Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan province, which is famous for its pandas and spicy cuisine. Located 940 mi/1,500 km southwest of Beijing, Chengdu is a pleasant city and southwest China's university and technology hub. Many tourists find themselves in Chengdu en route to or from Tibet.

Chengdu's many teahouses are an important part of its cultural heritage. There, locals chat the hours away sipping tea and eating snacks, or maybe playing a little mah-jongg or chess. Chengdu also has a vibrant arts community, with many of the country's best and brightest living and working there.

At the teahouses, you'll find chess players, storytellers and, if you're lucky, a teahouse opera performance. Sichuan Opera, or Chuan Opera, is one of China's most famous opera styles and features music performances, comedy, costumed theater, shadow puppets and the celebrated mask-changers—whose sleight of hand always baffles audiences.

If you find time between meals, visit the city's zoo where giant pandas are on display. You can also visit the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in the northern part of the city. The Sichuan Provincial Museum and the Sanxingdui Museum, about 25mi/40 km from Chengdu, are worth visiting for their amazing Shu/Ba bronze humanoid figures.

One of the nicest spots in Chengdu is a large bamboo park around the thatched cottage of Du Fu (AD 712-770), a poet. He and Li Bai were the most celebrated of the poets of the Tang dynasty. Du Fu was more of an ascetic than the sensualist Li Bai, who often wrote poetry while drunk. (Li is said to have died when, drinking one night onboard a boat, he tried to embrace his own moonlit reflection in the water and drowned.)

As the main gateway to Tibet, Chengdu has daily flights to Lhasa. It's also the last urban outpost before Tibet, so enjoy the modern conveniences while you can.

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