A sign outside Chengdu International Airport boasts that Chengdu is the “Best Tourism City in China”. This seems wishful thinking. True, the city has the excellent Panda Research Base but what else is there for the tourist?
First impressions of this city of 8.9 million people (China’s eight most populous) were not entirely favourable – a sprawling mix of modern high rise towers and drab residential and commercial blocks, not helped by the cold grey fog which enveloped the city.
It looked better at night especially in the upmarket shopping area near Yanlord Landmark with Louis Vuitton, Prada, Dior and Boss boutiques catering to the tremendous purchasing power of China’s growing wealthy elite.
A 2014 survey found that 71% of Chinese agreed with the statement “I measure my success by the things I own” (compared to only 16% of British adults).
With that kind of materialistic attitude, it is not surprising that foreign designer brands see China as their most important market for the future.
Chengdu is more than 2,000 years old but you wouldn’t know it with nearly every building seeming to have been built within the last 30 years.
One of the few remnants of the original city can be found in a couple of parallel narrow alleys called Kuanxiangzi and Zhaixiangzi.
For those preferring a more authentic experience there are plenty of traditional tea shops, cosy courtyard restaurants and street food stalls.
The shopping is good. Chengdu is famous for its embroidery and brocade work, and examples of this skill can be found in clothing, souvenirs and gifts. There are some quite smart art gallery shops too.
Chengdu is one of those cities where the more time you spend there, the more you come to appreciate its charms.
This article first appeared on thriftytraveller.wordpress.com