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Sichuan (四川) is known as the land of abundance in China for having amazing food production capabilities and lots of natural resources. For tourists Sichuan is known for stunning natural beauty, ancient history, super spicy food and very pretty girls. Sichuan is a favorite place for travelers when visiting China. One of the main attractions to Sichuan for tourist is that this province is the home to the mysterious panda. The Giant Panda has become representation of China in modern times.
Pandas are not the only major attraction in Sichuan. The Sichuan basin is home to many interesting ancient civilizations including some that predate a unified China. There are also stunning mountain retreats were monks still pray every morning. Along the southern border with Yunnan is the home to the rarely visited Yi people. Then the foothills of the Himalayas call for many travelers to visit them to see Tibetan communities still living a traditional life style. From the busy city of Chengdu to the beauty of Mount Emei and Jiuzhai Valley National Park, Sichuan has plenty to offer.
Sichuan’s geography can be defined as the Sichuan basin, with the Yangtze River flowing down it, framed by mountains to the north, south and west. In the mountains to the north and west there are long winters with mild summers. While in the basin the winters are mild and summers extremely hot and humid. The southern mountains have a moderate climate year round making them very nice. The Sichuan basin and southern areas of the province are cloudy most of the year, which is why the Republic of China moved the government to Sichuan during World War II, although current day Chongqing, to protect it from Japanese bombing.
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The mountains west of Chengdu rise to over 5,000 metres making these mountains home to Tibetans and their cousins the Qiang. The further west you get from Kangding the more you enter the world of tall mountains, deep valleys, grasslands, yaks and the nomads that live there. For many tourists this is an excellent way to experience Tibetan culture without having to deal with all the red tape involved in visiting the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
Northern Sichuan Tibetan Highway
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Southern Sichuan Tibetan Highway
Huanglong is a scenic and historic interest area in the northwest part of Sichuan. It is located in the southern part of the Minshan mountain range, 150 kilometres north-northwest of the capital Chengdu. This area is known for its colorful pools formed by calcite deposits, especially in Huanglonggou (Yellow Dragon Gully), as well as diverse forest ecosystems, snow-capped peaks, waterfalls and hot springs. Huanglong is also home to many endangered species including the giant panda and the Sichuan golden snub-nosed monkey. Huanglong was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1992.
Jiuzhai Valley is a national park situated in the north of Sichuan province. It is bordered by Huanglong National Park. It is thought by many to be China's most beautiful spot inspiring numerous poets over the years. Jiuzhaigou is Chinese for "nine village valley", named after the nine local Tibetan villages that inhabit it. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 and also has UNESCO Man and Biosphere, Green Globe 21 and various Chinese national accreditations.
The Leshan Giant Buddha a statue that was carved out of a cliff that lies at the confluence of the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers in Sichuan province in China, just south of the city of Leshan. It was built between 731 and 903. The stone sculpture faces Mount Emei. This whole area was listed as an UNESCO world heritage site in 1996. It is the largest carved stone Buddha in the world and at the time of its construction it was the tallest statue in the world. From top to bottom it is 71 metres, and at the shoulders it’s 28 metres wide. Due to the pollution coming from nearby factories and the city, the old statue has suffered mainly superficial damage. Luckily it was not damaged during the Sichuan eartquake on May 12, 2008.
The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries, located in southwest Sichuan, are home to more than 30% of the world's highly endangered giant pandas and is among the most important sites for the captive breeding of these pandas. It covers 9,245 km2 with seven nature reserves and nine scenic parks in the Qionglai and Jiajin Mountains. Along with the giant panda, the sanctuary is a refuge to other endangered species such as the red panda, the snow leopard, and the clouded leopard. Outside of the tropical rainforests, it is among the botanically richest sites of the world, and is home to between 5,000 and 6,000 species of flora. It has been noted that the region is similar to the paleo-tropic forests of the Tertiary Era.
In the major cities in the Sichuan basin all Han Chinese holidays are celebrated. In the minority areas, mainly in the mountains, local festivals are celebrated.
China has three "Golden Week" holidays per year. People get a mandatory two or three days off work for each holiday, and workers' companies can grant them the rest of the week off, making each holiday a total of 7 days. As you can imagine, having almost 1.4 billion people with the same days off can make travelling at these times arduous to say the least.
Travelling during the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year is incredibly difficult. Chinese New Year is China's Christmas, so the millions of migrant workers and students flood back to their home towns. Everybody else takes the opportunity to spend their hong bao (gifts of money traditionally given at CNY) and go travelling. Most of the time, since you are only allowed to purchase train tickets 6 days in advance and must be present in the city of origin, sometimes only standing room tickets are available. Be aware! The Spring Festival is undoubtedly the busiest time for the Chinese transportation system. Flying will avoid the crowded trains, but book early and expect to pay higher prices. All the main tourist attractions will be crawling with tourists (worse than usual), so unless you like crowds, it's best to avoid it altogether.
Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar, so the date changes each year. The Chinese New Year/Spring Festival holiday is 7 days long and usually starts on New Year's Eve.
The two other national holidays are October 1st, National Day, celebrating the founding of the People's Republic of China and May 1st, which is International Labor Day. Almost all Chinese get the two holidays off and many take the opportunity to travel. If you want to avoid the crowds, fly, but it should get a lot less busy towards the end of the week.
The weather in Sichuan can range from bitterly cold winters (December-March) in the mountains to hot weather in the lower areas during summer (June-September), when temperatures can reach 35 °C or even a bit more.
The major hub for transport to and from Sichuan is in Chengdu. Therefore it makes sense to start any trip in Sichuan in Chengdu. Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (CTU) is located 16 kilometres from downtown Chengdu and is one of the biggest and fastest growing airports in China. There are dozens of airlines serving both Chinese cities as well as destinations in the eastern part of Asia, like Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Bangkok and South Korea. The only destination further away is Amsterdam, served by KLM.
To reach most of the other areas in Sichuan bus is really the only option, although there are some options of getting there by train.
Only a few towns in the eastern third of Sichuan have airports and most of them are pretty small. The only major airport is in Chengdu and there is a tourist airport near Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve that only operates during the summer.
It is possible to take trains to most major cities in the eastern third of Sichuan. There are no trains presently in western or northern Sichuan.
For traveling in the western or northern parts of Sichuan bus is the only way. Remember that the roads are pretty basic and there are frequent landslides. This can make a 6-hour bus ride turn into a 72-hour bus ride very quickly.
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With few airports and most trains not running in the western two thirds of the province, bus is the main option for getting around. Be prepared for frequent land slides and delays while traveling in western Sichuan. There are several new highways going in but most are in the Sichuan basin area.
Sichuan is known for spicy food! This is the spiciest of the spicy. Sichuan cooking has more chilies in it then there is actually food sometimes. Be prepared for everything to burn and rock your world. Just be gentle on the Sichuan Hot Pot (火锅) for it is known around the world for being one of the spiciest dishes in China.
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