CHINESE tourists may be leading the way to becoming the biggest contributors to world tourism, breaking records and flashing their spending power, but their home ground is also becoming one of the world’s most-watched and hottest inbound tourist markets.
From Unesco World Heritage-listed sites to sprawling imperial palaces, to beautiful water towns and rich cultural heritage, China has a lot to offer – if you know where to look.
Located in southwest China, the province of Sichuan (also know as Szechuan) is a destination which looks like something right out of a fairytale. A land of many guises, Sichuan boasts mist-shrouded, sacred mountains and a quiet countryside dotted with ancient villages.
Sichuan is home to a stretch of Asia’s longest river, the Yangtze. Many people believe that the name Sichuan means “four rivers,” and in folk etymology, this is usually taken to mean the province’s four major rivers: the Jialing, Jinsha (or Wu), Min, and Tuo.
The people of Sichuan speak a unique form of Mandarin, which took shape during the area’s repopulation during the Ming dynasty. Sichuan’s centuries-long history has also blessed it with its own folk customs and even its own cuisine – dishes that are known for their deep and rich flavors, with a very distinctive taste of Sichuan pepper.
If you love all things hot and spicy, then Sichuan food is not to be missed. Some of its trademark dishes are mapo tofu (bean curd served in a chili-and-bean-based cause topped with minced meat), kung pao chicken (fried diced chicken and dry red pepper with golden peanuts), and the numbingly spicy Sichuan hotpot.
Not forgetting, the region is also home of the giant pandas, the face of China. In fact, its sanctuaries are home to more than 30 percent of the world’s highly endangered giant pandas and among the most important sites for captive breeding.
There are four panda reserves in the provincial capital of Chengdu, so you can choose from them according to what you want to see and do. Some will even allow you to get up close and personal with the pandas, help clean the panda enclosures, make food for them, and feed the pandas.
Not forgetting, Chengdu is also a center for traditional Sichuanese opera, one of the five most historic operas in China, which include fire-breathing, sword-hiding, and sleight-of-hand mask changes. And yes, the experience is as magical as it sounds.
Recently, the Sichuan Provincial Government has announced a five-year plan to transform Sichuan into a tourism destination highly integrated with its rich culture. It also plans to expand its “Sichuan, more than pandas” campaign to raise the awareness of the province as a key tourism destination in international markets, according to TravelDailyNews.
As part of the campaign, the China (Sichuan) Giant Panda International Cultural Tourism Week will be held each year in at least two countries and regions. “The event is aimed to promote Sichuan’s unique local culture to the world, including Sichuan Opera, natural and historical attractions, cuisine, as well as local products such as festive lanterns, teas, and distilled liquors,” TravelDailyNews wrote.
The campaign will also capitalize on the province’s unique position in the world as the home of pandas.