In a nutshell
Mount Heng or Hengshan is one of the “Five Great Mountains of China,” it is located in Hunan province in the south central region of China and it should not be confused with Hengshan National Park in Shanxi province in the north of China.
Why you should visit Mount Heng
Mount Heng is not one mountain as the name suggests but a range of 72 peaks that begin with Huiyan Peak in Hengyang city and extends north for 150km towards the provincial capital of Changsha. Yuelu Mountain is the most northerly peak of this range and is located on the fringes of Changsha city, while the highest peak is that of Zhurong at 1300 metres above sea level.
The mountain is also known as Nanyue, which means Southern Mountain, all the peaks in this range are very green and covered with trees. These trees are 3-400 years old with a few having stood for over 1000 years. Some of the trees are covered with lichen and bending over to resemble old men.
At the base of the mountain you will find southern China’s largest temple, the Grand Temple of Mount Heng or Nanyue Damiao, it is also the largest group of ancient buildings to be found anywhere within Hunan province. The temple was originally built during the Tang dynasty of 618-907, but was later destroyed by a fire. It was rebuilt in the Qing dynasty of 1644-1912 and since its renovation it resembles the Forbidden City in Beijing. You can also visit the nearby sites of the 8th century Buddhist monastery Zhusheng Si Temple, or a small stone temple Zhurong Gong.
The scenic area is considered to be on hallowed Buddhist ground and is full of temples, nunneries and Taoist temples. The Sutra Collection Hall is located deep inside a hidden glen and surrounded by trees that tower above adding to the atmosphere of this place. Another quite different attraction is the Water Curtain Cave while the Dayu Stele attracts visitors for its antiquity. The whole area is one of relaxation and peace, an ideal location for your leisure time. Huixian Bridge is very steep, it is a stone that creates a very narrow and dangerous bridge and only the bravest will attempt to cross it.
When is the Best Time to Visit Mount Heng?
Mount Heng is good to visit in each of the four seasons for various reasons. In the spring the mountains can be enveloped in clouds making for a marvelous misty sight. In the summer the pine trees are abundant but the weather is a little too hot. In the winter the mountains can be covered in snow from December until February making for a beautiful but cold scene. In the autumn the weather is best with cooler weather and the trees are at their greenest colour.
Where to Stay on Mount Heng?
There are only a few places to stay overnight at the base of the mountain in the area around the bus station. There is an international hostel here that charges CNY130 for a double room. Another small hotel offers rooms from CNY100 in the low season; they charge more during the rest of the year. There are a few hotels on Jinsha and Jinshan Roads. You can also try camping on the mountain; equipment can be hired from CNY100 per day. Most visitors do not stay overnight and return to either Hengyang or Changsha cities.
Where and What to Eat
Similarly to the information on the accommodation, there are a few restaurants in the area of the bus station at the entrance to Nanyue scenic area. In addition to this there are outlets or food stalls at most of the attractions where you can buy some snacks or simple meals. Do not expect any western type of food here; it will all be local Hunan cuisine and typically it will be spicy and probably much more expensive than in the cities of Hunan province.
Entry Fee and How to Get Around Mount Heng
Once you arrive at the tourist centre at Nanyue it costs CNY120 to enter the scenic area from May the 1st until the 31st of October. The rest of the year the cost is CNY80. You can then take a combination of a cable car and electric vehicles to the top of Huiyan Peak the cost for this is CNY80 for a return trip or CNY45 to go one way.
Many people choose to walk, the roadway is a good smooth surface, a little steep in places although most of the road is much flatter almost level at times, and you can do the walk in 3 to 6 hours depending on your level of fitness. There are plenty of viewpoints on the way up with areas that you can take a rest or you can replenish your hunger at the food stalls along the route. You should always ensure you are carrying enough water to avoid dehydration.
How to Get To and From Mount Heng?
There are regular buses that run directly to Nanyue bus station from Hengyang, Changsha, Zhuzhou, Xiangtan and Yongzhou. The bus from Changsha takes about 2 hours and buses are available from 8.10am until 5.50pm. From Hengyang’s Central Bus Station buses operate from 7.30am until 5.30pm, the fare is CNY5.
There is a train station at Hengshan and another at Hengshan West; you can take a taxi or bus to the entrance to the scenic area quite cheaply. Hengshan West station is on the high speed line from Wuhan to Guangzhou. There are 14 high speed trains in each direction every day taking around 2 hours and 20 minutes and a second class seat costs from CNY239. In the other direction Changsha is just over 30 minutes on a high speed train and costs CNY64.50 for a second class ticket. The slower trains take one hour and 40 minutes with a hard seat costing CNY21.50. The last high speed train to Changsha every evening departs from Hengshan West at 9.08pm and you arrive back into Changsha at 9.40pm.
There is one high speed train every day from Shanghai to Hengshan West, it takes 6 hours and costs CNY540.50 for a second class seat. In comparison the slower train takes 16 or 21 hours to Hengshan and a second class sleeper costs CNY306.50.
Is it Safe in Hengshan?
You will be safe in Hengshan, it is not a place where lots of people congregate so it is unlikely to be a point where crimes occur.
The problems you are more likely to have happen (and this is also very unlikely) is through personal injury. Walking in the mountains carries a small risk and just a slip or fall could become a major problem if you need to receive medical attention. You could easily be several hours away from a major centre of medical assistance particularly one that has English speaking staff. There will be medical facilities in Hengshan (Nanyue) but these will be basic, if you need the hospital you will need to go to Hengyang and they may not be used to receiving too many foreign patients.