Founded in approximately 620, during the Tang Dynasty, Anren's (安仁古镇) well-preserved mansions lend to its national reputation as a historical town.
Most buildings date to the late Qing Dynasty (early 20th century), with Liu's Manor, considered the country's best-preserved example of a feudal landowner's mansion, the most well-known among them.
In total, there are 27 such mansions, which have been converted to museums.
These in addition to the more recently opened Jianchuan Museum Cluster give way to Anren's status as a museum town particularly noteworthy for its architecture.
The mansions combine elements of both Eastern and Western design; the Anren Middle School was the first steel structure built in southwest China.
Alongside the museums is the old town with its three main streets, Hongxing Jie, Shuren Jie, and Yumin Jie, which are lined with shops that have been, for the most part, thoughtfully executed; each one seems to have been assigned to its spot, and a sign in English and Chinese hangs above each doorway explaining the significance of the shop—whether it trades in bicycles, memorabilia, old-style pictures and posters, or old furniture.
Some shops seem to be more display than place of commerce; a "communications shops" features old phones, recording equipment, and typewriters.
At the end of the lane, climb the rickety stairs to the second floor of the memorabilia shop to leaf through 1980s gossip magazines featuring photos of a young Jackie Chan.
Opposite this shop is a cinema playing both films and hosting live performances, and next to it is a restaurant with large courtyard.
At the end of the street, visitors can hop on board southwest China's only tram, a single-car, electric vehicle styled to resemble an old-fashioned streetcar to make the 1.8-km, 20-minute loop. Two trams run continuously between 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
The tram departs from the Passenger Service Center and passes Minguo Fengjing Jie Station, Anren Old Street Station, Liu Xiang's Mansion Station, and the Western Sichuan Folk Customs Museum Station before arriving at its final destination, Liu's Manor Museum Station. A ticket to ride costs RMB5.
Anren Old Town (安仁古镇) is in Dayi County (大邑县), approximately 70 kilometers southwest of Chengdu. Buses depart to Anren every 40 minutes from Jinsha Station; buses to Dayi (RMB13) depart from the same station more frequently. From Dayi, passengers can take a public bus No. 11 (RMB3), shared minivan (RMB4.5 per person, makes stops along the way), taxi, or private car (RMB30 to 40) to Anren. The total journey lasts approximately 2 hours. The last Chengdu-bound bus departs at 6 p.m. from Anren Tourist Center and at 6:30 p.m. from the Dayi Bus Station. Alternatively, buses also depart for Anren from Chengdu's Shiyangchang Station, Shuangliu Station, and Chongzhou Station.
The Red Age Living Theme Hotel (红色年代生活主题酒店) is a three-star hotel with a Cultural Revolution-era decoration scheme. Standard rooms start at around RMB250. For a pricier option, look for the small guesthouses inside the old town itself in old courtyard-style buildings (make reservations early as they go quickly).
If walking around the old town and visiting the many museums and mansions leaves you beat (or bored), head down the road for a stay at the Golden Water Valley, a wood cabin lodge nestled in a hillside. The surroundings offer myriad opportunities for swimming, hiking, and wildlife watching. From the Dayi Bus Station, take public bus No. 12 to Heming Shan and take it to the end of the line. You'll see a temple. Backtrack across the bridge and make a right on a small concrete road. You can walk up the mountain, take a motorbike taxi, or ring the guesthouse the day before to arrange pickup. Golden Water Valley (金水谷) Tel. 13330967559
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