Friday, July 8, 2016

Brompton-ing Chengdu, China












Spicy Hot Pot. They really mean it when they say hot!




My new friends Jiang Bo, Ee Lin and Ruby. Such lovely people!

China has always been a fascinating country for me as my forefathers came from there more than 200 years ago. The culture itself is one of the oldest in the world, dating back some 4000 years and more. The chance to visit the Sichuan region in late June came about where I joined a medical team who would be doing some training in Chengdu and Chongqing. Time permitted me to do some exploring and as per my usual folding habit, I brought along my British Brompton to help me check out the cities.


Chengdu is a city of about 10 million and is relatively flat. It is the only city in China which has kept its original name since its founding 2000 years ago. It also played a very important role during WW2 when Chiang Kai Shek moved the Capital City to Chengdu, and later on to Chongqing when the Japanese invaded China. We stayed at The Ascot which is located in the dead centre of the city and that made for easy exploration. Chengdu is famous for Pandas and The Panda Park is a must see. We had a chance to enjoy the beautiful park on our first day and were very fortunate to see some Pandas feeding and frolicking. Indeed, they are such adorable animals, cuteness personified.


It is always useful to research the top attractions of a new city and a quick google on Tripadvisor did the trick. Seems there is quite a long list and the key is to narrow it down to which is accessible and interesting. That is not too difficult especially with a bicycle and I wanted to ambitiously see 6 attractions in one day.

The first attraction was Wuhou Temple and next to it was Jinli Street. It was only 3km away. Rolling my folded Brompton out of the hotel was easy but as usual, it attracted attention as I unfolded it. Somehow, it still boggles my mind that such a small package can instantaneously spring open to become an almost full size bicycle.


Wheeling into the busy traffic took a bit of getting used to as China's traffic is rather chaotic and is almost an every man for himself style. Here, might is right and I being on small 16" wheels, was lowest in the food chain of traffic unfortunately. Fortunately though, there are wide bicycle lanes throughout the city and that helps.


However, these lanes are also occupied by e-bikes which look more like full size scooters zooming by you at 40km/h! Some were fully loaded with boxes etc. Hair raising as it was, I soon got used to it. The key is to stay alert and be aware of your happenings 360".


With the aid of my Maps.Me app, it was easy to navigate to Wuhou Temple, taking some short cuts where possible. Upon reaching there, I was taken back at the rather steep entrance fee of 60Y to see the temple and decided to park and lock my bicycle at the Tourist Office to have a look at Jinli Street. Bicycles are not allowed here, even if you want to push through as it gets rather crowded. This is quite a fascinating place with traditional old style shops selling all sorts of curios and souvenirs clearly for the tourists.


I had a bowl of noodles here which was delicious at first but later turned out to be a bit too spicy for my palate. Although I am familiar with Sichuan food and its fame for being fiery, here in the heart of Sichuan the people really love their food HOT.


My next destination was to see the Chengdu Renmin Park which was supposed to be a place where the locals hang out. It was a nice ride there along the river but as I was just pushing my bike through the park, the security stepped in to say no bicycles allowed. Cannot even push it through. Well, if my Brompton was not allowed in, I wasn't going in as well.


So it was off again on the saddle to my next spot, Tianfu Square where a grand statue of Chairman Mao watches over a beautiful open square with flags flying and colourful flowers neatly laid out. There were also lots of police and military personnel around. Once again as I got off the bike and wanted to push the Brompton through the beautiful square, I was told bicycles are not allowed. At this stage I wondered if I folded the Brompton, whether that would be acceptable but the strict no nonsense look of the policeman made it abundantly clear, I was not welcome. At least with my bicycle. Rules are rules and as annoying as they are, we have to respect them as guests. But I wish they could be more bike friendly.

It was getting a bit hot at noon and it was great I spotted a McDonalds, an airconditioned oasis. I entered with my Brompton folded and nobody seem to mind. It was good to refuel and cool down as the temp was hitting 31c with the sun shining brightly.


Managed to cycle below Chairman Mao huge statue and got his "blessing" without any trouble. Mao is still a very revered figure in China as he defeated the Kuomintang Nationalist Party in Dec 1949 and took over the government right here at Chengdu.

Wenshuyuan was my next stop about 2km north of Tianfu Square. This is also another significant temple and monastry built in the Tang Dynasty and is around 400 years old. It is claimed to be the best preserved Buddhist Temple in Sichuan. It was easy navigating there and I took a picture when I got to the Temple Arch.


As I cycled into the temple grounds, I spotted a man carrying something very interesting on a shoulder rod and that caught my eye. I did a u-turn and had a closer look. It was a tortoise of sorts on one end of the rod, and its smaller cousin with some colourful stones on the other end. He wasn't too pleased I took his photo so my hunch was that what he was doing wasn't too legitimate. I'm not sure if he was eating it or was it used for some religious purposes.

This man was not saying "Hi"...

I paid 1Y to an old lady who sort of created a self-proclaimed parking lot outside the temple. When I locked my bicycle, she said no need to do that as she was the caretaker. Still, better safe than sorry especially when this was my classic 14yo foldie. 

The visit to Wenshu Temple was very educational and best of all, it was free. Quite a few devotees came to offer prayers and it was very special to be walking in the grounds of this ancient and sacred place. There are plenty of cultural relics here including a piece of a skull belonging to Xuan Zhang, a famous monk who lived in the Tang Dynasty.


On my way back to the hotel, I decided to do a short detour to Kuanzhaixiangzi Alley. These are scaled ancient streets built in the Qing Dynasty and is also known as the Wide and Narrow Streets. Once again, I parked my Brompton at the 1Y unofficial parking lot and went for a walkabout.

What fascinates about this is that it has more character than Jinli in my opinion. Lots of great restaurants, shops, cafes, musical concerts and even ear cleaning services. This is a great place to spend some time and I walked the streets twice. I was also fascinated with the traditional Chinese architecture and had a field day taking pics of all the exciting happenings at this attraction.



On my way back, traffic was a bit heavy as people were returning home from their offices and schools. But being on a bicycle, I could weave and carve my way through and it was lots of fun. I came across what I am told was a famous seafood restaurant just by the river in Chengdu and they actually made the building to look like a ship. It looked so out of place among all the tall buildings but if the purpose was to attract attention, it does its job brilliantly.

I was also pleased to see that some old and traditional places were preserved and that is so important if the heritage of a city is to be kept. In the chasing of $, many of these iconic houses and buildings make way for the soul-less glass and steel towering structures and that is a real pity.


I arrived back at the Ascot feeling a bit hot and sticky as it had been a humid day of cycling, walking and exploring. However, I was so pleased that I could hit 6 places in half a day thanks to my Brompton. Truly, nothing beats exploring a new city on small wheels and may I highly recommend you to bring along your foldy on your next overseas trip.

Chengdu, the Panda City of China certainly is worth a visit!

Pic from

* All photos taken on Samsung S7 mobile phone camera.