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Kunming's antique markets – great places to spend your weekend

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Looking for a fun way to spend a weekend morning in Kunming? Visiting one of the city's antique markets could be a delightful experience.

Antiques can give us a window into cultural history – they are just like fossils for a modern generation to study and live alongside times that otherwise belong to the past. Each item has its own historical narrative.

The most extensive antique markets in China are concentrated in northern cities, mainly due to the majority of administrative centers in Chinese history were located in the north, as well as dozens of cultural landmarks.

Yunnan, in the more remote southwest, once was home to the Dian people who inhabited the Dianchi Lake plateau that is now part of Kunming City. They were a highly developed ancient civilization who left behind a series of cast bronze objects. Combined with the relics from the Nanzhao Kingdom from Dali, many of the antique markets represent these parts of Kunming and Yunnan history around the Spring City.

There used to be many lively antique markets in Kunming. Nowadays, two markets are still bustling on the weekends, and they offer a great way to learn about Chinese culture, and especially Yunnan history through the interesting objects sold there as well as their unique atmosphere.

Huguo Antique Market

Hidden in a courtyard at 64 Huguo Lu, Huguo Antique Market is a real veteran of Kunming's antique market scene. The yard market was constructed in the form of Chinese classical quadrangles, imitating the style of the ancient Ming and Qing Dynasties.

Passing through the carved wooden door, you are entering a magnificent flea market filled with every kind of object you can possibly imagine, and maybe some you can't.

Many of the antiques were brought here by collectors – some traveling around the province regularly for the sole purpose of finding these precious items. The shops and merchants here all have their own special sources of antiques.

Every weekend from around 8:30am, peddlers from around Kunming arrive and open their stalls. You can find all sorts of interesting things here, including porcelain and pottery, paintings and calligraphy, woodcarvings, old coins, stones, jade, bronzeware, old watches and jewelry, and other items from a past era.

The shops on the doorway are mainly selling jadeite jewelries. It's said that some objects on sale are centuries old and of significant value, but you'll need a professional eye to pick them out.

The market fills up from around 9am, and even if you are not a professional antique hunter, you can still find some interesting objects which you have likely never seen in your life before. More importantly, most items here are quite cheap, and you can practice your bargaining skills to get a great deal if you are in the mood.

The building has three floors. The outdoor flea market in the courtyard and the stalls on the third floor only open on weekends, while the indoor antique shops on the second floor open every day. On a warm and sunny day, it's particularly pleasant to go up to the third floor and explore the stalls there.

Jingxing Antique Market

Looking for something delicate but not too "old"? The Jingxing Weekend Antique Market could be the place for you, and as a bonus it's part of Kunming Old Street, which features some of the best kept old buildings from a number of dynasties in the center of the Spring City. A great place for visitors to have a chance to explore the only historical district left in the city.

The market is located in Jingxue Alley at Old Street. It's not as lively and bustling as Huguo Antique Market, but you can still find exquisite items to fall in love with.

There is an unwritten rule that the stalls in Jingxing Market only sell merchandise made in the present era, and this is what differentiates it from Huguo Market. Beautifully embroidered shoes with an affordable price tag will be a nice present, and there are many more to discover there.

If you are looking for authentic Chinese gifts to take home, the weekend antique markets won't disappoint you.

Both markets are located in the center of town and offer great places to explore after a morning of antiques shopping. Both Nanping Pedestrian Street is just 400 meters from the Huguo Antique Market and can be considered the city center proper. At night time one can explore many local snacks at stalls along part of Nanping Pedestrian Street as well as the immensely popular Nanqiang Street.

On the other end of Nanqiang Street lies Jinma Biji Square, where the two gates pictured in many photos stand proudly. Kunming Old Street is also located on the northern end of the same area, and everything is within 10-15 minutes walking distance away from each other, making for a great day out in town.

Cafe on the first floor of Family Ma courtyard
Cafe on the first floor of Family Ma courtyard

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Whenever you crouch down to look at items laid out on the ground, be sure to keep your personal belongings and valuables tucked in the center of your body to avoid being pickpocketed.

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