One of a handful of old towns that make for convenient, daylong city getaways, Huanglongxi (黄龙溪古镇), a modern-day tourist destination with regional historical significance, lies in present-day Shuangliu County, about 40 kilometers southeast of Chengdu.
Built in the year 216, the town's historical significance dates back to the Three Kingdoms and Shu Han, when it played an important role as a center of trade, due to its proximity to waterways (a tributary of the Jinjiang runs through the town). Starting in the early 1990s, it has been promoted countrywide as a rustic ancient town featuring Ming and Qing architectural styles and charming river views, both in TV-ad campaigns as well as the over 200 films the town has served as a backdrop for. The Zhenjiang, Chaoyin, and Gulong Temples—notable for some reason that we can't seem to find—are also in Huanglongxi.
But the trip as an informative historic experience pales in comparison to a visit to a local museum, temple, bookstore, or even a goal-oriented browse around the Internet. The signage explaining the significance of landmarks offers little information, and even less if you rely on their English translations. Baidu Baike claims that Huanglongxi is also home to six trees that are over 300 years old, but we didn't find them.
Perhaps the town is more interesting from a social-observation aspect, from watching children playing to seeing shoe-wearing dogs sniffing through litter, to reading the signage, translated from poetic Chinese phrases into slightly amusing warnings in English to not hurt the lovely flowers. Make a wrong turn down one of the small off-shooting roads, and you'll find yourself suddenly in a shockingly typical Chinese rural town—peddlers hawking vegetables on the street and a few small decrepit storefronts selling synthetic sweaters that were never in style or crammed full of dusty odds and ends that seem entirely too utilitarian to exist within spitting distance of a tourist alley. The contrast is bizarre and slightly creepy, and take our word for it: You're best off following the crowds along the more picturesque routes.
Ideally, you'd make the trip on a sunny day and at least enjoy that a day outdoors in that rare weather phenomenon, strolling, snacking, and shopping for frivolous trinkets such as swords, dolls, pretty stones, and notebooks with profane cover art. If you're feeling slightly wealthy and slightly adventurous, you can also rent a spot on a boat—unfortunately, your idyllic gondola ride will no doubt be interrupted by the choppy waters generated by small motorboats filled with thrill-seeking tourists buzzing around the river. Clusters of tables and chairs are congregated along the river as well, where you can sit and watch the view, if you're willing to pay the RMB20-per-head sitting fee (it includes a cup of weak tea).
Unfortunately the snacks—usually one of the highlights of such a trip—are neither as exotic nor as varied as those in Luodai—but if you're into dried and fried riverlife or douhua, the town's alleged specialty, you can have your fill. Outside almost every restaurant is a giant wok filled with the softest variety of tofu and a stone press for pressing the juice out of soybeans to make soymilk. Fermented and dried soybeans are also wrapped up in leaves and sold in salty little organic packages as "ram-horn beans" (羊角豆/yángjiǎodòu).
You'll also see many of the similar street snacks that you see in a number of local touristy towns including peanut cookies, fried potatoes, stinky tofu, and meat skewers. There is even a "heartbreaker noodle" (伤心凉粉/shāngxīnliángfěn) shop. These tear-inducing spicy gems are a classic in Sichuan's tourist towns; and because of that, the same chain has shops in Luodai, Ping'le, and even within Chengdu at Wenshu Fang.
Perhaps the best treats to be had in Huanglongxi are the numerous sweets on offer—from sesame brittle so fresh that it's still warm, to crispy, airy tubes of puffed sweet dough stacked into small peaks. Dried fruits—kiwis, bananas, pineapple, apricots—are flavorful as well as plentiful, and near-endless varieties of crisps (corn, wheat, sweet potato) are on hand. If you don't want to eat it, just watch workers hand-pulling mouth-numbing "dingding" taffy (丁丁糖/dīngdīngtáng or 麻糖/mátáng) or pouring thin lines of syrup that instantly harden into intricate candy animals.
During national and traditional holidays, the town holds special activities, including temple fairs, dragon dances, and food festivals.
Coach buses run every half-hour between 6:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. from Xinnanmen and Jinsha Stations. Tickets are RMB8 each way, and the journey takes approximately one hour. Return tickets can be purchased on the bus—or you can show up at the bus station in Huanglongxi and wait for the next empty spot (last buses back to the city tend to be crowded, so do this at your own risk). City bus 801 runs between Huayang and Huanglongxi . By hired car, the trip should cost you no more than RMB120 each way. In case you're inclined to make this an overnight trip, the main walkways are lined with buildings that offer guests room and board.