Sichuan Travel Guide

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Sichuan(abbrev: Chuan or Shu): it is in southwest China ranking the fifth largest province in the nation. The entire province has a 1,075 kilometers’ length from west to east and a 921 kilometers’ width from north to south, which embraces an area of 484,100 square kilometers. Geographically, the province is part of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in the west and basin in the east. The Yangtze River runs through the basin and thus is upstream to the areas of eastern China. It is bordered by Qinghai, Gansu, Shaanxi, Guizhou, Yunnan, Chongqing municipality and the Tibet Autonomous Region. With an approximate population of 87million, the land is mainly occupied by the Han majority, the Yi minority, the Tibetan minority, the Hui Minority and the Qiang minority.

Sichuan has the civilization over 4500 years. Chengdu, Zigong, Leshan, Yibin, Luzhou, Langzhong and Dujiangyan are the national historic culture cities with 40 national cultural relic preservations and 24 provincial historical and cultural cities (towns). From the ancient times hydraulic engineering, the common residence at old towns to the celebrity former dwelling, from the Daoism and the Buddhism temples, the rock carvings and murals to the modern art museums, from the prehistoric ruins to the modern constructions, has everything expected to find.

Check out an travel story of a independent trip to western Sichuan Province.

Dujiangyan Dujiangyan Irrigation Project

Literally called “The Land of Abundance”, Sichuan is China's leading agricultural producer like rice, wheat, sugarcane and many more. The western plateau and the mountainous regions are the important pastoral areas and forest regions, which is rich in bamboo, white wax, traditional Chinese medicine fritillaries, and elk fragrance and so on. On the other hand, the most industrialized province of southwestern China, it is a center for coal mining, petroleum refining, and chemical production: Panzhihua Iron and Steel Mill, Zigong Salt Chemical Industry, Neijiang Sugar Refinery, Yibin and Luzhou Brewery and so forth.

Overview

The province of Sichuan is in southwest China. It contains many of China’s most interesting natural wonders, wildlife preserves, archaeological sites, ancient engineering achievements, museums, and ancient buildings that are of interest to travelers.  If you like spicy food, Sichuan cuisine is famous. It is the fifth largest province in the nation and embraces an area of about 485,100 square kilometers (187,000 square miles). The province is 1,075 kilometers wide from west to east and 921 kilometers wide from north to south. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is in the western part, and a drier basin is in the eastern part. Some of the eastern part of the province including Chengdu, the capital, is supplied with water from a 2,300 year old irrigation system called the Dujiangyan that is a tourist site of interest. This irrigation system helped to make Sichuan known as China’s “province of abundance.” Whether you are looking for beautiful natural scenery, to see rare animals like the pandas, to visit archeological sites with fantastic relics of ancient civilizations that were only discovered about 20 years ago, or just enjoy shopping and the cuisine, Sichuan is on of China’s best travel destinations.

Geography

Geographically, the province is divided into three major regions. There is a region of high mountains in the southwest, a high plateau in the northwest, and a lowland region in the eastern part of the province. In the southwest is the Minshan Mountain range that is an eastern extension of the Himalayas. The mountains are very tall, and many are over 5,000 meters (about 16,400 feet) high so they have a range of ecological zones, glaciers and snowcapped peaks. There are nature reserves preserving many endangered plant and animals. The scenery is breath-taking. In particular, Huanglong Reserve and Jiuzhaigou Reserve are famous for streams, high peaks, forests, hot springs and beautiful travertine colored pools. Many people who have travelled widely say that they are the most beautiful places they have ever been in.

jiuzhaigou valley scenic areaJiuzhaigou Valley Scenic Area

The western lowlands are more arid than the higher regions. But it is cloudier. Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province lies in the lowlands, and some people say that it is even cloudier than London. The navigable Yangtze River runs through the basin and flows into eastern China. The highlights of this area are the Bronze-age archeological sites at Sanxingdui and Jinsha, other historical sites and museums of China’s more recent past, and the Panda Breeding and Research Station. Chengdu has been a major city for thousands of years, so there are a number of interesting historical sites. At the boundary of the mountainous and lowland region about 50 kilometers from Chengdu, the Dujiangyan Irrigation Project was constructed more than 2,200 years ago to supply water to the drier lowlands around Chengdu.

Please see click the following picture to see our Giant Pandas Special Report

History

金沙遗址博物馆Historical relic in Jinsha Ruins

A Bronze-age civilization existed in the area near Chengdu about 3000 BC until about 1000 BC. This civilization has been named the Shu. It was only discovered in 1987. Before this, it was thought that the Shang civilization was China’s only Bronze-age civilization. Two archaeological sites have been uncovered so far. The Sanxingdui site was discovered about 45 kilometers northwest of Chengdu in 1987. The Jinsha site was only discovered in 2001 in Chengdu’s western suburb. The artifacts found at these sites, especially the unusually large bronze objects found in the remains of a Shu city at the Sanxingdui archaeological site astounded archaeologists. Artifacts from an earlier Neolithic culture dating up to 6,000 BC were also unearthed at the Sanxingdui site, as were artifacts from a later civilization dating up to about 700 BC. Two new museums at the Jinsha and Sanxingdui sites house these discoveries that are considered national treasures. Some archeologists consider the bronze relics to be more outstanding than the Terracotta Army in Xi’an.

