Off the Beaten Track: Why Nanjing in China Should Be On Your Travel Radar
While it may be the second, or third largest country on Earth by land area (depends who you ask or the link you click when you Google), China may very well hold the most number of scenic destinations inside its 9.3-plus million square kilometers.
So numerous in fact that you can Google “top destinations in China,” open up the first five websites and still not get the same locations twice.
Now if you want to simply zero in on one location instead of taking dizzying cross-country flights to get to many, let me tell you about Nanjing Fuzimiao in the southern part of Nanjing, China.
We’ll get to the tourist-y part in a bit, but first, an educational moment. Nanjing’s place in history as one of the capitals of China cannot be denied but the timelines differ depending on the political party you talk to.
You see, Nanjing was the home of the National Government (party) and thus was the capital of China up until that party was expelled by the Communist Party of China in 1991. But if you ask the latter, homebase has always been Beijing and thus was the capital of China as well since 1949.
History lesson done, now let your mind wander and get a bib because some of these photos may make you drool.
Nanjing Fuzimao is actually the name of the temple itself but to honor Confucius and out of habit, it is what the entire complex is called. It is about 45 minutes from the Nanjing Lukou International Airport, traffic contingent. I know you’re thinking direct flight, but unfortunately, if you’re coming from the Manila you’ve got to make one more stop—either in Hong Kong, Taipei, Xiamen or Guangzhou.
We took the Hong Kong route and layover aside, the flight from Manila to Nanjing combined was just a little over five hours.
It was already nippy in mid-October with temperatures ranging between 13 degrees in the morning and evening to around 24 degress Celsius from midday to late afternoon, so bring a light jacket or layer up.
Nanjing Fuzimao is in the middle of the city so expect a little traffic going there. Bus stops are a few blocks away but heat/humidity won’t be a problem if you go in the fall or early spring.
It is best accessed via Zhanyuan Road where you’ll find a big paifang (Chinese archway) in front of a rotunda, which opens up to Gongyuan Street. That’s where all the fun begins.
There are shops of various goods lined up on each side of this road where only e-jeeps (China-style) and single-carriage rickshaws pulled by men dressed in traditional changsan are allowed.
Food stalls, large restaurants, souvenir shops, woodworks stores, and even silver and jewelry workshops abound. If you want something familiar, there’s also a Starbucks just a few stores down, just past the paifang.
Be warned that “stinky tofu” is sold here and to say that it has a mild aroma is taking the words “mild” and “aroma” very lightly. Imagine standing right beside a pig farm. If you can conjure up the scent in your head, that’s exactly how it smells like. The whole area was clean as a whip mind you, which really betrayed what my olfactory senses were saying.
A large square opens up past that, with beautiful mini pagodas and Chinese lanterns all around. Here is where you’ll get a great view of the famous Qinhuai River, which connects further north to Asia’s longest river (third in the world but the longest that flows within one country), the Yangtze.
In this area you can rent a ferry that goes around the Qinhuai for 50 minutes. Statues of historical figures, costumed characters, dancing performances, fish-eating birds, as well as great Chinese architecture can be seen along the route. A recording is played during the ride that gives a background of Nanjing’s history and the personalities that helped shape it through the years.
On the opposite side of the square is the entrance to the 985-year-old Confucius Temple guarded by two large lion statues. Across is a large clearing with a path leading to the tallest bronze statue of Confucius measuring 4.18 meters and weighing 2.37 tons. On each side of the path are statues of the eight disciples.
Head to the Dacheng hall, which is the main palace built for worship, and offer sacrifice to Confucius. It also holds the most valuable treasure in the city: 38 murals laden with precious stones and metals like jade, silver and gold.
Left of the Fuzimiao is another large compound and this one served as the exam hall for the Nanjing Imperial Examination, China’s ancient equivalent to our Civil Service Exams.
Now called the Nanjing Imperial Examination Museum, it was built in 1168, spans an area of some 300,000 square meters, and accommodated examinees through seven different dynasties.
The test took three days to complete, which means candidates went in bringing their own provisions like water, food, and beddings. Think about that before complaining about how hard our own Board exams are.
After taking in all of the spectacular sights, don’t leave without tasting the local cuisine. The restaurant we went to had a 15-course soup on top of hefty servings of salad, fish, shrimp, beef, pork, and steamed hairy crab that you’ll top off with six-year-old Kouzijiao (yellow rice wine).
Of course, taking in the local flavor won’t be complete without authentic Chinese music in the background.
We only spent some four hours in Nanjing Fuzimiao but as you can read, I learned more about China there than in the four days we were in the country.
Its sights, sounds, taste, feel, and even smell is truly one-of-a-kind and while it doesn’t even begin to capture what China truly is, it does give you a better sense of where it came from and where it’s going.