Sichuan Province

When you think of Sichuan, the first thought that comes to mind is undoubtedly the intensely spicy food that the province has become internationally famous for. Sichuan-style cuisine ranks as one of the Eight Great Culinary Traditions of Chinese Cooking, and is well-known for its liberal use of garlic, ginger, Sichuan pepper, and hot chillies. Its signature dishes, such as Kungpao Chicken and Twice Cooked Pork, have delighted palates in Chinese restaurants throughout the world. With such fiery appetites, it’s no wonder that Sichuan Opera is famous for its fire-spitting act!

The province itself is located in southwest China, nestled in the upper Yangtze River valley. Near the centre of the province, the provincial capital of Chengdu represents Sichuan’s cultural and historical heart. Sichuan was one of the first areas in China to have been settled by the Han Chinese, and evidence suggests they may have migrated there as far back as the 5th century BC. In 1987, a group of archaeologists uncovered artefacts near Chengdu that indicate a Bronze-Age civilization known as the Shu once populated Sichuan. Many of these bronze objects date back to 3000 BC, making them over 5,000 years old! They are spread between two archaeological sites, the Sanxingdui site and the Jinsha site, both of which house many of the artefacts in their respective museums.

Geographically speaking, the province can be roughly split into two main areas: the fertile Sichuan Basin in the east, and the rugged mountain valleys to the west. While the Sichuan Basin is heralded as a “Heaven on Earth” thanks to its mild, humid climate and abundant natural resources, the western valleys represent a much harsher terrain that is notoriously difficult to inhabit. Surrounded by lofty mountain ranges and extensive plateaus, parts of western Sichuan are so geographically distinct that they exhibit a subarctic climate, with temperatures dropping as low as -30 °C (-22 °F) in winter!

That being said, the weather in Sichuan is generally mild. During summer, temperatures rise to a comfortable 29 °C (84 °F) in the south, while they remain a steady 20 °C (68 °F) in the west. Winter temperatures decrease to about 12 °C (54 °F) in the south, but plummet to a chilly −8 °C (18 °F) as you go further west. However, the east does suffer from a particularly fierce rainy season from April to August, and the area is notoriously so overcast that there is an old local saying which states, “Sichuan dogs bark when they see the Sun”. Consequently, the best time to visit the province is from April to May and September to October, with autumn heralded as the most beautiful season for enjoying the copious natural scenery.

With its unusual geography, Sichuan is one of the most bio-diverse provinces in China and boasts a range of spectacular nature reserves, from dense highland forests to lush grasslands. Many of these reserves are home to some of the most fascinating and endangered animals on the planet, such as the Sichuan takin, the snow leopard, the clouded leopard, the red panda, and the giant panda. The province is famed for its indigenous wild panda population, with seven nature reserves and nine scenic parks dedicated entirely to these cuddly creatures. They were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006.

Every year, visitors flock to places such as the Chengdu Panda Research Base and Bifengxia Panda Base in order to catch a glimpse of these gentle giants. Yet these aren’t the only natural treasures that the province has to offer. Other UNESCO World Heritage Sites include mystical Jiuzhaigou, a river valley of ethereal beauty; Mount Emei, one of Four Sacred Mountains of Chinese Buddhism; the Leshan Giant Buddha, a colossal 71-metre-tall (233 ft.) statue that has been carved into a cliff-face; and the Dujiangyan Irrigation System, an ancient system of artificial waterways that dates back to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). With such a plethora of heritage sites on offer, you’ll start to wonder what attractions in Sichuan aren’t on the World Heritage List!

In fact, the natural scenery in Sichuan is so inspiring that it served as the muse for China’s two greatest poets, Du Fu and Li Bai. While Li Bai grew up in the province during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Du Fu fled to the province in his later life after his political career went sour and many of his most powerful poems were written during this time. The thatched cottage where Du Fu used to live is now open to the public, and can be found in the western outskirts of Chengdu. Along with these two phenomenal talents, Sichuan was also the birthplace of the celebrated politician Deng Xiaoping.

sichuan Yi minorityAlthough the majority of the province’s population is Han Chinese, it does feature a wide range of other ethnic minorities, including large constituencies of Yi, Tibetan, and Qiang people. Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, and Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture are all ideal places to travel and engage with the unique cultures of these colourful ethnic groups. So be sure to put a little spice into your China travels, and schedule a stop in Sichuan!



