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ANCIENT AND MODERN

Chengdu, a city of 14 million people in Western China, greets

visitors with a bewildering mix of old and new. Traditional

temples and medieval streets are overshadowed by 21st

century skyscrapers. On its bustling streets, salesfolk

bear their goods with simple wooden yokes, but jostle

with hordes of motorcyclists. It is also easier to get there

now than ever before with daily flights from Toronto and

Vancouver to Hong Kong. A local flight then links

Hong Kong directly to Chengdu in less than three hours.

TEAHOUSES, HOTPOTS AND FACE CHANGERS

Traditional teahouses abound in Chengdu; the idea of

tea drinking as a social event has been established here

for 3,000 years. Try the Mi Xun Teahouse at The Temple

House hotel, which was inspired by a traditional Chinese

apothecary. Chengdu is also the centre of Sichuanese cuisine

and it is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. The best place to

experience its spicy, sizzling dishes is the Wide and Narrow

Alleyway district, an exotic mix of ancient streets and

courtyards. Food stalls along the alleys and the courtyard

restaurants tempt browsers with the famously flavourful

Sichuan hotpot. For more local flavour, try gong bao jiding

(spicy chicken and peanuts). This neighbourhood is also the

place to see Sichuan opera performed, including the strange

face-changing theatre where performers swap personas in

an instant, with a mesmeric combination of masks, makeup

and magic.

PANDAS, PANDAS EVERYWHERE

Pandas are everywhere in Chengdu. Every shop seems to be

selling plush pandas, panda prints or panda sweets. There’s

even a panda post office! But the real thing is so much more

captivating at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda

Breeding. This is a world-class facility, just 10 kilometres

north of the city centre, where 160 giant pandas live in an

environment that closely matches their natural surroundings

in the nearby mountains. It is estimated that less than

2,000 pandas remain in the wild.

For visitors, the experience is entrancing. Pathways lead

through a labyrinth of lush bamboo groves, lakes, brooks,

grassy glades, man-made dens, rocks and caves while

pandas doze, eat, wrestle and play. To see so many pandas

up close and personal in these natural settings is humbling

and joyful in equal measure. Visitors can tour nurseries of

baby pandas and perhaps see them outside their den for the

first time in their young, impossibly cute, lives.

Films and guides show how the Research Centre finally

succeeded in persuading pandas to reproduce successfully

in captivity and how young pandas are rehabilitated back

into the wild. Last year, thanks in large part to this facility,

the giant panda was officially taken off the ‘endangered’ list

and upgraded to ‘vulnerable’. It’s a heart-warming story that

visitors are privileged to see unfolding right in front of their

eyes in Chengdu – City of Pandas.

CHENGDU SICHUAN HOTPOT

@CHRIS ROBINSON

CHENGDU OPERA SINGER @CHRIS ROBINSON

SICHUAN SNACKS

CHENGDU, A CITYWITH AMIX OF OLD AND NEW

16 • Vacations

®

Summer 2017

Detours

PANDAS OF CHENGDU

SPOTLIGHT

China’s City of Pandas

By Chris Robinson

Chengdu is famous for its charming teahouses, fiery Sichuan cuisine,

bizarre face-changing theatre, and its enchanting pandas.

Vacations® •

Summer 2017 • 17