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Chengdu With Kids

Located in China’s Southwest is the spicy Sichuan province with Chengdu as its capital.  Whilst Chengdu might look like your average industrial Chinese city from the outset, scratch a little deeper and you’ll find friendly people powered by its spicy food, parks full of fun activities, beautiful temples, world natural and cultural heritage sites and… these guys

Chengdu Panda Nursery - shrink

When to go
The best time to visit is from March to June or September to November. We visited in October and experienced balmy temperatures with the odd touch of drizzle.

Chengdu River Walk - Shrink

Advance planning
Don’t forget to organise your China Tourist Visa.  In Hong Kong, I did this through the China Travel Service although it would have been cheaper to go to the China visa office directly (but I couldn’t be bothered). You will need to produce a number of documents (especially if this is your child’s first trip to China) so check what you require.

If you want to do the ‘Panda Experience’ at the Panda Breeding & Research Centre, you will need to organise this in advance (although pay on the day). Same goes for the Sichuan Opera.  I had our hotel concierge organise this for us.

Where to stay
If you want luxury and an indoor pool (a must if you’re traveling with young kids!) I highly recommend the Shangri La Chengdu

How can I get to Chengdu?
We flew direct from Hong Kong with Dragaonair (2.5 hours).   I booked my flights online through the Dragonair website.

Chengdu Shangliu Airport is clean, easy to navigate and approx. 30 minutes by taxi from downtown Chengdu.  Tip – get your hotel to send you the hotel address in Chinese as taxi drivers speak very little English

Getting around Chengdu
We took regular taxis to and from all the attractions.  I had the hotel concierge write down the addresses in Chinese so we could easily communicate with the taxi drivers.  Occasionally we had trouble flagging down a taxi but on the whole it was an easy and cheap way to get around the city.

What to do in Chengdu?
We spent 3 days and 2 nights in Chengdu.  As I was traveling with my five year old, I didn’t want to overburden her (essentially she just wanted to play with the pandas and splash about in the hotel pool). However, there is so much to do that I could easily have tagged on another day and night to our itinerary.

  • Panda Breeding Research Centre
    It’s worth getting up early and arriving between 8-8:30am to have this beautiful panda research centre to yourself. This is also when the pandas are most active. The research centre was approx. 30 minutes drive from the Shangri La.
    Whilst entry to the park is cheap (RMB 58) I had paid extra (RMB 2,000 per person) to have the ‘panda experience’.  There are only 50 slots per day so be sure to organise this in advance.  You enter the nursery facility in small groups and receive a detailed introduction on the history of the giant panda, their biology and how they are looked after at the research centre.  You then get to meet a panda and have your photo taken.  The price also includes lots of cheesy souvenirs and a framed photo.  If any of you are reading this and concerned about the welfare of the panda, I assure you that the centre is extremely well maintained and their focus is on panda conservation, education and of course, giant panda breeding.  The panda we met didn’t seemed bothered by our presence –  they are given bamboo with honey on to munch whilst we have our photos taken. 
    When Daisy met a panda - shrinkThe park itself is huge and relatively stroller friendly.  That said, this is an experience I would probably save until your kids are old enough (at least 5) to appreciate it.  There are designated open areas home to the giant pandas of different ages, red pandas and the panda nursery (get here early to have your glimpse into sleeping baby pandas).
    Panda sanctuary - shrink
  • Renmin Park (People’s Park)
    Think Strictly Ballroom meets music festival and you’ve got the People’s Park.  Whilst my 5-year-old was initially begging for swings and slides, she was soon occupied with watching people waltz through the park and various singers who had set up stage around the centre.  There’s also a lake with row boats.
    Chengdu - Peoples Park - Dancing - Shrink Chengdu People's Park - shrink
  • Sichuan Opera
    Having been scarred by lengthy (read boring) Japanese noh opera, I was reluctant to spend an evening at the Sichuan Opera.  Luckily I read the reviews and booked our tickets.  More like a low-fi Cirque Du Soleil – your kids will absolutely love the gymnastics, dancing, fire eating and changing masks. Despite being in Chinese with English subtitles at the side (my 5yo can only just read), she was thoroughly entertained.  We chose the 7pm show but I believe there is also one at 8.30pm
    Chengdu Opera - Shrink
  • The Wenshu Yuan Monastery is the perfect place to escape the crowds and find some tranquility. A complex of Buddhist temples and garden, this is a ‘living monastery’ so you might get the chance to hear the monks chanting or even an invite to a vegetarian lunch.
    Wenshu Yuan Monastery - shrink
  • Kuanzhai Xiangzi (Wide and Narrow alley) is a fun maze of streets and courtyards jampacked with shops, teahouses, streetfood, souvenir stands and crazy cool street art.
    Kuanzhai Xiangzi Street Art - shrinkDaisy street food - shrink
  • Jinli street offers up more pedestrianised fun from food stalls to teahouses and yes, more souvenirs.  These streets can be lots of fun for kids, just be prepared for the crowds.  This is also a great way to feast on local delicacies although not all are signed in English!
    Chengdu street food - shrink
  • Wangjianglou Park is probably one of the most beautiful parks we have ever visited.  One side of the park requires an entrance fee (RMB 20) and I recommend you stroll through this side with its zen like ambiance, pagodas and bamboo sculptures.  My 5-year-old thought we were in a magic fairy forest.  Wander through to the main area of the park and it’s another feast for the eyes with locals doing dance routines, tai chi, sipping tea at the teahouses, badminton, calligraphy and even a mini funfair.
    Wangjianglou Park - shrink Tai chi in the park - shrink

