The past is very present in luxury hotel The Temple House in Chengdu – a city that’s as chilled as the giant pandas in its nature reserves – guests enter through a restored Qing Dynasty siheyuan (courtyard building), tea ceremonies are carried out on the spa’s Zen-infused terrace, and guests can be massaged with bamboo canes and scrubbed with tea leaves within. However, some traditions have been updated: two modern blocks have shu embroidery-style detailing, and Sichuan pepper flavours both the food and the bar’s signature drink.
Get this when you book through us:
A signature Sichuan Mule cocktail at Jing Bar for each guest
A total of 142, including 75 suites and residences.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. An email check-out service makes the process pleasingly swift. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from $228.05 (CNY1,615), excluding tax at 16.6 per cent.
Rates do not include the à la carte breakfast (HK$100 a person).
If the hotel’s sense of refinement feels familiar, you may have stayed in one of its sister properties: the Opposite House in Beijing, or the Upper House in Hong Kong. Or maybe you have a keen eye for architecture and can spot the influence of former Foster and Partners designer Ken Shuttleworth.
At the hotel
Spa with a steam room and hammam, gym, gardens, tea house, library with English and Chinese books, laundry service, free high-speed WiFi throughout. There’s a fleet of tailor-made bikes to borrow for free, too. In rooms: 46” interactive TV, Bowers & Wilkins sound system and a Bose portable speaker, free ‘maxibar’, espresso machine and kettle with teas, and Apelles bath products. The Penthouse has an outdoor Jacuzzi, and all Residences have a full kitchen and laundry room.
Our favourite rooms
A blush-pink origami lampshade, a cane chair, vases of fresh fragrant orchids and a small selection of books… attention to detail makes the minimally decorated Temple Suites feel like home. Light-wood panelling, carefully placed mirrors and floor-to-ceiling windows make them feel open and bright, and a decorative screen adds local flavour. Of the residences, we like Studio 90 – a luxurious but cosy hideaway with a furnished balcony for spying on the hive of activity below.
Set in the spa, the heated freshwater swimming pool (open 6.30am–11pm) is for adults only. Concrete and bamboo create a sophisticated indoor space, and stepped light wells are a subtle nod to Sichaun’s agrarian landscapes.
Set in the Qing Dynasty courtyard – on the site of the Daci Temple’s mulberry garden – the Mi Xun spa is a lavish 900sq m sanctuary with a sauna, hammam and shop. Treatments are carried out in 11 suites (including VIP and couples suites); an extensive menu includes diamond-infused facials, ocean-stone massages, tea-enhanced wraps, and signature Natura Bissé, Thémaé, Mesoestic and Refinery treatments. For busy guests there are express mani-pedis; for Mr Smith, a barber; and for gym-bunnies, a well-equipped work-out space.
While you’re extremely well looked after, only a few members of the hotel’s staff speak English – bring a phrase book to ensure you’re understood. Pick up some mahjong skills before you arrive, too, for an impromptu game in one of Chengdu’s cafés.
Public areas and some rooms are wheelchair accessible.
Welcome. A baby cot or extra bed can be added to the Temple Suite. Little ones can dine in Mi Xun Teahouse and Temple House Café, high chairs are available to borrow, staff will heat up milk and there are baby-changing facilities in Mi Xun.
Slide in to a waltzer in Tivano, or its vine-covered cabana. Otherwise, a quiet corner of Mi Xun Teahouse’s inner courtyard.
Don a classic yet contemporary ensemble by a Chinese designer: Huishan Zhang’s deconstructed qipao or Alexander Wang’s edgily cool casual wear.
Take lunch at the Temple Café, a bronze- and wood-bedecked spot for light pan-Asian and Western fare. Languidly dine on the alfresco terrace, or hit the grab-and-go counter’s juices, coffees and house-made pastries before you head into town. Gilded, marble-lined and romantically low lit, Tivano is the hotel’s glamorous space for evening meals. Get cosy in a tufted, green-leather-lined waltzer and watch the chefs whip up innovative meals and pull pizzas from a wood-fired oven in the open kitchen. Mi Xun Teahouse is clean and minimal with fragrant blends collected in a wall of apothecary drawers. As it’s part of the spa, virtuous vegetarian fare is served (mushroom and rose soup, soy-splashed cucumber), and there’s a tranquil terrace for a post-treatment tea.
Tivano has an intimate bar area and a superb wine list. Those looking for a little more seclusion should nab the vine-covered cabana. Guests gather under Jing lounge and bar’s elaborate hoop candleabra to pop champagne corks and sip classic cocktails; DJs set the mood, and there’s a plant-hung terrace onto which to spill out.
