Sichuan is the largest province in southwest China. The region has long been difficult to access, but today, it is a must for travellers who wish to further explore China. In the east, there are enormous mountains, which reach up to 6,000 metres high. Their peaks emerge from the clouds and are the foothills of the nearby Himalayas. Hikers who venture to the area won't be disappointed. On the other side, Sichuan consists of plains that form the basin of the Yangtze River, the third longest river in the world. Nearly 100 million Sichuanese people live in this rugged region, including 4 million in Chengdu, the capital of the province. Outside the cities, there are many mountain forests,where the famous giant panda, the ambassador of local biodiversity, takes refuge. Sichuan also has a rich heritage, with no less than 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Away from the hustle and bustle of the large cities on the east coast, Sichuan alone is worth a trip to China.
Surface area : 487630.0 km2
Population : 81000000 inhabitants
Time difference : Sichuan is 8 hours ahead of the UK.
There are many local handicrafts in the region, and you will easily find something to take back home. Chengdu is primarily known for its antique market, where you will find furniture, jewellery and pottery, etc. It offers a wide choice and has both authentic objects and counterfeit items.
It is also easy to find all kinds of materials: Sichuan brocades and embroidery, silk and Tibetan wall hangings, etc.
Finally, the Chengdu region also produces famous teas, which is great for fans of the beverage.
Opening hours officially vary between 8:00am or 8:30am and 8:00pm or 8:30pm (9:00am to 7:00pm in winter), but some shops are open until 9:00pm. You'll notice that the Chinese shops in the UK and elsewhere will have as many "made in China" items as those in the region.
In the larger cities, you will find big shopping centres like those in the UK. However, as you move away from the cities and walk around the villages in the countryside, you will find old ladies selling all kinds of everyday objects: embroidered bags, silver bracelets and pendants, etc. Bargaining is commonplace.
Szechuan cuisine is known for being particularly spicy. Sichuan pepper, a very particular spice that makes your mouth tingle yet tastes acidic, is often added to dishes. It can make your tongue numb if you're not used to it. To ensure your dish doesn't set your mouth on fire, explain that you do not want anything spicy when you order.
You will often find restaurants that have holes in the tables. These are for pots that are placed in the middle, which contain huo guo, a type of fondue. Using skewers, you simply place your choice of meat, vegetables, mushrooms and tofu into the pot to cook.
If you are not that hungry, try Xiaochi (snacks). Restaurants have a wide selection: fried, boiled and steamed noodles and dumplings, tofu in all forms, and rice, the main part of Chinese dishes.
As a general rule, due to the large range of dishes in a restaurant and the difficulty in reading a menu in Chinese, it is better to go around the kitchen and point out what you find most appetising. Beer, or pijiu, is available everywhere, as well as fizzy drinks, including Coca-Cola. Make sure you also try maotai, a strong alcoholic beverage.
: It is advisable to travel to Sichuan in spring or autumn. These are the best times in terms of the weather, as winter is usually quite cold, while summer is hot and very wet.
What should you take with you? Chinese people are rarely offended when it comes to clothing. The only thing to avoid is outfits that are too provocative. Ideally, pack light: t-shirts and anoraks can be bought cheaply in the area. In winter, you don't particularly need to cover up, but take a light sweater if you will be visiting high-altitude areas. In the wet season, cotton clothes are the most comfortable, as the heat is intense. Do not forget to take a raincoat and shoes that are suitable for use in the rain!
Regarding medication, the change in eating habits can cause stomach problems (heartburn, etc) so make sure you pack some tablets to take if you are in pain.
As an added precaution: take photocopies of your passport and ID photos with you. These will be very useful in the event that you lose these documents.
Finally, when it comes to payments, credit and debit card fraud is on the rise, so only use your card if necessary and in large establishments, and do not let it out of your sight when paying.