12-14 days

Hunan Province in China: A journey to the Valley of the Dong villages

Travel Hunan and Guangxi in China: Karst Landscapes and Drum Towers

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Travel in China: Journey through the provinces of Hunan and Guangxi in the south of China. The Guangxi province is famous for its Karst hill landscape around Guilin and Yangshuo as well as the fascinating  Longji Rice Terraces of Long Sheng. In an exciting contrast stands the rather unknown Hunan Province, which offers a lovely landscape dotted with numerous, wonderful Dong minority villages as well as beautiful "Wind and Rain Bridges". The absolute highlight of your Hunan journey is the visit of the impressive national parks Zhangjiajie and Wulingyuan. The spectacular landscape of Wulingyuan served James Cameron as a model for the film "Avatar".

Tour Information

Travel to Yangshuo in China: the dream landscape of Guangxi province, South China

Travel to Yangshuo, Guangxi Province

The rather small city of Yangshuo is situated in the middle of an enchanting landscape in Guangxi province in south China, where the idyllic "Black Dragon River" flows into the somewhat bigger Li River.

Yangshuo is surrounded by impressive limestone rock formations which loom up steeply into the sky from the surrounding emerald-green rice paddies.

The beauty of the landscape around Yangshuo is described in many Chinese folksongs, and various well-known painters and poets were also inspired by the bizarre karst hills.

The magnificent landscape around Xingping, a village on the Lu River north of Yangshuo, has even made it onto the 20 yuan note of the Chinese currency.

That fairy-tale setting around Yangshuo is the starting point of your fascinating journey through the two provinces of Gaungxi and Hunan in southern China.

There is plenty of accommodation in and around Yangshuo. For those who like it a bit more quiet it is recommended to look for an accommodation in one of the many villages around Yangshuo town.

Travel to the rice terraces of Longji near Ping'An and Dazhai, China

Travel to Ping'an Longji rice terraces

From the fascinating karst landscape of Yangshuo you travel north to the impressive Long Sheng, or Longji, rice terraces.

"Longji" is what the locals call their rice terraces. Literally translated the name longji means “dragon’s back” and refers to the innumerable rice terraces that wind like a dragon through the landscape.

From Dazhai you undertake a beautiful hike through the fascinating rice terraces to Ping’An.

The car-free mountain village of Ping'An is the homeland of the Zhuang ethnic minority. On the hike to Ping'An, with a bit of luckk, you come across the women of the Yao ethnic minority.

The Yao women are known for their beautiful long hair. For that reason the Yao women around the village of Zhongliu are also called the “long-haired Yao”.

Your overnight accommodation is at Tiantouzhai, high above Dazhai in the middle of the rice terraces.

"Wind and Rain bridges”: travel through the “valley of Dong villages” in Hunan Province, China

Hunan: Drum towers and "Wind and Rain Bridges"

You travel across the border from Guangxi Province into Hunan  province and travel mainly on small back roads through the predominantly rural Hunan province.

Hunan means literally translated "South of the Lake".

Whereas in summer the roads are mainly bordered by emerald-green rice paddies, in the winter months you are accompanied by golden rapeseed fields and vegetable and cereal fields. Hunan province is one of China’s biggest producers of rice.

Again and again you come across the beautiful “Wind and Rain Bridges” characteristic of the region.

Those “wind and rain bridges”, made completely of timber, are often genuine works of art with artistic wood engravings, little towers and windows.

The roofs of those “wind and rain bridges”, pulled far down, serve as a perfect shelter from the often changing weather typical for this region.

Travel the Hunan province: the old trading town of Hongjiang

Fascinating old town of Hongjiang in Hunnan province, China

The rarely visited old town of Hongjiang is a good example of the rise and fall of so many affluent trading towns in China during the Qing dynasty.

Hongjiang was once a busy tading town for products transported on Yuan River. The many well-preserved “mansions” are till today silent witnesses of the former wealth and influence of some of the trading families in Hongjiang.

Houses with such names as “house of joy” or “house of opium” need no further explanation, and give a good insight into life in Hongjiang in the 18th and 19th centuries.