The Temple Café runs from breakfast to dinner, from 6.30am to 9.30pm. Dine at Tivano from 11.30am to 2.30pm or 6pm to 10pm and the Teahouse from 11am to 4.30pm and 5.30pm to 9.30pm. Cocktails are shaken in Jing till 1am.
In-room dining is available around the clock, whether you’re hungry for a hot breakfast, fruit platter to snack on, a three-course dinner or late-night noodles.
The hotel’s courtyard-house complex sits amid Qing Dynasty buildings, teahouses and mahjong parlours in Chengdu’s Jinjiang district. Glossy mall, Sino-Ocean Taikoo-Li is a 10-minute walk away, and the Wolong National Nature Reserve is two hours by car.
Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport, a 30-minute drive from the hotel, is the fourth-busiest airport in China. Direct flights arrive from major cities within China and throughout Asia and Europe. Flights from US cities connect via Hong Kong, and British Airways operates a direct flight from London five days a week. The hotel can arrange one-way transfers by chauffeured car (RMB500 for a Buick GL8, RMB600 for an Audi Q7), or group pick-ups in a luxury coach are available, on request. An airport Metro stop is planned, but until then you can hop on the Line 2 shuttle bus to North Chengdu Railway Station (around a 40-minute journey).
Chengdu North Railway Station is a 20-minute drive from Temple House; one-way transfers can be booked for RMB300. High-speed trains arrive here direct from Beijing West (a 14-hour journey), Guangzhou (13 hours), Shanghai Hongqiao (14 hours) and Xi’an South (13 hours). The nearest Metro stop is Chunxi Road on Line 2, a five-minute walk away; tickets are very affordable, around RMB2–6.
Unless you want to take a driving test on arrival, driving in China is an extremely tricky affair that requires a local licence (International Driving Permits can’t be used in mainland China). To get around Chengdu, pavement pounding or the cheap and quick Metro are the best options. If you wish to explore further afield, ask the hotel to arrange an excursion, or you can hire a driver to suit your budget.
Worth getting out of bed for
Chengdu, China’s fourth-largest city, is swept up in modernisation, with industrial districts both gleaming and gritty, and hip shopping areas co-existing with Qing Dynasty monasteries and monuments. The hotel is a few minutes’ walk from Sino-Ocean Taikoo Li, a shopping village packed with labels (Gucci, Cartier, Hermes…) – we like Fang Suo’s mod-Sichuanese homewares. For locally made trinkets, Jinli Street market – close to Wuhou Temple – has stalls peddling intricate paper crafts, Chinese silks, spun-sugar creatures and richly scented street-food along a paper-lantern-lit road. Ask staff at reception to book a seat in Yin Xiang restaurant (on Zhaixiangzi street) to see the ‘face-changing dance’, a colourful glimpse of traditional Chinese theatre. The People’s Park has a boating lake and teahouses, and the spiral fountain in yin-yang shaped Tianfu Square looks spectacular when lit up after dark. Beyond the city, Mount Qinqcheng is a Unesco world heritage site where Taoism was founded – ride the cable car to admire its natural beauty and spy temples clinging to the rock face. An irrigation system might not sound terribly thrilling, but the scale of Dujiangyan, built in 252BC, makes it worth the 90-minute drive out to see it. There are also some beautiful Han, Song and Qing Dynasty buildings and structures. Chengdu’s most famous residents – panda bears both black and white and red – frolic in lushly verdant Wolong National Park.
Chengdu is so renowned as a foodie haven, it’s been hailed as a Unesco city of gastronomy. Sichuan’s famed pepper (and chillies) are liberally sprinkled over hot pots and Dan Dan noodle dishes (dry noodles with pork and spicy sauce), but there are sweet and mild dishes too, for those with a delicate constitution. Lao Ma Tou Hotpot (+86 28 8744 2156) serves the tongue-scorching and forgiving types, or you can have both in a bisected bowl. Guarded by two warrior statues, Damiao Hotpot on Hebin Road (+86 28 8451 8866) is also well renowned (and has been patronised by the Obamas), and puts on a lavish floor show. Jade Garden (+86 028 8658 6998) in the Sino-Ocean Taikoo Li mall, has three smartly dressed floors and serves tasty Cantonese fare. Chi Wei Xian (+86 28 6645 0621), on South Taishang Road, is frequently packed with locals – order the signature dish, deep-fried spicy chicken wings with shrimp.
