Top 10 Places to see in Sichuan Province
Sichuan in China's west is a vast province, abundant with cultural heritage and natural wonders. But which places are a "must see"? Here is our answer to the question: What are the top ten places to visit in Sichuan Province?:
The Giant Panda Research and Breeding Station in Chengdu
About 15km northeast of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, lives the most famous inhabitant of Sichuan province - the Giant Panda Bear. The Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Station was founded in 1993 in cooperation with the WWF. The generously laid out facility gives the visitor the opportunity to observe these cute creatures up close. From the main entrance it is best to walk (approx. 15 minutes) or take an electric car to "Moon Nursery House" where you can watch the youngest offspring of the Panda family playing. It is also recommended to visit the Chengdu Panda Breeding Station early in the morning, when the Panda Bears get their breakfast and are therefore particularly active. Furthermore, at this time of the day there are also fewer visitors. Part of the Chengdu Panda Research and Breeding Station is reserved for the "Red Panda". The twilight active red panda is a climbing artist and mostly spends the day sleeping on the trees.
The National Parks of Jiu Zhai Gou (Jiuzhaigou) and Huang Long (Huanglong)
The two national parks Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou in Sichuan Province are among the most stunning, but also most visited national parks of China. A good starting point for visiting Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou is the Tibetan town of Songpan. Songpan lies at 2900m above sea level and has an airport with direct flights to Chongqing and Chengdu. During the high season there are also flights to and from other Chinese cities. The best time to visit both parks is in spring and autumn. Huanglong National Park is usually closed during the winter months. Jiuzhaigou National Park is about 150km, or a 3 hours’ drive, northeast of Songpan.
The Jiu Zhai Gou National Park extends over three valleys and has a total size of 72'000km2, which is about twice the size of Belgium. Since no private vehicles are allowed inside Jiu Zhai Gou National Park, there are modern public buses that run at regular intervals in the park. Between the sights there are well-maintained hiking trails where you can escape from the hustle and bustle of the Chinese tour groups.
The entrance fee including a bus pass for one day is 300 Yuan (30 Euro) per person. The more tranquil Huanglong National Park is located at the foot of Baoding Mountain at 3550m above sea level. Huanglong literally means "yellow dragon". The Huanglong National Park is known above all for its white sinter terraces with their different colored pools. These sinter terraces were formed over 250.000 years ago by lime deposits from the water, which flows constantly over the terraces. Both the Jiuzhaigou National Park and the Huanglong National Park have been under UNESCO protection since 1992.
Zigong / Xianshi Village
The village of Xianshi is our insider tip for Sichuan and therefore number three of our top 10 list for the Sichuan Province. The idyllic village of Xianshi is located 15km east of Zigong on the banks of the Fuxi River and has a 1.400 years history of salt production. Especially during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) the village of Xianshi developed into an important trading- and port town, where the mined salt was weighed, cleaned, traded and finally loaded onto the ships. Via tributaries the salt reached the Yangtze River. From there it was transported to Shanghai. A stroll through the old town of Xianshi with its numerous pompous guild houses reveals the former wealth and influence of the salt traders of that time. Like Xianshi Village the nearby town of Zigong also looks back on a long history of salt production. The salt wells of Zigong are mentioned for the first time in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), when the first salt wells were drilled at Zigong under the order of Emperor Zhangdi.
Recommended is a visit to the Shenhai salt well, where even today salt is still extracted the same way as it was 100 years ago. In 1835, the Shenhai Salt Well was the first shaft ever to reach a remarkable depth of over 1000 meters, which was an extraordinary achievement at that time. The nearby salt museum of Zigong, housed in a wonderful guild house, gives a good insight into the history of salt production in the region. Zigong also has a very exciting and informative dinosaur museum well worth a visit. Also, worth mentioning is the colorful lantern festival of Zigong, which takes place every year in spring.
Yading National Park, Sichuan
On the Tibetan highlands of West Sichuan, the Yading National Park is a very special scenic gem. The Yading National Park in the southwest of Sichuan province extends over an area of approx. 1300km2 and inspires with crystal clear mountain lakes, Tibetan monasteries and an impressive mountain scenery. The snow-covered peaks of the sacred 3 mountains Chenresig, Chana Dorje and Rigsum Gonpo rise over 6000 meters into the dark blue Tibetan sky. The starting point for the Yading National Park is the village of Riwa. Riwa is about 6 hours’ drive from Litang or 7 hours from Zhongdian in Yunnan Province. In Riwa there are numerous high-quality hotels. However, it is better to stay in the village of Yading itself, where there are also a few good quality accommodations. As private vehicles can’t enter the park, at the park entrance at Riwa, the journey continues in a mandatory park bus, which takes about 1.5 hours to reach the village of Yading. The village of Yading is ideal for shorter or longer hikes in stunning alpine surroundings. For the hardcore trekking and outdoor enthusiast, there is a 7-9 days trekking route along a pilgrim path circumnavigating the Yading National Park.
The Tibetan town of Tagong is located in the Tibetan highlands of West Sichuan in southwestern China. In Tibetan the city is called Lhagang, which literally means "the preferred place of Bodhisattva". Tagong, or Lhagang, lies at 3'700m, in the middle of the seemingly endless grass steppe of the Tibetan highlands and is embedded in a gentle hilly landscape covered with snow during the winter months. In the center of Tagong is the beautiful Tagong Monastery, which belongs to the Nyingmapa sect ("Red Caps"). The foundation of Tagong Monastery goes back to the 7th century, but today's Tagong Monastery is from the late Qing Dynasty. From one of the surrounding hills you have a beautiful view over the city and the surrounding area. Tagong offers several simple hotels. However, better quality accommodation can be found in the village Xinduqiao, 30km away. A good opportunity to get an insight into the life of the Tibetan nomads is during a one or multiple days hike or horse trek through the Tibetan grasslands of West Sichuan. Ask us for the details.
