Jianshui - 建水县

by - June 07, 2014

The Twin Dragon Bridge
The wildcard destination at the end of our Yunnan trip, none of us knew what to expect from the town of Jianshui, located conveniently between the Yuanyang Rice Terraces and Kunming.  As always, it was a recommendation from Lonely Planet that tipped us off that it might be worth spending a day in the small town of just under 20,000 inhabitants, with the main attraction being the well preserved examples of Qing architecture.

The Confucian Temple
The journey to Jianshui from Yuanyang, potentially the most challenging of the trip, actually turned out to be very straightforward.  We flagged down a passing minivan outside our hostel on the rice terraces with the aim of getting to Xinjie (the main town on the terraces) before getting a minivan on to Nansha (the main local hub) and then getting one of the regular buses on to Jianshui.  As it happened, the minivan that passed our hostel was actually going to Nansha and was happy to take us there for 30 Yuan each, on a journey that took two hours.  From Nansha bus station we had to wait about 15 minutes for our onward two and a half hour journey to Jianshui.  A journey that I had estimated at taking in excess of six hours actually took more like five – who said travelling in China was challenging!?

Our immediate impressions of Jiansui were very positive – it appeared not too dissimilar to Lijang and Dali in terms of beautiful buildings and wide, pedestrianized streets, except it also seemed to be the ‘real deal’ rather than a version manufactured for tourists.  We would be staying right in the centre of the old town in the ‘Fairyland Guesthouse’ – for some reason there was a total absence of low priced accommodation and this guesthouse was the best we could do at 70 Yuan per person per night.  Thankfully Gaia, our Israeli travel companion from Yuanyang, had decided to stay on with us and we smuggled her into our twin room for the good of all of our budgets. 

The City Gate
After a pretty unsuccessful lunch break which left us all reeling from an excess of spice and overpowering bamboo flavour, we wandered to the town’s Confucian Temple – supposedly the third largest in all of China, which locals maintain is actually THE largest.  The beautiful temple is situated next to a large, pleasant lake and was one a famed centre of learning – half of all of Yunnan province’s successful completers of the Imperial examinations studied in the town.  Even now we found local students sitting in the grounds under pagodas doing their homework.  On the other side of the town (a mere ten minutes’ walk away) was the old city gate, which was modelled on the gates to the Forbidden City in Beijing.  For a small fee I was able to climb up for good views over the town and to see an exhibition on the local area.  The town did have a few other potential sights (a garden in the centre and a large cave an hour to the east) but it was now too late for us to see them so we went for a drink and then on to dinner at one of the town’s famed barbeque restaurants where you point at which meat you want and they cook it in front of you.

The Old Town
The next morning we got a taxi to take us five kilometres out of the town to the west to see one of Jianshui’s most impressive examples of Qing architecture, the ‘Twin Dragon Bridge’ which is one of the largest and most complete of its kind remaining in China.  Admittedly the bridge is a prime example of the problems of Googling a sight before actually visiting it, as the photos online made it appear a lot larger than it actually turned out to be, but it was beautiful nonetheless and worth a quick visit.  Any excuse for a photo by a bridge…  Our taxi driver waited for us and took us back to the bus station where we were able to complete our journey to Kunming, three and a half hours away (ticket: 78 Yuan).  Jianshui had definitely been the most ‘off the beaten track’ location on our trip, perhaps as proven by the curiosity and kindness of the locals.  Lots of people came up to speak to us or to offer us help and amusingly as we sat outside a street food vendor at the bus station on our last day, a group of women went as far as pulling up stools at the end of our table seemingly just to stare at us.  Funny and unnerving in equal measure.  For anybody stuck with a bit too much time in Kunming, I would heartily suggest a day trip south to Jianshui. 

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