On your first trip to China visiting Beijing and Shanghai is a must. Ideally, we’d then recommend adding Xi’an and Chengdu to the mix. But if you’re pushed for time, how should you choose between these two cities that are both chock-full of history and culture?
We’ve compared Xi’an and Chengdu side-by-side to help you make the right choice for your China trip.
Xi’an and Chengdu – Cuisine
Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province and is known for its authentic, mouth-numbingly spicy food. Sichuan is the home of hot pot – always a Chinese favorite – but also has such delectable dishes mapo doufu (a spicy tofu dish), lazi ji (deep fried chicken with chillies), or dan dan mian (pork, chilies, garlic, and vinegar noodles). In other words: almost all of their famous dishes are spicy, oily, and delicious.
Xi’an, on the other hand, is a city with a long history influenced by Islam. That being the case, you certainly won’t find many pork dishes, but instead will discover cuisine featuring plenty of delectable lamb, chicken, and seafood.
In Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter, you’ll find several walking streets that are dedicated just to food. Deep fried crab (yes, you eat the shell), skewers with squid, lamb, or vegetables, or even “fried yogurt”, as they call it. Shaanxi Province, where Xi’an is located, is also home to rou jia mo, which is often referred to as a Chinese hamburger – a flat-ish bun cut down the side and stuffed with spiced meat. Delicious!
Xi’an and Chengdu – Living Culture
Sichuan is home to the Face-Changing Opera – a traditional performance style where actors wear different forms of disguise and quickly change them throughout the show. Face-Changing Opera involves singing, dancing, and an impressive combination of dexterity, acting ability, and musical talent. For something a little more low-key, we can arrange a game of mahjong with the locals in People’s Park.
As the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, Xi’an has a colorful history and culture. The city then became a major travel destination thanks to the Terracotta Warriors. On a AsiaTravel Xi’an tour, we’ll arrange for you to cycle the city wall – one of the oldest in China – and meet a Terracotta Warriors museum director. We’d also highly recommend visiting the Great Mosque at sunset. Here, we’ll arrange for you to meet with a local Imam after daily prayers.
Xi’an and Chengdu – Fun for the Whole Family
After watching a Face-Changing Opera in Chengdu, kids can get their face painted behind the scenes. Or, if that’s not your thing, how about having your ears cleaned the Sichuan way? If that doesn’t take your fancy, then perhaps you’ll be more interested in the country’s iconic giant panda. Located just an hour outside of Chengdu, the Dujiangyan Panda Reserve offers visitors the chance to volunteer for the day as a panda keeper.
Xi’an is also fun for the whole family – children can even partake in some hands-on history and make their own tiny terracotta warrior for you to take home. Afterwards, why not practice taiji or kung fu with a master on the city wall.
And of course, everyone’s got to eat. In Xi’an, you can learn how to make one of China’s most favored dishes: dumplings. We’ll arrange a private class and they’ll show you the art of rolling, stuffing, and sealing the dough. They’re a treat for everyone!
Both Xi’an and Chengdu have a lot to offer and can be reached easily from Beijing and Shanghai. If you have to make a choice and still can’t decide which city to visit, get in touch with one of our experienced trip designers. They’ll customize the perfect journey to fit your needs.