Discover China's Hip City, Chengdu
China is emerging as one of the hottest destinations on the planet for adventurous travellers. but while the mega cities of Shanghai and Beijing are an obvious draw, there is one city in the geographical centre of the country that is gaining some well-deserved hype: Chengdu. Touted by travel experts as the country's hippest city - think China's version of Berlin or Lisbon - with a relaxed, laid-back vibe intertwining a forward-thinking cosmopolitan throng. It is also where 80 per cent of the world's giant pandas still live, so if you are interested in seeing these black-and-white bears - who isn't? - in the wild, there simply is no better destination.
Chengdu's status as an up-and-coming gem is set to be cemented by is easy access with direct flights which makes it effortless to discover the capital of Sichuan province. The city is home to more than 270 Fortune 500 companies - and a hub for scientific and technological innovation - and a focus on attracting foreign start-up companies to take up residency.
The city's biggest cultural attraction is the world-famous Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding where visitors can view endangered giant pandas in a natural habitat. Serving as a gateway to China's Western Hinterlands, where the Tibetan plateau drops into the valleys, Sichuan Province is also home to the mountain ranges and bamboo forests where wild pandas still roam.
Then there is the world-famous spicy cuisine - Chengdu is the home of the hot pot - and a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. The booming local food scene has become a magnet for culinary experts, with signature dishes made from the mouth-mumbling Sichuan peppercorn on every street.
To wash it down there are an estimated 10,000 teahouses in Chengdu which serve as the perfect antidote to the fast-paced business districts and glistening shopping centres. One of the magic ingredients that makes Chengdu so appealing is the way it mixes the old and the new, the city's 2,300-year-old history always present and shining through. This is a place where Tibetan singers can make their name alongside pulsating Electronic Dance Music (EDM) clubs, Belgian beer emporiums and cocktail wonder bars.
For accommodation, Chengdu doesn't disappoint. In addition to the well-known brands of shiny five-stars hotels. Chengdu has seen a wealth of boutique hotels spring up. These offer a blend traditional Chinese accommodation with contemporary styling, mid-century furniture and homemade cuisine.
Chengdu is packed with history and archaeological treasures. Jinsha site museum in the city's downtown covers five square-kilometres, and some believe the site dates back 3,000 years. Changing faces Chinese opera is one of the city's most popular cultural attractions. Thought to originate 400 years ago, these exciting shows features performers who switch from mask to mask. Whatever you decide on, there is always something to do in Chengdu.
Three highlights of Chengdu
For more than 30 years, the Chengdu research base of giant panda breeding has been working to increase the panda population in China. In this huge interactive research centre visitors can learn more about breeding programmes and witness the world's bears in a habitat that imitates perfectly the natural world, in a bid to promote breeding. The panda base is just six miles from Chengdu and is also inhabited by other wildlife, including red pandas, swans, peacocks, birds and butterflies.
One thing that can challenge the pandas for fame around Chengdu is the food. Tuck into one of a staggering selection of restaurants and tiny eateries, where spicy, smoky, salty and sour flavours abound. Much of the cuisine is vegetarian, although you'll find beef specialities. Try mapo doufo, a popular Chinese dish from Sichuan province consisting of tofu in a spicy sauce.
Leshan Giant Buddha
If you are looking to explore, the 233-ft tall Leshan giant Buddha, located to the east of Leshan city, Sichuan Province, around 140km from Chengdu, is well worth the trip. The statue is arguably one of the most scenic spots in China and in December 1996 the location of the Buddha, which was completed in the year 803, was included by UNESCO on the list of the World Heritage sites.