Last updated on July 15th, 2015 at 11:57 am
When we travelled in Yunnan I thought that the region was, except few sites, not very touristy, with few areas almost unexplored. We than planned a 10 days Sichuan travel itinerary to cover top destinations and I now better understand what does mean unexplored.
Sichuan is a mountainous area located in the central part of China and bordering with Tibet. Access to this region is really challenging and difficult, even more since the very deadly earthquake in May 2008, with roads in some part of Sichuan still not rebuilt. Sichuan is maybe not that popular with Chinese tourism, due to the roads condition, and that’s why we definitely suggest a tour as soon as possible, before the “modernization” will arrive
The mountain peaks in Sichuan are in the 6000 to 7000 meters range, more ancient than those of the nearby Himalayas, emerging from a foggy and wet climate that promotes the development of a particularly thick vegetation. A Chinese proverb says: “The path of Sichuan is harder than climbing to heaven (蜀道 难于上青天)”. A second famous saying (蜀 犬吠 日) refers to the time constant rain of that province; the literal translation is: “In the land of Shu, the dog barks when the sun appears (the sun is like a stranger that the dog has never seen)”.
Sichuan was historically known as the “breadbasket” of China. Thanks to its climate and an efficient irrigation system, based on a thousand years of experience, Sichuan is one of the leading Chinese provinces in terms of agricultural production.
Obviously you can find here the massively produced Sichuan pepper, basic ingredient in the many types of Chinese cuisine. Culinary Sichuan is famous for its spicy dishes, it is said in Chinese that it is a mala kitchen (麻辣, sesame and chili). Get ready with your taste buds.
What are the most famous dishes?
Fondue and tofu Sichuan mapo.
What are the top destinations? Where to start a Sichuan travel itinerary
We will list a few, some of which are truly spectacular. Others are more difficult to reach. However most of the trips to Sichuan start from the capital, Chengdu.
Chengdu is the capital city of Sichuan with about 15 million habitants. This is the starting point for your excursions in the Sichuan scenery. The first settlement goes back to 4000 years ago (yes, four thousand), leading many historians to regard it as the oldest established city in the world.
What does make Chengdu one of the Sichuan top destination?
Chengdu is a city full of history with a phenomenal culinary tradition. This is where you will have one of the best and most popular food experience in China. The Sichuan cuisine is well known worldwide and here we experienced the best of the best. There is a good reason why Chengdu is an officially recognised UNESCO City of Gastronomy 😀
Once the starting point of the southern Silk Road, Chengdu is a big place to discover. It is the symbol of the economic development of China, a mix of ancestral culture and new technology. You can walk around the new or the old part of the city, stopping from time to time at a tea house, a common place in the Chengdu tradition.
Plan a visit to the giant panda’s park, the symbol of China. If you are after amazing, or unusual, architecture, place a visit to the very controversial New Century Global Centre, the largest building in the world. It is spread on 1.7 million square meters (170 hectares) of surface, about 4 times the size of the Vatican and 3 times the size of the Pentagon.
Unfortunately the New Century Global Centre was in all the news also for a financial corruption scandal that brought few politicians and the mayor of the city in jail.
Do you need another excuse for your visit?
That’s the aquatic center inside the building, with an artificial beach of 5000 square meters and a setting sun on a giant screen. Where can you have a similar experience?
Sichuan is a vast area. If you want to visit it all you will need months. These Sichuan top destinations are based on a 10 days itinerary and cover some of the most fantastic places on earth. You will discover three areas that show the variety of Sichuan region .
The Danba Valley, located in the western part of Sichuan, was part of the historic Tibet provinces. Attached to Sichuan during the redrawing of the provinces by Mao, the Danba region has still a strong influence from the past Tibetan culture.
The local population is still a nomadic community that worship the gods of the sacred mountains of the region. Here, the rural life persists to keep his Tibetan authenticity by establishing sustainable model villages. Even the 10 years of the Greater Western development policy, led by Beijing, did not alter the mountain environment. That is in our opinion the top attraction of Sichuan, the authenticity of the local people and the link to the Tibetan past
The village of Jiaju has been recognized by the Chinese National Geographic as one of the most beautiful villages in China. The village is home to about 150 Tibetan families (Jiaju means one hundred families in Tibetan language)
Is Suopo the kingdom of the thousand towers? Probably not as many, however the remaining ones are clearly a top attraction, which is still a secret to most of the Chinese mainstream tourism
Read more about these beautiful ethnic villages in the Guide to Danba Valley – Jiaju and Suopo
Is it true that the remotest villages and communities are the most interesting ones? Probably it is. Once you are far away from the big cities you start feeling and seeing how the local communities actually live, and once you climb mountains and you explore remote valleys you start experiencing the original life of the local communities, never really involved in the progress of the country. In the top places to see in Sichuan add this secret village called Dangling, the lost village.
Dangling is located in the Danba County, in the Sichuan Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
How to reach Dangling?
This is not an easy and comfortable trip, which explain why the area is not that popular, as visited by many tourists. Be ready for four hours of bumpy road from Danba; and once you start questioning why you decided to start this journey, here it is Dangling, the lost village in the bottom of a huge valley.
Magnificent snow-capped peaks, mountain lakes, outdoor hot-springs in the primeval forests, grasslands, rare flora and fauna and the humble welcoming spirit of the Tibetan people.
Harsh access, very undeveloped, ecosystem buildings in the middle of the breathtaking snowy mountains, alpine lakes, hot springs, yak pasture and virgin forests.
This is the lost valley, read more on the Guide to Dangling, the lost village
Tagong is a small town in the Tibetan prefecture of Ganzi. It is located half way between Kangding and Litang at an altitude of 3700m. It is known for its scenic grasslands and the local Tibetan Buddhist culture. When you arrive in the Tagong area you are immediately taken by the small village’s charm and you feel something is sacred in the air. This is definitely one of the top places to see in Sichuan, an area you don’t want to miss.
A long time ago, the Weng Cheng Chinese princess was on a trip to marry the emperor in Lhasa and she took with her the Jowo Sakyamuni Buddha statue as a gift. When on the road to Lhasa, the princess crossed this Sichuan area and, according to the legend, the statue wanted to stop in Tagong. The princess decided to make a copy of the statue and she left it here, so Lhagang Monastery was born. Built around this lamasery, Tagong is the spiritual town announcing the Tibet’s kingdom.
Tagong provides an unfettered window on the Tibetan people and culture. Read more in the Guide to Tagong, the door to Tibet
In 10-15 days it is impossible to cover the top destinations. We built a Sichuan travel itinerary that covered the most interesting things. We were interested to a first contact with the Tibetan culture and we definitely had it.
We had unfortunately to cut two top destinations: Mount Emei with Leshan Giant Buddha and Jiuzhaigou, a national park in the north of the province. With a longer trip we would definitely include both.
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Stef Ferro is the founder and editor of MEL365, a travel & photography website made to enhance the travelling experience and improve the photography work.
Stef is a professional travel photographer with past experience in the cycling and film industry.
Stef runs travel photography workshops in Melbourne and around the world.