Sichuan Old Towns: Jiezi
Part nature, part typical touristy old town, part actual residence, Jiezi (崇州街子古镇) seems less hyped than Luodai, Huanglongxi, and Ping'le, and it's no doubt due to its low-key profile that visitors do not abound.
Apart from an apparently groundwater spring, the old town itself is nothing notable: A single street lined with the same shops selling the same souvenirs and so-called specialty snacks, but at the very least it's possible to stroll along the road without touching the elbow of the visitors to your right and left.
Behind this street is the real town, where residents gather to buy vegetables from vendors, and numerous guesthouses will let you park your car, play some majiang, eat a freshly cooked meal or two, and spend the night should you desire. On the other side of the street are younger, hipper guesthouses with attached bars and cafes, such as the Chancellor Tavern, along the Gingko Plaza, which serves coffee and beer alongside traditional dishes in its all-wood-interior space.
Statues and reliefs commemorating renowned residents of Jiezi, such as Luo Yuanfu, the Qing Dynasty imperial scholar who wrote the "Record of Chongqing County," and the Tang Dynasty "gourd poet" Tang Qiu dot the landscape. Accompanying plaques in Chinese, English, Japanese, and Korean offer explanatory notes on the history and significance of many of the structures.
Make your way to the river to see children splashing about and soaking anybody who dares pass by with water guns and young couples with their pants rolled up, unsteadily wading their way across the water. Covered rafts are for hire for RMB20 per passenger until 8 p.m.; a shirtless man walks back and forth along the deck, pushing off the bottom of the riverbed with a long bamboo pole to propel the raft down the river in an absent-minded zigzag.
The river turns into a slow-moving creek that runs along the 5,600-meter Kang ("health") pathway, bringing hikers through a lush, steamy forest where clusters of bamboo reach dozens of meters into the mist and the buzzing of cicadas resonates far and wide. Giant black butterflies and grayscale dragonflies flit among the plants, chasing one another in extraordinarily precise flight patterns.
There are not so many places in or around Chinese cities that conjure up those images of China so widely propagated in classical Chinese poetry and contemporary Chinese films, but this is one. With the sun peeking through the haze to illuminate the path of a creaky suspended bridge, the mellow tones of a gourd flute floating across the stifling air, one is far away from the incessantly sharp sounds of the city.
How to Go
Take the Harmony bullet train to the Qingcheng Shan station (15 trains daily from 7 a.m. to 7:45 p.m., 40 to 50 minutes, RMB15). At the bus station adjacent to the train station, take bus No. 102 to the end of its line, which is at the border of Jiezi. The fare is RMB2 and the journey lasts approximately 20 minutes. Not all buses that pull up to the 102 stop actually go to Jiezi, so be sure to clarify (and yes, "Jiezi" is pronounced "Gaizi" in Sichuan dialect, so don't get confused). From the bus stop, you can either walk the kilometer into the old town or hitch a ride on an electric cart for RMB5 per passenger. Alternatively take a bus from Jinsha Bus Station to Chongzhou (RMB12), where you can transfer to a bus to Jiezi (RMB5).
This article was first published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 47 ("how to V").