For the next couple of days I am dedicating a few posts to putting Ya’an, Sichuan, China on the map. There is not much along the lines of literature or guidebooks to help one become accustomed with this beautiful and quaint city, so I hope this helps. There are a few top tourist attractions just outside of the city limits that deserve their due, but these often overshadow the treasure trove of activities and oddities that hide in the downtown area. If you decide to visit Ya’an, you will have the extreme privilege of being the only one of your kind among 1.5 million Sichuan. Lets begin with the South side.
Temple Bridge – All images captured on my iPhone unless otherwise noted
Ya’an can be divided into North and South sections by the eternally cloudy Qingyi River. There are three bridges that cross its wide path. The furthest West is the Xi Men Bai Lu bridge which connects the main bus station to the G5 expressway and Chengdu 2 hrs. North. The second or middle bridge is the Dabei St. bridge or what I like to call the temple bridge due to the massive temples that line its Eastern side. This is the one of the most photographed locations in Ya’an due to its structures and lights. The last bridge to the East is the Hebei Main St. bridge or as the locals call it, the rainbow bridge. It has a large archway that is lit up at night whenever they are not doing construction on it.
The pleasant feature of the Qingyi River and Ya’an’s bridges is that they are all connected by a waterfront walkway and park spaces. On sunny days the large paved sidewalks are lined with men and women gambling away their yuan and drinking green tea. You can complete the bridge walk loop in just over an hour with stops for photographs and people watching. The south waterfront is lined with eight story buildings that are always being remodeled and covered in green tarps. Since there isn’t a single building on this walk that isn’t covered in tarps it all look quite natural.
There are plenty of hotels on both sides of the river that offer westernized accommodations and breakfast buffets. Directly on the waterfront and right in front of the Temple bridge is the Hotel Ibis. This hotel is fairly new and has a great location for spring boarding into the rest of South Ya’an. I wouldn’t recommend this hotel if you are looking for lots of roaming space between your bed and the bathroom, but it’s location and price are relatively decent. The front desk always had someone that spoke just enough English to help you with whatever was needed.
The second hotel that I recommend is the Xikang Hotel, also called the West Well Hotel on the Southeast waterfront. I have not stayed here, but I have ridden past it in order to give it a better look. It appears to be a clean and well placed hotel that is barely to the right of the rainbow bridge. Upon further review, it has been rated #1 on Trip Advisor for comfort, location and price.
The one thing that is not lacking to the least bit in Ya’an is places to eat. Most of the eateries are living room sized establishments that typically concentrate on a single dish prepared a dozen ways. I think your food choice should depend on the sensitivity of your stomach to new and possibly dangerous foods. If you are very new to spicy and foreign foods then stay away from the street vendors and hot pot. If you are experienced and enjoy spicy dishes then go for the cheap but fabulous mobile food carts and adventurous hot pot restaurants. The middle of the road option are the noodle shops, which are my favorite.
Starting with the least intrusive to your digestive system is the cities only fast food restaurant called Dico’s. It’s a spicy version of KFC and is quite entertaining. Although you will pay about five times the amount you would in a noodle shop, it’s your only option to fulfill your french fry addiction. There are two locations, but one is more preferable to the other. Visit the location on Chaoyang Street where the staff is much more helpful.
The next least intrusive are the noodle shops. If you are hungry and need something quick and healthy, all you have to do is walk 100 feet in any direction from wherever you are. To find one just look and see what everyone else is eating and point to the dish you like. I prefer the spicy beef noodles. You can always go to the counter and look at what ingredients they offer and can work out what you would like. If you would like to eat at Ya’an’s best and award winning noodle shop, then I suggest you try Mr. Cheng’s Spicy Noodle shop on Bayi Lu. Very friendly staff and owner. You know you are in the right spot if the cook is wearing a fanny pack.
Jumping forward to hot pot is quite a leap. It’s called hot pot for several reasons, but the most obvious is the boiling inferno of pepper filled broth. This is a must if you come to the Sichuan province, but only eat what your gentle stomachs can handle. I have found that most hot pots are very much alike. The indoor, sit down, clean establishments will usually have more choices for you to eat. The outdoor hot pots are more laid back and the skewers and plates are prepared ahead of time. The local delicacy is called Sichuan boiled fish. Only the iron clad stomachs should partake in this specialty. My recommendation is to try Bupa Laxiao on Nanzheng Street to the East.
Ya’an is a very active city at night when it’s not raining. The waterfront is not the best place to be at night due to the lack of lighting, but the Temple bridge more than makes up for this with its gorgeous display of random colors and building outlines. The tear drop tree is a brilliant sight to see in front of the Ibis Hotel with its year round icicle style lighting in the middle of the large round-a-bout.
During the day the busy West and East St. as it is both called is lined with hundreds of clothes, trinkets, food, handbags, toys, gold and silver stores to keep the shoppers busy. There is a multi lingual movie theater called Western Cinema in the middle of West/East St. Currently it’s showing Conan and the new Mission Impossible. Further down East St. is a beautifully painted covered bridge that leads to a large open air shopping center. Here you can snap a quick photo and grab a case of knock off footwear to give customs something to do on the way back home.
My favorite open air food market is a little ways from the movie theater and main shopping area in downtown Ya’an, but is only about five minutes from the rainbow bridge. The Qiangjiang market is Ya’an’s largest fresh food market, taking about 30 minutes to walk through. All of the colors of the known world can be found here. It is a photographers dream with the neatly stacked oranges and and onions converging onto the sidewalks filled with shoppers and ogling Chinese.
Although grocery stores aren’t usually considered an attraction, we find that our local KeepJoy Supermarket is worth a visit. Not to mention that it has anything you might need or accidentally left at home. One block from the Ibis Hotel and in the middle of a large public square is the entrance to the two storied behemoth. Easily identified by the blue uniformed workers standing outside, the best thing about this store is that they might not have exactly what you need, but they will offer some Chinese alternative. This to me is fun, because I usually have to go twice to get it right.
Other notable sightseeing mentions-
Ya’an City Park- In the middle of the city on the highest hill. Give a birds eye 360 degree view of Ya’an. South of West/East St.
Sichuan Agricultural University- A very large college campus that is open to non-motorized visitors. Lots of students and space to exercise your legs.
2008 Sichuan Earthquake Memorial- On the Southwest waterfront, near the Xi Men Bai Lu bridge. Informative multilingual dedication to the victims and their families.
Trip Advisor- Here is a link to my reviews on Trip Advisor. Most of the places mentioned have been reviewed. You can always contact me if you would like more information on a particular location.
Google Map- A detailed map of all the locations mentioned above. Be sure to use the map version and not the satellite. Google hasn’t updated Ya’an very recently.
Shards of China- In starting this mini-series I had a big inspiration from this website. Nick has been a very informative and helpful blogger and I wish I could give him more in return than a simple link. Thanks for all the words of wisdom.
-Tomorrow we’ll continue our tour of South Ya’an with an in depth look at Qiangjiang Market and its many colors.