In a nutshell
The province of Hunan is to be found in the south central region of China and is known for its natural beauty it is one of the most beautiful provinces in China.
Where to go in Hunan
The capital city in Hunan province is Changsha, the city has a history of more than 3000 years and tomb relics discovered in the region are of the earliest primitive humans in Asia. Yuelu Academy is located on Mount Yuelu, itself a scenic attraction. The school was originally built in 976 and has survived through the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Orange Isle, which is just 2km from the east gate of the school, is also worth your time in visiting. The Mawangdui Han Tombs were discovered in the suburbs of eastern Changsha, they are a family graveyard dating from the early Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD). There are thousands of relics discovered including the mummified remains of a woman. They are all on display at the Hunan Provincial Museum.
Xiangtan is located about 40km from Changsha in the centre of Hunan province. Close to the city is Mount Shaoshan Scenic Area, Shaoshan in itself is a beautiful village in the mountains and is famous for being the hometown of Mao Zedong (Chairman Mao). Local attractions here include his former home which attracts many visitors paying their respects to their former leader. Other attractions include the Water Dripping Cave and Yuhu Park.
Zhangjiajie City is in the north west of the province and governs over a wide area of mountainous terrain including famous areas included within the Wulingyuan Scenic Area such as Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, the area is a wonderful place to come and enjoy your holiday surrounded by natural beauty. As well as mountains and forests there are caves, lakes and waterfalls or you could try just try ‘drifting’ along the Maoyan River for an exhilarating experience as the river winds and zigzags its way downstream.
The city of Hengyang in the south of the province has the nickname of the ‘Wild Goose City,’ every year flocks of wild geese migrating south for the winter stop here close to the Xiangjiang River. Just to the north of the city is Mount Hengshan, the most prominent of the peaks in the Southern Mountain tourist area. Mount Hengshan is the most southerly of the five of China’s Sacred Mountains to Buddhism and Taoism, it is also known as Longevity Mountain.
The old town of Fenghuang is an attraction that many western visitors do not go to or are not aware of. It sits beside the river and offers an insight into several old buildings and the way of life in the past. 15km from the town is another largely unknown attraction, The Southern Great Wall.
Huaihua is in the south west of Hunan province and among its attractions is the ancient trading city of Hongjiang. Hongjiang has existed since the Yuan dynasty of 1271-1368 there are buildings along the riverbank that have stood since that time. The town is a maze of lanes and streets with more than 2000 ancient buildings showing how this once prosperous town operated. Close to this attraction is the Huangdu Dong Cultural Village, it consists of four stockade built villages by the Dong ethnic minority, at the cultural village you can witness folk performances, observe the architecture and culture of the Dong people.
When to go to Hunan
Hunan’s climate is humid and subtropical, there are monsoon like rains in the months of April, May and June, while July and August are hot and humid making this an uncomfortable time to visit. The winter is usually above freezing with daytime averages above 10C. During the autumn of fall is the best time to come to Hunan with cooler temperatures and less rainfall.
Where to stay in Hunan
In Changsha and the other major cities in Hunan province you will be able to find a good selection of hotels to suit all budgets, in Changsha city there are a few western style hostels with beds in dorm rooms for around CNY50 and double en-suite rooms for CNY200. There are five star hotels but maybe not to the choice of the larger cities. In the smaller cities there are hotels available but the choice may be a little limited particularly at peak travel periods.
Where and What to Eat in Hunan
Hunan cuisine dates from the 17th century and is also known as Xiang cuisine. There are three styles of food in the province, Xiang River style which originated from the areas of Changsha, Xiangtan and Hengyang. Dongting Lake style originates from Yueyang and Changde while Western Hunan style is from Huaihua and Zhangjiajie. It is renowned for being hot and spicy and similar to that of Sichuan province. Two of the most notable dishes are Chicken and Spicy Sichuan Sauce, and Smoked Pork with Dried Long Beans.
How to get around Hunan Province
The journey from Xiangtan to Changsha is very easy with buses leaving every 10 or 20 minutes during the day and the journey takes about one hour. A faster option is the high speed train it takes just 14 minutes and costs CNY12. There are seven trains each day from Changsha to Zhangjiajie city, the train takes between 4 hours 30 minutes up to 6 hours and a soft seat on the fastest train costs CNY86.
There are 131 trains in each direction every day between Changsha and Hengyang, slower trains take around 2 hours and a hard seat costs CNY28.5, while a high speed train takes from 37 minutes up to 55 minutes and costs CNY86.5 for a second class seat.
There are currently 7 airports in Hunan with three more under construction, within the province you can fly from Changsha to Yongzhou, Zhangjiajie and Shaoyang airports, the only other airports connected within the province are Hengyang and Zhangjiajie. There are four flights daily from Changsha to Zhangjiajie, they take one hour and cost from CNY480.
Due to the opening of the Xuefeng Mountain Tunnel the journey by bus from Huaihua to Changsha has been shortened to just four hours. There is currently no expressway linking Huaihua with Zhangjiajie, the road trip will take at least five hours to cover the 300km, most people travelling on this route will travel by train.
How to get to and from Hunan Province
Most of the airports in Hunan are small regional airports with only a few flights each day. Zhangjiajie airport is listed as being an international airport but only has international flights from Bangkok in Thailand and Busan in South Korea. There are around 20 destinations in China served by this airport. Changsha International Airport is the major air traffic hub in the province with flights to 81 cities in China and beyond. Most of the international flights are to destinations in Asia with Hainan Airlines being the exception with flights to London, Los Angeles, Melbourne and Sydney.
Express buses from Changsha and Xiangtan operate regularly to Wuhan with the journey taking around 4 hours. Neighboring Jiangxi province also has several buses daily to and from these two cities. From Zhangjiajie it is easy to get express buses to and from Chongqing. Hengyang city is like a gateway to destinations further to the south and west to the provinces of Yunnan, Guangxi, Guizhou and Guangdong.
Trains are a major transportation vehicle for getting into the province. Changsha is served with two stations; the older station in the city centre handles mostly ordinary slower trains while the newer south station is served by high speed trains. From Changsha you can catch a train to just about every major city in China with 29 trains in each direction every day to and from Shanghai, the journey takes around 5 hours on a high speed train and a second class seat costs CNY478.
How safe is it in Hunan?
Hunan is a relatively safe place for foreign visitors as attacks of any type against foreign visitors are very rare.
You should however be aware that pickpockets operate around busy bus and train stations, busy markets, anywhere that crowds congregate. Keep your valuables securely inside your bags and not visible and you should have no problems.
Should you require hospital treatment then in Changsha there are two hospitals that are registered for receiving foreign patients, one is the Hunan Brain Hospital on Chiling Road. The second hospital is the Xiangya Hospital of Central South University, it is rated as being the best hospital in the central south of China and they have translation services available for foreign patients. It is located on Xiangya Road in the city.