Off the beaten path in Hunan | The old town of Qianyang

 

Qianyang, China

Five Gates, Ten Streets and Twelve Alleys

According to local history, the town of Qianyang (黔阳), which is also called Qiancheng (黔城), was founded more than 2000 years ago on the banks of the River Wu (巫水) in southwest Hunan province. In 1080, during the Song dynasty (960-1279), Qianyang (黔阳) became a regional political center, just 30 km west from the business town of Hongjiang (洪江)

In spite of the town’s long history, the parts of the walls, the few city gates that are still standing and most of the cultural and historical landmarks that are disseminated in the narrow slab-stones alleys date back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. 

Qianyang, Hunan

Of all the ancient towns I have visited in China, Qianyang was one of the least touristic and is very high on my list of favourite places. With its streets lined with more than twenty ancestral halls, a dozen of Taoist and Buddhist temples, and over ten courtyard residences of ancient local officials, Qianyang breathes of history. Everywhere I went, locals had set a bamboo chairs in front of their house and were chatting with their neighbours, here and there, I could hear women playing cards.

And with the red lanterns hanging in front of every household, I felt like I had ventured in another China. A rural China town, far away from the pollution, the crowds, the concrete, the stress and toxic pace of life people have in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. 

Qianyang, in my mind, belongs to this type of places that fits the western collective imaginary of what a traditional Chinese towns should look like (or used to look like).

Qianyang, Hunan

How to visit Qianyang

As I write this post, Qianyang, unlike most ancient towns in Hunan, is still free. There is no entrance fee to pay. However, you’ll probably find a ticket office sells a 48 RMB ticket that will grant you access to eight different temples and sites in the old town (including one of the old gate). 

If you walk along the river, you will probably stumble upon the entrance to the Hibiscus tower or furong lou (芙蓉楼) in Chinese. It’s a famed landmark in town and you’ll have to pay 70 RMB to see what it looks like. I decided not to spend any money on entrance tickets that day. 

In spite of its small size, Qianyang you can easily spend several hours walking and getting lost in the streets. Since the town is not commercialised, instead of stores selling the same trinkets to tourists all across China, there is a variety of interesting shops and workshops that cater to the local community. 

Qianyang, Hunan

Some of the ancient ancestral temples have been transformed into residential housing where several families live together. Others have been renovated, like the temple dedicated to the Kitchen God (灶王宫) which hosted a stone museum when I visited and like the Wanshou Palace (万寿宫), an ancient guild hall which stands by the river and is not open to the public. 

If a handful of temples are still maintained and visited by the local community, a lot of temples and ancestral halls are closed. There are either owned by a family clan and cannot be visited or they have been abandoned. 

Qianyang, Hunan

Go before it changes

Last time I visited Qianyang, in April 2014, ahead of the travel rush of the May holiday, I saw very a few buses of Chinese tourists who follow their tour guide along a very determined path.

For the moment, the old town is still spared by mass-tourism and commercialisation like we see in Fenghuang (凤凰) or Dehang (德夯). Steeped in history, the old town retains a unique atmosphere that has vanished elsewhere. 

However, I saw a few old buildings that were being renovated and a few slogans that were telling the locals to ‘build a charming Qiancheng and a strong town oriented towards the tourism industry (建设山水魅力黔城,构筑工贸旅游重镇). 

The highway which links Huaihua (怀化) to Tongdao (通道) was completed in December 2013. This highway will be extended as far as Guilin in Guangxin province. So, I do feel that in the next five years, the face of Qianyang will change radically and its unique atmosphere of an ancient town stuck in time will be entangled with modernisation. 

 

qianyang, Hunan

Where to stay

There are probably a few hotels you can stay at in the new town of Qianyang. Don’t expect too much though. You can also stay in Hongjiang, which is just a short bus ride away.

How to get there

Qianyang 黔阳 is also called Qiancheng 黔城 and is located in western Hunan province, just 30 km east of the ancient business town of Hongjiang (洪江古商城) and 50 km south of Huaihua 怀化, your gateway to Fenghuang old town. With the new Huai – Tong highway which passes 10 km west of Qianyang, travel time in the region has been cut in half.

Huihua 怀化 is the regional transportation hub. There should be a bus to Qianyang (also called Qiancheng 黔城) every 1h to 1h30 from Huaihua West bus station. It’s a 45 min to 1h from Huaihua. Direct buses to Qianyang will take the old road. Sometimes, they will put you on a bus to Tongdao (same direction). In this case, the bus will take the highway and drop you off at the toll gate.

The Qianyang toll gate is roughly 10 km from the old town. There are no transportation from to toll gate to town whatsoever. You’ll have to hitchhike. Same thing if you arrive from Tongdao.

From Huaihua, there are frequent buses to Fenghuang old town, Changsha and other destinations in Hunan province. You can also buy train tickets to Changsha and Wuhan, but bus will be faster.

