TRAVEL FRAGMENTS - 24 HOURS IN CHENGDU, CHINA
I had a semi-romantic vision of Chengdu as a small artistic city in the West of China and had been looking forward to visiting for ages. A short work trip provided the perfect opportunity to carve out just a few hours of visiting and eating out (I love the numbing taste of Sichuan pepper and managed spicy hot pot for dinner, followed by -very- spicy tofu for lunch). I discovered a vibrant metropolis that elegantly mixes modernity and tradition ....and is larger than London. I already look forward to coming back for an extended visit.
1- Qinglian Upper Street / Qinglianshang Lu
The small tree-shaded curved street is home to the beautiful Nomorning independent bookstore and cafe. I had come across that address seeing the small parisian magazine L'Instant Parisien announcing a stockist in Chengdu on their Instagram. Intrigued, I had made a note of the venue for a future visit. Nomorning were closed when I visited (which I knew in advance. but I still wanted to check out the area), but peeking though the window confirmed their carefully curated international magazine selection. The little street also houses a few other well-designed food and coffee venues. Just bear in mind not much is open before 12 noon.
2- Let's Grind, 39 Tangba Lu
I used this very helpful article from Chengdu Expat to figure out where to find great coffee in my few hours in Chengdu. Let's Grind did not disappoint, not the least because they were open when I stumbled upon the coffee shop (their listing indicates they normally only start opening at 11 am, an idiosyncrasy shared with many other independent coffee shops in China, be warned if you are looking for your early morning kick). This little venue is nice and cozy, and coffee was indeed fabulous and worth the trip.
3- Fang Suo Commune bookstore, Lower Ground Taikoo Li
This internally acclaimed concept store is a great example of Chinese homegrown retail innovation, and Chengdu is their latest opening after the original Guangzhou location. The space is breathtakingly beautiful and very well-curated. Fang Suo Commune is primarily a bookstore, but also includes some clothing, homeware and stationary, as well as a cultural event space. I was short on time for proper browsing, they seem to carry mainly (beautiful) mandarin editions but I read somewhere that they also have a selection of foreign language books.
If you are visiting Fang Suo Commune, it is well worth visiting the Taikoo Li retail complex that hosts it. I am normally not a fan of malls, even in their most luxurious form, as I find they often lack soul and focus on mock-picturesque (and yes that applies in my opinion to the famous Xitiandi in Shanghai). However, Taikoo Li is architecturally striking, It mixes ground level open space retail in Sichuan-style buildings, peppered around the Daci monastery. The underground section is visually brilliant, Above all, Taikoo Li seems to have managed to move beyond copycat chain stores and offers some independent and unusual retail and food options. If your budget allows, the newly opened Temple House looks rather amazing.
I am already looking forward to bringing the kids for a return visit to Chengdu, with some more time to explore the local arts scene and the Sichuanese mountain landscape.
This article from Chengdu Expat is a useful resource to plan a stay in Chengdu beyond just pandas and hot pots.