Baker & Spice (+86 28 8652 3176) is a stylish metro-tiled spot for healthy soups and salads, and less so desserts, in the Jinjiang district. In the Sino-Ocean Taikoo Li mall, head to Moka Bros (+86 028 8678 0786) for packed sandwiches and wraps and superb vegetarian dishes.
Guests are well catered for with Jing bar; however, there are plenty of places to party with the locals. The Poly Center, a 15-minute taxi ride from the hotel, is home to Tag (+86 139 8190 9901) and Here We Go (+86 182 0052 5508) – two lively, neon-bathed, late-night clubs. Lan Kwai Fong square and the surrounding streets are packed with revellers after dark. The Music House is very popular for live music (+86 028 8553 9598).
A Chinese friend referred to Chengdu – the Sichuan capital – as a smaller city. Chengdu has a population of 14 million. Small is relative in China. But as a guest of the Temple House you really feel the closeness of this hippy, happy city. And it all starts before you even set foot on their property.
Flying from Beijing to Chengdu is a smooth flight, and even smoother when you exit the arrival terminal to find not one, but two attendants – dressed in the hotel’s signature grey – waiting to hustle you to the car and barrel into the vibrant city.
Along the way, I asked some questions about Chengdu. Specifically: what to see. Alan, in the passenger seat, quickly turned around, scrolling through his photos furiously to show me pandas. A panda eating bamboo. A panda napping. Two pandas falling over each other in a clearing. Chengdu, I learned, is known for its pandas.
The Temple House is situated in a super hip district: it’s the bookend of Taikoo Li, a well-heeled outdoor shopping center. From my balcony, I could see the lay of the land. Walkways and fountains and tea houses and the peaceful Daci Temple in the midst of it all. I was giddy studying it.
But I’m getting ahead of myself… We pulled up to the hotel: a historic courtyard building standing triumphantly in front of three sleek towers shooting up to the sky. It’s the perfect analogy for the city itself: rich in history, but moving quickly to modernize. Two additional staff members were waiting for me at the stone entrance. I was whisked directly to my room by Charlie who quickly felt like an old friend (I was this close to asking her to go out to dinner with me that night).
Charlie walked me through the informal lobby and pointed out the bar (an open-air space that was begging for me to come visit later), their hip restaurant spaces and loads of other amenities. To my delight, I was upgraded to a large suite with a stunning balcony. We walked in the room, I gasped, and then I quickly changed my entire itinerary. ‘Cancel my car service to see the giant Buddha at Leshan tomorrow,’ I told Charlie, ‘I don’t want to leave this room all by itself for so long.’
Charlie made a note and told me to consider it done. In its place, she offered some suggestions of other things to do. Chengdu is a friendly city with a bubbling creative underbelly – she told me about a hidden coffee shop by a celebrated barista and the absolute best place for hot pot, Sichuan’s most notorious night out.
‘I can also organize a car to take you to see the pandas if that’s your cup of tea,’ she added. While I think they’re cute, I wanted some things off the beaten path. ‘Oh! Well, there is a tiny street in People’s Park where parents advertise their adult children for matchmaking…’
Bingo. That’s exactly the slice-o-life stuff I want to see on vacation. I threw my guidebook on the very plush bed and took a hotel bike out with a map marked up lovingly by my new friend Charlie.
Being pampered and doted upon might not be your cup of tea, but when you don’t speak the local language – at all – having a home base that caters to your every odd question/request/whim is a real travel joy. And thus, my first afternoon out was successful. I danced in a park with some strangers. Stocked up on panda souvenirs for my niece and nephews. Staked out the most delicious noodle shop right outside of the Wenshu Monastery. And yes, I found the matchmaking street in People’s Park. Thanks Charlie!
When I returned to the hotel, there were cookies on the counter and the maid had organized my toiletries in order of height on a linen towel. The kind of attention to detail I get off on.
I freshened up and made my way to the speakeasy-inspired hotel bar, Jing. I sipped a cocktail and mapped out my plan of attack for a fun Saturday night. However, the wiles of the Temple House soon begged me to stay put. I conceded and ordered another drink, but quickly finished it to step into the hot night to find some fun.
When I returned from my night out – it turns out Sichuan hot pot is even hotter than they let on – there was a hyaluronic acid ultra hydrating mask waiting for me on my bed. I may have teared up.
‘Tomorrow,’ I said dreamily as I drifted to sleep after peeling my mask off, ‘I’ll go find those pandas – if I ever make it out of this glorious bed…’
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