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Five to Know: Chengdu, China

Chengdu, China’s fifth largest city, bursts with color. From the deep burgundy of the region’s spicy pepper and the fiery orange of the embroidered crafts to the deep brown teakwood temples, hot pink moon cakes and skyscrapers with neon green light shows—bright, vibrant hues are everywhere. Visitors can’t help but notice the colorful, whimsical charm of this up-and-coming destination.

Located in the Southwestern province of Sichuan, Chengdu has often been overlooked by international travelers, known merely as the location of China’s Giant Panda Research Base (the city’s slogan is ‘More Than Pandas’). But a recent arrival of tech companies and a rise in modern architecture has put Chengdu on the map. Referred to as the Silicon Valley of China, the city has transformed from a small-scale Chinese metropolis to an international destination boasting an exciting culinary scene and a chic, luxurious hideaway hotel. Here are five more things to know when planning a trip there.

1. The pace is slow
Visitors do not visit Chengdu for a jam-packed sightseeing schedule or a buzzing nightlife scene. Instead, afternoons are spent in teahouses, strolling through the People’s Park or browsing local specialties at the lively outdoor markets (don’t miss the ‘glass’ caramel crafts, handmade on the spot, that resemble ornate lace folding fans). As a result, a visit to Chengdu is a wonderful culmination to a China journey: travelers will appreciate the city’s laid-back, relaxed personality after a visiting the country’s bustling capitals.

Related: Just Back From… China

2. Visitors come for the pandas…
Thanks to its furry celebrities, Chengdu has beckoned international tourists for years. Travelers can arrange a tour of the Giant Panda Research Center to get up close with the adult pandas and their pint-sized cubs and learn about their many quirks. Pandas are some of the most fascinating mammals on earth, having recently been removed from the worldwide endangered species list, and watching them sunbathe and cuddle (and do not much else) is a treat for all ages. Contact the Bookings Team to arrange a tour.

3. … But stay for the cuisine.
From sizzling tofu stir fry to red-hot chili noodles, Chengdu is China’s spicy food capital. The region’s famous Sichuan pepper is found in many local specialties and, while delicious, has a numbing effect on the taste buds and should be sampled with caution. ‘Hotpot’ restaurants serve the area’s signature soup—which ranges from mildly spicy to unbearably so—and contains a blend of vegetables, meat and noodles. Travelers should be sure to inquire what sort of hotpot they are ordering as some incorporate adventurous ingredients such as pork blood.

Related: Spotlight: The Temple House

4. There is a high-design resort
Opened in 2015, the ultra-luxurious Temple House has led the way in Chengdu’s recent tourism boom. The property is the third in the House Collective (the brand known for its hip urban retreats, Upper House and Opposite House), and boasts an award-winning spa and sleek accommodations. Built into the restored 17th-century Daci temple, the hotel’s imaginative indoor/outdoor complex blends groovy-cool design elements with traditional structures to create a masterpiece of contemporary architecture. The Temple House also offers some of the city’s best dining with two superb restaurants including a retro-inspired Italian eatery, Tivanothetemplehousehotel.com

5. But the city is not high-luxury
Rather than savoring meals at Michelin-starred restaurants and perusing fine art galleries, when not with the pandas, visitors in Chengdu spend their time slurping noodles at hole-in the-wall dim sum eateries and browsing knick-knack shops (complete with kitschy souvenirs in addition to fine crafts). Aside from the Temple House, Chengdu does not offer many five-star experiences, so travelers in search of an über-luxe urban getaway may be disappointed. But Chengdu’s authentic, whimsical spirit is irresistible; the city feels ‘real’ in its embrace of both progress and tradition—from the sprawling high-rises to the scorpion street food.

Getting There: Chengdu is roughly a 3-hour flight from both Beijing and Hong Kong.

– Blair West on November 30, 2016

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