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Chilling out in China’s Chengdu

By: Melissa Stevens

It was on the second day of our stay at The Temple House in Chengdu when I realised we had a big problem. Specifically, our suite in the residence was so lovely, its facilities so indulgent and its restaurants and bars so good, that it was making it hard to justify venturing out to do any sightseeing! And this would be a great disservice to Chengdu, which is full of fascinating sights for a family holiday.

Chengdu is renowned for its panda population
Chengdu is renowned for its panda population

For the uninitiated, Chengdu is said to have a totally different vibe to other mainland cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai. Despite a population of about 14 million, it’s known for having a much slower pace and locals who like to take the time to enjoy life. This is where the hotel fits perfectly into the rhythm of the city. It may be located in the heart of Chengdu, but it’s an oasis of calm.

Chengdu: The spacious interior of one of the residences
The spacious interior of one of the residences

Bed, breakfast and beyond

Part of Swire Properties’ upscale The House Collective, The Temple House is the result of a revitalisation project around the 1,000-year-old Daci Temple. The result is a blend of the classic and contemporary, with every detail carefully considered, from partnerships with local artists to showcase authentic art and design from the region, to the latest in technology throughout the property. We stayed in one of the serviced apartments, called residences, which are perfect when travelling with a family. Residence guests can enjoy all the facilities of the hotel – room service, library, gym, swimming pool and more – with the addition of a fully-equipped kitchen for whipping up a snack when hunger strikes between meals, and a washing machine for doing a quick load of laundry, a godsend when travelling with kids. A range of activities are provided for guests, such as pizza-making for kids, and yoga classes for adults. You can relax in the guest library or grab one of the hotel’s bicycles to explore the city on two wheels. The Mi Xun day spa, which is part of the broader Temple House complex, is on the hotel’s doorstep and I can vouch it offers massage treatments to die for.

Chengdu: Enjoy a panda-themed afternoon tea
Enjoy a panda-themed afternoon tea

A big part of travel for me is the food, and anyone with a passing knowledge of the Sichuan region will be aware of its world-famous cuisine. Being able to sample the distinctive blend of Sichuan pepper, fennel, aniseed, cinnamon, clove and chilli in local dishes is a memorable experience. The Temple House is part of Swire’s broader Taikoo Li shopping and entertainment precinct. Here you can indulge in high street and luxury brand shopping, as well as dine out. We opted to try the bustling Bavin Door Feel at the hotel’s recommendation, which proved a reasonably priced introduction to Sichuan dishes with a casual atmosphere where you don’t feel conspicuous getting out the colouring book and pens. Admittedly, though, this cuisine can prove a challenge for younger travellers, at least in our family. This was where we were grateful for the dining options in the hotel itself. Breakfast offered a mix of buffet and à la carte options, including pancakes, and the room service menu offered items like pizza – very welcome when little noses had been turned up at street snacks. Afternoon tea at Mi Xun Teahouse was also a hit. It presented an opportunity to the adults to sample local teas, while panda-themed cookies among the delicacies on offer delighted Miss Six.

Chengdu: The Temple House's historic entry
The Temple House’s historic entry

Must-dos in Chengdu

If there is one must-do during your visit to Chengdu it’s seeing the giant pandas. This Chinese national treasure is one of the rarest animals in the world; it’s estimated there are about 1,500 pandas left in the world, with 80 percent of those in Sichuan. The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is dedicated to ensuring the survival of this endangered species. The base is open to the public, offering the rare opportunity to see groups of pandas of varying ages. It’s located in the northern suburbs of the city, and there a number of options for getting there: private car, public transport or tour bus. Hotel staff will happily take care of arrangements and, in our case, they booked a taxi and gave directions to the driver. At their recommendation, we went first thing in the morning – 7.30am for an 8am arrival – to catch breakfast time when the pandas are most active. If there is anything cuter than watching a baby panda munch on bamboo, I’m hard-pressed to think what it is! After strolling through the park, we quickly picked up a taxi out the front of the base for the return journey.

Chengdu: The Anshun Bridge is a stunning sight
The Anshun Bridge is a stunning sight

A highlight of Chengdu is its historic architecture. One of the city’s landmarks is the Anshun Bridge, which dates back to the 13th century and makes a nice focal point for a walk along the Jin River. A fun family outing for us was a trip to Jinli Street, with its Qing Dynastystyle buildings. We strolled through, picking up souvenirs in the market stalls and trying some street food. Another perk of staying at The Temple House is that the staff can organise babysitting. My husband and I decided to make the last night of our trip a date night so we could sample some Sichuan opera, and it was a completely fuss-free experience – the staff helped with booking tickets, organising our sitter and giving directions to a taxi driver. This meant we could fully immerse ourselves in the crazy, colourful experience that is a night at Shufeng Sichuan Opera House; seated in cane lounge chairs, we relaxed with Chinese tea and traditional snacks while the show – a mix of music, comedy and acrobatics – unfurled in front of us. It was a fun end to a trip just a stone’s throw from Hong Kong, and to a city that showcases the mainland’s blend of the modern and the traditional.

Recommendations

The Temple House

81 Bitieshi Street, Jinjiang District, Chengdu | thetemplehousehotel.com

Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding

panda.org.cn

Shufeng Sichuan Opera House

chengduplaces.com

Bavin Door Feel

L1, 1243B, Taikoo Li Dacisi Road, ShuYuanJie, Jinjiang District, Chengdu | soltklcd.com

This article first appeared in the June/July edition of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue!

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