Jianshui – Kunming
As we were heading back to Kunming today, we had a lot to see, as we have hardly seen any of the attractions of old town. Mainly the temples. We have walked the streets, seen the wells (well, some of the wells) sampled the cuisine and generally enjoyed the atmosphere the town gives off.
It was unfortunate that we couldn’t get the overnight train straight to Dali, but because of the Festival of Clearing the Graves (Not sure what it is called, but that is the purpose) everything was booked out, yet we could still catch the bus. Apparently slower and more expensive than the train, but our only option over the next three days. So we could sit here and work on the blog, or travel to Kunming and catch a train the next day. As the blog is conspicuously empty, you can guess what we did!
The first priority was to walk north out of Old Town, and find the street that had a train ticket office in it. The directions from the hostel were spot on, and we pre booked our ticket on from Kunming to Dali. After finding out there were no direct trains for the next couple of days, it was a relief to have our tickets in hand. Then it was time to wander the last few streets of old town, via a farmers market, where we got more attention than the produce being sold.
We wandered over to the main Confucian temple complex, coming in by the side gate. There are a series of buildings set out in a branching structure, with the different sections for examination halls, shrines and gates. Education seems to be a big thing here, and it is one of the largest, well preserved and important complexes in China.
Originally built in 1285 it has been constantly used and expanded for over 700 years. This shows in the size of the complex, and differences in architectural achievements. The layout is symmetrical with the main temple complex to the north. Several of the buildings had been destroyed and removed in the past, but the majority still stand in great condition. A lot of renovations and additions were made in the Ming and Qing Dynasties, with different engravings marking the important personages that were responsible for these works. There are 2 main halls of Stele where carvings are being kept out of the direct elements to preserve them.
For us, one of the main attractions was the Xingtan Altar, with its four pillars beautifully carved into sculptured dragons twisting around the pillar coming in and out of the clouds. Also of course there were the statues of the great man himself. There were sections dedicated to his teachings, but this was only in Chinese, although there are descriptions at all the halls giving a brief outline of who built it, and what it was for. I think that the size and dimensions are also very important as they kept going on about those, rather than the purpose of the halls. E.G. Hall to the Ancestors, built XXXX, it is X distance wide, with 16 pillars, holding up a traditional roof style of X, with a depth of Y and done in this style….. You get the idea.
Going out the main entrance takes you to the horseman’s gate (yes, for some reason we are good at doing things the wrong way round) looking out over the contemplation pond/lake. This is a small gate off to the side that an ancient emperor decided to impose on all confusion temples to make it mandatory that whomever you are, you would have to dismount and walk past the temple as a sign of respect. Then around the large pond filled with mandatory carp and turtles. It is the perfect place to sit in the pagoda.
Another series of statues before heading out the massive gate and leaving the piece and quiet of the complex to join the bustling streets again.
It was about time for lunch, so we wandered up to the noodle places at the West Gate to grab some lunch. Walking into one we haven’t tried, who should we see but Jane Yi! This was the really nice guy new had met the other day, and failed to meet up with. That was a bit of a surprise, but we were quite happy about it. He helped us order lunch, and select the right accompaniments to make it spicy but not too hot, then we had to dump our noodles into the broth we had created to have an individual eating experience. We spent the rest of lunch letting him know where we had been, and what we thought of it, before walking up to his accommodation for tea. Jane Yi is a travelling poet. Making money as he travels from town to town, staying with people who put him up all in the hopes of making it to Tibet one day. Another nomadic traveller! It was a great way to pass the time, but we couldn’t stay too long as we had another temple to visit, and get ready for the bus back to Kunming. Thanking him for everything, we left to go to the next temple.
This was a small complex in comparison to the last, with a central courtyard before the temple. Old men were gathered here, drinking tea and playing dominoes. The front was squeezed in between the shops and the only way you know it is there is to go through the big iron reinforced doors. Once inside the noise drops, and the side walls were all shops as well. Luckily for us these were mostly closed, so there was no traffic of people. Although small, this temple was well presented, and had the feel of a working temple rather than a shrine to temples past.
