Five days in Yiwu

Five days in Yiwu

Canghou district in Yiwu, China

It’s an industrial city, it’s where retailers and wholesalers go to buy goods and it seems to be a place that offers a wealth of employment opportunities. For us, it was five days in Yiwu scouring the International Trade City and walking an average of 10 kilometres a day through its gargantuan buildings and surrounding districts.

One thing I can confidently say is that it’ll be quite some time before Yiwu joints the likes of Paris, Rio or even Dubbo as a must-see travel destination.

Now that I’ve been here three times I’ve grown to appreciate this town for what it is. And since my last work trip to Yiwu four years ago, I’ve noticed some significant changes. A whole new downtown area that sprung up from an empty plot of land and a great deal of roadside garden landscaping and riverside wetlands that help colour up what’s an otherwise bleak-looking city.

Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

Canghou district in Yiwu, China

Ok, that’s not entirely true. There are many pockets of well-established parks that help clear some of that pollution that blankets this part of China. I even noticed mountains on the edge of the city this time around, something that was enveloped by thick haze on my last two visits.

See that cluster of towers in the below photo? None of that was there four years ago, and a similar new cluster is located to the right of it. The economy here is clearly on the up.

Yiwu skyline from the Ramada Plaza Hotel

Canghou District in Yiwu, China

Community noticeboard in Yiwu, China

Canghou District in Yiwu

Toddler sleeping

Work usually started at 9am, which meant I had time to hit the streets and laneways bright and early to discover more parts of the city.

Tucked in the backstreets near the Ramada, where we stayed, I stumbled upon a couple of places serving up breakfast to the locals. This little hole in the wall specialised in youtiao – fried sticks of dough – and something very similar to cong hua bing, which I watched being made.

Well then that’s breakfast sorted.

Basically the guy rolled out some dough, layered it with spring onions and bits of meat, covered it, flattened it, then baked it in the barrel-like wood oven infront of his shop. At only ¥2 each, I grabbed a couple, parked my backside on one of the minuscule wooden stools on the pavement, and tucked into the freshly-baked goodness.

A mother and child joined my rickety table, themselves devouring youtiao with a bowl of warmed soy milk with sugar added to it.

Yidong Road in Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

Youtiao in Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

Cong hua bing restaurant in Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

Cong hua bing in Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

Backstreets in Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

The pocket of the city I was exploring kept drawing me in, urging me to wander around every corner. A labyrinth of passages buzzing with people heading for work, going for a morning stroll or setting up market stands. And something tells me they may not get foreigners in their neighbourhood too often, judging by the many double takes I received. Or maybe it was my freakish height in comparison to their 5-foot-nothingness.

Roof tiles in Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

Backstreets in Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

Covered market in Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

Covered market in Yiwu, China

I ended up at the place I always started my days on previous visits to Yiwu. Xiaozici Park. It’s the most perfect spot to recharge and start the day. Women dancing, men doing tai chi, dogs running about and others simply walking around.

Many pathways snake around a lotus-filled waterway, with hills and pockets of shaded forest to enjoy. The serenity was purely intoxicating.

Xiaozici Park in Yiwu, China

Xiaozici Park in Yiwu, China

Xiaozici Park in Yiwu, China

Xiaozici Park in Yiwu, China

Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

From greenery in the park to the grit of industrial Yiwu. Talk about a contrast in landscapes. I guess we were here for work, but at least we could stop at one of the numerous food stations in Trade City to keep the energy levels up.

Our favourite one was the newer food hall we ate at last time. Namely because they serve the most incredible soya beans ever – tossed with a little chilli, tiny bits of pork and not much more. We arrived pretty late as there were only dregs left after the main lunch rush, but still enough to choose from.

Another new favourite was the stir-fried mushrooms, tofu and minced pork. So incredibly tasty.

I craved some dumplings and chose the only two that were available – one with finely chopped tofu and vegetables and another with pumpkin and ginger. They’re simply tossed into boiling water, drained and quickly caramelised on a hotplate. Sensational.

Cafeteria in Yiwu International Trade City

Stir-fried mushrooms

Vegetable dumplings

Cafeteria in Yiwu International Trade City

Neighbourhood market produce in Yiwu

Closer to home – the Ramada, that is – we took an after-work stroll to a neighbourhood market we went to on the last visit. It’s hidden away on a road between Huagong Road and Xiaozici Park, runs from morning to evening and is a fascinating place to explore.

So much fresh food!

This trip to Yiwu introduced us to waxberries, or yang-mei, a fruit we’d never tried before. The incredibly juicy fruit is native to China and has a sweet tart flavour like a cross between cherry, mulberry and loquat.