There are 29 comments

  1. Damien Mathews

    Hi Gaetan, thanks for this site. It’s the best I’ve found for off-the-beaten-track travel in China. An update on getting to Qianyang/Qiancheng: I was told upon arriving at the Huihua West Bus Station this morning – direct from Fenghuang – that buses to Qianyang/Qiancheng only depart from the South Bus Station (which is a 2RMB ride from the West Bus Station on local bus 116). Cheers!

  2. Jules

    Hi Gaetan, I’m travelling with my friend in Hunan at the end of July. We are staying for 5-7 days in the province, we are planning to go to Zhangjiajie, but we also wanted to visit some villages off the beaten track. From what I read Fengshuan is not something we are looking for. I read your posts about the diverse villages in Hunan but there are many, which ones would you highly recommend ? Thanks, Juliet.

    1. Gaetan

      Hi Juliet,
      Well, south of Zhangjiajie region, I recommend Furong 芙蓉镇 also called Wangcun 王村. Click the link for the article. You can get there from Jishou 吉首.
      I also highly recommend Qianyang 黔阳. Do a keyword search on the right hand side of my blog, you’ll find several articles.
      If you have other questions, you can message me via my contact page.

    2. Truus van de Vorstenbosch

      Truus: It is also possible to go by bus from Zhangjiajie to Furong (zhen). You can find the businformation on internet. I have a copy here.The date of the info is 31-3- 2016.
      Direction Destination
      ZJJ-Furong Town Furong Town 7:00am-6:00pm 2 hours’drive Mini Bus CNY28
      It is our intention to go there after Zhangjiajie. We hope it is possible to store our luggage somewhere. Gaetan do you think it is possible?

  3. Slava

    Definitely worth visiting place! Still unspoiled by the mass tourism, IMHO, it is one of the best ancient towns of China I have been to so far. A few hours is enough to walk around it. It is easy to hitchhike from Huaihua, just take the national road G209 (not the express way), and it will bring you right to the entrance to the old town. As of June 2016, there was no entrance fee, and descriptions of the buildings and places are available in both Chinese and English.
    Thanks to Gaetan for sharing information about this place!

    1. Gaetan

      Thank you very much for your nice comment Slava. I’m glad to hear that Qianyang is still a place to go and that it has not been spoiled too much by the development of tourism (yet!)

    2. daniel james

      hi i was wondering how id make a visit from tongren? im catching a sleeper train from chengdu and would love to stop here to see its beauty before heading to zhangjiajie. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

      Dan

      1. Daniel james

        Thanks for the quick reply!
        Once in tongren, how do I get to qianyang ? I was planning to go to fenghuang but the more I read, the less appeal it has! Seems as though tourism has stolen it’s sunshine

      2. Gaetan

        Take the train from Tongren to Huaihua, then catch a bus to Qianyang. You can read about how to get there in the articles about Qianyang. Use the key word search on the right hand side. The disadvantage of Fenghuang is mass tourism. It still remains a beautiful town to visit, maybe for a couple of hours, early in the morning when there are less people.

  4. Ben

    On April 20 I attempted to make a reservation at the Furong guest house over email – the owner replied that Qianyang no longer permits foreigners to stay in the old town, but that foreigners can stay in Hongjiang ancient business town ( 洪江市公安局最近对我们客栈做出规定:目前不能接待外国游客!我也很遗憾,如果我们接待了会处罚…洪江古商城可以住,你可以在黔阳古城游玩,晚上去洪江古商城住。) Because of this and our limited time, we decided to skip over Qianyang which is unfortunate as I really hoped to visit. Interested to know if any others have had better luck recently, if this is a temporary ban or if it will last for months or years, and guesthouse managers are more lenient if you show up in person without attempting to make a reservation.

    1. Gaetan

      I never stayed in Qianyang, in Hongjiang only.
      Not what is going on there, because I know of foreigners who stayed in Qianyang without any problems.
      Sorry you missed Qianyang and hope to you enjoy your journey in Hunan anyway.

  5. Hai Yen

    Hello, please kindly advise if there is any local bus from Hongjiang to Qianyang? As your mention, the distance between 2 places is about 30km.

  6. Alex

    Hi!

    Many thanks for your recommendation. Qiancheng is a relly nice place to spend two days (at least) after visiting some crowded places like Zhangjiajie National Park or Fenghuang (beautifil place, but guided to shopping). Fu Rong Hotel is really quite, beautiful, and you can you ride a bike for free, or swimming in the river, or looking at the river sitting on the stairs.. highly recommended. There is a nice place to have lunch in from of the main entrance, where the main square is.. I think that the sign had red color, and you have to go up some stairs.. for going out from Qiancheng, you also can take a train to Tongdao at 8.30 am.. but I don’t know if it’s a daily train. You can also take a bus to Huaihua, or even train.. the Fu Rong Hotel landlady is really nice, and she will help you (she doesn’t speak english but you can I use some translater that Gaetan already recommended).