In Hongjiang you stay overnight at a rustic guesthouse in the old town of Hongjiang.

The Hunnan Province: a little bit of history before you travel

Qu Yuan, Hunnan Provinz, Dragon-Boat Races

Hunan Province is first mentioned in history around 350 B.C. during the “Warring States Period" (475-221), when Hunan province was a part of the influential Chu state, which in about 224 BC was conquered by the armies of the Qin emperor Ying Zheng (later Qin Shi Huang Di). Hunan was the site of many decisive battles between the seven rivals during the "Warring States Period".

The legend of the dragon boat festival, which is said to have originated in the Hunan province, dates also back to the “Warring State Period”. According to legend Qu Yuan is said to have jumped into Miluo River in Hunan province. Qu Yuan was an honest and upright minister at the court of the Chu emperor before he fell out of favor with the emperor due to a corrupt prince. From anxiety about the future of the Chu state Qu Yuan grabbed a large stone and leapt into Miluo River. In vain fishermen hurried to the spot in their boats to save Qu Yuan, but his body disappeared.

What remains is the tradition of the dragon boat race, which takes place every year on the 5th day of the 5th month of the Chinese calendar.

Travel the Hunan Province: From Zhangjiajie via Wulingyuan to Avatar

Certainly one of the highlights of this journey through Hunan in China is the visit to the two magical National Parks of Zhangjiajie and Wulingyuan.

Avatar sends his greetings: The Wulingyuan National Park in Hunan Province, China

You travel by one of the world’s longest cable cars up to Tianmenshan.

"Tianmen" means literally “the gate to Heaven”. The name refers to a gigantic hole in the side of Mount Tianmen which – if looked at from below and with a bit of imagination – in fact looks like a passage into the realm of the sky.

The daring ones can take the walk over a glass-bottom-bridge hanging over a vertical abyss 1000 meters deep!

That is followed up by a visit to the no less fascinating Tianzishan in the center of Wulingyuan national park. It is alleged that the spectacular red stone needles of Tianzishan near Wulingyuan served James Cameron as a model for the “hovering mountains of Pandora” in his film “Avatar”.

A fascinating China journey full of contrasts and beauties of the landscape which can excite the enthusiasm of even experienced travelers in China.

 

Tour Map

"...the journey was a complete success! Especially the landscape at the Tianzishan impressed us..."

   Francois from Switzerland


"...we got to know China from a completely different side, unknown to us. We were especially impressed by the scenic beauty of the Hunan province..."
"Thank you very much for the perfectly organized trip..."

   Heidi und Rüdiger from Germany

Tour Itinerary

Day 1:   ARRIVAL IN GUILIN AND TRAVEL TO YANGSHUO

Travel to Yangshuo, Guangxi Province

Arrival in Guilin. You can reach Guilin by high-speed train from Hong Kong in less than 4 hours. You are met by your guide either the airport or the railway station. After that you travel (one hour) to Yangshuo.

The rather small town of Yangshuo is situated in the midst of a magnificent karst mountain landscape near the Li River.

Yangshuo was discovered almost 25 years ago by backpackers and for a long time was regarded as a secluded hangout for budget travelers.

Because of its position it is a perfect set off point for many activities in the surrounding areas. After arrival you check in at the hotel.

Overnight stay in Yangshuo.

Day 2:   CHINA TOUR: YANGSHUO – XINGPING – YANGDI – YANGSHUO ODER JIUXIAN VILLAGE

Great views over Li River, Yangshuo China

Short drive to Xianggongshan. Upon arrival you walk up about 15 minutes on top of Xianggongshan, from where you have a breathtaking view of Li River and the surrounding karst landscape.

Afterwards there is a 2-hour hike through the beautiful landscape to Xingping.

You make a walking tour around Xingping old town. In Xingping you board a motorized “raft” and float at leisurely pace upstream through the wonderful karst landscape.

The unique landscape around Xingping even serves as a picture on the 20 RMB banknote. After about 2 hours you reach Yangdi. From Yangdi you drive back to Yangshuo.

Overnight accommodation at Yangshuo

Day 3:   YANGSHUO

Today you have a choice:

Fascinating landscapes around Yangshuo, Guangxi Province, China

Option 1: bicycle trip to Moon Mountain. From Yangshuo pedal through the beautiful landscape, part of the way along Yulong River to Moon Mountain.

Moon Mountain takes its name from the circular hole in its peak which is supposed to resemble a full moon. Over about 800 steps you climb up the peak of Moon Mountain, from where you enjoy a beautiful view of the surrounding karst landscape.

Option 2: Trip on a bamboo raft to Moon Mountain: short car trip to Yulong River. On a bamboo raft you float at leisurely pace through the wonderful karst landscape down Yulong River.  At the bridge your driver is again waiting for you, and he drives you in about 5 minutes to Moon Mountain. Over about 800 steps you climb up the peak of Moon Mountain, from where you enjoy a beautiful view of the surrounding karst landscape.

Optional for the evening:
In the evening we go to the show “Liu San Jie” by the director of the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, Zhang Yimou. This impressive open air show with more than 500 participants against the background of the karst hill landscape is a unique spectacle.

Day 4:   CHINA TRAVEL: YANGSHUO – DAZHAI – TIANTOUZHAI LONGSHENG RICE TERRACES

Travel to Dazhai, in the middle of the Longsheng rice terraces

Travel in a northerly direction via Hepingxiang to Dazhai. Dazhai is the set off point for the impressive rice terraces of Long Sheng, and is the homeland of the Zhuang ethnic minority.

Longji, “the backbone of the dragon”, is what the locals call the rice terraces because the terraced rice paddies snake through the landscape like a dragon.   

Afterwards you hike through the wonderful rice terraces up to the village of Tiantouzhai situated high above Dazhai Valley.

In the afternoon you have free time to do a round trip on your own initiative through the extensive rice terraces. Overnight stay in Tiantouzhai.

Day 5:   TIANTOUZHAI – HIKE FROM TIANTOUZHAI TO PING'AN – TRAVEL TO SANJIANG

Hike through the Longsheng rice terraces from Dazhai to Ping'An, China Travel

From Tiantouzhai you hike for 4-5 hours through the amazing landscape in the direction of Ping’An

In Zhongliu you will be given lunch with a local family of the Yao ethnic minority.

The Yao women are famous for their long hair. By tradition the Yao women cut their hair only once in their life, when they get 16 years old. The length of hair of the Yao women has even given them a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

You reach Ping‘ An early in the afternoon. There is time for a stroll around this car-free mountain village.

At the parking area of Ping’An your driver will be waiting for your drive to Sanjiang. Check in at the hotel. Overnight stay in Sanjiang.

Day 6:   TRAVEL THE HUNAN PROVINCE: FROM SANJIANG TO TONGDAO

You travel north across the border of the Guangxi province into Hunan province. Once inside the Hunan Province you travel a small country road through the beautiful landscape of rural Hunan province. In this area rice is planted mainly in summer; in winter mainly rapeseed and vegetables are grown.

The Dong Drum Towers in Hunan Province are popular meeting places of the villagers

Several typical “wind and rain bridges” invite you to make photo stops.

First you make a stop at the village of Zhongbu, which you enter across the Wenxing bridge. You inspect the small Buddhist temple and visit the Drum tower.

In the past every Dong village had its own drum tower. In most villages still today drum towers are used for village assemblies or weddings. As well they are popular meeting places for the elder villagers for playing cards or chess or swapping news.

The trip continues to the village of Pingtan, which is also waiting for you with a beautiful “wind and rain bridge” and a drum tower.

Near the village Henglun you stop at the wonderfully crafted Hui Long bridge. The specialty of that bridge construction is that in contrast to other wind and rain bridges it has a curve. The name “Hui Long” means literally and also fittingly “the twisted dragon”.

Village life in rural Hunnan province, China

In the village of Huangdu there is the Puxiu bridge, probably the most beautiful and impressive “wind and rain bridge” in the region.

