Christmas in Chengdu, China

Christmas in Chengdu, China was never a thing I planned or even thought about. It just kind of worked out that way. After my amazing cruise from Saigon up to Hoi An and Denang, plus Ha Long Bay in Vietnam-Christmas in Chengdu, China became a reality. And the crazy thing was I loved it!

Christmas in Chengdu, China

Walking around while spending Christmas in Chengdu, China

Chengdu is a city of 15 million people; which makes it only the 6th largest city in China. It’s the capital of Sichuan Province and a pretty modern city at that. It has the same issues every big Chinese city has: too many people and terrible air pollution.

Horrific pollution at Chengdu Airport

Horrific pollution at Chengdu Airport

I can honestly say that the air pollution in Chengdu and the rest of Sichuan was the worst I’ve ever seen in all my trips to China. Landing and taking off at the airport, you can barely see anything! However, if you can accept and move on, as you must do when visiting China, you’ll have a nice time. But I suggest wearing a mask.

Outside the St. Regis Chengdu

Outside the St. Regis Chengdu

I stayed at the St. Regis Hotel in Chengdu. Honestly, it was the cheapest St. Regis I’ve ever stayed at and certainly one of the best. I paid only $160 a night and was actually upgraded to the Presidential Suite for my 3 nights as a lifetime Platinum member with Starwood Preferred Guest. So that made the stay even better obviously.

The lobby at the St. Regis Chengdu

The lobby at the St. Regis Chengdu

The hotel is perfectly located to walk basically anywhere in central Chengdu. It’s a big Chinese city so everything is modern and big. It’s very big streets with a ton of cars, bicycles and traffic. You cross big streets with overpasses or subways.

On an overpass in Chengdu crossing the street

On an overpass in Chengdu crossing the street

Central Chengdu is where everyone shops. There is a massive walking and shopping street like most Chinese cities have. Since it was Christmas in Chengdu everyone was outside. That made it really crowded but fascinating to people watch as always in China!

Super crowded on Christmas in Chengdu

Super crowded on Christmas in Chengdu

On Christmas Day, it was up to the Dujiangyan Panda Base to see the amazing pandas! And to boot, I booked to actually get to sit with and touch them. It was honestly amazing!

Holding the panda at Dujiangyan Panda Base

Holding the panda at Dujiangyan Panda Base

I love animals; as anyone who follows me knows with my dog, Hector. Pandas are these amazing, almost mythical creatures that has always been mysterious to me since childhood.

Having a moment with the panda was so much fun!

Having a moment with the panda was so much fun!

I have seen them before in Washington and San Diego at the zoo but never had a chance to really interact with them. I booked a guide and driver for the 3 days in had in Chengdu but the highlight was the pandas.

Amazing panda sisters playing on a swing

Amazing panda sisters playing on a swing

Holding the panda as they call it costs about $300. They call it a donation but it’s mandatory. This literally gets you a seat on a bench next to a one-year-old panda as he is fed bamboo. You get about 30 seconds with him and the Chinese monitors are very strict about the time.

Pandas are my new favorite animal without question!

Pandas are my new favorite animal without question!

However, those 30 seconds were honestly incredible to me. The little panda made eye contact with me; he pawed at me gently and grabbed my leg. I had my arm around him and pet his head. He was so cute, soft and sweet. It was amazing and to me it was worth every penny!

Chowing down on some bamboo

Chowing down on some bamboo

You can also volunteer at the camp and others like it. I believe this is the only one where you can touch them. If you volunteer it costs less but then you don’t get to walk around as much as I did and see all the pandas they have including the red pandas!

This was my first time ever seeing a red panda

This was my first time ever seeing a red panda

Not far the pandas are the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Mount Qingcheng and Dujiangyan and its famous irrigation system. Both sites are beautiful and strolling around the old town is well worth a look. I also recommend having lunch at the Six Senses resort not far from the panda base. You get great food and views of the mountains.

Part of the Dujiangyan Irrigation System and accompanying old town and park

Part of the Dujiangyan Irrigation System and accompanying old town and park

The day after Christmas in Chengdu, it was out to Leshan to see the famous Leshan Giant Buddha. The industrial city of Leshan has 5 million people making it only the 4th largest city in Sichuan. That is ridiculous. When you talk population in China, the numbers boggle the mind.

Its difficult to even see the Buddha from on the ferry because of smog

Its difficult to even see the Buddha from on the ferry because of smog

The air in Leshan was honestly despicable. I could barely see a thing. The tall buildings across the river a ¼ mile away-I could barely see. The air was thick and disgusting and it’s best to have a mask. It’s the worst air pollution I’ve seen in China and that’s saying something.

Another image marred by smog from the boat with some expert editing

Another image marred by smog from the boat with some expert editing

The Leshan Giant Buddha is across the river from the main part of Leshan. You can take a ferry about 5 minutes across and it stops in front of it so you can take pictures. The smog was so bad you could barely make out the Buddha’s head and it was a hundred feet in front of you. It was seriously nuts.

Leshan Giant Buddha head from the hike above it

Leshan Giant Buddha head from the hike above it

The boat trip only lasted about 15 minutes total so I got annoyed and demanded to do the hike. I didn’t realize they were separate things. The hike is on the other side of the river and requires a solid 1.5 hours round trip and likely 2 because there is a lot of foot traffic and small ladders up and down.

Climbing down 233 feet to the ground beneath Leshan Giant Buddha

Climbing down 233 feet to the ground beneath Leshan Giant Buddha

The hike is 100% the way to go at Leshan Giant Buddha and really gives you a sense of how big he is at 71 meters or 233 feet. You get close ups of his hands and feet. They are massive.

Leshan Giant Buddha foot

Leshan Giant Buddha foot

The most amazing thing about the Leshan Giant Buddha is it was built between 700-800 AD and it was never destroyed over the ages. That is unprecedented in modern days and a real treat to see. Just try to get past the smog and enjoy the amazing site for what it is meant to be.

Obviously theres a Chairman Mao statue in the main square of Chengdu

Obviously theres a Chairman Mao statue in the main square of Chengdu

So that was basically my Christmas in Chengdu, China. 3 days is really the perfect amount of time to see everything you want to see and do without feeling rushed. You can certainly do it in 2 days but there won’t be much downtime. I highly recommend my knowledgeable and friendly English speaking guide Jay. He can be reached at [email protected]

Comments

  1. Nice post Lee, I really enjoyed following this trip on Instagram.

  2. Nice post-Lee, Great post about China and its great place to explore.

  3. Hi Lee,
    What a nice post. Just a question, is there also any christmas spirit there? And what about new year do they celebrate that? We are wonderen because we might travel to Chengdu in december till 3 jan.
    greets, Jenny

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