Beijing Getaways: Kaifeng 开封
Weathered Wonders: Experience the Regal and Resilient Charm of Henan's Kaifeng
Known in Chinese as the "Capital of Seven Dynasties", Kaifeng is a sleepy, enchanting city, yet to be remolded by the breakneck development which epitomizes much of China today. Situated near the Yellow River in central Henan, the city's zenith was during the Northern Song Dynasty (AD 960-1126) when it was called Dongjing (East Capital). During its 2,700-year history Kaifeng has been no stranger to tragedy and destruction. Additionally floods, invasions and dynastic disintegration have all taken their toll on local architecture. Today the city's numerous highlights are mostly half-destroyed ruins or recently erected memorials to more auspicious eras.
The best place to get acquainted quickly with Kaifeng is the city's Tourism Center on Yingbin Lu - here you can pick up an English map and get advice on sights, events and accommodation. Kaifeng's most famous landmark is the Iron Pagoda (Tie Ta) in the northeastern corner of the city. A beautiful 11th century structure, it is actually made of bricks, with exterior glazed tiles giving off a metallic sheen. The Temple of the Chief Minister (Da Xiangguo Si) is also a must-see. Rebuilt in 1766 after a flood in 1642, this Buddhist shrine's main attraction is a four-sided wooden statue of Avalokitesvara.
At the northern end of Songdu Yujie (Imperial Street of the Song Dynasty) is the picturesque Dragon Pavilion Park (Long Ting Gongyuan), once the exclusive preserve of emperors and now great for a relaxing afternoon stroll. West of the park is the snappily-named Festival of Pure Brightness on the River Park (Qingming Shanghe Yuan), with reconstructed Song Dynasty buildings and daily performances. Head south from the park to reach Kaifeng's spectacular 18th-century Qianlong Guild Hall (Shanshangan Huiguan).
Kaifeng is the place to get better acquainted with Chinese snack and street food.
Check out the aptly named Number One Dumpling Restaurant (Diyilou Baozi Guan) on Sihou Jie - the xiaolong bao (small pork dumplings) are a taste sensation, and a smart (and cheap) way to warm up on a cold winter's day.
Xinsheng Meishiyuan on Gulou Jie is another budget eatery offering noodles, kebabs, stir fries, pastries and snacks. Come dinner time the night market on Sihou Jie serves up local delicacies such as wuxian shaobing (five-spice roasted bread), all manner of chuar (kebabs) and awesome zhima duowei tang (sesame soup).
With such great food for mind and body, it's no surprise that Kaifeng's inhabitants are so proud of their city that has endured time's many tests.
- Trains 1363, K179, K269 leave Beijing Friday night / arrive Zhengzhou early Saturday morning - approx. 400RMB hard sleeper
- Trains K158, K180, K402, 2554 leave Zhengzhou Sunday night / arrive Beijing early Monday morning
- Regular buses Zhengzhou-Kaifeng-Zhengzhou (1 hour) - 10 RMB each way
- Bike rental at small stand north of CITS office on Yingbin Lu 10 RMB/day
- Pedicabs, buses and taxis all cheaper than Beijing
- Iron Pagoda (Tie Ta) 7am-7pm, 175 Jiefang Lu, 20 RMB
- Temple of the Chief Minister (Da Xiangguo Si) - 8am-6pm, 54 Ziyou Lu, 20 RMB
- Dragon Pavilion Park (Long Ting Gongyuan) - 7am-6pm, Zhonghan Lu Beiduan, 25 RMB
- Festival of Pure Brightness on the River Park (Qingming Shanghe Yuan) - 8.30am-6pm, 5 Long Ting Xi Lu, 30 RMB
- Qianlong Guild Hall (Shanshangan Huiguan) - 8am-6.30pm, 85 Xufu Jie, 10 RMB
- Dajintai Luguan 23 Gulou Jie, singles/doubles 100/130 RMB, twin dorms 50 RMB
- Bianjing Fandian 109 Dong Dajie, singles/doubles 250/260 RMB
- Hotels in Henan Province
- Songdu Yujie is lined with shops selling embroidery, silk screen paintings, calligraphy, artwork, seals and ink stones.
Last but not least...
- The weather in January in central China can be really cold jackets, gloves and scarves, and even thermal underwear, are essential. Ear plugs useful for noisy train companions and shutting out overhead speakers.