Our first trip out of Jinan was to Qufu, pronounced Chufu. It's the home of Confucius, master philosopher and one of the most important historical figures in Chinese history. To make the journey we had to take one of China's high speed trains, an experience that proved to be very comfortable and reliable. Watching the Chinese countryside fly by in comfort was a great start and end to our trip.
Buying the tickets wasn't too difficult as we used a travel company called Ctrip who specialise in rail tickets and flights across China. Booking was relatively easy, although we did struggle at first due to use trying to book a few days before a trip. The best advice is to book your tickets at least a month in advance as the lines to Beijing and Shanghai are very busy and the tickets sell fast. We had been warned that the railway stations across China were always packed with people and queuing at the ticked collection point would be difficult, due to it being the same place people try to buy the remaining same day tickets. Luckily, there was an orderly queue and the line wait wasn't too long. We can't speak for the rest of China but our experience in Jinan station was pretty good. Still, we're going to have all future tickets delivered from Ctrip as it cuts out a lot of fuss and means we don't need to arrive so early.
We arrived into Qufu station, which is a short bus ride from the town, and were instantly approached by taxi drivers. Despite us actually trying to get onto the bus, they still insisted on trying to get us to go with them. They kept pointing at the bus and going 'no, taxi!' which began to quickly grate. It was only when I told the guy it was a bus, not a taxi, that he got the point and that we managed to get somewhere.
Qufu is famous for its Confucius temple, the Confucius family mansion and the cemetery. You can buy a single ticket for each, depending on what you want to see, or a cheaper ticket that gives you entry to all three. We had a little difficulty finding where to buy the tickets so we've included a picture, just in case anyone is making the journey. The building is just across the road from the temple's entrance and buying a ticket is as easy as pointing to the one you want.
The temple is set within a sprawling complex that is filled with old buildings and statues which are fascinating to see. Many of them are showing signs of their age but to us that just added to the overall atmosphere. The main temple is located roughly in the centre and is magnificent, towering over everything else. The interior is just as amazing and we were both thoroughly impressed, not just with the temple, but the grounds and surrounding buildings. If you're in the area, it's well worth the trip just for the temple alone.
The temple's exit leads straight onto the road which leads to the Confucius mansion. It's a short but interesting walk as the road is lined with stalls selling all manner of items and has retained an old fashioned feel.
The mansion is interesting too, although lacking the grandeur of the temple, and the winding alleys lead to some fascinating buildings and courtyards. Unfortunately, you can't enter the mansion but peering through the windows gives you a good glimpse of what life would have been like for Confucius' descendants. Behind the mansion is an impressive garden and pond, plus the obligatory area to buy drinks and ice creams.
Done with the mansion, we decided to head towards the cemetery. It's within walking distance but still a fair way. Luckily there are no end to the rickshaws and carriages eagerly seeking our visitors, so if you're done with the walking then its an affordable alternative. We decided to walk and personally I'm glad we did. Qufu couldn't be more different to Jinan. It's clearly a poor town and many of the shop fronts are empty, but it still feels very much alive. Many of the inhabitants in the area you walk through are completely reliant on the tourism industry, selling refreshments and offering rides to and from the main tourist attractions. It gave us a welcome change from the city and an interesting look into life in the smaller towns in the Shandong province.
The Confucius cemetery is set within a huge forest, with a warren of trails leading through it. It's a strange place, filled with countless grave stones that stretch away in all directions. Most people in Qufu claim to be descendants of Confucius, taking his family name of 'Kong', and the cemetery is a clear testament to this. By this point the heat was getting to be unbearable so we made a bee-line to Confucius' grave. As you can see from the pictures below it's an impressive sight and is naturally very busy. The forest itself is too large to walk unless you're willing to dedicate a large amount of time to it. Instead, you can take one of the many tourist trains that stop at the main burial sights.
The day was coming to a close so we made our way back into the town, hoping to find some food before getting the train back. Strangely, we couldn't find any restaurants, or shops selling food for that matter, and had to take the bus back to the station empty handed. Luckily, just outside of the station is a supermarket and inside the station are a number of restaurants.
Our journey home was in the first class carriage, it not being much different from second class in price, and we definitely traveled in style. All in all, the train stations and the high speed trains are just as efficient and comfortable as those in Japan and we both left very impressed.
Thanks for reading and look out for our next blog posts. We'll be talking about a few hidden gems in Jinan, and this week we're heading to an ancient village a couple of hours out from the city so check back for more. Meanwhile, while not take a look at our Instagram accounts of leave us some comments!