Things to do in Jinan
So you’ve been to Beijing and Shanghai, and you think you’ve seen enough of what China has to offer - it’s loud, bustling, and cities are so similar they start to blend into each other.
But ditch your preconceptions, and sidestep the big cities to head to Jinan. There’s something different in the air in this quaint city - with old-school vibes like that of Kyoto, and breathtaking treehouse villages, steam train diners and even slides down a mountain.
Plus, it’s affordable too, with direct flights from Scoot starting at just $168 one way this 2nd - 6th January 2017. So, now’s the time to be a trendsetter among your “wanderlust” friends - here’s 10 things to check off:
1. Stay in a fairytale treehouse in Red Leaves Valley (红叶谷)
Scandinavian forest or Chinese park - at Red Leaves Valley, you won’t even know any more.
A sprawling park overlooking mountains and lakes, it’s filled with fiery red autumn leaves and a whimsical village of wooden treehouses that you can actually stay in.
Each treehouse looks slightly different, which gives the place a unique and magical feel.
Known as the Shambhala Leisure Valley (香巴拉休闲谷), the treehouses are easy to find, with signs all around the park to direct you.
Lest you think it’s roughing it out in the wilderness, each of them are actually cosily furnished, with double beds, toilet, towels, an electric kettle, and even a mini dining area.
Image credit: hongyegu.com
Tip: Stay in April when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, or October, when autumn is in full force!
There’s even a treehouse with stairs inside the tree itself!
With temples and gardens to explore, and eateries selling handmade noodles and dumplings in the park, stow yourself away for a day or two and just soak in the scenery, Eat, Pray, Love-style.
Note: Dress warmly as Red Leaves Valley is situated high up on a hill, so temperatures are around 4°C lower than that in the city.
Address: Red Leaves Valley Ticket Office, 327 Licheng District, Jinan, China
Opening Hours: Mon - Sun: 8AM-5PM
Telephone: +86 531 8281-8666
Admission: 100 RMB
Treehouses: Call 0531-82813136 or 15066101965 to book
Price: From 200 RMB ($40 SGD) a night
2. Dine in an old-school steam train
Students can get on board with this school canteen
Located in Shandong Jianzhu University, the Train Canteen (火车餐厅) was once an active steam train in the 70s!
Today, it’s a canteen which closely resembles the original interior of the train - be prepared to be hit with a blast from the past when you enter the old-school carriages.
Each of the 9 carriages have their own menu, ranging from ramian, dumplings, and mala hotpots, to even sushi and hamburgers, so you’ll be utterly spoilt for choice.
Spicy braised beef noodles
And at 20-30 RMB ($4-6 SGD), the food comes in humongous portions that’ll leave your tummy absolutely stuffed. We sure are on board with that.
Address: Shandong University, Fengming Road, Lingang Development Zone, Lishicheng District, Jinan, China
Telephone: +86 (0)531-86361367
Opening Hours: Vary from shop to shop, but mostly during the day and evenings.
3. Whizz down the 1000 Buddha Mountain (千佛山) on a slide
Thrill seekers, 1000 Buddha Mountain (千佛山) is a must-visit when you’re in Jinan. Famous for its many Buddha statues, the stunning views from its peak isn’t the only thing that’ll get your adrenaline pumping - there’s also an exhilarating slide down the mountain.
This is what awaits you, but hold your horses - you need to climb up first.
Keep that for the end though, because the slide is situated halfway up the mountain - you wouldn’t want to climb up halfway, slide down, and then climb up once more to the top.
To make the most of your time there, we’ve devised a game plan for you:
One of the most prominent statues - a 20m sitting Buddha
Venture straight up the main route and it’ll take only 30 minutes to get to the peak. But if you like to cover every inch of the mountain, explore side paths where you’ll discover caves, temples and all sorts of Buddha carvings in various poses and sizes. Note: You’ll need at least 3 hours!
Rest your legs at the quaint teahouse that’s at the halfway mark up. It serves up Chinese tea and snacks like fried pancake and cup noodles, so you’ll be able to refuel and recharge.
Warning: Here on out, steps are going to get a lot steeper!
It’ll all be worth it once you’ve reached the top of the mountain though, with a magnificent bird’s eye view of the city as your reward.
