Luodai: New-ancient jade-belt town
Luodai, 45 minutes east of Chengdu, is one of the many "ancient towns" surrounding Chengdu city proper that has been fully rebuilt as a tourist attraction. While it's not particularly a place to acquire a wealth of historical knowledge, it's cute enough to stroll around with your friends or family on a sunny day.
Said to be founded 2,000 years ago, the town has seen several immigration waves of Hakka people throughout the centuries. Starting as early as the 4th century and peaking during the Qing Dynasty 300 years ago, these waves brought Hakkas from various provinces.
Although more than 85 percent of the town's 30,000 locals are Hakka, making Luodai the biggest Hakka "city" in Sichuan, most foreigners won't be able to identify the Hakka-ness of the place, as the people are considered to be ethnically Han, and the dialect (Meixian) is said to most closely resemble Mandarin of all the Guangdong dialects.
As such, the best thing to do in Luodai is stroll among crowds and embrace the town's touristy, kitschy offerings. Spend your money on fortunetellers who measure the length of your finger for 1 kuai and hand you a slip of paper telling you about your personality and glorious future; listen to erhu players on the street; make way for wiry old men pushing handcarts filled with fat kids or the occasional old-fashioned rickshaw carrying a young middle-class couple from the city. If you are lucky, you'll get a glimpse of the one rickshaw in town that has a robot instead of a human pulling it. Children blow soap bubbles all day as you hop from shop to shop avoiding the numerous guys throwing toy slime balls on the ground once a minute to push their only product.
Unless you are a fan of handmade Hakka cigars there isn't anything sold in shops anyone actually needs, might it be Russian military accessory, little fortune turtles on the sidewalk, birds in bamboo cages, kitsch matchboxes with images of models or Bob Marley or washed-out cartoon characters from the '80s printed on their covers, plastic chicken-feet key holders, incense in bags, wooden pipes and toys. But all is cheap, as are the snacks found everywhere: buns and cakes, dried and preserved meats, liang fenr and smelly tofu that overshadows your stay. Some might be tempted by the Jiuzhaigou wild-boar (RMB10 for three sticks) and wild-deer meat, which is a little harder to come by in Chengdu. To complete the fun-fair feeling get a stick of cotton candy, shoot balloons with a rifle, watch kites soaring in the sky, take snapshots of tourists walking around in rented costumes, and force your friends to try the fried larvae and bugs (served, in true Sichuan style, with lajiao) or the wormwood buns that'll make you feel a little dizzy.
If you have more time and energy to kill, walk around the Luodai Park, visit the Randeng Temple and Luodai Museum or get to the Golden Dragon Wall in one of the many vans (around RMB5 per passenger) that wait at Julong Square. After a 15-minute ride, you arrive at a miniature Great Wall that leads you to the Buddhist Golden Dragon Temple. While for some the only reason to climb onto the entrance-free wall is to snap a photo of themselves and then caption it "Here I Am at Badaling," others claim to enjoy the hilly landscape surrounding the nearby river.
How to Go
40min by taxi or private driver RMB70 to 80
40min by bus 219 from Wuguiqiao Station(RMB3)
60min by frequent buses from Xinnanmen Station
The best time to visit Luodai is during the Hakka Fire Dragon Festival (Lunar New Year) and Water Dragon Festival (July).