Bronze Relic of the Shu Civilization in the Sanxingdui Museum

Sanxingdui MuseumA gigantic mask in Sanxingdui Ruins

Following the Shu, from about 500 BC to 316 BC the area around Chengdu was the kingdom called the Late Shu Dynasty. This kingdom was conquered in 316 BC by the Qin dynasty, and it then became a part of that large empire. It was during this dynasty that the Dujiangyan irrigation and flood control project was built. During the Three Kingdoms Era, the Han Dynasty was divided into three warring empires. Chengdu was the capital of the short-lived Shu Kingdom of Emperor Liu Bei (161-223) and his renowned minister Zhuge Liang (181-234). A temple to these two important officials called the Wuhou Memorial Temple was built hundreds of years later in Chengdu’s south suburbs, and is now one of China’s most famous memorials.

Sites to Visit

Sichuan is full of ancient and natural places to visit, and has noted wildlife preservation areas. The government has attempted to preserve historical and cultural sites. You can see the remains of ancient civilizations which existed 5000 years ago, and buildings and temples built in the last millennia. Seven cities in the province are recognized as national historical and cultural cities: Chengdu, Zigong, Leshan, Yibin, Luzhou, Langzhong and Dujiangyan. There are 40 key national cultural reserves and 24 cities and towns that are designated as historical reserves by the provincial government. You may visit ancient feats of engineering, natural wonders and wildlife refuges, Daoist and Buddhist temples, watch Sichuan opera, eat Sichuan cuisine, and visit modern cities and the sites of ancient civilizations.

The Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area and nearby Jiuzhaigou Valley are particularly famous for the beautiful mountain scenery and the colorful hot spring pools.

The Giant Panda Breeding Research Base is located on Futoushan Mountain in the northern suburbs of the city of Chengdu. It is only about 10 km away from the city center of Chengdu. Travel time from the city center to the research center is about 35 minutes by taxi. You can get up close with these interesting and quiet creatures.

Dufu’s Thatched Cottage is in the western suburb of Chengdu. You can stroll in the park and learn about one of China’s most famous poets, as well as learn about life in the Tang Dynasty.

The famous 2,300 year old irrigation project that was mentioned several times in this article is called Dujiangyan.

And the newly discovered (in 2001) ancient civilization site and new museum in Chengdu’s western suburb is called Jinsha. The main archeological site of this civilization is called Sanxingdui. The Sanxingdui site and museum is about an hour away from Chengdu by bus.

Sichuan Cuisine

Sichuan HotpotSichuan Hotpot

Sichuan's spicy cuisine,one of the famous eight style dishes of China, is renowned worldwide for being hot and numbing. According to historical records, the Cuisine originated in the ancient nations of Ba and Shu. Sichuan comes from "Four Lus"-Lu is the ancient administrative unit of Song Dynasty, and Sichuan is composed of four lus. So the Cuisine has four styles and divided by location: Chengdu, Chongqing, the Yangtze and the Jialing River. So the flavor includes Chongqing, Chengdu, Leshan, Neijiang, Zigong and other local style dishes' characteristics. Sichuan peppercorn, chilli, ginger, spicy herbs and broad bean chilli paste are the major ingredients that feature the flavor in Sichuan cuisine. The cooking techniques include stir frying, steaming, braising and so on, and the total distinct techniques of a complete list is 38. The Sichuan cuisine starts popularly after the 80s reform and open policy in the nation, Comrade Deng Xiaoping has the very big contribution to the Sichuan cuisine development.

Representative dishes: Few well-known Sichuan dishes include Gongbao chicken (Kung Pao chicken), Twice-cooked Pork, Four tastes abalones (pinyin: sì wèi bào yú) and Sauteed Shredded Pork in Spicy & Chilli Sauce(pinyin:yú xiāng ròu sī) . Although many dishes are honored to their spicy reputation, often ignored are the large number of recipes that use little or no hot spices at all, including dishes such as Tea Smoked Duck(pinyin: zhāngchá yā). Mapo Tofu (pinyin: mápó dòufǔ) Sichuan hotpot (pinyin: Sìchuān huǒguō) Fuqi Feipian (pinyin: fūqī fèipiàn) Chongqing Spicy Deep-Fried Chicken (pinyin: Chóngqìng làzǐjī) "Water Boiled" or Shuizhu Dishes (pinyin: shuǐzhǔ) Dan dan noodles (pinyin: dān dān miàn) and Bangbang Chicken or Bon bon chicken (pinyin: bàng bàng jī)

Hi, I'm Lynn Ye
I updated this article on February 27, 2014
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