That done, we grabbed our bags and caught the number 8 bus to the bus station for the last time. It was sad saying goodbye at the hostel, as they were such lovely people, and the girl that had helped us the most seemed to run away, just as we were going up to say goodbye. As we had a bit of time spare, we waited for her to return on the main street (she had run off to photocopy the passports of people just checking in). When she came past, we pulled her up to let her know how much we appreciated her help, and offered to take her with us!
After the amount of buses we have taken, we are starting to be able to read the tickets better, and worked out that for official buses the numberplate is recorded on the ticket. This made it easy to work out which bus we were on, and get ready for the long trip back to Kunming.
This wasn’t that interesting and other than the fact that all buses seem to travel at around 30km/h whilst taking the most indirect route to where you are going, it was similar to all other trips. Nothing to see here, other than the countryside.
Arriving at Kunming fairly late, we decided to try and get to the railway station at night, so we didn’t have to worry about it in the morning. There are plenty of hotels in the region on maps.me, our very handy app for getting around. This seemed to be a breeze, as we left the enormous bus complex we saw the subway. At the moment Kunming only has the one subway, skirting around the east of old town running north to south. Getting a ticket meant managing those infernal automated ticket machines though. The first one didn’t work in English but the second one did. Finding the stop to the south train station we paid our 4 yuan and got our train.
The subway is brilliant. Clean, fairly fast, and best of all they announce the stops in English! As we worked our way south, the city started dropping from skyscrapers to 3 or four stories then single levels (Ok so only part of the subway was underground) Again, we arrived at a massive complex. Assuming this was behind the railway station, we headed out, and asked for directions to get to the railway station, so we could find a hotel from there. After a lot of confusion it turned out that we were in the wrong place entirely! There is little distinction between South Railway Station and south train station. The train is the metro, and the railway was where we needed to go. It was in the opposite direction back towards the city. Very confusing for all parties involved. Especially as we were walked through the entire complex to another person to be told the same thing. So then the next problem was how to get to where we were going? We had a bit of help this time at least, as the girl that had helped us out, and guided us through the complex took the time to help us get a ticket as well. She will have a great time explaining all this to her friends tomorrow! We never did find out why this station needed such a massive complex. China’s build-it-big attitude I think.
So, back on the subway, past the bus station again and on to the right stop. This only added about 2 hours to our trip… Leaving via exit A (If you assume that exit A would be the most important, you would be wrong) we appeared in a construction site with a lot of touts pushing us to their taxi or mini van. One was not too friendly, and it was late and very dark. Not a comfortable situation, but we were not hassled as we walked off. Picking a direction we set off. The train station was on our right, and locked up tight. A massive highway on the left, and a construction site in front. At one point we came to an underpass. This would take us under the railway lines and hopefully out the other side. There was only one catch. It was pitch black, and smelled of urine. Not the most appealing option, but we had no idea on how much further we would have to walk to find another crossing. It was a great relief to see a family come out with torches, so it obviously went somewhere. Pulling out our own torch we descended into the dark….
To reappear on the other side right on the edge of where we wanted to be. Following our map now, we went to the first hotel to find out that it no longer existed. Then onto the second. It wouldn’t accept westerners. Then it was a fair walk to the third. Too expensive by far. The fourth wouldn’t accept westerners either, and finally we got to the fifth. They had rooms for around 400 yuan, but would accept westerners. Anna managed to haggle them down to 170, which was the price we would pay if we caught a taxi across town and stayed where we had before, so we took it. The lobby was very ornate and looked as classy as the room prices indicated, however when we got to our room, it was run down, stained, and in desperate need of some attention and renovation.
At the end of all this it was close to 11pm, and we were happy to have done it this way, as if we had gone through all this in the morning we would have missed our train onwards! It was a good thing we had a big lunch!