Beyond the Supermarket: Chengdu's specialty markets
When all you want is convenience, your local shops and supermarkets can usually get the job done. But if it's time for some deep digging to find exactly what you want, you're ready to hit up Chengdu's markets. Be sure to block out at least a few hours, bring or buy water, and wear comfortable clothes and good walking shoes—visiting most of these markets is an expedition. Don't forget to go early, either: Except where noted, all of the markets below close between 5 and 6 p.m.
电脑城 – First Ring Road between Kehua Bei Lu and Renmin Nan Lu (Sichuan Gymnasium metro station) – Map Grid E/F6/7
What it is: Downstairs, laptops, projectors, cameras; second floor, screens and desktops; upper floors, accessories, peripherals, other digital products (headphones, MP3 players, etc.); DVDs, games, software, repair shops.
Why you should go there: You want to buy a used or new desktop or laptops or any other sort of electronic gadget (apart from camera equipment—see below). Bargains are to be had on non-name-brand accessories.
Why you shouldn't go there: Although the buildings are huge and offerings vast, the selection isn't all that great, particularly for newly released brand-name gadgets. You will need to shop with an acceptable price in mind and bargain hard. If you're a savvy online shopper and know what you're looking for, you probably won't find it cheaper at Computer City.
Did you know? "Computer City" is the name of one of the several towers in the area that also includes Digital Square, @World, and Buy Now. Lining both sides of the street are ground-level shops that sell computer and office furniture, printers, ink, and paper.
辉煌灯饰城 – First Ring Road, Fourth and Fifth East Sections – Map Grid G5
What it is:Conglomerate market selling lamps, bulbs, light fixtures, LED lighting, decorative lights, neon, black, and colored lights. Some sellers will take special orders.
Go there if:You're hosting a groovy '70s psychedelic party and need a bunch of black lights to make your Grateful Dead posters glow. (Lava lamps might be harder to find.) Or if you're simply sick of stepping into other people's apartments and exclaiming, "Hey, I recognize that IKEA lamp!" The market provides selection as well as specialized items.
Don't go if: All you need are some standard bulbs or fixtures and you don't want to deal with the hassle.
龙潭寺综合市场 – Chenghua District
What it is: An assortment of stalls selling used and new household and office furniture as well as some appliances (new and used), and smaller household goods.
Go there if: You need to furnish your apartment, you like to haggle (and score some deals), and you dig the non-matchy-matchy aesthetic of used furniture.
Don't go there if: You don't want to make a long trek and deal with transporting furniture back.
荷花池 – Near North Train Station – Map Grid F1/2
What it is:Chengdu's largest wholesale market, selling all sorts of stuff—textiles, sewing notions, carpeting, bedding, clothes, shoes, jewelry, accessories, cosmetics, kitchen supplies, home wares, stationery, craft supplies, and who knows what else. Imagine the low quality and prices of Wal-Mart but instead of annoying music and lethargic cashiers, a catastrophic buzz of energy from delivery people, sellers, shoppers, thieves, and who knows who else.
Go there if: If you're buying in volume, if you just want to see how crazy it can get (pedestrian gridlock! bicycles hauling meters-high loads!), or you're looking for something you just can't find in the shops in Chengdu. Lots of Tibetan jewelry sellers spread their wares out on the sidewalk and dried-fruit sellers from Xinjiang are toting their carts around in the area.
Don't go there because: The Lotus Market is a stressful, exhausting experience even for shopaholics. It's crowded, chaotic, and difficult to find your way around. There are some real bargains to be had, but many items are of supremely low quality.
Good to know: The area is rife with pickpockets; taxis can't or won't enter; traffic congestion is bad. With the opening of the subway, transportation there and back has become better, but be prepared to walk at least 10 minutes to your destination within the market. The market is currently undergoing renovation that city planners claim will turn it into the "Chunxi Lu of the north." Go there now to catch it in its raw glory before it becomes another sterile shopping center.
