Yeah, we know what you're thinking: "But we just got here!" Trust us, before long you'll want a break from the congested streets and gray sky. And when that time comes, we got your back.
Said to be founded 2,000 years ago, this town has been home to several waves of Hakka migrants throughout the centuries, and today allegedly traditional Hakka-style snacks can be had at every vendor's stall. The one main avenue makes for a nice stroll among the crowds lined with touristy, kitschy offerings and cheap, tasty, and exotic snacks. Visits to the nearby park, the Randeng Temple, and the "Golden Dragon Wall"—a miniature Great Wall—complete the Luodai experience. Celebrations are held for the Hakka Fire Dragon Festival during the Lunar New Year and for the Water Dragon Festival in July.
24 hours, no entrance fee, 20 km east of Chengdu. From Wuguiqiao Bus Station, a one-hour trip on the 219 bus costs RMB3. From Xinnanmen Bus Station, coaches depart every 10 minutes between 7:40 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. RMB5.5, 40 minutes. Taxis, RMB70 to 80, 30 minutes.
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. Now it has been promoted countrywide as a rustic ancient town featuring charming river views and Ming and Qing architectural styles that have served as backdrops in over 200 films. During national and traditional holidays, the town holds special activities, including temple fairs, dragon dances, and food festivals.
24 hours, no entrance fee, 40 km south of Chengdu. From Xinnanmen Bus Station, buses depart every 30 minutes between 8:20 a.m. and 3:20 p.m. RMB8, 1 hour. A later bus departs from Huanglongxi to the Jinsha Bus Station at 6 p.m., RMB8. Taxi, approx. RMB120.
Of the three nearby ancient towns, Pingle is perhaps the quietest. Pingle's sleepy, beach-town feeling is completed by the nearby bamboo forest which served as a supply base for Silk Road merchants. With its dense trees, meandering rivers along steep rocks, mountains, and a couple of country-style guest houses, today it's a chilled-out retreat for visitors.
24 hours, no entrance to town, RMB30 for bamboo forest, 93 km southwest of Chengdu. From Jinsha Bus Station, buses depart every 30 minutes for Qionglai, RMB20, 70 minutes. At Qionglai transfer to a minibus to Pingle, RMB4.5, 40 minutes. 6 direct buses daily from Xinnanmen Bus Station, RMB25. Last bus departs from Pingle to Chengdu at 6 p.m.
Erected in 1788, Tiefo (literally, "iron Buddha") is worth a look for its well-preserved distinct architectural features—upturned roof corners, ornamental eaves, and intricate wood carvings grace the Qing dynasty buildings of the town.
24 hours, no entrance fee, 150 km southeast of Chengdu. From Wuguiqiao Station, buses depart for Zizhong every 30 minutes between 8 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., RMB38. At Zizhong transfer to a minibus or cab to Tiefo. Trains run from Chengdu to Zizhong between 5:53 a.m. and 3:41 p.m., RMB14, 3 to 5 hours.
E'mei Shan 峨嵋山
At 3,100 meters, E'mai Shan, whose name means "Towering Eyebrow Mountain," is the highest of China's Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism and the site of the first Buddhist temple build on the mainland. Today the UNESCO heritage site houses more than 100 temples and monasteries, squads of naughty macaque, and reclusive practitioners of traditional Chinese kongfu. Long hikes to the top are rewarded with the scenic highlights of E'mei, the Sunrise and the Cloud Sea, but visitors can also take a bus halfway or a cable car all the way to the summit. Overnight travelers will find cheap shelter and vegetarian food in the temples.
5:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., RMB150/90 (on/off season). Around 150 km southwest of Chengdu, 10 trains daily, RMB22, 2 hours. From Xinnanmen Bus Station, buses depart every 30 minutes between 7:20 a.m. and 7:20 p.m., RMB42, 2 to 3 hours.
Qingcheng Shan 青城山
Though it may not receive the attention that E'mei Mountain receives, Qingcheng, a revered Taoist location for many centuries, provides a less crowded and shorter climb at 1,206 meters.
8 a.m. to 5 p.m., RMB90. Around 80 km northwest of Chengdu, 13 high-speed trains daily between 6:32 a.m. and 8:45 p.m. (#train timetable Chengdu-Qingcheng Shan#http://www.gochengdoo.com/en/blog/item/1841/weekend_getaway_dujiangyan), RMB15, 30 minutes. Buses depart from Chadianzi Bus Station, RMB16, 2 hours.
A quickie getaway, Longquan Lake is surrounded by mountains, teahouses, boats and its renowned peach blossoms.
24 hours, no entrance fee, 35 km southwest of Chengdu. From Xinnanmen Bus Station buses depart every 10 minutes between 7:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. RMB4, 40minutes.
Le Shan Giant Buddha 乐山大佛
The world's largest stone-carved sitting Buddha, whose pinky toenail can seat several full-grown humans, is located at the confluence of three rivers, facing the sacred Taoist E'mei Mountain. Construction on the 71-meter tall sculpture was started in 713 A.D. and took nearly a century to complete. The area also hosts a museum with exhibits on the construction and subsequent renovations of this UNESCO heritage site. South of the giant is a pink-walled monastery adorned with scenes from Journey to the West and arhat sculptures. If you have time to kill check out the nearby steam train.