Neighbourhood market in Yiwu

Neighbourhood market in Yiwu

Neighbourhood market in Yiwu | heneedsfood.com

Neighbourhood market in Yiwu

Cooked meat and offal – some you recognise, others are a pure guessing game.

Neighbourhood market in Yiwu

Snake beans, eggplant, melons and the freshest young ginger I’ve ever seen. Or how about some white cherries? The produce at Chinese markets is undeniably fresh and the cherry tomatoes are the best I’ve ever eaten. Nothing at home in Australia, or anywhere else I’ve travelled compares.

Neighbourhood market in Yiwu

Street scenes in Yiwu

Food cart in Yiwu, China

So much to see in the gritty backstreets near Gongren N Road. Notice all the caged in balconies on the old apartments in the next photo? Something tells me this may not be a flash part of town.

Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

Scarf district in Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

View from my room at the Ramada. I found it all too easy to crack open a local beer, sit and be mesmerised by that traffic circle at night.

Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

Weeping willow

Another place that’s worthy of a visit is Luo Binwang Park – built to commemorate Luo Binwang, a famous poet born in Yiwu in BC627 during the Tang Dynasty.

It’s a beautiful place to meander and explore, relax and escape the busy city outside its walls. It’s said that the park was built on the place where Luo frequently visited as a child, and many say that his spirit still lingers there today.

Luo Binwang Park in Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

Luo Binwang Park in Yiwu

Blossoms in Luo Binwang Park in Yiwu

Luo Binwang Park in Yiwu

Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

Da'an temple tower Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

Not too far from Luo Binwang Park is Xiuhu Lake Park, home to the Da’an temple tower – built in 1110 AD. It’s an impressive old structure overlooking the lake, which is the centrepiece to this beautiful park in the middle of Yiwu.

Every morning it’s filled with hundreds of people exercising, singing, socialising or just sitting about. A couple of pavilion complexes can be found near the tower, one of which is used as exhibition space as well as somewhere to sit and play cards or chess.

Xiuhu Park, Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

Xiuhu Park, Yiwu

Xiuhu Park, Yiwu

Xiuhu Park, Yiwu

Xiuhu Park, Yiwu

The music here was blaring and those people were getting right into their group exercise session. Kind of like an exercise flash mob!

Xiuhu Lake Park, Yiwu

Xiuhu Lake Park, Yiwu

Xiuhu Lake Park, Yiwu

Xiuhu Lake Park, Yiwu

Would love to know what this guy was writing with water on the pavement. Can anyone enlighten me?

A few people set up shop on the walkway, selling things like ginseng, trinkets and books. You could smell that ginseng a mile away!

Ginseng in Yiwu

Xiuhu Lake Park, Yiwu

Xiuhu Lake Park, Yiwu

Yiwu, Zhejiang Province

Noticeboard in Yiwu, China

  • Bel | Ooh, Look…

    hi John, Fantastic story and photos! It’s not likely that I’ll ever find myself in Yiwu, but it is a fascinating place, caught between old China and new industry. Who knows what it will be like in another 4 years?

    • Hey there Bel! I’m not sure if or when my next Yiwu trip may be. I used to bag the place, but now I appreciate it for what it is. It doesn’t take long before you find parts of what Yiwu must’ve been like before industry hit town.

  • I have never been in China, thanks for the beautiful photos and tour.

  • You sure make the best out of a business trip! The parks look so beautiful, and the food adventures make me seriously jealous!

    • For some reason I was awake at 5.30 or 6 every morning, it beats sitting around the hotel room!

      • My usual wake up time is about 5:00am and, like you, I take advantage of meandering at that time when I travel. The lighting is the best then, and it’s really fun to see the city wake up. (Especially as I am an early-to-bed kinda guy and never see any city go to sleep!)

  • KevinIsCooking

    On our last trip over to China all I remember about the growing landscape were the endless cranes in motion. Crazy building happening over there. That pic with the little boy sleeping in the chair is classic! I love going down alleys and seeing the everyday people and their cooking stalls. The man making the stuffed breads has me hungry now. Thanks! Love all these wonderful garden photos and the man with the water brush on pavement brings back memories.
    You mentioned “Dubbo” in the opening, where is that?

    • Dubbo is a small, sleepy rural city about 5 hours from Sydney. Its Old Gaol, Western Plains Zoo and vineyards are tourist magnets compared to Yiwu’s local attractions!

  • Barry Ozmo

    i loved that pic of the well dressed woman preparing food who matched her mop and the small pile of bricks/pavers behind her and the stone cut to prop up the sink.that mapbox is useful tool for when you go to that town and can go to the same food venues that you list.i did that in hanoi years back.

  • Oh my gosh, John, absolutely loved every one of these pics. You’ve captured so many scenes of ordinary life so extraordinarily well. And the food – argh. It looks so darn tasty!

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