TRAVEL: Jimingyi, a walled town near Beijing that we bet you’ve never heard of!

Just thirty minutes away from Beijing by high-speed railway, Huailai (怀来) is a small town halfway between the capital and Zhangjiakou. The local government is promoting the numerous vineyards in the area, but there is also a still-hidden gem to be discovered: Jimingyi (鸡鸣驿), a walled former post station. Its name means ‘rooster’s crow post station’ and its main claim to fame is that Emperor Guangxu and his aunt Cixi sheltered there for a night as they fled the Eight Nation Alliance during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. It makes a nice day out from Beijing, especially if you want to see an ancient town that hasn’t become a tourist trap. 

Read on to find out more!

A view over Jimingyi with the west gate and Jimingyi Peak in the background

What was a post station? In the days when the fastest way to send mail was by horse, couriers needed a place to change horses or rest for the night. Post stations also provided accommodation and meals for officials and businessmen passing by, as well as being postal hubs and military fortresses. Jimingyi was founded in 1219, and by 1472 its importance was growing so the walls were constructed. Jimingyi was a major postal hub on the northern postal road until the advent of modern telecommunications at the end of the Qing dynasty rendered it obsolete. Now it’s one of the best preserved post stations in all of China. 

Jimingyi’s main street with the town stage on the left

Present-day Jimingyi is a sleepy town with few residents and even fewer tourists. The residents that are here are mostly elderly, as the young people have doubtless left to work in Beijing. Within the walls the buildings are a fascinating mix of modern, old and totally derelict, but they are all still low-rise courtyard buildings. 

A tunnel under the wall that allows entry without having to go through the main gates. We saw several locals go through it bent double, one even pushing his motorbike!

Accessibility

    • Booking: You can book in advance on Baidu or at the ticket booth when you arrive. Tickets are 34RMB. 
    • Language: Museum captions are in English, but nothing else is.
    • Disability options: The town is not wheelchair accessible. 
    • Opening hours: Tickets are sold 9am-5pm and this is also the opening hours of the temples and the Directing House.  
Temple to the goddess of Taishan. If you pray here, she may bless you with children!

Transportation & Location

    • Jimingyi is located about 20 minutes outside of Huailai. Get to Huailai on a high-speed train from Beijing North (Xizhimen) or Qinghe stations. The fastest trains take only 30 minutes from Qinghe and trains run all day, with the last one around 8.30pm.
    • A taxi to Jimingyi takes around 25 minutes from central Huailai, or about 40 minutes from the train station.
    • Parking is available on site. 
    • Accommodation and restaurants are located in Huailai. There are a couple of basic guesthouses within the town walls, but since it’s so small and there are no shops or restaurants we suggest staying in Huailai. We recommend the Home Inn Selected (如家商旅酒店张家口怀来县政府店) as it’s comfortable, great value and they accept foreigners. 
Four-clawed dragons painted onto the side of the stage

Practicalities

      • Food options: There are no restaurants or grocery shops within the walls. A couple of antique stores sell a few ice creams and soft drinks.
      • Is it family friendly? Young children might love exploring the maze-like streets, but it might be a little boring for teens. 
      • How much time to allow: 2-4 hours depending on your level of interest.
      • Toilets: Outside the walls at the north gate and just inside behind the museum at the east gate.
      • Good to know: Photography and videoing are allowed everywhere except inside the temples. 
The statue in front of the museum shows a courier receiving an important document from an official

What to see and do

    • Visit the Directing House, part of the He family compound, where Guangxu and Cixi spent the night in 1900.  The compound originally consisted of five courtyards which were split up later in the century. You can visit all five by walking into the small alleyway to the right of the main entrance. Four are still inhabited but you can take a peek into the courtyards if the gates are open. 
    • Explore the back streets (away from the main road running between the east and west gates) to see courtyards both lived-in and and ruined. 
    • Visit the two small temples (to the God of Wealth near the west gate and the Goddess of Taishan north of the east gate) to see the well-preserved Ming dynasty murals. There are also murals around the stage in the middle of the main street.
    • Visit the museum next to the east gate behind the statue of the courier receiving an important document. Some basic captions are in English. 
    • Walk the entire length of the city walls, which have been restored to make them walkable. On the wall outside the museum you can see photos detailing the restorations completed so far, including of the walls and many of the buildings. 
The view west along the town wall
The town walls were built in 1472 and restored recently

Our opinion:

    • Nic: “ If you’re interested in history or photography (especially of abandoned/dilapidated buildings), or just travelling off the beaten track, you’ll enjoy Jimingyi. It’s a chance to see what many of China’s walled towns and ancient villages must have looked like before the hipster cafes, shops and milk tea shops moved in. While obviously it doesn’t have the hustle and bustle of the busy post station that it was, and has become more of a country village in the past century, you can still get a feel for what it might have been like hundreds of years ago. Plus it’s so easy to get to from Beijing!
    • AJ: “I’m not quite sure what I was expecting with this visit to Jimingyi, though it was probably more than what we found once we got there. Perhaps I’ve just become used to the touristy destinations we usually visit, but for me personally, Jimingyi was just too quiet. Of course, if you’re into that ‘natural, underdeveloped feel’ that the town has, you’ll most probably love it. But it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I need a touch more action in my ancient towns.”

Are you planning on visiting Jimingyi? If you have, let us know what you thought in the comments below. We would love to hear your thoughts and insights! And go to our social media channels (see below) for more from Jimingyi!

Photo Credits
– Cultural Keys. 


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