City hitlist: Chengdu

Come for the pandas, stay for the Sichuan capital's provincial character and fiery cuisine.

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Chengdu is a magnet for south-west China's young creatives and has vibrant arts and live-music scenes, as well as a long history of fine culinary traditions.

What to see

Jinsha Site Museum
Chengdu's biggest draw may be the panda research base, but just as fascinating is this archaeological site uncovered in 2001, exposing the 3000-year-old foundations of buildings dating back to Sichuan's origins in the Shu kingdom. The trove of gold, jade and ivory objects unearthed and on display is remarkable. 2 Jinsha Yizhi Rd, Jin Sha Shang Quan, Qingyang Qu,
Chengdu Jinsha Ruins. Image: Getty Images.

Where to stay

The Temple House
Qing-style architecture and the spirit of old Chengdu combine with high-tech design and sophisticated service. The 100-room hotel (with 42 apartments) is part of a complex of laneways that link historic buildings, including 1000-year old Daci Temple, with restaurants and shops. The hotel's spa and vegan teahouse are superb. 81 Bitieshi St,
Duluxe Courtyard Suite at The Temple House. Photo:

Where to eat

Kuanzhai alleys
Plunge into Chengdu's maze of alleys lined with busy street-food stalls and hole-in-the-wall joints. The "Wide and Narrow Alleys" area west of the city centre has dozens of Qing-style courtyards crammed with restaurants, teahouses and bars serving Sichuan classics such as ma po tofu, wontons in sweet, sticky chilli oil, and pork in spicy garlic sauce. Between Tongren Rd and Changshun St
Lao Ma Tou Hotpot
Sichuan cuisine features prodigious amounts of chilli and tonguenumbing hua jiao pepper, and its ultimate incarnation is huo guo, or "firepot". Join queues of boisterous locals at this red-roofed restaurant festooned with dragons for the ultimate Chengdu DIY hotpot. Ease in with a combination hotpot – half with a clear, unspicy broth of mushroom stock. 27 Yulin Middle Rd
Traditional Chengdu hotpot. Chengdu hotpot is a traditional and popular local gourmet, with rich seasonings and spicy flavour. Photo: Getty Images
All the extravagance of nouveau-riche China is on show at this opulent riverside restaurant of undulating steel-and-glass architecture, tinted mirrors and well-placed Guanyin statues. Expect pricey seafood and Kobe beef but also refined, satisfyingly traditional Sichuan dishes such as hui guo rou, or twice-cooked pork, tea-smoked duck and an upmarket version of the hugely popular street snack of dan dan noodles topped with peppery minced beef and smoky chilli oil. 12 Linjiang Middle Rd

Where to drink

Sichuan teahouses
There's no better way to appreciate Chengdu's laid-back character than in its teahouses. The best are located in parks such as People's Park and Culture Park, where the Heming Teahouse features Sichuan operatic shows. The teahouse in the Wangjiang Pavilion Park is perfect for an afternoon of tea sipping, and Wenshu Monastery has a teahouse and adjacent vegetarian Buddhist restaurant.
Kettles on stove in old tea house, Chengdu. Photo: Getty Images

How to travel to Chengdu

Air China has direct flights from Sydney to Chengdu; Sichuan Airlines flies direct from Melbourne.
This article is presented by the American Express® Platinum Card
Words by Brian Johnston
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