Once you’re ready to start making your way down, keep a lookout for signs pointing to the Slideway Station (滑道下站). An extremely fun 2-minute ride down with loads of sharp bends, you’ll feel like the lead actor in Initial D.
Address: Qianfoshan,18 Jingshiyi Lu, Lixia District, Jinan, China 250014
Opening Hours: Mon - Sun: 6AM-6PM
Admission: 30 RMB
Slideway Station Opening Hours: 8.30AM-4.30PM
Ticket Fee: Slide Up: 15RMB, Slide Down: 25RMB, Return Trip: 30RMB
4. Climb up to “heaven” atop Mount Tai (泰山)
Catch the sunrise at the Sun Viewing Peak
If you’re familiar with Chinese idioms, you might’ve heard of Wen Ru Tai Shan (稳如泰山) - unshakeable as the mountain - or Deng Tai Shan Er Xiao Tian Xia (登泰山而小天下) - the world seems small at the peak of Mount Tai, meaning one has a broad view of affairs at elevated positions in life.
Indeed, magical views await you on the 1,500m-high peak of Mount Tai, which is one of China's 5 Sacred Mountains.
Image credit: 林镜缘
Start your journey at Dai Temple, modelled after the Imperial Palace when it was built during the Han Dynasty - it’s surrounded by cypress trees that were planted by the Emperor himself!
Tip: It’s local tradition to pray for safety before climbing up the mountain - buy some joss sticks when you’re near the train station where it’ll be cheaper, and spend another 100 RMB ($20 SGD) or so for donations in exchange for blessings.
It takes about 4-7 hours to ascend the summit - thankfully, there are plenty of rest stops!
To get the most authentic Mount Tai experience, take the East Route up the infamous 6,293 Official Mountain Walkway Steps.
The steps will take you to heaven - literally - at Tianjie (天街), which means “sky street” in Mandarin. It's awash with eateries, gift shops, and actual hotels - no need to spend the night in a tent in the wilderness!
We think Tianjie looks a lot like Spirited Away - sans the lanterns
Pro tip for the not so climbing-inclined among us: Take a bus at the foot of the mountain from Tianwaicun (天外村) for just 30 RMB ($6 SGD) one-way, which will take you halfway up to Zhongtianmen (中天门).
From there, either climb your way up to Nantianmen (南天门), a short 15-minute walk away from Tianjie (天街) and Sun Viewing Peak, or take a cable car for 100 RMB ($20 SGD) and voilà - same breathtaking view, with legs still intact.
A bird’s eye view from within the cable car
Tip: temperatures in winter will be around 10°C lower than that in the city, so dress in layers with a lightweight winter coat that you can take on and off when climbing.
The hotels here sometimes thoughtfully provide a heavy-duty winter coat for catching the sunrise - like the black one I’m wearing.
Address: Hongmen Road, Taishan District, Tai'an 271000, Shandong Province, China
Admission: 127 RMB
Feeder Bus Operating Hours: 6AM-5PM, 12AM-3AM
Cable Car Operating Hours Jan - March, Nov, Dec: 8AM-5PM | April - Oct: 6.30AM-5.30PM
Getting There: It’s located to the south of Jinan, so you’ll have to take a D-train (50 minutes) from Jinan Railway Station to Taishan Railway Station.
5. Enjoy tea made with spring water at Black Tiger Spring (黑虎泉)
Jinan’s also known as the City of Springs, being home to over 70 springs. And one of the city’s most famous and largest spring is Black Tiger Spring (黑虎泉) - which houses a teahouse that uses its spring water for brewing tea.
Yes, that’s Huquange (虎泉阁), which takes “lim teh” to a whole new level. One pot of tea will set you back 38-368 RMB ($8-75 SGD), depending on the grade of the tea leaves, and you can munch on snacks like peanuts and dried banana chips from 5-30 RMB ($1-6 SGD) here.
Fun fact: Did you know that spring water has many health benefits? This includes keeping your bones and teeth strong, and it even neutralises the acidity in your body. So, drink up!
Black Tiger Spring (黑虎泉) also gave us a rare glimpse into the lives of locals:
Many were fetching spring waters with containers brought from home, taking strolls along the crystal clear waters of the spring pool, and even drinking water directly from the edges of the pool with cupped hands!
