AND HOW DO YOU BAM­BOO?

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - WHEN TO BOOK CHENGDU - CELESTE MITCHELL

It’s not just adorable pan­das lur­ing Aussies to Chengdu, the cap­i­tal of China’s Sichuan province. This up-and­com­ing des­ti­na­tion whis­tles a tune that at­tracts many trav­ellers, with its spicy street food and tea­house scene. We­b­jet coun­try man­ager David Galt says China is firmly in their top 10 des­ti­na­tions for Aus­tralians and year-on-year book­ings are up just over 20 per cent.

“The dis­cov­ery side is what’s at­tract­ing peo­ple,” he says. “We’re see­ing good de­mand for both flight-only or flight-led travel as well as the pack­age tour.”

Gen Y is lead­ing the charge when it comes to in­de­pen­dent travel with 26 to 35-year-olds the big­gest buy­ers of flights to China.

“In­creased ca­pac­ity from the likes of China South­ern has been a big driver of flight vol­ume,” Galt says. Air China also launched a di­rect ser­vice be­tween Syd­ney and Chengdu in Novem­ber last year.

On the ground, the new Xi’an-Chengdu rail­way – which will cat­a­pult pas­sen­gers along the 643km-route at a speed of 250km per hour – is set to be opened by the end of 2017, slash­ing travel time be­tween the two ci­ties from 16 hours to three.

WHY VISIT

Even if you’ve never heard of Chengdu, you’ll be aware of its most fa­mous res­i­dents, the gi­ant pan­das. A visit to the Chengdu Re­search Base of Gi­ant Panda Breed­ing is a high­light of We­b­jet Ex­clu­sives’ Trea­sures of China tour, as well as many other China tour op­er­a­tors.

Here you’ll have the chance to see the black-and-white gi­ants on their home turf and see first-hand the con­ser­va­tion ef­forts that have helped to grow the gi­ant panda pop­u­la­tion by 17 per cent in a decade, re­sult­ing in the species be­ing re­moved from the en­dan­gered list. (There’s still much to be done with less than 2000 gi­ant pan­das re­main­ing in the wild.)

A night at the Sichuan opera is one of the lesser-known treats, with the mys­ti­fy­ing bian lian (face chang­ing) an­tics of its masked per­form­ers.

While you’re soak­ing up the laid-back life­style – by China stan­dards – of this city of 14 mil­lion, wan­der through the Peo­ple’s Park to see the mar­riage mar­ket where par­ents search for wor­thy suit­ors for their un­mar­ried off­spring.

Then set­tle into one of the city’s fa­mous tea­houses for a never-end­ing cup and ex­pe­ri­ence an ear pick­ing, if you’re up for it.

The kick of Sichuan cui­sine is what led UNESCO to name Chengdu the sec­ond City of Gas­tron­omy back in 2010. Sam­ple your way along the weird and won­der­ful street food stalls and test your spice thresh­old with a boil­ing caul­dron of Sichuan hot pot. Galt says af­ford­abil­ity is also a big driver of in­ter­est in travel to China, with pack­ages in­clud­ing in­ter­na­tional flights from as low as $112 a day.

WHEN TO VISIT

While sum­mer in Chengdu can be hu­mid and the months of July and Au­gust see the largest rain­fall, it’s also when baby pan­das are usu­ally born. Cue cute­ness ap­peal. “We see, by far and away, the most de­mand for de­par­tures in June, July and Au­gust,” Galt says.

WHEN TO BOOK

If you’re trav­el­ling in­de­pen­dently, you shouldn’t need to book too far out.

“On the flight side of the busi­ness, the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple are book­ing one to three months in ad­vance,” Galt says.

But if you’d pre­fer to put your­self in the hands of an ex­pe­ri­enced lo­cal guide, now is the time to book a 2018 tour.

“We’ve al­ready had some dates sell out and we’ve got some dates that are al­ready down to lim­ited avail­abil­ity,” he says.

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