Chengdu: The spice of life in Sichuan province

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Statue of Mao Zedong in Tianfu Square in Chengdu.The western Chinese province of Sichuan offers a variety of attractions, great scenery and a spicy cuisine to tempt the palate.

Many ethnic groups living within its borders, including Tibetan and Qiang people, wear colorful traditional costumes.

Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, is booming with a rapidly rising population and the infrastructure being developed to meet new demand. The city has impressive public transportation, new shopping areas, convention and exhibition centers and sports stadiums.

Despite all this modernity, Chengdu has preserved and enhanced many of its antiquities, and tourists can explore historical attractions while enjoying modern comforts.

Treasures from Chengdu's earliest days, around 450 B.C., have been excavated at the Jinsha site at Supo Town to the west of the city. These include about a thousand cultural relics of pottery, jade and gold pieces as well as building foundations.

There are wonderful temples throughout the city, of which Green Ram, Wuhou and Wenshu are the most famous. The Green Ram Temple, a Taoist place of worship, is surrounded by a number of Buddhist temples; visitors should note the 60-foot-high Eight Trigram Pavilion decorated with 81 dragons.

Outside the temple grounds are many teahouses, typical Chengdu establishments where people gather during the day to drink tea, gossip and play mahjong.

Tianfu Square is a large, recently reconstructed open space in the center of Chengdu dominated at its northern side by a large statue of Chairman Mao.

The famous giant pandas are a must-see. The excellent Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is a great place to spend a few hours being entertained and charmed by these animals. The 25-acre center, six miles from the city center, houses 20 or so on-site giant pandas playing, sleeping and eating bamboo.

The best time to visit is around 8 a.m., when the animals are the most active and before the large tour groups arrive. The animals are very photogenic while eating, perched in tree branches or simply lolling about.

Sichuan cuisine is very spicy. The best known dish is Chengdu hotpot, of which there are around 10 types, including meat, fish, seafood and vegetable.

Tan Fish Head Hotpot, Shizilou and Huangcheng Laoma are recommended restaurants.

There is a large choice of accommodation in Chengdu, with many international chains at the top end of the market.

The Jinjiang Hotel is the earliest five-star hotel in this part of China and still a fine place to stay with great ambience. The Holiday Inn Century City is a good choice near the airport.

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