Where to eat in Chengdu

  • The Shangri La hotel has a good selection of restaurants.  We ate a huge amount of food at the buffet breakfast at Cafe Z, followed by a huge amount of food at the international buffet at Cafe Z (including local Chinese dishes such as hotpot, dan dan noodles and spicy dumplings).  If you have access to the Horizon Club, canapes are served at 5pm which was more than enough to feed us for dinner!
  • We supplemented all our buffets with sampling the local street food at Jinli Street and Kuanzhai Xiangzi.
  • The parks have beautiful teahouses, simply sit down and someone will promptly come over and serve you tea (very cheap!)

Jetlag & Mayhem’s Tips for Chengdu

  • I think hiring a local guide can be a great way to explore a Chinese city – you can find yourself lost in translation and it can be frustrating having to rely on flagging down a taxi. Guides often come with private car hire for the day and this would be an easy way to explore Chengdu (have a search on Tripadvisor etc for guide referrals). The reason I didn’t do it was because I wanted to have flexibility on our itinerary given the mood of my 5-year-old!
  • Again, if I had been traveling with older kids and had more time there is so much to see. I plan to return one day to visit the Leshan Buddha, Mount Emai, Mount Qincheng, the Dujiangyang Irrigation System and the Jinsha Site Museum – who knew there was so much to do in Chengdu!
  • Get your hotel to write down all your destinations in Chinese so that you can show this to your taxi driver.  
  • Many Chinese will be intrigued by your kids – particularly those with blonde hair and blue eyes! Prepare your kids for the onslaught of paparazzi at tourist attractions and if it is making them unhappy, tell those taking the photos to stop. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the amount of hassle we had – we’ve had more people trying to take pictures of the kids in Hong Kong!
  • Get to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre early – by the time we left there were huge crowds of people coming in, compared to the empty park we had experienced in the morning. Plus most of the pandas were asleep after lunch!
  • Pack a Chinese phrasebook to help you get by, particularly in taxis and restaurants

 

14 comments

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  1. Jay

    Thanks so much for this!! I would be heading to Chengdu in January..solo 19 year old traveler…my first time but i’m more than excited…I will be following this website for some more.. 🙂

  2. Kim

    Great blog. Heading there this weekend. Where did you book the Sichuan Opera?

    1. Nicola

      The concierge at my hotel (Shangri La) booked it for me. I think there are other agencies online that can do this for you

  3. islandliving365

    This looks like such a fantastic trip! You have shared some fantastic tips too :- )#mondayescapes

  4. afamilydayout

    I’d love to visit Chengdu and particularly the panda breeding research centre. Sounds like there’s plenty to do in the area and the street food stalls look yummy.

    As an asde, I remember my son being held and photographed loads when we visited Ocean Park in HK – at the time he was 1 year old and had a mass of blond curly hair. #Mondayescapes

  5. Kana

    I just had to stop by through #MondayEscapes after seeing the Panda photo! Eek! So adorable! The Panda Research Centre has been on my list of places to visit forever; you’ve inspired me to actually look into it this time! xo

  6. Ruth

    I would love, love to visit Chengdu and the Panda Research Center. I have only visited Shanghai but a visit to other parts of the country is due.

  7. Urska @ Slovenian Girl Abroad

    OMG, I would love to hang out with pandas! Great post, btw! 🙂

  8. tinyexpats

    Those pandas are adorable 🙂 Thank you for such a detailed post – great tips for planning a trip! #MondayEscapes

  9. fifi + hop

    I know my girls would die to see pandas..sounds like an incredible visit. #mondayescapes

  10. Smiling Notes

    Omg… those pandas are so adorable!! 🙂

  11. Packing my Suitcase

    ohhhhh I have to go there someday!! I loooove Pandas!!
    Happy that they take care of them and worry about their conservation. Thank you for the practical tips, that’s great to know!

    Thank you for linking up with #MondayEscapes 😀

  12. beatravelling

    How cute are the pandas!! 🙂 I didn’t get to see any while in China. Some much to do, so little time.

  13. Barbra

    I’m heading to Chengdu in August. This blog was just what I needed to make the “little things” go smoothly. I never would have thought to have the hotel staff write addresses down! Thank you!

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