The historic Dazu Grottos
Another magnificent site that made it on our top 10 list of sights in the Sichuan province are the Buddhist Grottos of Dazu with stunning stone sculptures, some of which are over 1200 years old. The Dazu grottos are located about 250km southeast of Chengdu or about 100km west of Chongqing.
The extraordinary collection of stone sculptures of Dazu was created between the 9th and 13th century, when Buddhism began to spread in the region via the Silk Road from India. The grottos contain over 10'000 figures, all carved out of the bare rock. The stone works of Dazu are spread over the four places Beishan, Baodingshan, Nanshan and Shizhuanshan. Especially worth a visit are Baodingshan and Beishan, where the stone sculptures are most impressive and best preserved. In 1999 the stone sculptures of Dazu were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. With the new high-speed train, Dazu can be reached in less than an hour from Chengdu.
Jiayang historic steam train
For railway fans, the historic steam railway of Jiayang belongs to our top 10 list of Sichuan province. In 1938 a 60cm narrow gauge railway was built to transport the coal from the Jiayang mine to Mamiao. From Mamiao the coal was then transported via the Mabian River and the Min River to the bigger cities downriver. In 1959 a new line was opened from Huangcunjing to Shixi. This saved the detour via the Mabian River and the coal could be transported directly to the larger ships on the Min River. In 1960 the gauge was extended to 76.2 cm. The 20km long line was initially used only for coal transport, but once the gauge was extended passenger cars were added to the trains for the benefit of the local population. In the mid-1970s a regular passenger service was introduced on the narrow-gauge railway between Shixi and Huangcunjing. In May 2010, the Jiayang narrow-gauge railway and the mine in Huangcunjing have been under national protection. Starting point of the train journey with the steam train from Jiayang is the town of Shixi. From here, the leisurely train ride through picturesque countryside to Huangcunjing starts. There are 3 regular trains per day from Shixi station and 2 tourist trains from Yuejin station. The journey takes about 1 hour. Ask us. We will be happy to organize your transportation to Shixi.
Emei Mountain / Emei Shan
Emei Mountain is located about 150km southwest of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. Since the 6th century, at the time of the "Middle Kingdom" the Emei Shan belongs to the four most important Buddhist mountains of China. The 3077m high summit (Jin Ding) of Emei Mountain can be reached from Baoguo by park bus and cable car. For early risers, the sunrise from the summit is an unforgettable experience and a highlight of a visit to Emei Mountain. For this there are some simple accommodations for the overnight stay on the summit. If you don't want to spend the night at this altitude, the village Baoguo is the ideal starting point for exploring Emei Mountain. The Emei Mountain offers numerous beautiful hikes for every taste and fitness level. Access to Emei Shan costs 100 or 120 yuan per person, depending on the season. Admission is valid for 2 days or 2 admissions. Since April 2009 the Emei Shan is the partner mountain of Mount Rigi near Lucerne in Switzerland.
"Dafo" - The Giant Buddha of Leshan
Also on our list of the top 10 highlights of Sichuan province is the colossal Giant Buddha of Leshan. This oversized, over 1200 years old, seated Buddha towers over the confluence of the Min and Dadu rivers. With 71m height and 28m width the "Dafo", so the Chinese name, is the biggest Buddha statue of the world. The work for the Giant Buddha of Leshan began in 713 A.D. by the monk Haitong. Hai Tong assumed that he could soothe the river gods by building the Giant Buddha and that this would make the passage safer for ships on the Min, Dadu and Qingyi rivers which converge here. However, financial bottlenecks and political unrest steadily delayed the construction. The monk Haitong did not live to see the completion of the Giant Buddha of Leshan. His life's work was not completed until 803, almost 40 years after his death.
The best view of the Leshan Giant Buddha is during a short boat trip on the Dadu River. However, the best place to experience the full dimension of the "Dafo" is while walking down the stairs and standing right in front of his feet. It is said that alone on the big toe of the big Buddha of Leshan a table with 4 persons would easily fit. From Chengdu it is a 1.5 hours’ drive to the Giant Buddha of Leshan. A faster and cheaper way is to hop onto a train from Chengdu to Leshan Station and then continue by taxi to the Giant Buddha Buddha.
A cultural experience of a very special kind is a visit to a Sichuan Opera in Chengdu. A Sichuan Opera is a mixture of singing, music, acrobatics, puppetry and mask dancing. The origins of this extremely entertaining performance go back to the 3rd century, but only gained popularity in Sichuan during the Ming period. The difference to the Beijing Opera is on the one hand the choice of themes and on the other hand the language. The Sichuan Opera is performed exclusively in the local dialect of Chengdu. Another typical feature of the Sichuan Opera is that the singing is not accompanied by instruments. Only clapper (Kuaiban), gong and drum give the rhythm to the singer. Only the operas written after 1954 have instrumental accompaniment. Today you can see both forms. A very special feature of the Sichuan Opera is the "change of face". Within 20 seconds the actor changes his face mask up to 10 times without the spectator noticing anything at all. In the past, the technique of "face changing" was a strictly guarded secret that was only passed on within families.