Mobile Phone Street
太升南路手机市场 – Taisheng Nan Lu – Map Grid F4
What it is: One of Chengdu's few remaining narrow, tree-lined streets—which also happens to be lined with more mobile phone sellers than any one consumer could possibly need.
Go there if: You need a new or used mobile phone, mobile accessories, or to repair your mobile phone, particularly if you're looking for something specific and want to shop around.
Don't go there because: You can actually find better deals, especially on the low-end "candy bar" phones, when supermarkets and electronics chain stores run promotions. And you won't need to bargain.
Did you know? Taisheng Nan Lu, which spontaneously formed as a secondhand communications-devices trade area in the mid-1990s, is now so well-known as the mobile-phone market that some jokesters recorded a ballad tribute to it all in Sichuan dialect:
However, this might all change very soon as retailers in the Southwest Communication World building have been given an abrupt notice to move out; landowners are planning to raze the building and erect a brand-new office tower in its place over the next two years.
Qingshi Qiao Fish Market
青石桥 – Qingshi Qiao – Map Grid F5
What it is: A centrally located market selling a mishmash of fish, seafood, and, upstairs, imported foods. The mix seems odd but the market caters to upscale and foreign restaurants.
Go there if: If you want to buy fresh seafood or cheese in large quantities (a whole salmon, for instance, or a pound of mozzarella). You can also find pet shops, gardening supplies, and vegetable and meat sellers nearby.
Don't go if: If you're not looking for any particular type of fish or to buy in bulk, stick to the supermarkets. Also, if you can't stand slipping and sliding on fish guts, stay away—or at least wear closed-toe, non-slippery shoes.
Sansheng Xiang Flower Market
三圣乡花市场 – Sansheng Xiang
What it is: An outdoor and indoor market selling potted plants, seeds, light gardening supplies (soil, small tools, seeds, pots, fertilizer), cut flowers, small pets.
Go there if: you want to stop and smell the roses or buy any sort of plant from small to large, including cacti, bonsai, and potted herbs (rosemary, lavender, mint), fruit trees and roses.
Don't go if: You're not a patient commuter; it's a bit of a trek depending on your starting point. Weekends see lots of middle-class crowds from the city leisurely wiling away their time; if you're just looking for a generic houseplant, there's no need to make the trek.
Did you know? Flower Town generally stays open later than other markets on this list. In addition the many sellers on the "AAAA" tourist destination side of the street, there's also a large indoor warehouse selling various plants on the other side of the street. Be sure to check both if you're looking for something specific.
Songxian Qiao Antique Market
送仙桥古玩市场 – Huanhua Bei Lu – Map Grid B4
What it is: An indoor and outdoor market full of antiques and "antiques" as well as other curios, artworks, and other mass-produced, modern decorative objects.
Go there if: You need some memorabilia to remind you of your time in China; you need to buy somewhat unusual gifts for friends "back home"; you like poring over lots of dusty knickknacks. You'll find old stamps and currency, old propaganda posters, Mao clocks and watches, books, vinyl records, scrolls, textiles, decorative silk items, cloisonné, bamboo-wrapped porcelain, very inexpensive harvested pearls, bangles and baubles of all sorts.
Don't go if: You've been in China so long that nothing's new. You probably won't find any novelty here.
Good to know: It's a general rule of shopping, but it applies especially here—don't buy it the first time around! Certain sellers have been known to mark up the price 20 times a nearby seller is hawking the very same object for. If a seller refuses to haggle, keep walking—very few of the items on offer are truly one-of-a-kind.
White Lotus Construction Materials Market
白莲建材市场 – Chenghua District
What it is: All things wood—mostly for industrial applications and furniture manufacturers.
Go there if: You're looking to build your own furniture, or have some built or repaired.
Don't go there if: You're looking for fine carpentry, you just want something small, fast, or you really don't feel like trekking around kilometers of construction materials suppliers—this place is enormous and near the Panda Base, so it's not a short trip for most city dwellers.