Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Southwest China
There are few images more iconic to southwestern China than that of the giant panda. Unfortunately, despite its status as a Chinese national treasure, the giant panda population has been whittled down to just 1,000 pandas due to mass human development over the last century.
As a response to this ecological crisis the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding was opened in 1987 and began caring for six pandas rescued from the wild. During the 25 years since its founding the Chengdu Panda Base has employed some of the world’s leading giant panda researchers to manage an open air sanctuary where giant pandas can be bred and raised in an effort to eventually be reintroduced into wild populations.
Located only seven miles from downtown Chengdu, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is inarguably one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of southern China.
Located in the Chengdu Culture Park, the Shufeng YaYun Teahouse was once a gathering place for famous Sichuan operatic actors. Now, it is one of the hot spots for visitors to Chengdu and holds the China Sichuan Opera Unique Skills Performance each evening. This helps preserve and share traditional Sichuan arts while providing a glimpse into the past as one of the most popular Sichuan Opera theaters in the area.
Don’t be misled by the term "opera" in relation to the performance that takes place here; instead, it’s more of a variety show of traditional Sichuan exhibitions like puppetry, dancing, singing, music, hand shadows, comedic theater and the culmination: face changing. The performances take place in an open-air theater, and light snacks are served. Knowledge of Mandarin is not necessary, as there is a translator at the show.
Commonly known as “People’s Park” this lively open green space in southwest Chengdu is full of exactly that: people playing cards, people doing tai chi, people dancing and people squawking karaoke into microphones. Simply put, People’s Park is a people watcher’s dream.
Famous for its popular teahouse where locals will often linger all day, the park also boasts a long lakeshore where visitors can hire a pedal boat to observe the action from a different vantage point. Open from dawn to the wee hours of the morning, the admission is free and the atmosphere is unique. On one visit you may be swept up by the energy of an impromptu dance session whereas on a separate day you could be sitting in bamboo chair drinking tea and be offered to have your ears cleaned by an elderly ear-cleaning vendor.
When Chinese soldiers of the Qing Dynasty returned from war with Tibet in 1718, many of the soldiers and their families based themselves around Kuan-Zhai Lane in the Sichuan city of Chengdu. Though only 3 of the original 42 lanes remain from the period of military housing - Kuan, Zhai, and Jing - these three lanes collectively comprise an area of Chengdu now known to travelers as China’s Lane.
Although the name literally translates to “Wide-Narrow” Lane, both Kuan and Zhai lanes exist as narrow alleyways, with one being imperceptibly wider than the other. Along with the third lane, Jing, these three parallel alleyways are recognized as one of Chengdu’s three historic conservation districts. Ranking as one of the finest pedestrian thoroughfares in downtown Chengdu, Kuan-Zhai Lane offers a visually pleasing blend of traditional Sichuan architecture fused with modern Chengdu commerce.
When Qin Dynasty traders started selling baldachin cloth on Jinli Street in 220 B.C. they set in motion a chain of events which would turn Jinli into the busiest commercial hub in the city of Chengdu. Known as “The First Street of the Shu Kingdom” for its commercial activity during the “Three Kingdoms Period” (221-263), the boulevard now known as Jinli Ancient Street was recently restored in 2004 in an effort to return it to its former glory.
Running for 382 yards just east of the Wuhou Memorial Temple, the green flagstone of Jinli Ancient Street weaves a pedestrian thoroughfare teeming with local Chengdu merchants and traditional Sichuan architecture. In a nod to the lengthy history of the boulevard many shopkeepers and street merchants continue to dress in a traditional Sichuan style in an effort to fuse the modern elements of Chengdu with ancient Sichuan custom and design.
At a user friendly height of only 1,290 meters (4,234 feet), Mount Qingcheng is one of the best day trekking options surrounding Chengdu. Due to its lush green surroundings, numerous waterfalls and 36 peaks which stretch towards the sky, Mount Qingcheng has historically been referred to as “the most peaceful and secluded mountain under heaven.” Located 64 kilometers (40 miles) outside of Chengdu, a trip to Qingcheng is frequently combined with a visit to the nearby Dujiangyan Irrigation System. The mountain is regarded as one of the most sacred in Taoism and has a history which dates back over 2,000 years - to the very founding of the religion. While the most popular route for ascending Mount Qingcheng is to take a short ferry across Yuecheng Lake and ride the cable car to within a 20 minute walk of the summit, this route bypasses a number of the temples which make this mountain famous.
The name ‘Erhai’ translates to ‘ear-shaped sea’ — the name giving to the 97-square-mile (250-square-kilometer) lake sandwiched between the town of Dali and the Cangshan Mountains in China’s Yunnan Province. It’s one of the seven biggest freshwater lakes in all of China and the seconds largest highland lake after Dianchi.