9 a.m. to 5 p.m., RMB90 (plus RMB50 for boat ride), 162 km south of Chengdu. 3 trains daily from Chengdu South Train Station, 7:58, 16:56, 19:25, RMB9 to 104, 90 to 150 minutes. From Xinnanmen Bus Station, buses depart every 20 minutes between 7:30 a.m. and 7:35 p.m. RMB45 to 52. From Shiyangchang Bus Station, buses depart every 20 minutes between 7:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. RMB37.
This UNESCO heritage site is, many believe, the reason behind the renowned Sichuanese laid-back attitude and the locals' fanatic love for teahouses and majiang.
7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., RMB60, 60 km northwest of Chengdu. 13 high-speed trains daily between 6:32 a.m. and 20:49 p.m., RMB15, 30 minutes. From Chadianzi Bus Station, RMB9.5, 2 hours.
Sichuan Cuisine Museum 成都川菜博物馆
The museum displays culinary-related archaeological finds from as early as 475 B.C. that trace the development of the province's cuisine from the West Han period to present-day cuisine, with highlights like the invention of paocai along the way. There is a restaurant on the grounds that offers quite decent orthodox Sichuanese food and gives diners the chance to watch their food being prepared in the restaurant's glass-walled kitchen. On-site cooking classes are also available (around RMB150 per dish).
RMB60 entrance, 30 km north of Chengdu. From Jinsha Station, take bus 305 to Pixian Bei Men, transfer to the 363 to Gucheng Zhen, 2 hours total. Taxis, RMB80, 40 minutes.
Jianchuan Museum Cluster 建川博物馆聚落
Real-estate mogul Fan Jianchuan's vast grounds house over 10 exhibition halls showcasing Cultural Revolution-era living, World War II artifacts, and older facets of Chinese history such as the tradition of foot-binding. Newer halls memorialize the Wenchuan earthquake, and the site is also home to Zhu Jianqiang, the lucky pig who survived more than five weeks trapped in a sty after the quake. Nearby, the Jingui Residence Hotel is "the only one three-star hotel in China themed with Chinese Red Age" in case you miss the last bus back.
9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., RMB100 multiple-day pass for all halls, RMB20 per hall, 63 km east of Chengdu. From Jinsha Station, buses to Anren take 60 minutes and cost RMB14. More frequent buses depart for Dayi County and take 50 minutes and cost RMB16.5. In Dayi, bus 11 (RMB2.5) goes directly to Anren.
Sanxingdui Ruins 三星堆
Consistently ranked among China's top 10 museums, Sanxingdui showcases artifacts from a civilization that dates back 5,000 years but whose existence was unearthed only in the 1980s. Some of the archaeological finds have been adopted as official and unofficial symbols of Chengdu and Sichuan, such as the gold foil sunbird on Chengdu taxis.
8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., RMB80, audio tours and guided tours available. From Xinnanmen Station, buses begin running at 8:30 a.m., RMB14, 1 hour. From Zhaojue Bus Station, buses to Guanghan take 30 minutes and cost RMB10 to 15. From Guanghan, take bus no. 6, 15 minutes. Taxis, 40 minutes, RMB150.
If it's cityscape you're after, Chongqing offers plenty: Skyscrapers, cable cars, river boat tours, a monorails, more spicy food than Sichuan, gigantic river rats, the White Crane Ridge Underwater Museum, ghost towns, World War II prison camps, the world's biggest nuclear man-made cave shelter, a self-ironic "foreigner street," a graffiti street, rock pubs, art museums. If that's not enough, there's always the Dazu Rock Carvings two hours away.
250 km southeast of Chengdu. 10 high-speed trains daily between 8 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., RMB98 to 117, 2 hours. Buses also available but take 4 to 5 hours.
Panda Research Base 熊猫基地
Lots of giant pandas at different ages, all in one place, plus cuteness overload—a panda nursery open to the public. The 100-hectare base also holds an on-site museum, educational facilities, a tea garden, lotus-flower-covered lake, bird park and restaurant. Visitors willing to drop a couple hundred yuan can pose for a photo with a baby panda on their lap. Early morning visits recommended for most high-octane activity.
8 a.m. to 6 p.m., RMB58 (RMB52/Group), guided English tours available. Around 15 km northeast of Chengdu. From Xinnanmen Bus Station, s one-hour ride on bus 902 costs RMB2, or 40 minutes by taxi (approx. RMB40).
Bifengxia Reserve 碧峰峽
After the Wenchuan earthquake, the pandas at Wolong were relocated to Bifengxia, which is now a growing natural panda reserve with a nearby wildlife zoo, extensive bird paradise, and lots of hiking spots.
Reserve and zoo: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., RMB100, national park: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., RMB80. Around 120 km southwest of Chengdu. From Xinnanmen Bus Station, buses depart every 35 minutes between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. RMB45, 90 minutes.
This article was originally published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 36 ("how to IV").