Welcome to Backpacker’s Boutique. Every Sunday, this spot will feature a new travel blogger. Some weeks it will be a really fun interview about packing, fashion, and fitness so you can snoop inside their bags & lives a little bit and other weeks it’ll be a detailed luxury guide to a city the featured blogger/expat knows very well. E-mail me if you’d like to be featured.
A Luxury Guide to Chengdu
Tell us a little about yourself and tell us why you’re an expert on luxury travel in Chengdu?
I taught English for a year in Nanchong, a small city in Sichuan China. Chengdu is the largest nearby city, only 90 minutes away by the high speed train. I loved teaching in a smaller area, but I frequently escaped to Chengdu to relax and explore. Sichuan as a whole is a more adventurous place to travel so being in Chengdu is the ideal time to enjoy a bit of luxury before diving into the next adventure. I love Sichuan fiercely and Chengdu really is the heart of it all.
What makes Chengdu a perfect destination for travelers seeking a glamorous trip?
While many westerners may not have even heard of Chengdu it is one of the largest cities in China, located in western part of the country, its often considered the “last outpost” before you get into much less developed areas. As a city it has one of the highest qualities of life in China, with lower levels of pollution, easy access to many beautiful areas and amazing food. Unlike many other Chinese cities, it’s pretty relaxed and has attracted many foreigners.
What 5 star hotel is the best in your town?
If you’re going to splurge in Chengdu I would do it at the BuddhaZen hotel, the third highest ranked hotel in Chengdu. A breakfast is included with the room, which has a western breakfast so you won’t need to eat spicy rice noodles in the morning. The place is decorated in a traditional Chinese style and it is located on a pedestrian road so you won’t hear constant traffic. It also tends to be surrounded by food vendors so you can get a delicious snack while coming/going and they have an in-house spa.
Its located across the street next to the Wenshua monastery. I have visited that temple frequently as it is an incredibly peaceful place. In the rush of modern Chinese life its definitely worth walking through their garden area to relax. Admission is free.
What about boutique hotels, of them all, which would you send your friends or family to stay at?
The Loft is a boutique hostel in Chengdu, located near the city center. Its a fun and quirky place but very comfortable. They offer a free meal to guests once a week and will often teach you come Chinese cooking skills if you ask nicely. Holly’s Hostel also a good choice, though a bit less cozy. It is a Tibetan place with a rooftop café and is located right in the center of the Tibetan District, so you’ll be able to try some butter tea and buy some Tibetan jewelry.
Are there any fun activities for the adventurous traveler?
Chengdu is often a base for adventurous travelers, people heading out to Tibet, or to the mountainous Northern areas of Sichuan. Those are often a day long bus ride away but if you want to stay in the area then going to climb QingCheng shan is just a 30 minute train ride away. You can take cable cars to the top and walk down or hike the whole way but it is a really lovely area and a famous Taoist mountain.
If you’re looking for a longer trip I always recommend people check out Juizhaigou for the bluest water you’ll ever see. If you’re not interested in a 10 hour bus ride you can fly there from Chengdu and make it a day trip after all.
Where are the best hang outs during the day?
Pandas are largely considered the number one thing to do in Chengdu. There are over 50 pandas (including the very cute red ones). Even if you’re not an animal person, its a really nice place to walk around. Go as early in the morning as you can, almost every hotel/hostel will arrange a ride for you. In the mornings the pandas are eating and they’re ridiculously cute. You can also pay to cuddle a baby panda if that’s a dream of yours.
If you haven’t been in China long then I would suggest going over to the park (Renmin Park) and just walk around. The park is lovely but what is most entertaining is the number of people you will see dancing, singing, writing calligraphy, doing Tai Chi. Mornings are best for this. There are also a lot of teahouses so you can relax with endless cups of green tea and wait out the heat during the summer afternoons.
If you have a big date night, what are the most delicious restaurants in Chengdu and what are their best dishes?
For Western food I’m a big fan of the Bookworm because I’m a huge nerd and I love eating at a place with books in it. They have a huge range of English books for decent prices. Their menu is pretty decent with good salads, a rare find in China. I also like that they mix western/sichuanese ingredients. They have delicious cocktails with book inspired names and I quite enjoy drinking a Gone with the Gin. (2-7 Yujie Donglu, 28 Renmin Nanlu)
Sichuan is famous for its food though and you should not come here without trying some its deliciousness. mapo dofu, kung pao chicken, spicy green beans, and fish flavored pork are my favorite dishes. You can read more about Sichuan food here.
Even better though, go out for hot pot. Sichuanese hot pot is a vat at your table filled with boiling broth and peppers and you order a wide range of foods to be cooked and eaten. My favorite things to eat in hot pot are cauliflower, lotus roots, mushrooms, quail eggs, shrimp dumplings, and cow stomach. Make sure you try something crazy, you are in China after all.
For Sichuanese food try the restaurant Mapo Dofu (2nd fl, 197 xi Yulong Jie) or better yet, just ask staff at a hostel/hotel and they’ll probably be able to point you to a good place.
For hot pot I’d try Yulin Chuanchuan Xiang (2-3 Kehau Jie)
Tell us all the hot shopping spots; who’s carrying the trendy local designers? Are there designers we should make sure to meet?
Chunxi Lu is a famous pedestrian shopping street and the largest one in Sichuan. You can find basically anything here including many western chains. There is a pretty wide range from H&M to Prada.
For more designer stuff you can walk along Kehua Road and there are any cute shops, many with a serious middle eastern flair. If you want to buy a Qipao (traditional Chinese silk dress) then try going to Wide and Narrow Alley and be prepared for an audience because Chinese people love seeing foreign women in traditional clothes. I love buying silk scarves here and you will see shops everywhere. Just remember to haggle.
What are a couple of the best salons and spas in Chengdu?
One of my favorite things to do in China is to get my hair washed. It sounds lame, but they’re rub your head and give you a scalp massage which feels amazing. They’ll also clean your ears, and rub your shoulder/neck before they’ll style your hair. I will warn you that if you have curls like me, sometimes the “styling” comes out a bit wonky since they’re not used to it. I would suggest asking your hostel/hotel for a recommendation because there are places everywhere and they’ll know the best ones. Have them write down “hair wash” and “gentle” in characters for you (Chinese like rough massages)
If you’re feeling adventurous you can visit a tea house to get your ears cleaned. There will be men walking around clanging chimes together. The cleaning is…. Intense. While it wasn’t painful, it wasn’t exactly pleasant either. It’s very Chinese and interesting experience either way.
sunset over lake via flickr
Time for a great sunset view… where would you go?
While you won’t actually see the sun go down, its definitely good to head over to Jinli alley at night. Its definitely a touristy area selling all sorts of crafts, but you can find some very cute Tibetan jewelry, Chinese traditional paper cuttings, silk scarves, and you can buy a lot of traditional snack foods. Really the highlight is seeing all the Chinese lanterns at night. There are lots of place to get a drink and often there is live music.
There are lots of places to eat/drink and often live music. It’s a good place to either end your day or to pre-game for the night ahead. Just beware if any men offer you a glass of “white wine”. Its not wine, its baiju, China’s most infamous alcohol. It can be 100 proof and is definitely an acquired taste.
If you end the night at a fancy club, which one do you head towards?
Jellyfish is Chengdu’s most infamous club and is beloved by expats and travelers. Often there is live music and can be a lot of fun.
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