Chengdu is the relaxed capital of Sichuan province and proudly holds the title of ‘the panda capital of the world'; seeing these endangered animals is certainly one of the main reasons to visit the region.
However, Sichuan has plenty more to offer, from Buddhist and Taoist shrines to invigorating regional cuisine, teahouse culture and dramatic scenery.
Panda rehabilitation centres and Chengdu's Jinli Street are popular, while the impressive Giant Buddha of Leshan is one of China's most important Buddhist sites.
The thinly populated western part of Sichuan is characterised by dense, snow-capped mountains that extend into neighbouring Tibet, while the east is dominated by the industrial city of Chongqing, the terminus for one of the world's great river journeys on the mighty Yangtze.
In between is the fertile basin that has provided prosperity since the prehistoric Shu Kingdom, relics from which can be seen at the excellent Sanxingdui and Jinsha museums.
Panda rehabilitation centres
There are as few as 1,800 wild pandas in the world and while their numbers remain so precarious the best chance of seeing one is in a reserve, several of which are in Sichuan.
The Chengdu Panda Base provides the chance to see panda cubs in the nursery, as well as adult pandas and the equally rare red panda in enclosures, and to learn about conservation and scientific research.
A few hours outside the city is a larger rehabilitation centre at Bifengxia, which like Chengdu is home to a number of pandas that were rescued from the Wolong sanctuary when it was destroyed by an earthquake in 2008.
Arriving early helps to avoid the potentially huge crowds at both centres but, even if it is busy, it remains a genuine thrill to see the pandas up close.
Giant Buddha of Leshan
The Giant Buddha of Leshan is carved into a red cliff face at the confluence of the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers.
This 71-metre-high Buddha is one of China's most important Buddhist sites. It was constructed during the Tang Dynasty over a period of 90 years, at the bequest of a travelling monk called Hai Tong. He wanted to use the power of Buddha to control the waters of the rivers, which flooded each year and caused much suffering for local farmers and fishermen. The rivers lap the feet of the Buddha, who sits looking towards the holy peak of Mount Emei.
Jinli Street, a narrow lane in Chengdu, is a popular shopping and nightlife area, with orange lanterns hanging from the rafters of many of the wooden buildings and shops selling regional souvenirs such as Sichuan opera masks and embroidered pictures of pandas.
It's a great place for people watching as you stroll among the restaurants, teahouses and street food stalls that sell fiery snacks on sticks, sugary treats, wonton and tangyuan (glutinous rice balls).
Top itineraries in Chengdu
Take in the best of China on this introductory tailor-made holiday. You'll visit Beijing, Xian, Chengdu, Guilin and Shanghai, with included touring bringing together this vast country's unique collection of landscapes, cultures and wildlife.
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