Address: Black Tiger Spring, South Moat, Lixia District, Jinan, China 250000
Opening Hours: 24 hours daily
6. Go on a foodie adventure with street food at Furong Street and Kuanhouli (宽厚里)
Jinan’s famous for their crispy fried vegetable pancakes, but don’t get misled by its name - it comes with a generous portion of ham
Conveniently just a stone’s throw away from Black Tiger Spring, Kuanhouli (宽厚里) is the perfect place to head to for some tasty bites after you’ve fully recharged in its teahouse.
Right smack in the middle of the city, this labyrinth of backstreets is where the locals go for mouth-watering street food, which includes both traditional and new-age chow.
From smelly tofu and crispy vegetable pancakes that Jinan’s known for, to cheese tarts and even our favourite Gong Cha, Kuanhouli is the juxtaposition of old-meets-new - and especially so with its traditional courtyard-house architecture amidst high-rise buildings.
Malt candy from one of the few street carts around Kuanhouli
Restaurants and cafes are also available if you’re aching for a sit-down dinner, and while Kuanhouli’s crowd usually starts growing at night, the streets are pretty wide - which means you won’t have to push your way through throngs of humans!
Address: Near Shimao International Plaza, 187 Heihuquan North Road, Lixia District, Jinan, China
Constantly bustling with a crowd that’s comparable to the one Taiwan’s night markets draw, Furong Street’s street food may not be the highlight here, but there’s still all sorts for you to fill your tummy with, priced at around 2 - 40 RMB ($0.50 - $9 SGD).
From traditional snacks like fried pancakes and meat skewers to more international ones like takoyaki, there’s even a stall selling deep fried creepy crawlies for those adventurous souls who are game enough.
Not for the faint-hearted: take your pick from cicadas, crickets, scorpions, and grasshoppers
Once you get past the fact that you’re eating an insect, the salty and slightly peppery seasoning is actually pretty tasty
Address: Fu Rong Jie, QuanCheng Lu ShangQuan, Lixia Qu, Jinan Shi, Shandong Sheng, China 250000
7. Uncover 2-in-1 cafes and vintage shops at Furong Street (芙蓉街)
If old-school’s right up your alley, you’ll be stoked to know that 古着店 Vintage Shop will whisk you way back past your time.
It’s a true treasure trove, being packed with antique dolls, collectibles, military items, and dresses that remind you of the Victorian era.
And here’s a little secret...head up the stairs to 分子车门 Cafe!
Can you spot the cat?
With all sorts of paraphernalia, 分子车门 Cafe is cosy, comforting, and homey - which is not surprising, since it’s also where the cafe owner resides with her family and 3 cats. Yes, 3 cats.
The cafe serves a limited quantity of handmade desserts each day which includes tiramisu, chocolate mousse, and cheesecake. You’ll also be able to pick from the usual coffee and tea selections like latte and cappuccino (18 - 39 RMB, $3.70 - $8 SGD) - so have a cuppa or entertain yourself with the cafe’s books and board games.
The cafe offers seasonal drinks as well, like Apple Ginger Tea and Orange and Red Date Tea that’s great for warming you up during winter!
We had the Apple Ginger Tea and boy, did it warm our bellies
Address: No. 89 Furong Street
8. Snag great deals at Jinan’s New World Shopping Mall (新世界商城)
Great deals aren’t just a BKK thing - at New World Shopping Mall, Jinan’s very own air-conditioned Chatuchak, you can get all sorts of things for cheap, ranging from clothes and leather goods, to household items and office supplies, and even intricate water paintings and tea sets.
Clothes can go as low as 25 RMB on sale racks, and sneakers can be bought at about 75 RMB, with leather shoes going for around 100-200 RMB
With the myriad of stalls inside the mall, it’s almost like a maze in there - so if you know what you’re looking for, keep a lookout for the floor directory overhead the staircases instead, because it’ll tell you what each level has to offer.
Address: 15 Ma’anshan Lu, Tianqiao District, Jinan, China
Opening Hours: 8.30AM-5.30PM
9. Lose yourself in ancient China on Qushuiting Street (曲水亭街)
If you grew up watching Chinese period dramas like Huan Zhu Ge Ge (还珠格格), walking along the canal of Qushuiting Street will bring back a flood of memories and nostalgia with its line-up of quaint shops selling old Chinese crafts like calligraphy, handheld paper fans, and wooden carvings.
