Chengdu, famous for giant pandas, has links to the ancient past & unique Sichuan dishes.

Giant pandas came off the endangered list two years ago because of China's groundbreaking conservation work – though they are still officially listed as "vulnerable".
So they are still at risk – and the best place to see these rare and beautiful animals is Chengdu, the capital of China's Sichuan province, in central China.

It's not just the pandas that might stimulate a visit to Chengdu – the city (14 million people) has a mix of ancient culture and pioneering, hi-tech industry which make it worth exploring on its own.

But it's the giant panda that sparks many a visit – and the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is around 10 km from central Chengdu and a beautiful way to spend the morning.

That's the best time to arrive as the pandas are most energetic during feeding time, usually between 7.30-8.30am after which time they tend to enjoy a long, mid-morning nap.

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The base is a non-profit research and breeding facility for giant pandas and other rare animals. It was founded in 1987 with just six giant pandas which were rescued from the wild.

On the opposite side of the city lies one of Chengdu's three key preservation areas, Kuanzhai Xiangzi. The area is made up of three parallel streets, known in English as Wide Alley, Narrow Alley and Well Alley, which have been here since the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), with tiny alleyways and courtyards joining them together.

The ancient site is representative of Chengdu folk history, and today the courtyards house everything from restaurants to tea shops, meaning it's a great place to come and get a glimpse of old Chengdu while sampling some local snacks.

Although most streets are hectic, the likelihood is high of discovery of a quiet street with someone playing traditional music, catapulting you into the past.

However, Chengdu isn't just a hub of ancient culture; it's also a hub of new technology. Sichuan AOSSCI I Technology Co., Ltd, specializes in drone technology. With company's chief operating officer Liu Yang, explaining: "Our drones and application systems are being used in areas like public security, aerial mapping, emergency response and rescue, environmental monitoring and surveillance."

Meanwhile Wu Jiemin, President of Vision-Zenith Tech. Co., Ltd, says: "We focus on smart visual analysis, such as pattern recognition and computer vision analysis, now called AI, artificial intelligence."

However, apart from the pandas, there is another big attraction for visitors in Chengdu – Sichuan's famed cuisine – and a dish called hot pot.

It is bubbling, spicy soup, usually with a less spicy chicken broth accompanying it. It's served with a variety of raw meat and vegetables which you dip into the broth to cook. To season, add oils, crushed garlic and chives to a dish and mix.

It's best served with a group of friends to discuss the day with long into the evening, ordering more food as you go.

Content sourced from the People's Daily Online here