The local Bai people — one of China’s 56 recognized ethnic minority groups — have long used the waters of the lake for fishing using a rather unusual method. Fisherman train cormorants to catch fish (mostly carp) and return them to the fishing boat. Parks along the banks of the lake offer hiking and cycling opportunities, but most visitors choose to explore the lake by boat. These tours allow visitors to see cormorant fishing in action as well as visit some of the lake’s many islands and temples.
More Things to Do in Southwest China
An early Tang Dynasty classic, Qingyang Palace 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.
This palace is often referred to as the “Green Ram Temple,” the “Green Ram” refers to a pair of bronze goats which inhabit the temple’s Sanqing Hall. While one of the statues is decidedly a goat with horns, the second sculpture is a strange creature like no animal you’ve ever seen: with a mouse's ears, an ox's nose, a tiger's claw, a rabbit's mouth, a dragon's horns, a snake's tail, a horse's face, a goat's beard, a monkey's neck, a chicken's eyes, a dog's belly and a pig's thighs. The statue is an embodiment of all 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. Despite their strange appearance, the two statues are easily the temple’s largest draw.
This popular museum is a rare blend of modern Chinese civilization and old-world Shu State history, known for its “three mosts” distinction. Opened in 2006, the Jinsha Site Museum is recognized as holding the most ancient ivory; unearthing the most gold artifacts and uncovering the most jade during the Bronze Age. It is home to a Relics Hall, Exhibition Hall, Cultural Heritage Protection Center and an Ecological Garden. Travelers are drawn to the museum’s rich history, well-kept gardens and impressive collection of lifelike, hand-carved stone figures. Visitors can wander the grounds and take in scenes from daily life dating back some 3,000 years in the famous exhibition hall, then catch a colorful performance at the Cultural Heritage Protection Center.
There aren’t many places on the planet where you can visit the ancient home of a poet who lived over 1,200 years ago. Chengdu’s Du Fu Thatched Cottage, however, is a 24-acre shrine to Chinese literature that honors the work of the poet Du Fu who made his home at this very spot in 760 AD. During the four years that Du Fu resided at his cottage in Chengdu he crafted over 240 masterful poems which are considered to be some of the finest in the history of Chinese literature. One such work, “My Thatched Roof is Ruined by the Autumn Wind," is regarded as one of his finest pieces and was written about the plight of poverty-stricken artists and their basic need for shelter. Though the original thatched cottage he was ultimately destroyed, various memorials and newer structures were rebuilt during the Song and Qing Dynasties as a way of honoring one of southern China’s most revered artists.
Travelers don’t have to venture out into nature to get an up close look at one of China’s top wildlife attractions. That’s because since 1955 Chongqing Zoo has been showcasing the country’s most rare and most beloved animals—like giant pandas and the South China Tiger—to visitors. This destination is stationed along the Yangtze River and serves as a hub for both research and conservation. It’s home to some 230 species and more than 4,000 animals.
In addition to natural landscapes, protected areas and animal exhibitions, families will find an amusement park, outdoor stage, restaurant and even a dry skating rink. The Chongqing Zoo is the perfect place to spend an afternoon—or even an entire day—getting a unique look at nature without ever leaving the city.
Song Xian Qiao Antique City is the country's second-largest antiques market and an excellent place to shop for souvenirs. With more than 500 separate stalls selling everything from exquisite watercolor paintings to fake Buddha statues and everything in between, Song Xian Oiao market is a treasure trove for shoppers and people-watchers alike.
The market stretches over five acres and houses between 500 to 800 stalls at any given time. For the most established vendors, look in the three-story buildings along Modi and Huan Hua creeks, and if you're looking for a true treasure, compare and contrast pieces and be on the look out for clever replicas.Stalls are not the only place of commerce here; lined up along the creeks and beneath the shop awnings, hawkers from around China display their wares on carpets. It’s a hustling, bustling, overwhelming display that is not to be missed. The market is also a great place to sample fresh, local snacks.
Visitors flock to Luodai, an ancient town located in the Sichuan area of China, about 12.8 miles (20 kilometers) from Chengdu City. Situated at the base of Er’eshan Mountain as part of the Longquanshan Mountains, Luodai is considered the largest and best-preserved Hakka ancient town in the western part of the country. Ninety percent of Luodai’s inhabitants are Hakka, and the Hakka language is still spoken here.
Built more than 1,000 years ago, Luodai has a long history and, now, a vibrant tourist culture. The architecture and layout of the ancient town preserves the typical styles from Ming and Qing dynasties, with old streets, Hakka folk houses and narrow alleys. There are also several parks, a museum and four guildhalls, which add great historical and artistic value. Created in the typical architectural style of the Ming and Qing dynasties, the guildhalls feature exquisite carvings of Chinese motifs like dragons, flowers, phoenix and other birds.
Things to do near Southwest China
- 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 Dali
- Things to do in Northern Vietnam
- Things to do in Guangxi
- Things to do in Southern China
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