Although Chengdu, which in the Sichuan province of China, is best known as the home of panda bears, it is so much more than those adorable animals. To find out more about the city, I took a trip with Etihad Airways to explore the culture, nightlife and history, and discovered so much more about this beautiful country than I could have imagined!
Chengdu is full of history
The biggest draw of Chengdu, which sends thousands of tourists flocking to the city, is of course its Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. We were lucky enough to go around the sanctuary and see dozens of the beautiful animals living happily in the sanctuary, and to learn more about them. We also met the sanctuary's youngest members – four-month baby twins! Have your camera ready though – so many people want to see the little ones that you are moved along after a few moments of cooing over the fluffy little things!
Thousands of people travel to see the panda bears
After you've finished Instagramming photos of baby pandas, you'll have plenty of time to explore the rest of the city, which is simply full of history. There are areas of ancient beauty like the Dujiangyan irrigation projects - which are surrounded by towering forests with gorgeous, traditional buildings nestled in the mountains and seas of love letters shared on red paper fluttering in the breeze, just begging to be photographed, the Sichuan museum of cuisine, where you can try your hand at cooking authentic Sichuan cuisine (an absolute must if you love a spicy dish!), and the Du Fu Thatched Cottage, a beautiful museum made in the home of the Tang Dynasty poet, Du Fu.
The Dujiangyan irrigation projects are a must-see
But the city is no place for history or nostalgia. As our tour guide, Billy, explained, you would be hard pressed to find any old fashioned home that survived the surge of modern, high rise apartments and flats in a city that has dramatically increased in popularity over the last few years. Among these developments are the new shopping districts. The stunning, gargantuan shopping malls are quiet, and begging to be filled with serious shoppers. From designer stores such as Gucci and Prada to Chinese markets where knockoff bargains can be purchased at £15 after a haggle, it is a city made for shopping no matter the size of your purse. During your trip, why not also indulge yourself in a manicure or pedicure at one of the many market stalls. If you're searching for a bargain, you could easily score expert gel acrylics for less than £10!The nightlife in Chengdu is also a lot of fun. One of the biggest attractions for locals on a night out is KTV – karaoke in which you and a group of your friends hire a themed room and sing to your heart's content (and don't worry, there are lots of English options!).
The city is vibrant, full of nightlife and shopping malls
As a lover of Chinese food, I knew I would adore the specialised Sichuan cuisine, and was delighted with what Chengdu had to offer. Unsurprisingly, authentic Chinese cuisine differentiates from typical takeaways in the UK, and I was lucky enough to try a range of different dishes I'd never tried before, with the highlights including second-to-none pork dumplings, Kung Pao chicken and Mala Xiaomian (spicy noodles).
WHERE TO STAY
In the city centre of Chengdu, the JW Marriott is unparalleled, a hotel of beautiful luxury, amazing buffet breakfasts and dinners, and open plan rooms complete with a freestanding bath and perhaps the comfiest bed you'll ever sleep on.
HOW TO TRAVEL
If you want to travel is style, Etihad airways is the way to go. The lounge in Abu Dhabi alone (where we landed for our stopover) was especially fantastic, and makes you feel like you are barely traveling at all - quite the difference from your usual stress-filled airport experience!