It's fitting that an ancient form of opera and magic called biànliǎn (face-changing) originated here, for Sichuan (四川, Sìchuān) is a land of many guises. Capital Chengdu shows a modern face, but just beyond its ring roads you'll find a more traditional landscape of mist-shrouded, sacred mountains, and a countryside scattered with ancient villages and cliffs of carved Buddhas.

Central Sichuan is also home to the giant panda, the most famous face in China. In the south, expect a veil of history and a muted beauty that sees far fewer travellers than the rest of the region.

To the north the visage changes again into a fairyland of alpine valleys and blue-green lakes. Sichuan’s Tibetan side appears as you venture west. This is Kham, one of the former Tibetan prefectures: a vast landscape of plateau grasslands and glacial mountains where Tibetan culture still thrives and you’re certain to have your most magical experiences.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Sichuan.