The city of Zìgòng has just over a million people, so it’s a small town by Chinese standards.
It’s always amazing to me how in China there can be a city of several million people that virtually no one outside of China (and even few IN China) has ever heard of. A city of that size in most other countries would be known around the world. Vancouver, B.C., for example, where I’m from, has a population of around 2.5 million, and who hasn’t heard of Vancouver?
But in China, where the biggest city by urban population is Shanghai with 24.5 million people, a city of just a couple of million is tiny and insignificant.
So Zìgòng, with its measly 1.2 million people, is not a well known city. But tucked away into a corner of Southern Sichuan province, it’s not difficult to get to and quietly but proudly displays its history for the few visitors who venture in this direction. Here are six things to do in Zìgòng, China.
1. Visit the Dinosaur museum
Dinosaurs are cool. Did you need any other reason to go?
China has tons of dinosaur fossils. I mean lots. And many of them are in Zìgòng!
In a huge building shaped like a stegosaurus, you first enter a hall full of fully articulated dinosaur skeletons. These probably aren’t dinosaurs you’ve heard of – no brontosaurus or triceratops here – but they’re just as huge and just as cool. And of course they’re set up in poses where they’re eating each other, as dinosaurs always did.
Go a little further and you can enter the excavation hall, where a balcony goes all the way around dinosaur bones that are still in situ, right here in Zìgòng! Illustrations attempt to tell you what type of dinosaur and which bones you’re looking at, but it’s a bit tricky to figure out sometimes.
Then go outside for the real thing! Well, ok, maybe they’re just plastic statues but these guys are sure to be a big hit with (or scare the crap out of) the kids.
Dinosaurs are just cool.
2. Visit the Salt Industry History Museum
You’re thinking ‘Whaaaat? Seriously Jenny? A museum about salt?’ but just hear me out.
First of all, salt mining was a very important part of Zìgòng’s early industry and helped shape the town you see today. This museum has good exhibits and lots of photos on the origins of the salt mines, how they’ve changed through the years, and good explanations of the different methods and tools used.
Are you fascinated yet?
But the bonus to the salt museum is the gorgeous building it’s housed in. A former guild hall built in 1736, this place has a spectacular roof along with balconies and courtyards and side rooms and gardens filled with glorious Chinese wonderfulness. It’s definitely worth a visit to see both the building and get a sense of the history of the area.
3. Shenhai Salt Well
There is actually still a working salt mine in Zìgòng, and if you’re willing to take a short bus ride, you can see it. I did, but when I got there it was closed for restoration! I’m sure it’s fascinating and very educational and possibly better than the salt museum itself because you’d get to see the whole process in action, but I wouldn’t actually know. Go check it out and report back to me!
If you’ve visited the salt museum you’ll be able to recognize other salt mining structures jutting out of what appears to be peoples’ back yards, but of course you can’t just go visit those either.
4. Walk along the Fuxi river
Yeah, ok, this sounds like I’m grasping at straws a little here. But Zìgòng has a lovely river, and along its banks there are people fishing and lots of friendly little terraces where you can sit and drink tea for hours on end people watching. Or river watching. Or both.
5. Drink tea
As I noted above, there are heaps, and I do mean heaps, of places along the river where you can drink tea. It’s the best way to act like a local in Zìgòng!
There are other drinks available (Maybe? I mean, I think so? There must be, right? I don’t know, because I love my tea!) but the choice of tea is spectacular and for just a few yuan you can get a cup with some leaves in it and a giant thermos of hot water and just sit there for a whole afternoon with your feet up reading your book and refilling your teacup. Try to pick somewhere that has a bathroom!
One of the most famous and beautiful places to drink tea in Zìgòng is Wángyé Temple, a beautiful huge old wooden building perched on the edge of the river. You’ll find old men here engaged in games of chess or cards, women chatting with friends, and others just enjoying some peace and solitude. It’s lovely.
6. Visit Fazang Temple
From your riverside tea-drinking window in Wángyé Temple, you can see Făzàng Temple across the water. The two temples were built opposite each other to ensure the safety of cargo boats transporting salt down the river. Făzàng Temple is a lovely peaceful old place to go and explore, wandering from hall to hall and garden to garden.
Have you been to Zìgòng? What were your favourite things to do there?