Changsha Travel Guide

Perched along the Xiang River, Changsha is located in south central China and exists as the capital city of Hunan province. With a history spanning some 3,000 years, it enjoys a rich cultural and historical and a reputation for plentiful agricultural produce.

Some of the oldest landmarks include the Yuelu Academy upon the slopes of Mt Yeulu, west of Changsha. Built in 976, it's an institution of learning whose millennium of existence rivals even the ancient English universities of Oxford and Cambridge. It managed to survive under many dynasties, including the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing.

The academy lies little more than 2km (1.2 miles) from the long and narrow Orange Isle, where the beautiful orange trees blossom in spring and snowfall during the colder months creates a delicate winter wonderland. The 32 m (105 ft) tall Youth Mao Zedong Statue forever stands watch over the island, with the bust of the Chairman gazing down upon the land and river with almost heroic reverence.

Indeed, the country's iconic former leader, central to the Chinese Communist Revolution, was born in the village of Shaoshan, around 130 km (81 miles) out from Changsha. Mao Zedong's hometown serves as both a memorial for the Chinese who wish to pay their respects as well as a tourist site for those interested in learning more about China's recent past.

Among the city's multitude of must-sees is the notable archaeological finds in Mawangdui Han Tombs in eastern Changsha, containing the mummified remains of a woman from the Western Han Dynasty. On top of this, the Hunan Provincial Museum has more than 110,000 artefacts, ranging from the Neolithic Age to the Qing Dynasty, as well as more objects from the tombs themselves.

While replete with historical treasures, the city itself is modern and vibrant, thanks largely to a rebuilding period after the Sino-Japanese War and a widespread fire in 1938. Changsha is known as a 'garden city', with a green programme helping to better the environment and its dynamics with urban areas. Magnolias and blossoms spring up throughout the region and during spring, the surrounding fields bloom with colourful rape flowers. Nevertheless, it still has a buzzing commercial district with dozens of high rises and financial centres.

Because of its plentiful array of agricultural produce, Hunan province cuisine, known as xiang, is quite varied. But most will agree that it is mouth-numbingly hot and spicy, more so than the hot flavours of Sichuan cuisine.

Like any south Asian city, there are numerous markets from which to buy fresh food as well as ubiquitous street vendors and restaurants. A prominent dish is stinky tofu, a product of a culture which traditionally preserved their food through pickling and fermentation, while rice, crunchy vegetables, and noodles are typical staples. Other favourites include spicy shrimps at Nanmenkou and spicy chicken.

For those looking to relax in nature, the Mt Dawei National Forest Park offers clear waterfalls, running streams and mountaintop lakes. There is also the option of the scenic Huan Martyr's Park, a pleasant lake dedicated to those who passed away creating the communist government. Alternatively, thrill seekers will love bungee jumping at the Window of the World.

The seasons in Changsha are fairly distinct. Spring (March to May) is humid and very rainy, going into a summer (June to September) which has equal if more occurrences of rainfall whilst still being long and hot. Autumn is dry and manageable, with winter being cold and overcast, with light showers. The city has a well-functioning transport system, with a choice of taxis, buses and a developing metro service.

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