Of all the cities I’ve had the “pleasure” of visiting in Yunnan, Jianshui stands out by a mile. As you drive in to the city it appears to be just like any other but once you get off the bus and start exploring you’ll discover cobbled streets, fantastic architecture and lovely people.
Jianshui is just over 200 km south east of Kunming and it takes about three and a half to four hours to get there by bus.
There’s lots to see and do in and around Jianshui but our favourite moments were walking the quiet back streets and discovering the beautiful old houses. We were pretty nosy and wandered in and out of courtyards and peoples gardens, luckily no one seemed to mind and we felt transported back in time. It’s pretty much the China the average traveller hopes to see but very rarely finds. In Jianshui your wishes come true!
Some of the more famous places to see include the West Gate which was unfortunately closed when we visited and China’s second largest Confucian Temple Wen Miao. We were a little strapped for cash so we didn’t go inside but walked around the walls. We returned to the park just outside the temple that night. As we walked around someone started to play the trumpet, so we sat in the dark listening to the beautiful sound as it bounced off the water, it was one of those magical moments that you couldn’t have planned to be more perfect!
Another famous attraction to see is the 200, 000 square feet complex of The Private Garden of the Zhu Family. Again, due to lack of funds, we decided not to pay the 50 kuai entrance fee, but I would definitely consider visiting on my next trip.
Outside of Jianshui, on the way to Tuanshan is the 17-arch Bridge, built during the Ming Dysnasty. We decided to hop off the bus and have a quick look on the way back to the city.
After the bridge the bus continues on to Tuanshan Village. The trip doesn’t take too long, although we got stuck between several trucks transporting stone. There are many workshops along the road with craftsmen making carved gravestones, it’s a bit dusty but really interesting to watch. We also got stuck in a bit of goat-jam but were on our way soon enough!
The village is definitely worth a visit! It was established by the Zhang family and you’ll discover lots of traditional courtyards that haven’t really changed since they were built, if anything some of the courtyards are quite overgrown.
There is a lovely Buddhist temple situated at the back of the village that was renovated and re-opened in 2003. While we were visiting it was QingMing Jie also known as the Tomb Sweeping Festival so the temple was bustling with activity. So we grabbed a little stool and sat to the side watching the preparations take place.
I would suggest heading to Jianshui for at least two days so you can really soak up the laid-back atmosphere of the city. Take your time, enjoy sipping tea around the city walls and wander around the Muslim quarter close to the city gate.
If you ask locals in Yunnan what to see or do in Jianshui they are most likely to skip the things we included and talk about tofu! Jianshui is famous for it’s stinky tofu and you will find this snack being sold all around the city.
I recently came across this great food series made by CCTV, called A Bite of China. The first section of this episode is all about the tofu of Jianshui, check it out, it will definitely wet your appetite for the city!
But how do I get there…
You can take the bus from the South Bus Station of Kunming. The South Bus Station is a bit far out of the city so give yourself plenty of time to get there. You can take a taxi or public buses there, one of the easiest options is to catch the 107 from Jinmabiji Square, heading to the east, then switch buses at the International Trade Centre. You need to take the number 154. This will take you all the way to the bus station.
Buses to Jianshui leave pretty much all day and there around 20 buses a day, the last time we checked!
Once you arrive in Jianshui it’s quite easy to get to the old quarter, just continue walking on the road you came in on and bear to the left, it will lead you to the main gate of the old town. Otherwise hop in a taxi, it should cost about 5 kuai.
And where do I stay…
There are quite a few choices including the beautiful Zhu Family Garden Hotel. However if you are looking for something a little more low-budget then I’d suggest the International Youth Hostel of Historical County Jianshui. You’ll find them at NO.77 of Yongning and can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org