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Like all big cities in China, it's a real effort to get out of town. The standard is to take a cheap bus to a small city to go on hitchhiking. I took a bus to Dujiangyan. In 2010 you could still see a lot of the destruction of the 2008 earthquake. But the trucks take you with them for free, and they are more comfortable than any bus.
Towards Xi'an and Mongolia take public bus #60 from the city centre. There's a stop about two blocks from Flip Flop Lounge Hostel called "Xinnanmen Bus Station", which despite it's name is just a bus stop. It's only 2 yuan and starts at 7am and runs approximately every ten minutes. The bus will have few people on it in this direction in the morning. On the internet the bus is stated to take over two hours to get to 狮子村 (Shīzi cūn), the stop after 同乐村 (Tóng lè cūn), but in the morning it seems to take less time than this. There is no button to stop the bus so you might have to yell out to the driver to stop at the next stop or ask another passenger to help you. Don't expect any passengers to know English though. The bus has a digital display and voice announcing the next two stops.
The bus stop is just next to a bridge going over the expressway. A large locked iron gate seems to block your walk to the tollgate and petrol station but just around the concrete building there is an open gate you can walk through.
Hippietrail got a ride in a few minutes without even making a sign using the thumb gesture and a smile in the space between the petrol station and the slow moving traffic coming from the tollgate which is visible to all drivers.
Going south towards Leshan you will want to get on a bus heading for the airport, and get off by the Homeland Hotel about 4 km before the airport. From there you turn left (with your back to the hotel), and walk over the airport express road with the heavy traffic. Soon you can get on the G4301 (ringroad), where you walk for a few km before you can turn right onto the G5. Just after the tollgate there is a gas station with a lot of cars filling up their tanks for a looong ride south who all want you to come along! Great hitching spot, although it takes some time to get there. You can check buses going to the airport here http://www.cdairport.com/front_en/jt4.jsp I took the metro to the south railway station (2-3 RMB), from there I took a city bus 300, walked a while from the train station to find it, and they got me off the right place.
Another option towards Leshan and Ya'an is getting to the Shangliu Tollgate. Take subway number 1 (2-5 yuan) to its terminal station, Guangdu (don't you love terminal stations?). Get out at exit A, turn left and walk until the really big avenue (Tianfu Ave.), cross it and immediately turn left (still on Tianfu, just on the other side). Walk a couple hundred meters to 4th Huayang Ave, on which you'll find the 828 bus stop (1 yuan). It basically goes in a straight line all the way to the toll gate, the ride there takes about half an hour. Keep your eyes open for the Gao Su above you, and it's time to get off. You can hitch before the toll gate or in the gas station right next to it. The highways to Leshan and Ya'an/Yunnan split a few KMs south of here. (August 2017: I took exactly that advice and went to the toll gate, within 10 sec. I had a ride!, great spot!)
If you are going south (towards Yunnan) or west (towards Kangding and Litang), you can also get a bus to Pujiang from the Xinnanmen Bus Station located in the city center. Tickets are 27RMB (approx. $4.50). The bus station in Pujiang is a 5 minute walk to the highway where you should be able to find a ride. Ask the driver if he's going on the Chengya Gaosu, that's the highway between CHENGdu and YA'an. "Ni wang chengya gaosu neibian ma?".
Do not try to go to the beginning of G5-road. Havy traffic and no way for cars to stop!
Chengdu is the gateway to Tibetan Sichuan. The hitchhiking situation changes completely. Any people take you with them and the cities are small, so you can walk out easy. People may also now the thumb sign again!
Chengdu direction east: