Tom Cranshaw, our Product Executive, recently returned from a China Tour where he discovered stunning Hubei Province. Visiting an area relatively untouched by western tourists, read his trip report below to inspire you on your China tour.
Route: Wuhan > Yichang > Shennongjia > Wuhan
Wuhan: the Capital of Hubei Province
Last week, I had the fortunate opportunity to travel to China to take a tour of Hubei Province. Located in Central China, Hubei has an abundance of stunning natural scenery, modern cities and authentic Chinese culture. Whilst in Hubei, I visited three destinations: Wuhan, Yichang and Shennongjia.
On arrival in Wuhan, it was clear that parts of the city were undergoing a regeneration and that within a year, many areas would be thriving shopping and restaurant districts.
Whilst in Wuhan we visited three main sights. The first was the Yellow Crane Tower. Originally perched on the banks of the Yangtze River, the Yellow Crane Tower now stands on top of a hill in the centre of the city and is situated in an almost religious park, with a number of Buddhist and Taoist statues and images dotted around. Whilst at the Yellow Crane Tower, we went to the third floor of the five-floored structure which gave impressive views over the city. The legend of the yellow crane has many sources and we were informed that poems that refer to the Yellow Crane are often studied in Chinese schools.
The second was the Wanda Movie Park, an indoor theme park which relies on the newest 4D technology to thrill its visitors. Designed by Mark Fisher, who was behind the architecture at the Beijing Olympics opening and closing ceremonies and Cirque de Soleil, the structure of Wanda Movie Park resembles the circular shape of the Guggenheim Museum in New York and is said to be inspired by Han Dynasty pottery.
The next day we visited the Hubei Provincial Museum where our guide, Grant, gave us an exciting account on the discovery of the Tomb of the Marquis of Zeng, a well-established and esteemed official dating back to the Warring States Period – 5th century BC – 300 years older than the Terracotta Warriors!
Yichang: Home to the Three Gorges Dam
We then travelled to Hubei’s impressive Hankou Railway Station where we took a fast train to Yichang. The train was extremely efficient, comfortable and offered great scenic views of the Hubei countryside: a mixture of small villages and a patchwork of paddy fields.
Yichang was previously a small town until construction of the Three Gorges Dam began. With this, an influx of workers from Sichuan Province moved to the area increasing the city’s population and size. With such a large influx of Sichuan people, the city is heavily influenced by Sichuan culture and Mala cuisine. Yichang was voted as one of the cleanest cities in China, and it is noticeable in comparison to Wuhan which is clearly a larger, industrial city.
The next day we took a tour of the Three Gorges Dam which is, as everyone in the group said, an extremely impressive sight and an engineering masterpiece. The power created by the dam is so great, that the guide said the extensive loan China took to build the dam would be paid off in only 9 years!
We next took a cruise on the Yangtze River and then onto one of the tributaries, the Xiang Stream, where the water suddenly turned a clear turquoise blue. We were told the further upstream on the Xiang Stream, the cleaner the water was: so clean that you could drink it.
On board the cruise ship, we were provided with a very hospitable service and received an interesting show on the cultures and traditions of the Tujia people, native to the area. We also received a feast of Chinese cuisine which was very tasty. The journey in total was around 2.5 hours. We were told that it takes 5 hours to make the journey by road as much of it was underdeveloped.
Shennongjia: Famous for ‘Wild Men’
We arrived into Shennongjia, located in the north of Hubei Province. In complete contrast to the urban centres of Wuhan and Yichang, Shennongjia provided a haven of luscious tea plantations, tree-coated mountains and cool clean airs. We were taken to our hotel in around 1 hour 30 minutes by winding our way up the hillsides of this idyllic destination. We later took an excursion to see the Shennong Altar. This is one of the most unusual sights I have ever seen. A stone sculpture of the Shennong God (with the face of a human and cow horns on its head) stands at the top of a large hill with steps leading up to it. At the bottom of the stairs, you have the opportunity of lighting incense in prayer to this famous cultural figure whilst Chinese spiritual music plays in the background – a truly memorable experience.
The next day we enjoyed a full day of touring the region. We started our journey by travelling further up the hills to get a new and exciting opportunity to visit the rare Golden snub-nosed monkeys in their natural habitat. On arrival we were told to put on provided camouflage lab coats so as not to scare the monkeys. We then trekked further and further into the wooded area until we reached a small stream where, on the other side, a family of 20 monkeys were being fed, about 5 metres from us. The photo opportunities were unbelievable and our spot was so near, at points you could almost touch them. On the way back to the coach, two baby monkeys came out of nowhere and came within less than a metre of us. One of the braver members started feeding them leaves and it was almost like they enjoy the opportunity of being centre of attention!
We next went to the Shennong Valley which was at a height of over 3,000 metres. The views were stunning as we saw birds fly freely over the canyon and azaleas of all different colours dotted on the cliff sides. Following this, we went to Hubei’s version of the Kunming Stone Forest where, legend says, is one of the hangouts of the ‘Wild Man’ (Yeren), the Chinese equivalent of Bigfoot. It is said that the Wild Man has been living in the area since the 1920’s and a number of people have claimed to have spotted this legendary man. Of course, no evidence has been salvaged. The Stone Forest was impressive and, like Kunming, a number of the large rock formations resembled animals and figures, including one called the ‘crying baby rooster’.
We next went to the Big Nine Lakes district of Shennongjia. Not dissimilar to the Lake District here in the UK, the Nine Lakes are an extensive area of marshy land, verdant fields and stunning lakes. We walked around a couple of the lakes and saw some small pagodas dotted about as well as an old rickety boat that seemed to have become stuck in the middle of a lake.
For our last day, we were taken to the Shennongjia Tourism Centre where we were given further information on the ‘Wild Man’; different minerals and jewels found in Hubei Province and the many animals that can be found in Shennongjia, including the Asian bear and leopard.
We then took an epic journey back to Wuhan which included a transfer from Shennongjia to the ferry terminal, ferry journey to Yichang, train journey to Wuhan and then a transfer to the hotel! Though tiring, it was a great opportunity to catch those photos we missed when travelling from Wuhan to Yichang previously.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Hubei Province. The mixture and distinctions of the three destinations I visited showed the diverse nature of the province. I feel that Shennongjia will be the next scenic area to hit the western market, following in the footsteps of Jiuzhaigou and Zhangjiajie. It is clearly still aimed heavily at the domestic market in regards to hotels, restaurants and shops but I feel there is an opportunity for the area to take advantage of the western market.
Tom has also written about his travels in Vietnam.
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