Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Southwest China
Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is considered a Chinese national treasure. Opened in 1987 to care for rescued wild pandas, the 165-acre (67-hectare), open-air sanctuary is now one of southern China’s most popular destinations due to its focus on breeding, conservation, and introducing new pandas into wild populations.
Dating back nearly 2,000 years, the Wuhou Memorial Temple (Temple of Marquis Wu) in a southern suburb of Chengdu is steeped in history and lore. The site is meant to honor Liu Bei, emperor of the Shu Kingdom, as well as his much revered military strategist Zhuge Liang (later Marquis Wu)—two immensely popular figures in Chinese history.
An early Tang Dynasty classic, Qingyang Palace (also known as the Green Ram Temple) is considered to be one of the oldest and most important Taoist temples in all of China due to its location near the boyhood home of Lao-Tzu, the father of Taoism. Much of the palace was restored during the Qing Dynasty.
One of the most picturesque towns in the vicinity of Dali, as well as one of the best places to see traditional Bai architecture, is the town of Xizhou. Formerly a military stronghold of the Nanzhou Kingdom, Xizhou began to flourish during the first half of the twentieth century when a group of over 100 wealthy nationalist families relocated there, calling themselves the Xizhou Chamber of Commerce.
While much of Dali’s traditional Bai architecture has been “updated” to suit the tastes of modern Chinese travelers, Xizhou remains relatively untouched — it’s home to the largest collection of Bai residential houses in China, over a hundred of which are considered registered cultural relics.
Most visitors come to Xizhou on a day trip from Dali, but those who choose to stay overnight can sleep in a Bai-style courtyard home, as several have been converted into guest houses.
Located inside Chengdu Cultural Park, Shufen Yayun Teahouse (Shufeng Yayun) has been hosting Sichuan Opera performances for over 100 years. It’s one of the city’s most popular venues for this art form, which involves an exciting mix of music, dancing, acrobatics, martial arts, hand shadows, puppet play, comedic theater, sword play, and costume changes (face changing).
Stretching for 1,148 feet (350 meters), just east of Wuhou Temple, Jinli Ancient Street is one of the oldest shopping streets in Chengdu, dating back to the Three Kingdoms period. Restored in 2004, this historical lane paved with green flagstone still teems with shops, restaurants, and food stalls in traditional architecture.
Standing 233 feet (71 meters) tall, the Leshan Giant Buddha(Da Fo), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, holds the record as the largest Buddha sculpture in the world. A Buddhist monk—hoping to earn divine protection for the local fishermen—carved the massive statue into a cliff, starting in 713. Ninety years later, the carving was finished.
Erhai (Lake Er is a 97-square-mile (250-square-km lake sandwiched between the town of Dali and the Cangshan Mountains in China’s Yunnan Province. The local Bai people—one of China’s 56 recognized ethnic minority groups—have long used the waters of the lake for carp fishing with cormorants.
Sandwiched between Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake sits one of China’s most spectacular ancient cities, Dali. Dating back to the late fourteenth century, Dali got its start as a gateway to the Silk Road from Southwest China. Today, Dali Old Town (Dali Ancient City) — navigable on foot — is ringed by a 25-foot (7.5-meter) stone wall with grand gates facing in each direction. Within those walls, traditional Bai ethnic minority architecture now house shops, cafes and guest houses.
Fuxing Road, the busiest street through Dali Old Town, links the South and North Gates and is a popular spot for buying souvenirs. The upper portion of Huguo Road, nicknamed ‘Foreigner Street,’ is lined with Chinese and Western restaurants, art galleries, antique shops and small boutiques.
Once an important caravan town on the Tea Horse Road between Yunnan and Tibet, Shaxi Ancient Town (Shaxizhen) ranks among the most beautiful village squares in China and offers a rare glimpse at what one of these ancient trading hubs might have looked like in its heyday. Many of the wooden facades surrounding the Sideng Village’s old trading market and caravansary have been painstakingly restored. And while Tibetan horses are no longer being traded for Chinese tea, visitors will find old-style cafes, traditional restaurants, shops and a few locals selling horse rides for a small fee.
More Things to Do in Southwest China
Located in central Chengdu, Renmin Park (People’s Park) offers a glimpse into the day-to-day life of local residents who come here to relax, exercise, play games like mah-jongg or chess, sing and dance, or find love matches for their loved ones. It’s a great place to slow down, have a cup of tea, and experience life as the locals do.
Mengding Mountain (Mengding Shan) is considered the birthplace of the world’s tea culture and home to some of the oldest plantations. Visitors to this verdant and historic locale can tour a tea plantation, soak up spectacular views, and purchase tea close to the source.