Unlike other mega-cities throughout China, Sichuan’s provincial capital of Chengdu is renowned for its laid-back atmosphere. Relaxation is the order of the day, and the locals have become experts at it. In fact, the city boasts more tea houses and bars than Shanghai, in spite of having less than half the population! With its numerous public parks, active nightlife, and tranquil tea culture, Chengdu is the ideal place to soak in the true essence of China at a leisurely pace.

The city itself is located on the fertile Chengdu Plain, which is nicknamed the “Country of Heaven” or the “Land of Abundance” thanks to its unparalleled agricultural potential. This is in part due to the ancient Dujiangyan Irrigation System, which rests about 58 kilometres (36 mi) from the city and is the oldest of its kind in the world. This impressive project has been diverting water from the Min River to the plain for over 2,000 years and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, along with nearby Mount Qingcheng.

Yet it seems the city might be even older than this water system suggests! Although records indicate that the original city of Chengdu was founded during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), archaeological discoveries at the nearby Jinsha Site and Sanxingdui Site have shown that the region was settled over 4,000 years ago. Artefacts from this extraordinary discovery can now be found in the Jinsha Relics Museum and the Sanxingdui Museum, which are located in the northwest of Chengdu and at the Sanxingdui Site respectively. From then onwards, it became the capital of two short-lived regimes: the Former Shu (907-925) and the Later Shu (934-965). During that time, its economic prosperity skyrocketed and, during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), it became one of the first places in the world where paper money was widely circulated.

Its venerable history means that Chengdu boasts a myriad of exciting historical monuments, such as the cottage of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) poet Du Fu and the Wuhou Temple. Du Fu, who is considered one of the greatest poets in Chinese history, took refuge in Chengdu after he fled the imperial capital of Chang’an (modern-day Xi’an). He wrote over 240 celebrated poems while he was there and, during the second year of his stay, he constructed his “caotang” or “thatched cottage”. However, the cottage that you see today was actually constructed in 1078 as a memorial to Du Fu, and is far more luxurious than the original. What a shame he didn’t live to enjoy it!

Similarly, the Wuhou Temple was built during the Western Jin Dynasty (265–316) in honour of Zhuge Liang, a legendary military and political strategist who served the Shu-Han Dynasty (221–263) during the turbulent Three Kingdoms Period (220-280). Nowadays it functions as a museum and contains a collection of statues, stone inscriptions, and tablets that provide a small window into China’s ancient past.

Alongside these historical relics, Chengdu also boasts arguably the greatest and most well-known national treasure of all: the giant panda. Sichuan province is home to the vast majority of the world’s giant panda population, and its provincial capital acts as the perfect gateway to many of its finest panda reserves. These conservation projects are so integral to the survival of this gentle giant that they were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006.

Within the city itself, you’ll find the Chengdu Panda Research Base, which is located in its northern suburbs. It’s a breeding centre for giant pandas, but also acts as a zoo where visitors can watch the pandas in their specialised enclosures, keep up-to-date on the latest conservation projects, and learn more about this cuddly creature. It seems befitting that the animal associated with Chengdu should be one that’s known for its love of eating, sleeping, and enjoying a leisurely life!

While the city’s pandas spend their days munching on bamboo, the locals prefer to sip on jasmine tea at one of the hundreds of tea houses found throughout the city. Bamboo chairs and wooden tables are the hallmark of a traditional tea house, while modern tea houses boast a diverse range of styles. Alongside tea and snacks, most tea houses offer Majiang sets, Majiang tables, or even separate Majiang rooms. So forget about your poker face; in Chengdu, you’ll have to don your Majiang mask! Luxury tea houses will usually offer some kind of live entertainment, such as thrilling daily performances of Sichuan opera.

Yet your thirst isn’t the only desire that is sure to be quenched. Chengdu is widely acknowledged as one of China’s centres of gastronomy. Sichuan-style cuisine is celebrated as one of the Eight Great Culinary Traditions of Chinese Cooking, and its capital is home to some of the finest restaurants in the province. In particular, Jinli Ancient Street boasts a plethora of old-fashioned stores, boutique hotels, luxury restaurants, and vibrant bars that are sure to delight the eyes and the palate. This is the ideal place to sample some of the local snack food, or indulge in a banquet of local delicacies. Just be sure to keep a cup of tea on-hand; Sichuan-style food is notoriously spicy!