In a nutshell
Sichuan was previously known as Szechuan, is a province about the same size as France located in the south west of China occupying parts of the Sichuan Basin and the Tibetan Plateau.
Where to go in Sichuan province
Jiuzhaigou is located in the north of Sichuan province close to Gansu province. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty that draws thousands of tourists to the region. It has long been an area so remote that travelling there was difficult, although a new road has improved that. A new railway from Chengdu is due to open in 2019. The area was hit by an earthquake in 2017 and has just reopened in March 2018.
Guangyuan in the north east of Sichuan province has a long history due to the Jianmen Shu Road. It is also called the ancient plank road and was the main pass through the mountains linking Central China to the South West through the Kingdom of Shu, the former name of Sichuan. The plank road is 450 km long linking Hanzhong in Shaanxi province with Chengdu and has existed for over 2000 years. The Jianmen Shu Road is the section of this ancient road close to the Jianmen Pass.
Thousand Buddha Cliff
Close to the Jianmen Pass is another ancient attraction, the Thousand Buddha Cliff. It is the largest grotto in Sichuan. Buddha statues were chiselled into the cliff about 1500 years ago; it measures 45 metres high and 200 metres long. In the Dayun Cave alone there are 234 statues and faces the Huangze Temple across the river.
Ya’an is the nearest city to the Bifeng Gorge Panda Base with over 90% of the local area being thick forestation it is an ideal area for the Giant Panda to thrive in the wild. The Panda base team goes out and monitors the animals under their care in this eco-friendly environment. The Old Town of Shangli is 27km from Ya’an and is one of ten famous ancient towns in Sichuan. It has ten ancient bridges, pagodas and buildings that date from the Han dynasty.
Leshan City has two UNESCO attractions; firstly the world’s biggest carved stone Giant Buddha that took 90 years to be completed in the year 803. The second site is Mount Emei or Emeishan, the sacred Buddhist Mountain just outside the city.
Langzhong Ancient City
Langzhong Ancient City is on the banks of the Jialing River in the north of Sichuan province, it was the capital of the Ba Kingdom during the Warring States Period from 476-221BC until the kingdom was defeated by the Qin dynasty in 221BC.
Zigong to the south of Chengdu has two attractions worth mentioning, the first is the Dinosaur Museum, it is the 3rd biggest dinosaur museum in the world built on the site where several dinosaur fossils were found. It is located 11km from the city centre. The second attraction is the Salt History Museum, established in 1959 on the site of a former salt mine it has displays of equipment used in this industry from as long ago as 2000 years. Visitors can operate some of the machinery.
When to go to Sichuan
Sichuan is an extremely large province with varied terrain, in the majority of the cities the best time to visit is in the spring or autumn avoiding the humid and rainy summer. In the mountainous areas however summer is probably the best time as due to the altitude the temperature is not as high.
Where to stay
In Chengdu, where you stay is not a problem with hundreds of hotels to choose from for all budgets, most of the smaller cities should not be a problem in finding hotels, the biggest problem could be that outside of Chengdu most hotels may not have staff that speak English so communication could be a problem. It is always advisable to book your hotel accommodation in advance particularly if heading somewhere a little more remote to avoid any problems in hunting for a suitable place to stay when you arrive.
Where and What to Eat
Sichuan cuisine is renowned for being among the spiciest food available in China with pork and chicken in particular featuring in most dishes. Another popular dish and again spicy is hot pot. You have a pot of non-drinkable spicy soup that you add your food to and when it is cooked remove from the pot and eat. In Chengdu there is a lot of western food available, the smaller the city the less likely you are to see any western food.
How to get around Sichuan
There are currently 13 airports in Sichuan province with another 5 under construction. Chengdu is the main airport in the region and the only international airport.
Trains are a good way of travelling in the east of the province but the west of Sichuan is very remote and with poor quality roads journeys can take a lot longer than scheduled. You can fly from Chengdu to Daocheng in the extreme west of the province in one hour; the road journey can take two days. There is a good fast train service from Chengdu to Leshan City it takes 46 minutes and costs CNY54. Chengdu to Panzhihua costs CNY190 for a hard sleeper and takes 13 hours.
How to get to and from Sichuan
Chengdu is the only International Airport in the province and it has flights from over 70 destinations within China and more than 30 international locations.
Chengdu can be reached by high speed train from Shanghai in 11 hours and Guangzhou in 10 hours. Slower trains take longer than a day. It is actually cheaper to fly these routes than take a fast train.
Flying from Kunming in Yunnan province to Chengdu takes 1 hour and 40 minutes, costing from CNY570. A second class seat on a high speed train travelling from Kunming to Chengdu costs CNY487.50 and will take 6 hours. On an ordinary train from Kunming to Chengdu it takes 18 hours and a hard sleeper will cost CNY255.50.
There are some beautiful scenic routes into Sichuan from Yunnan province in the south, the roads are not good quality the journey will be slow but the views will take your breath away.
Is Sichuan a safe place to visit?
Sichuan is generally safe although there have been instances of pickpockets operating in Chengdu, particularly around crowded areas such as train and bus stations or in busy shopping areas. Drivers ignoring the rules of the road are a problem as are electric bikes as they travel fast in the pedestrian areas and expect you to get out of their way.
Outside the main cities the life is less hectic and people tend to not be in such a rush all the time so crossing the road is not a problem.
Should you need medical care then if you are in Chengdu there are some very good hospitals with a high standard of healthcare. The further you are away from a major city the less likely you are to find a good level of health care and communication could be a problem.