The Puxiu bridge was built in 1865. The Puxiu bridge is known above all because it was crossed by Mao Zedong in 1934 during the Long March. That episode is known in Chinese history as the “Tongdao Crossing”.

Last of all you make a detour to the village of Yutouzai, which was founded in 1750. Apart from the lovely drumming tower, the village is known for the “overhanging pavilion”. The pleasant village atmosphere makes you want to stay longer in this lovely village.

The trip continues to Tongdao. Overnight stay in Tongdao.

Day 7:   TONGDAO – HONGJIANG – FENGHUANG

Journey to Hongjiang Old Town

Via the newly built freeway G65 you reach the city of Qiangchengchen. The town was formerly an important trading post on the Yuan River.

You take a short stroll round the old town and take a stroll along the river bank. 

After that we drive further along Yuan River to Hongjiang. Hongjiang was until the 19th century a wealthy and influential trading station for goods transported on Yuan River. You make a walking tour through the somewhat crumbling old town

Buildings with names like “house of joy” or “opium floor” do not need further explanation and give a good insight into life in a trading city during the late Qing dynasty.

You travel back to the freeway G65 for the journey to Feng Huang (2 hours). Check in at the hotel.

Overnight stay in Feng Huang.

Day 8:   FENGHUANG, HUNAN PROVINCE, CHINA

Feng Huang is an old fortress town on the Tao River. The origins of Feng Huang go back to the Spring-Autumn Annals (770-476 BC), but the town center in its present form originated in the early 18th century.

Fenghuang old town, Hunan Province

The town center of Feng Huang extends along both sides of Tuo River. The two banks are linked by many beautiful bridges. Without a doubt the most striking of those bridges is the covered Hong bridge.

Feng Huang is often described in western translations as “Phoenix City”. Like the phoenix, Feng Huang is a bird that rose up from fire and ashes and represents good luck and longevity.

In the morning you do a sightseeing tour of the town center of Feng Huang. You stroll along the old town walls and visit some of the most striking buildings in the town center.

You will also make a short boat trip on Tuo River.

Overnight stay in Feng Huang.

Day 9:   FENGHUANG – RED STONE FOREST "HONGSHILIN" – ZHANGJIAJIE – WULINGYUAN 

Hunan Travel Red Stone Forest Guzhang

After breakfast you leave Feng Huang and travel first along the freeway to Jishou. From there the journey continues on along the country road through tobacco and rice fields in a north-easterly direction to the “Red Stone Forest” (Hongshilin) near to Guzhang.

The collection of those bizarre, almost elegant stone formations dates from over 450 million years ago. When walking through that magnificent geopark you will discover more and more new and interesting stone formations.

After that you travel further via Zhangjiajie (Dayong) to Wulingyuan, the starting point for your excursion tomorrow to Tianzishan. Located in the extreme northwest of Hunan province, Wulingyuan National Park is one of China's most beautiful landscapes. Rugged limestone towers rise from low-hanging clouds and on virtually every horizontal surface, grow prehistoric, subtropical plants.

Overnight stay in Wulingyuan.

Day 10:  ZHANGJIAJIE NATIONAL PARK: WULINGYUAN / TIANZISHAN

Hunan Province in China: Wulingyuan National Park

Wulingyuan is situated about 30 km north of Zhangjiajie and is the starting point to one of the most beautiful and spectacular natural landscapes in China. The more than 3,000 reddish sandstone pillars are the main attractions of the geopark, which is on UNESCO’s heritage list.

Some of those impressive sandstone pillars tower up into the sky to as much as 200 meters from the surrounding subtropical rain forest.

You travel by the park bus to the “White Dragon Lift”. In just two minutes the three double-story lifts cover the 300 meters of difference in altitude.

After a short trip by park bus and a short walk on foot you reach the first lookout platform, from which you enjoy a first breathtaking view of the bizarre sandstone pillars.

According to reports that fairy-tale landscape served the director David Cameron as a model for the “hovering mountains of Pandora” in his film “Avatar”.

