An old Chinese legend has it that when Genghis Khan pillaged and ransacked his way through feudal China he left the city of Kaifeng unscathed because it was home to the country's brightest thinkers, best architects and engineers, and most beautiful chrysanthemums.
True or not, Kaifeng to this day retains a wealth of historic buildings, most standing within the Kaifeng's ancient tamped-earth city walls, making it one of central China's hidden gems. The nearby Yellow River, with its history of flooding the area with silt-laden water, has not only buried much of the ancient Song Dynasty capital under meters of rich, loose soil, but has helped keep Kaifeng from suffering the fate of many similarly sized Chinese cities—the combination of loose soil and unexcavated archeological sites has put the brakes on large-scale development projects, preserving a warmer and smaller downtown on a more relaxed human scale than you'll find in many modern Chinese cities.
An hour from both Zhengzhou and Shaolin Temple, and three hours from Luoyang, Kaifeng is small by Chinese standards (population: 4 million) and a welcome change of pace from the high-powered urban buzz of outsized growth champions further to the east. Despite its charms and historical interest, Kaifeng remains a secondary destination for most foreign tourists in China, which is a bit of a puzzle, as the combination of ancient relics, history, culture and cuisine make it an outstanding destination.
Most of Kaifeng's better hotels are within the city walls and walking distance of major Kaifeng attractions like the Iron Pagoda, Kaifeng Museum, Yanqing Temple, Shanshangan Guild Hall and Longting Park, where each October the annual Kaifeng Chrysthanthemum Festival is held. Just to the south of the city walls stands the ancient Buddhist Fan Pagoda, and ten kilometers to the north of downtown Kaifeng the mighty Yellow River wends its silty way east.
Built in 1049 AD, the Iron Pagoda (Tie Ta) is the most famous monument in Kaifeng. Ironically not made of iron, but actually glazed bricks, the Buddhist pavillion is still..
Longting Gongyuan, or Dragon Pavilion Park as it is known in English, is home to the annual Kaifeng Chrysanthemum Festival (held in late September and early October,..