Mass tourism is burgeoning and is starting to affect Heshun, but this ancient village on the old Tea & Horse Road (茶马古道), founded under the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644) has well-preserved mud-brick century-old mansions and photogenic spots in the middle of old cobblestone streets hidden away from the flow of tourists.
Overseas Chinese’s Hometown
Heshun started during the early Ming dynasty as a military outpost in the ethnic borderland. During the Ming and Qing dynasty, Yunnan (and Heshun as well) socio-economical landscape went through important change as thousands of Han-Chinese people migrated to the borderland.
Heshun became famous for the high level of education Chinese migrants had decided to uphold. In 1924, thanks to funding given by overseas Chinese (华侨), an official building dating back from the Qing dynasty was converted into a ‘reading office’ (阅书报社). In 1928, with sustained financial contribution from overseas Chinese, the building was expanded and promoted into a library.
Completed in 1934, Heshun library (和顺图书馆) had the largest collection of books (more than 10’000) and the largest of its kind in a remote borderland village.
Heshun was on the southern Silk Road (also known as the old Tea & Horse Road (茶马古道)). Many locals were involved in trade and left town to go abroad to pursue their commercial endeavours. The Chinese said they “went on the barbarian side” (走夷方) : Burma, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Japan, USA, Canada. Hence Heshun’s nickname : the “Hometown of Overseas Chinese” (华侨之乡).
National Tourism Hot-Spot
When I arrived before the gates of Heshun, I was discouraged by the buses unloading hundreds of people in front of the village’s main gate.
“Wow! It’s early Monday morning and there are already a lot of people!” I told my taxi driver.
She laughed : “Oh, no … this is the low season, there is nobody! Come during week-ends or during our Chinese national holiday and you will understand what “a lot of people” means. By the way, the ticket office is over there on your right.”
Heshun is classified as a 4A National Tourist Site (国家AAAA级旅游景区) and is subject to a 80 RMB entrance fee (13 US$) which gives access to the village and a number of sites within the village (see “Entrance fee and places to visit : what you should know” section below).
Usually, Chinese tour groups follow their guide to the main tourist sites and rarely go and venture by themselves. So, once you out of the tour guide trail, you will find the quiet Heshun. However, do avoid the peak season though.
Jade stores and Guesthouses
A sign that the locals are capitalising on the burgeoning tourism industry : the main streets are lined with jade stores, a reminder that Heshun was former trade post on the Yunnan-Burma Jade Road.
There are a lot guesthouses (客栈) scattered through the village (see the “Where to stay” section below). Just follow the signs. If you decide to visit Heshun during the low season and during the week, you will have no problem to find a bed in a guesthouse in the village.
An authentic ancient town nonetheless
Beyond the honking of motorcycles and of the electric sigh-seeing cars that drive on the main streets of the village, the foreign tourist can get lost in the meander of old cobblestone streets, enjoy the ancient architecture and its wonderful mud-bricks houses.
And like the title of this photo-essay from Ariana Lindquist and published in the New York Times in 2009, you will feel that Heshun is “Untouched by Time“.
Go to Heshun fast if you want to experience that feeling : mud-bricks houses are not time-proof. When I was wandering in the streets of Heshun I saw and heard many of these century old Ming-Qing style residences were being knocked down and re-built with new and more sturdy construction materials.
Entrance fee and places to visit : what you need to know
The entrance fee gives you access to a number of sixteen different sites which include the ancient library of Heshun, a couple of lineage temples, the Yunnan-Burma anti-Japanese war museum (which is the only sites that include explanation in English), the Wenchang temple (the Taoist god of culture) and a number of Ming and Qing dynasties era family courtyards.
If you do not want to pay the 80 RMB entrance fee and just wander around the village, you will have to go around the entrance gate before the parking lot, find your way to the river and enter through one of the other gates.
If you are a foreign student in China, bring your student card issued by your university. You are entitled to a student discount. Note that is valid only for student cards issued by Chinese universities only. International student ID does not count.
How to get there
Heshun is located five kilometers outside of Tengchong (腾冲) in Baoshan prefecture 保山市. Your first step to getting to Heshun is to go to Tengchong.
From Tengchong, you can either take a taxi (20 RMB – one way). You can also take the bus #6 starts which runs down on Tengyue Avenue (腾越大道) and stops near the jade market of Yuquan Yuan (玉泉园), next to the Guanfang Hotel (官方大酒店) and the Dongying round-about (东营环岛) which links Songyuan Road (松园路), Tengyue Avenue (腾越达到) and Feicui Road (翡翠路) to the road that leads to Heshun.
Tengchong is connected by road to most of Yunnan cities : Baoshan (3.5 hours – one bus every 40 minutes), Dali (6 hours – three buses a day), Kunming (10 to 12 hours – one bus every hour between 9 AM and 8 PM), Mangshi (3.5 hours – one bus every 50 minutes between 9 AM and 4 PM).
Tuofeng airport, 12 kilometers from Tengchong, has direct flights to Kunming, Lijiang, and Xishuangbanna as well as Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai-Hongqiao, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Shenzhen.
Where to stay
There are only guesthouses or 客栈 in the villages which are all family courtyard houses transformed into guesthouses. Each of them have a limited number of rooms with or without bathrooms. Prices range between 120 RMB to 260 RMB a night.
If you plan on staying in Heshun overnight during the low season, do not bother booking. Go around and look for the ideal place (there are several dozens of guesthouses). Worst case scenario, you can find accommodation in Tengchong.
Here are a few addresses :
On the top of Daqiao Street (大桥巷), you will find Nanshan Guesthouse (南山居客栈). They have nice rooms and fairly spacious rooms for 260 RMB. Contact : 13311516607 – English spoken (fairly well).
In Lijia Street (李家巷)，you will find Lianyi Guesthouse (连邑客栈) that has rooms on the first floor for 160 RMB and for 180 and 220 RMB on the second floor. It has a coffee place attached to it. Book at these number : 0875-515849 or 13769046838. Some English spoken.
On the main street of Shizi Road (十字路), before the market place, the Hongchen Yingju Guesthouse (红尘隐居) is hiding behind a nice courtyard gate. The owner will rent you a room with bathroom for 200 RMB a night. He speaks some English. Contact : 13618759003.