Located in Chengdu’s Qingyang district, the three parallel alleys of Kuan Zhai Alley (Kuan Zhai Xiang Zi) offer a lively mix of old and new, with renovated and restored buildings that date from the Qing dynasty. A popular shopping, dining, entertainment, and tourist destination, it’s also one of the city’s three historic conservation districts.
Regarded as the birthplace of Taoism, and one of its most sacred mountains, Mt. Qingcheng (Qingcheng Shan) has a history dating back 2,000 years. Surrounded by peaks and lush forests, Mt. Qingcheng offers a peaceful escape from the big city of Chengdu, and there are plenty of temples, historical sites, and cultural relics for visitors to enjoy.
Originally built in 256 BC, the Dujiangyan Irrigation System is the world’s oldest non-dam irrigation facility. A marvel of engineering, and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Dujiangyan uses the natural topography of the region, as well as hydrological features of the river, to irrigate 1.65 million acres (668,700 hectares) of farmland.
Located north of Sichuan Province, Jiuzhai Valley, also known as Jiuzhaigou Valley, is one of China’s most spectacular nature reserves and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Spanning 278 square miles (720 square kilometers), the valley is famed for its colorful lakes, cascading waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, diverse wildlife, and Tibetan culture.
Famous for its colorful azalea flowers, Cangshan Mountain rises over the city of Dali and the shores of Lake Erhai beyond. Visitors can either hike or take a cable car up the mountain, where a paved road leads down past various points of interest. From Zhonghe Temple at the top of the cable car, various hiking trails branch out into the surrounding forests toward smaller temples, pools, waterfalls and scenic areas.
Cangshan Mountain is also a famous producer of a variety of marble called Cangshan Stone, recognizable by the unique patterns in the smooth rock. Local artists carve the marble into animals, people or natural scenes — popular souvenirs available on the mountain or in shops in Dali Old Town.
China’s Dujiangyan Panda Base focuses on rehabilitation, disease prevention, and public education for the conservation of the endangered giant panda, one of the rarest species in the world. Tour the panda hospital, enclosures, and educational center for the opportunity to spot dozens of pandas munching on bamboo and playing.
Sichuan food (known in Chinese as Chuancai is one of China’s eight great cuisines. The Museum of Sichuan Cuisine (Chuancai Museum outside Chengdu pays tribute to its spicy delights. Enjoy a range of displays, hands-on activities, tastings, a shop, an enormous temple of the kitchen god, and (of course cooking classes.
At 10,167 feet (3,099 meters), Mt. Emei is the highest of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China. The UNESCO World Heritage Site includes over 70 temples, monasteries, and attractions, culminating in the Golden Summit, where visitors can take in the giant Puxian Buddha and stunning mountain views.
Learn about the ancient and mysterious Bronze-Age Shu culture at the Sanxingdui Museum. Located on the grounds of the Sanxingdui archaeological site north of Chengdu, the museum displays relics unearthed at the site, including more than 1,000 bronze, gold, jade, and other artifacts dating back 3,000 to 5,000 years.
Located at Chengdu’s Jinsha archaeological site, the Jinsha Site Museum offers insight into the mysterious Bronze Age Shu civilization. See the actual excavation site and the treasure trove of relics and artifacts that have been unearthed to date, including bronze, gold, ivory, jade, stone, pottery, and lacquerware.
Situated on Lingyun Mountain, Lingyun Temple is also called Great Buddha Temple because of its location at the head of the Leshan Giant Buddha, the largest stone Buddha in the world. Four monuments flank the entrance to the temple, which contains the Heavenly King Hall, Precious Hall of the Great Hero, and Scripture Collection Hall.
The picturesque Haoshang Bridge leads travelers visiting the Leshan Giant Buddha across a river to the steps of Wuyou Temple, situated on the slopes of the mountain of the same name. Built in the Tang Dynasty, the site consists of seven Buddhist palaces, including the Arhats Hall with its 500 clay figures of the Buddha’s disciples.
- Things to do in Chengdu
- Things to do in Kunming
- Things to do in Guiyang
- Things to do in Lijiang
- Things to do in Chongqing
- Things to do in Shangri-La
- Things to do in Northern Vietnam
- Things to do in Guangxi
- Things to do in Southern China
- Things to do in Changsha
- Things to do in Wuhan
- Things to do in Zhangjiajie
- Things to do in Northern Thailand
- Things to do in Northwest China
- Things to do in Okinawa