Make sure to venture into the neighbouring streets that are also worth exploring, with traditional-looking houses that are actually shops, antique stores, restaurants, cafes, and teahouses for you to chill at.
Here’s the best part. During the warmer months between March and September, some of the cafes and teahouses will have chairs and tables set up by the canal from as early as 9AM to as late as 1-2AM - great for some late-night hanging out.
These streets are usually filled with locals relaxing at tables and chairs by the canal on warmer days
Even when night falls and the shops close, Qushuiting Street is still worth a visit - some of the houses will light up, which makes for a romantic stroll after dinner. Investigate the alleys of the streets nearby and you’ll be able to find yourself a couple of hole-in-the-wall bars as well!
Address: Qu Shui Ting Jie, QuanCheng Lu ShangQuan, Lixia Qu, Jinan Shi, Shandong Sheng, China, 250000
10. Walk along the oldest stretch of China’s Great Wall
The Great Wall of Qi stretches across an impressive 600 km and starts right from Jinan
Coming in at a close second to Beijing’s Great Wall of China in terms of majesty, Jinan’s Great Wall of Qi is the oldest existing Great Wall in China that started construction in 685 BC, to act as a barrier against foreign enemies.
I half-expected to be greeted by a moat whenever I made a turn
Aptly enough, it made me feel as though I was wandering about in an ancient castle with its haphazard stacking of rocks held in place by a combination of mud, coarse sand, and lime blocks - the cement of their time.
Don’t miss this! Look out for this wooden sign to know that you’re at the start of the trek.
You’ll come across a long flight of stairs that’ll lead you to a Taoist temple
A Taoist temple should be in sight when you’re halfway along, and if you’re lucky, you just might run into the temple’s resident golden retriever, Huan Huan (欢欢), who’ll be more than happy to be your friendly doggo guide up.
Huan Huan even responds to simple commands like “zou” (go) and “guo lai” (come here)
Once you’ve passed the temple, just keep on following the stone steps - look out for a rock that says “孟姜女” (Meng Jiang Nu), because that means you’re on the right track.
Note: Situated in a rural part of Jinan, it’s difficult to hail a cab at the Great Wall of Qi, so make a deal with your cab driver to wait for you while you go exploring - you’ll only need 2 hours tops.
Address: Xiaoli Town, Zhangda Road, Changqing District, Jinan, China 250302
Opening Hours: 8AM-5PM
Telephone: +86 633 622 2177
Admission: 25 RMB
Scoot off to Jinan
When we think about quick getaways, China is not really at the top of our go-to destinations. But Jinan has left both the city dweller and nature lover in us completely mesmerised and itching to go back for more of its addictive blend of untouched beauty and old-world hipster charm.
A 5-hour trip might sound daunting on a budget airline, but thankfully with Scoot’s Airbus 320, there was no need to worry about stiff necks and backaches en route at all - their standard seats were just as roomy as the ones in full-service airlines, and longer-legged peeps can even opt for Stretch seats of up to 50% more legroom available at an additional cost of $49 SGD.
Airplane meals are also notoriously infamous - and not for a good reason - but Scoot’s Premium Selection in-flight meals were a very pleasant and tasty surprise.
Signature Nasi Goreng with Chicken Satay
Each Premium Selection meal comes with two deluxe sides and a drink, and includes Teriyaki Chicken, Braised Beef Cheek with Penne, and local signatures like Chicken Rice and Nasi Goreng with Chicken Satay.
Braised Beef Cheek with Penne
While the Nasi Goreng was flavourful with perfectly seasoned satay, special mention goes to the Braised Beef Cheek with Penne, which had extremely tender and juicy chunks of meat in generous heaps - something you’d expect to find at a restaurant instead!
Currently, Scoot has direct flights to 17 cities in China. With it operating the only direct budget flight to Jinan at steal this 2nd - 6th Jan starting from just $168, you can now give the overly-touristy getaway destinations a miss and embark on a journey less-travelled in Jinan yourself!
This post was brought to you by Scoot.