are most active at feeding time.
If you have another day to spare, you can visit the city’s YMCA, Wenshu Monastery, and Church of the Immaculate Conception.
If you’d like to get out of the city for a bit before heading to the parks, a great choice is the ancient town of Pingle. Once an important stop on the Tea Horse Road (茶马古道 – chá mǎ gǔ dào), this riverside town is a nice place to relax and explore for a day or two.
The town itself is a bit touristy, popular with urbanites who flock here on the weekend to experience a bit of rural life. Outside of town, you can visit the Li Family Courtyard (李家大院 – lǐ jiā dà yuàn) to see a Qing Dynasty-era home and fully functioning farm. You can also check out some elaborate tea fields, and spend a night in the Bamboo Sea (竹海 – zhú hǎi), which is actually a forest.
Another option is taking a short bus ride out of town to visit the scenic Jinhua Mountain (金华山 – jīn huà shān) for a nice and easy hike.
No visit to Sichuan would be complete without a trip to the breathtaking Jiuzhaigou National Park. Enjoy the stunning scenery of lakes, mountains, waterfalls, and more at this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The name of the park literally means “The Valley of Nine Villages,” named after the Tibetan villages that are located both in and around the park. A great option for your visit is staying in a Tibetan guesthouse in one of the villages. You can also explore the ones inside the park, although don’t be surprised to find that they are mostly souvenir shops.
While the park is wonderful, it’s not exactly a real backpacking experience – the crowds are massive, you ride a bus along nicely paved roads, and you walk on flat and easy paths to viewpoints. Those seeking to really get out there and experience nature in Sichuan should consider the epic Zharu Valley hike. There are one, two, and three day options for the hike. Stay in shacks used by yak herders, climb to the peak of a sacred Tibetan mountain, and enjoy some of the most beautiful scenes in China free of the crowds.
Another epic national park, the “Yellow Dragon” is easily combined with a visit to Jiuzhaigou. Known for its colorful pools formed by calcite deposits, a visit here is a walk in the park compared to the Zharu Valley trek. Take a cable car up, snap some photos, and take your time walking down.
Unless you want to take another 10-hour bus ride back to Chengdu, you can stay a night in this little town before catching a flight. From here, you can even fly direct to Beijing, Shanghai, or Xi’an. After such an action-packed trip, enjoy a day strolling around this peaceful and scenic town to wind down your adventure in Sichuan.
There’s lots more to do in Sichuan, from the massive Buddha statue at Le Shan to hiking Mt. Emei to the incredible Lugu Lake. Have you ever traveled in Sichuan? Where did you go and which places did you like best? Leave a comment and share your adventure with us!