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Chengdu isn’t a place on most modern travelers bucket lists. In fact, when I visited the city 12 years ago, it was a moon gray city with dusty apartment buildings and a reputation for spicy food and Panda population. But it seems like the flow of the universe will take Westerners to the laid back city in the Sichuan province that most Chinese vacationers have cherished for ages. The Financial Times and The New York Times recently visited the city, and it’s rapidly gaining buzz as a destination—not just for its panda reserve. Which is why the brand new Daci Temple Project, with its five-star hotel The Temple House and Taikoo Li shopping district, provides a much-needed luxury home base in the city.
Opened last year by international conglomerate Swire Group (they also own Cathay Pacific), the project surrounds a 2000-year-old working dharma Buddhist temple called Daci. The juxtaposition of old and new that is a constant in China is magnified here, as one second you can be shopping at one of hundreds of major brands such as Gucci, Y-3, and Maison Martin Margiela, and the next, you can walk into an ancient temple and bear witness to a solemn dharma prayer chant, the pungent smoke of the incense sticks filling the air. The ascetic practicing Buddhists and the nouveau riche Chinese shoppers lined up at the cash register creates a dissonance that’s hard to shake.
Carmen Jiang, the director of communications at the Temple House, says that the old and new, while being something a cliché, is imperative to Chengdu’s identity, and one of the reasons people want to visit the city. The hotel itself features a courtyard and lobby restored from 100-year-old architecture, while the rooms are as contemporary as you can get, and the bar, Jing, is the hottest new meet-up spot. Tivano, the property’s Italian restaurant, is booked solid, and has a reputation for consistently serving the best Western food in town. (Food is religion in Chengdu, and the Temple House is not far from Chen Mapo Tofu or Da Miao hot pot if you seek what the locals call the ma la—loosely translated to “mouth-numbing spiciness”—of the amply used Sichuan peppercorns.)
The Temple House is the third location for the Houses brand of Swire Hotels, which includes Upper House in Hong Kong and Opposite House in Beijing. Anyone who has been to either of those properties knows that the service is unparalleled, the rooms are spacious and modern, and the whole complex is all-inclusive. Designed by London-based architecture firm Make, nothing is left out, from the incorporation of the hundred-year-old building into the courtyard to use of local bamboo, stone, and timber into the design. There’s even an art space in collaboration with one of Chengdu’s best galleries, Thousand Plateaus.
Adding to the hotel’s cool quotient, the Temple House has already embarked on a number of collaborations with Tesla, Lanvin, and, most recently, British lingerie brand Agent Provocateur. The “Agent Provocateur Getaway Package” (February 8—March 8) includes two nights with a breakfast for two, a bottle of Moet & Chandon bubbly, a massage or facial for two at Mi Xun Spa, and an Agent Provocateur private fitting and exclusive gift. It’s a perfect Valentine’s Day getaway.
Chengdu is proud of its emphasis on the slow life. Days are often spent at teahouses, a prime example being the Heming Teahouse in People’s Park. It’s said, a Chengdu local named Ruby tells me, that most Chengdu people are content to while the day away at the teahouses. “People here like to relax all day if they don’t have to work,” she says as we drink Budweisers in the bar district by the Jinjiang River, which is packed with Chinese 20-somethings wiling out on a Thursday night. Even pandas spend about 12 hours a day eating bamboo.
But getting around Chengdu can be taxing. It’s a vast city, delineated by concentric circles. If you want to go from, say, the Chengdu Museum of Contemporary Art to the world famous restaurant Yu Zhi Lan, you have to navigate in and out of the inner circles, which can take a while by taxi. And because there are so many cars in Chengdu, to keep pollution down, the government has instilled a license plate-based alternating allowance, so everyone can only drive four days a week. It can feel like a hustle.
Mi Xun day spa at Temple House is a world-class spa that can help work out the kinks with a full palette of treatments in their deluxe spa suites. A relaxing dip in the pool is a pleasant surprise, with the natural light coming from a “sculptural skylight” that looks more like a James Turrell artwork than anything. Follow that up with a healthy salad and specialty green tea at the Temple House’s cute Teahouse, and you’ll start feeling that relaxed Chengdu vibe come rushing back.