Xilai Old Town (西来古镇) is the sort of place that's overlooked in most guidebooks aimed at foreign tourists and probably isn't at the top of the list of must-sees of most visitors to Sichuan. To be sure, the 1,700-year-old town doesn't dish up the culinary variety of Luodai (though it prides itself on its local tofu and duck dishes), nor does it boast the bustling streets of cinematographic Huanglongxi. Xilai nonetheless has its hidden charms.
In recent years, architects have managed to squeeze in some modern designs along the riverbanks, among the preserved examples of Ming- and Qing-era architecture. The renovation of the "old" town is part of two-phase project by Jiakun Architects, who also designed the new clock museum in Anren, the Lyyeuan stone sculpture museum in Pixian and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chengdu's Hi-Tech Zone.
The most prominent example of Xilai's ancient architecture is the Wenfen Pagoda (文峰塔) which features the signature curved tiled roof and marks the end and beginning of a little stroll through the shops of the old town.
Old locals joyfully sing along the river in the shadow of trees, and if you're lucky you might catch a glimpse of people skilled in the traditional technique of eye scraping. The development of Xilai's tourism industry is still ongoing, but nobody seems to be in a hurry, leaving Xilai's true attraction—its calm inhabitants who give off an air of friendliness and modesty—intact for some time to come. In that regard, Xilai is outstanding with its magic tranquility that the people breathe and genuine hospitality, making a visit truly relaxing.
Buses to Pujiang (浦江) leave every 20 to 30 minutes from Xinnanmen Bus Station (新南门汽车站). The 70km highway ride takes about an hour and RMB27. At the Pujiang bus station you can take the 30-minute, RMB4 ride on bus 201, which will take you within walking distance of Xilai Old Town (西来古镇). If you don't want to wait for the bus, a taxi ride shouldn't take longer than 15 minutes and will cost around RMB30. Signs indicate that the riverbank paths here are linked to the Chengdu network of greenbelt bike paths. For an overnight getaway, you could consider adding on a side trip to the scenic Changtan Lake (长滩湖) 12 km west of Pujiang, which also offers camping. Inexpensive, simple guest rooms are available in the old town itself as well.
This article was first published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 66.
Photos by Dan Sandoval.