Travel Hunan: Zhangjiajie and Wulingyuan

Afterwards you travel further by park bus (about 30 minutes) to the peak of Mount Tianzi.

Short hikes to the many lookouts enable you to catch here too a fantastic view of the fissured mountain landscape of Wulingyuan.

A lovely hike of 2.5 hours (lots of steps) through pine forests take you down to the bus station „San Suo Xiao Fang“, and from there the park bus will again take you to the park exit.

Overnight stay in Wulingyuan. In the town Wulingyuan, located right outside the National Park, there is a large selection of accommodation. The palette ranges from a simple 2 star guesthouse to the modern 5 star hotel with international standards.

Day 11:  TRAVEL THE HUNAN PROVINCE: WULINGYUANG – ZHANGJIAJIE  – TIANZI SHAN – ZHANGJIAJIE 

Short drive to the main entrance. The morning program depends on the weather, your degree of fitness, and your desires and mood:

The sporty early riser will experience a magnificent 4-hour hike with magnificent views of the spectacular sandstone pillars of Huang Shi Zhai in the eastern part of the park. The cable car brings you up to Huangshi village. From there you have a fantastic view of the Wuling Mountains and the red sandstone pillars. After reaching the highest point of your walk a rather flat walking section offers once again spectacular views of the Tianzishan on the opposite side of the valley. Then follows a steep descent into the "Valley of the Golden Whip Stream". 

Hunan Travel: Magnificent views at Zhangjiajie National Park, China

If you like it more comfortable, take the Huang Shi Zhai cable car up to Huang Zhai village. A beautiful, easy  1-hour circular trail opens up beautiful views of the rugged mountain landscape. Who wants can tackle the way back on foot, along a well-maintained hiking path with many stairs that leads down to the valley. Otherwise the return journey takes place by cable car.

After that drive to Zhangjiajie, the starting point for our excursion to the “Gate to Heaven”.

You ride one of the longest cable cars in the world (7.5km) up to the summit of Tianmenshan (Heaven’s gate mountain) at 1520m.

For those with no fear of heights the walk along the glass-bottomed walkway, 60 meters long and 70 cm broad is recommended. The rocky walls fall almost 1000 meters almost vertically under your feet away into the depths. (The walk across that way can be omitted and is not an obligatory part of this hike).

Afterwards you go by cable car back to the middle station and from there by shuttle bus by a winding road to the “Gate to Heaven”, a gigantic hole on the eastern side of the mountain. Climbing 999 steps of the “Stairway to Heaven”, you reach the “Gate to Heaven” (Tianmen).

Overnight stay in Zhangjiajie.

Day 12:   ZHANGJIAJIE – CHANGSHA, CAPITAL OF HUNAN PROVINCE, CHINA

Changsha is the capital of Hunan Province and is the final destination of your trip to Hunan and Guangx in China

Travel to Changsha, the capital of Hunan province. The modern city of Changsha attracts with its contrasts. Whenever you take a glance behind the glass skyscrapers with the modern shopping centers you will still find the traditional China with its winding, busy lanes, markets, the chaos of electric cables, and of course the typical Chinese snack bars.

Depending on the time of your departure you will do a sightseeing tour of Changsha. You visit the Hunan Provincial Museum with an interesting exhibition on the early history of China. The center pieces of the exhibition are the 2000-year old Han graves, discovered in 1972 during excavations. Coffins were excavated that contained a perfectly preserved mummy and 3,000 burial objects.

As well, you visit the Yuelu Academy. Founded in 976 during the Song dynasty, the Yuelu Academy for a long time was one of the four most famous teaching institutions in China.  In 1926 the Yuelu Academy became the Hunan University. Today the Academy hosts a very informative exhibition of original scripts and documents from the periods of the Ming and the Qing.

Transfer to the airport of Changsha. End of your journey through Guangxi and Hunan Provinces in China.

Depending on your next destination you can also take the plane directly from Zhangjiajie airport. From Changsha you can continue by CRH Express trains to most major cities in China.

 

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