Friday, February 28, 2014

Chengdu, China

Visiting China is among the most unique experiences we've ever had. A trip to Chengdu in  Sichuan Province proved to be both exciting and delicious. Although the Hubs had made a few visits throughout the country, this was my first. Unless you're going in the summer, don't expect to see much sun.  Chengdu is naturally cloudy, but top that off with pollution you have a formula for ultimate gray skies.

What to do
Chengdu has a variety of sites to visit and go sightseeing. Try starting with the Wide and Narrow Allies (Kuanzhai Xiangzhi). There, you can walk through three ancient city allies filled with shopping, restaurants, pubs and history. You'll find some great places to eat hot pot, and even watch traditional dances and other performances.

Looking for a place to shop for ornate cloths and gifts? Try Jinli Street. If you get hungry, there are countless shops and carts selling local snacks and meals. Think about visiting after sunset and see the street light up and glow!

The Giant Panda Research Base is a must see if you're in Chengdu. Giant Pandas are indigenous to Sichuan Province and the government built a beautiful park for all visitors to enjoy. Situated just outside the 3rd Ring Road, the base is a little ways out from the center of town, but worth the trip. Entrance was only 58 RMB per person (less than 10 USD)!

The New Century Global Center is the largest building in the world. Leave it to the Chinese to one up everyone! Boasting a staggering 18.94 million square feet, it's easy to get lost in this gargantuan shopping center which has its own artificial sun, beach, iceskating ring, 14 IMAX screens and endless shops and restaurants. This beast can hold 20 Sydney Opera Houses!

Sichuan can arguably have the best Chinese food in all of China, if you can handle the spices. Red hot chilies to mouth numbing peppercorns, this was hands down the spiciest food experience, ever. Worth it? YES! You've never had Kung Pao chicken until you've had it from Chengdu. Everything from the fish flavored egg plant to four season stir fired string beans was absolutely delicious. If you're not big into extremely spicy food, avoid the fresh cut chilies.

Getting around and transportation
Speaking some Chinese will pay huge dividends when getting around town, ordering food and bargaining for the best prices. English speakers are few and far between. Learn some basic survival Chinese before you go for the best (and least expensive) experience.

The public transportation system in Chengdu is very easy to use. Try to stay near a subway station, as this will simplify things. The subway is fast, clean and inexpensive. You won't need to know any Chinese to use it, so fear not! The trains can take you to most of the popular sites, or close enough to walk after getting off at a nearby stop. Taxis are also an effective way to get around. They're metered and inexpensive. The only difficulty would be communicating with the driver, as most speak the local dialect or Mandarin Chinese.

About currency
The conversion rate was roughly 1 USD to 6 RMB. Changing currency in a city as large as Chengdu was very easy. ATMs are abundant and rates are in your favor if buying Chinese Yuan. The same can't be said if you're selling it back.

Violent crime is incredibly rare in China. In fact, it's among the lowest in the world. Crime is typically limited to petty theft, such as pick pocketing in crowded touristy areas. Be aware of your wallet and surroundings and you'll be fine. Being out late at night is generally safe, but use common sense.

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