China is huge. It comes just after the U.S. in terms of land area. Because of this, as much as we’d love to provide a week itinerary to explore all of China, it’s just not happening. It’s just too darn big. So we’re going to provide you with the second-best option, which is a week-long itinerary for a region of China – Western China.
Oftentimes overlooked, Western China does not boast some of the internationally recognized Chinese cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, or Guangzhou. The cities that are located in Western China, however, are full of rich history, delicious foods, and beautiful landscapes that are simply second to none compared to any big cities on China’s coast (trust me, I taught in Shenzhen for 3 years).
In this itinerary, we’ll be exploring the Sichuan and Shaanxi Province, wherein lies some of the most deeply rich histories of China in the cities of Chengdu and Xi’an as well as one of the greatest mountains in China, Mount. Emei.
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Day 1 – 3: Chengdu
Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan Province. Assuming you’ve ever had Chinese takeout, Sichuan should ring a bell. The Sichuan province is regarded for its spicy food as well as its Giant Panda Breeding Research Base.
When to Go:
Best recommendation for Chengdu – don’t visit during Winter. Due to Chengdu’s location, the winters tend to be smoggy and wet. The best time to visit Chengdu for its agreeable weather and breathable air quality is sometime between March – June or September – November. No matter when you visit, make sure to check out our China packing guide so you don’t forget anything important!
Where to Sleep:
Lazybones Templeside Poshpacker Hostel: We recommend this hostel because they offer fabulous front desk staff to help you figure out what to see, where to eat, and any other itinerary questions you may have. With plenty of lounge and social area, you’ll have the opportunity to meet other fellow travelers and find some new friends to explore with during your stay!
What to See:
Chengdu Renmin Park:
When it comes to people watching in Chengdu, this is the place to do it. Situated in the center of the city, this is the first public park of Chengdu. Complete with beautiful landscape, tea houses, gardens, and a pond, it’s a beautiful park. Because of this, you will see many locals taking advantage of this awesome free space, either grabbing a cup of tea, getting their ears candled, or just straight up laxing. I recommend spending a morning or afternoon here enjoying some of the local culture of the area.
Address in Chinese: 人民公园
Address in English: No.12 Shaocheng Road, Qingyang District, Chengdu 610015, China
Giant Panda Breeding Research Base:
Everyone loves these fuzzy black-and-white creatures, but in China, they go crazy for their pandas. Native from China, the giant panda is proudly named the “national treasure” of this country. Pandas can only be found in the Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu Provinces. Unfortunately for the pandas, however, their population in the wild is dwindling to about 2,000, which brings extreme importance to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base located in Chengdu to protect and educate the public about this endangered species.
Located in this Research base, you can see the Giant pandas, the Red pandas (actually not even related to the black-and-white panda sharing its name), as well as visit the nursery where the female pandas can be found nursing their cubs.
Located in the northern suburbs of Chengdu, it takes about an hour by bus to get to this research base from the city center. Visit the webpage’s official guide for directions here.
Price: 10 Yuan
Address in Chinese: 成都市成华区熊猫大道1375号
Address in English: Chenghua District, Panda Boulevard #1375 (Xiongmao Da Dao)
Sichuan Opera at Shufeng Yayun Teahouse:
A trip to Chengdu would be incomplete without visiting the Sichuan Opera, the most popular one to be seen at Chengdu’s Shufeng Yayun Teahouse located in Chengdu Culture Park. Spanning about 1.5 hours, the Sichuan Opera features acrobats, puppets, dances, fire breathing, as well as the ‘face-changing’ mask show. Entrance to this show includes tea service and other features such as massage, ear grooming, or photo opps can be added on with additional cost.
Price: 150 Yuan or ~ $20 USD
Address in Chinese: 成都市青羊区琴台路23号市文化公园内
Address in English: Chengdu Qintai Lu #23
What to Eat:
Mapo Doufu at Chen Mapo Tofu
Spoiler: Chen Mapo Tofu is a hot spot on the tourist map, but we are recommending this because they simple offer some of the best mapo tofu in the area. You can take a gamble on another less busy location, but this comes at a risk of having sub-par spicy tofu.
Why is mapo doufu so special? First, you need to understand the Sichuan peppercorn. The Sichuan peppercorn is a key ingredient in mapo doufu (as well as many other Sichuan dishes) that creates a mouth-numbing experience for the eater. It’s a delightful experience that everyone should feel at least once while in Chengdu!
Address in Chinese: 西玉龙街197号(近交通银行省分行
Address in English:197 West Yu Long Street
Day 4: Leshan
To get to Leshan from Chengdu, you will need to travel via high-speed rail. At around one hour of travel time, this is one of the best and most efficient trips you can take in China. Simply book the ticket ahead of time at a transportation kiosk (be sure to bring your passport for proof of ID!) and be at the station on time in the morning.
