Nothing Grander than Pandas
The only thing more revered than Chengdu’s sights, entertainment and culture are its famous furry inhabitants.
The lush broadleaf and conifer forests of Sichuan’s mountains, wreathed in mist and covered in bamboo, are the natural habitat of the iconic black-and-white bear.
Pan Pan the 1990 Beijing Asian Games mascot became an international icon and it’s heartening to learn that he is still treated like a hero. Meeting panda royalty is just one of the many and varied attractions of a visit to Chengdu, the fiery and pleasure-loving provincial capital of Sichuan.
The 28-year-old namesake bear recently moved into five-star accommodation at Dujiangyan Giant Panda Center, a retirement home for both pensioned-off stars and plain pandas in need of recuperation. He’s like a well-loved teddy bear, a bit frayed but bright, and clearly enjoys the proffered bamboo treats and putting smiles on the faces of his rapturous fans.
Black and White Beauty
A symbol of scarcity, animal protection and of course China, there are only about 3,000 giant pandas (Ailuropoda Melanoleuca) on the planet and most of them are based around Chengdu. The lush broadleaf and conifer forests of Sichuan’s mountains, wreathed in mist and covered in bamboo, are the natural habitat of the iconic black-and-white bear.
Dujiangyan is one of three panda centres in the Chengdu area and is on the leeward side of storied Mount Qingcheng, whose 36 poetic peaks host many Taoist temples and is where the Yellow Emperor, the legendary founder of China, is said to have conducted his studies nearly 5,000 years ago.
Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, as part of its Sanctuary Care for Nature project, has planted more than 9,000 bamboo trees at Dujiangyan for the pandas. In addition, when the centre publicly opens mid year, the hotel will provide guests exclusive tours of the facility, where they can learn about the plight of the panda and even prepare dinner for the bears in the custom-designed kitchen.
Window On Wildlife
Meanwhile, Chengdu Panda Base is just a 30-minute cab ride from Shangri-La Hotel, Chengdu and has an international reputation for conservancy and breeding. Visitors can see bears all-year round, but in August or September there are newborn cubs to ogle. It’s great to get up close to these miracles of nature. Meanwhile, Wolong Panda Base is 130 km from Chengdu and is one of the most popular places to see pandas in their natural surroundings.
It is also the best place to see the less popular but equally precious wild red panda, skillful and acrobatic animals with thick russet fur, black limbs and white markings on the side of the head. An hour-and-half away is the eternal splendour of Emei Mountain and Long Life Monastery, which has a 68-tonne statue of an elephant and its rider that was constructed in AD 980. These are just a few of the natural highlights, but the ancient Chinese capital of Chengdu is a super destination in its own right, famed for spice, teahouses and good times.
For those who wish to explore the buzzing heart of town, the famous Lan Kwai Fong food and beverage entertainment district, a glitzy mix of upmarket bars, stores and restaurants is a short walk from Shangri-La Hotel, Chengdu in the fashionable business and leisure hub. For a more laid-back buzz, Kuanzhai Street is a pedestrian treat packed with eateries, boutiques and of course teahouses. The artfully restored neighborhood fuses Qing Dynasty architecture and a hip chic.
While Chengdu is booming, it still has pockets of interest for lovers of local culture. One of these areas and off the tourist map a bit is Bei Shu Yan Jie. Here life carries on unchanged, and the denizens of rickety mahjong halls play the game of tiles with wild abandon, before repairing for a spicy treat at one of the many cheap but very cheerful hot pot restaurants the city is renowned for.
If it’s history you’re after, there’s oodles of it at the Jinsha Site Museum, where you can see the stunning gold foil “sun bird” that is the city’s official symbol. Another downtown landmark is Renmin Park, where locals practice formation dancing, hip-hop and calligraphy – it’s a haven for free entertainment; just like the converted factory complex of East District Music Park, another lively area to stroll around, shop, drink and listen to cool sounds.
Chengdu is supremely colourful, anything but just black-and-white, though you should certainly see the magical bears.