The Adam family travelled to Chengdu for a cuddle with the Giant Pandas. Mum Annabel tells us all about it.
We’d always wanted to see the close to loads of restaurants and bars and a famous pandas of Chengdu, so when family friends invited us to join them one weekend, we leapt at the chance. A quick two-and-a-half hour flight later and we were being whisked off to the Shangri-La, our home for the next three nights. A great choice, it overlooks the river and is in a fabulous location, number of temples. The indoor pool also had the kids smiling.
We woke up refreshed and raring to go early on Saturday morning – first up, of course, were the pandas. Eighty per cent of the world’s pandas live in Sichuan province. The Chengdu Panda Base is a non-profit research and breeding facility for giant pandas, in 1987 with six rescue pandas and now housing more than 80. We had hired a guide for the weekend, Haba, and he turned out to be invaluable.
He knew exactly when to go to each enclosure to maximise our experience, so that we saw these gorgeous creatures playing and eating rather than just sleeping. It’s a bit of a cliche, but they really are magical. The kids absolutely adored them, and when we were all cute-ed out, Haba took us to a fantastic Sichuan noodle house for lunch. In the afternoon we went to the People’s Park, which turned out to be another highlight. Chengdu is famous for its parks and one of the city’s main recreational activities is heading out to the big open spaces to ride on pedal boats, stroll, do tai chi, dance, drink tea, engage in organized dating, have your ears cleaned (seriously!), play mahjong and eat.
The kids loved the beautiful sugar sweets on sticks, spun into elaborate shapes and decorations. On Saturday night, we headed out for an adults-only meal at the Michelin-starred Yu Zhi Lan. It’s a tiny place specialising in Sichuan fusion dishes, and we had a really great night. The food was definitely a bit on the wild side for us, but they were very accommodating and permitted BYO alcohol. It was certainly unlike anywhere I’ve ever dined before and was definitely a highlight, even if I never eat caterpillar fungus again.
On Sunday we were driven into the Qingcheng Mountains for a hike (the journey was a good two-and-a half hours in a minibus and we were glad we brought games and i-pads for the children). The hike was about two hours of easy uphill walking, taking in stunning scenery and Taoist temples, and at the top we tucked into another delicious Sichuan meal. The kids enjoyed lighting incense sticks at the temples and practising their Mandarin, bartering for drinks and small toys being sold on the side of the path.
We loved our Chengdu weekend and the food was delicious – you can never have too many Dandan noodles. I would highly recommend booking a guide before you go – Haba spoke excellent English and had loads of interesting stories to tell us about the history and culture of Chengdu, as well as modern day China. If we’d been able to spend an extra day here, I would have loved to have taken a boat at Leshan to see the giant Buddha, and also to see a Sichuan opera, which features face masks, fire breathing and shadow puppets.