You will take the Chengdu-Leshan-Emeishan Intercity High-Speed Train from Chengdu’s South or East Station (whichever is more convenient for you) to Leshan Railway Station.
Once you reach Leshan Railway Station, you will look for bus 3 to head towards the Oriental Buddhist Theme Park to see the Leshan Giant Buddha.
The Oriental Buddhist Theme Park
Yes, China has theme parks for Buddhism. Four acres worth of Buddhist Theme Park, to be exact. Not surprisingly, when I visited this park, I found myself extremely lost in this maze of park several times throughout the day, which is why we devote an entire day in this itinerary to visiting the park. In this theme park, you can find the Giant Buddha as well as thousands of other Buddhist statues from all over Asia.
About the Leshan Buddha:
Carved into a cliff between 700-800 during the Tang Dynasty, this Giant Buddha come in at 71 meters as the tallest Buddha statue in the world.
Day 5-7: Xi’an – Home of the Terra Cotta Warriors
The capital of the Shaanxi Province, Xi’an is oftentimes called the birthplace of Chinese civilization and held the position to several of the most important dynasties of Chinese history. With over 3,000 years of history, including 1,100 as the capital city of Chinese ancient dynasties, Xi’an is a must-visit in China.
Where to Sleep:
Han Tang Inn Hostel: This hostel is fantastic for Xi’an, as they provide daily tours to see the Terra Cotta warriors. This is important because getting to this site is a long drive and oftentimes is cheaper through a tour than it would be with just the general admission!
Address in Chinese: 西安市新城广场南侧南新街南长巷7号
Address in English: No.7 NanChang Xiang (Alley) XinCheng Guang Chang(Square) Nan Xin Jie(street)
What to See:
Terra Cotta Warriors:
This destination almost goes without saying when it comes to a successful trip to Xi’an (and China, for that matter!) A mausoleum for Qin Shi Huang (unifier of China) built 2,200 years ago with 6,000 terra cotta warriors and horses for protection in the afterlife. Somehow this place has been forgotten about/hidden and rediscovered about 40 years ago by a farmer digging a well. Little is known as to how much the farmer made with this discovery, but the locals all say that he now “lives a better life.” There are 4 vaults, but the vault 1 is the grandest with the most intact warriors standing.
Included in the tour of the Terra Cotta warriors is the opportunity to look at what is believed to be the emperor’s actual tomb. Because of the high level of mercury in the area, they have to wait some years until they can actually excavate the area. So, in the meantime, you can look at a big hill that they have roped off where they think he is buried. Kind of anti-climatic, but hey, it’s free.
Price for Entry (not with tour): 150 Yuan or ~ $24 USD
Address in English: Qinling North Road, Lintong District, Xi’an
Address in Chinese: 兵馬俑
Big Wild Goose Pagoda
Coming from the Tang Dynasty as well, this Buddhist pagoda was built in 652 and is located in the Southern suburb of the city. You can get here by taking bus 610 from the Bell Tower or bus 609 from the South Gate. Be sure to catch the Pagoda by nightfall, as a fountain show is held on the square every evening.
Price: 50 Yuan or ~ $8 USD
Address in Chinese:雁塔南路
Address in English: Yanta Nanlu
The name is pretty self-explanatory. This is a giant bell inside of a tower. The Bell Tower’s recognition comes from the fact that it is the largest and best-preserved ancient tower in China. You may climb up the tower for a fee or just enjoy its beautiful lights at nighttime.
Price: 35 Yuan or ~ $6 USD
Name in Chinese: 钟楼
Name in English: Zhong Lou
Located next to the Drum Tower, Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter consists of over a thousand vendors and spans a few blocks! This quarter is over 1,000 years old and provides delicious treats to be savored! Be ready to practice your barter skills and enjoy the tasty treats and souvenirs that you can find for cheap along these streets!
Name in Chinese: 回民街
Name in English: Huímín Jiē
What to eat:
The “Chinese” Hamburger: a crispy bun filled with tender, melt-in-your mouth meat
Name in Chinese: 肉夹馍
Name in English: Rou Jia Mo
Bread soaked in lamb juice: A soup made of chewy bean vermicelli, fresh lamb, and soft pita bread is another must-try!
Name in Chinese: 羊肉泡馍
Name in English: Yangrou Paomo
Soup Dumplings: Thinly wrapped dumplings filled with hot soup bursting with flavor. Everyone should try a soup dumpling before leaving China.
Name in Chinese: 灌汤包子
Name in English: xiǎo lóng bāo
With this itinerary, you’re sure to leave China with a better understanding and appreciation for the countries rich history.