    Saludos!
    Alex

  7. Steve Griffith

    A bike ride from Qiancheng to Hongjiang along the river is highly recommended a chance to get really close to rural China Fantastic scenery and not too much traffic .Bike hire from the FuRong Guest House 45km round trip . Note Hongjiang is actually now called Hong jiang district 洪江区so follow those signs . Qiancheng is now part if the newly created Hong jiang city 洪江市。
    I thinks it’s worth buying the 70 yuan pass as not only does it get you into the Furong Lou but also four other significant old houses in the town .
    On Lao Jie (old street) be sure to visit the moon tower building . It’s run by Master Li a skilled painter who has a wonderful drawing of the town upstairs .
    If going from the main Huaihua railway station take bus 204 it starts from there and terminates at the South Bus Station so no problem knowing where to get off. Last bus to Qiancheng is 6pm but if you arrange it first the furong Guest House will pick you up from Huaihua

      1. Truus van de Vorstenbosch

        We have tried to book Furong Guest House in april 2016. We mailed Chenhaiyan. This is her answer:
        I’m very sorry to tell you, according to the provisions of law and order in Hongjiang City, foreigners are not allowed to stay here. In October 28, 2016, you have no way to stay in Qianyang ancient city.
        It was very difficult to book a hotel in this surroundings. We live in The Netherlands. Now we have booked Hongjiang Wuling City Hotel. It was also very difficult to book .Most bookingorganisations failted

  8. Anthony Garea

    Thanks for the recommendation on Qiancheng what an amazing place! Just some additional info/ updates for anyone planning on heading here. There is still no entry fee to the city in general and there didn’t look like any attempt has been made to begin this process. The Fu Rong Inn as Steve mentioned is a fantastic place to stay, to get there take bus no.1 from the main bus station to the end of the route (2 yuan), the Fu Rong Inn is directly above the entrance to the tower. If your confused on the location Qiancheng is effectively part of Hongjiang (not the ancient town of Hongjiang) on google maps. Most buses depart from Huaihua South Bus station (named the Huaihua South Car Station on google maps) and run direct for about 16 yuan at least hourly from 6.30am, a taxi to this bus station from the main bus train station is about 25-30 yuan or about 10-15 yuan from the bullet train station.
    Jin Ping and Hongjiang are both highly recommended day trips from here.

  9. Steve Griffith

    Having just spent three days in Qiancheng agree what a wonderful place . Just wandering around the old town and listening to the older people’s life stories especially about surviving the cultural revolution.i did Jing Ping village from here as due to the new Highway buses from and to Huaihua don’t go near it. Both Hongjiang and Qiancheng buses go to the south bus stn。From here cross the road and take either 33 or 3 takes about 30 mins show /tell them 荆坪村 and you get off by the bridge fare 4 yuan One of the best things about Qiancheng is staying at the Fu Rong Inn right by the Fu Rong (Hibiscus) Tower bythe west gate of the old town。A newly in traditional style all wood building great atmosphere just right run by a very friendly Miao/Chinese couple I paid 180 yuan phone 1817451 8515. I would consider using this as a base for Hongjiang only 45 mins journey and buses all day for 6 yuan better than staying in a horrible concrete high rise like the Wuling 。Finally a wander around both towns at dusk is an atmospheric experience and no ticket police to hide from in Hongjiang

    1. Gaetan

      Hi Steve! Thank you very much for this very nice input on Qiancheng. I really hope I’ll have a chance to go back to this town and spend more time. Are you going to publish any pictures on your blog? I’d be curious to see them 🙂

      1. Truus van de Vorstenbosch

        Hello Gaetan,
        We tried to book Furong guest house by chenhaiyan1234@outlook.com.This was the answer: I’m very sorry to tell you, according to the provisions of law and order in Hongjiang City, foreigners are not allowed to stay here. In October 28, 2016, you have no way to stay in Qianyang ancient city.
        It was very difficult to book an other hotel. Many websites of hotels and bookingorganisations failed/were blokked. Now we booked Hongjiang Wuling City Hotel .Not nice, but better than Huaihua City and three days by bus to Hongjiang/Qiancheng. We are independent travellers (retired) Your OF THE BEATEN PATH ( Guangxi Guizhou and Henan) was our guide. We make choises by reading your stories. Thank you very much TRAVEL CATHAY Truus and Wil The Netherlands
        Truus and Wil from The Netherlands

      2. Gaetan

        Hello Truus and Wil. Sorry to hear some guest houses are still not allowing foreigners to stay. It seems this part is quite difficult, but I have been several time in Tongdao and Hongjiang region and never had any problems. Steve Griffith to who you replied in a comment stayed in Qianyang without any problem. Anyway, I hope you will enjoy your time in China and I’m glad to hear you are finding all the information you need for your travels on my blog. Safe and happy travels in China!

      3. Ben

        Just saw Truus and Wil’s comment – I also wanted to report that I had the same experience. Hope it is temporary. Sorry for double posting!

    2. Alex Feldman

      Hi Gaetan!
      We are right now Qianyang!!!
      We stay in a new hostel named N. Alley hostel.
      We came to Qianyang without hotel reservations, and we asked for hotel in the tourist information office. The owner of the hostel came and take us to the hostel. We paid 200 Yuan a night.
      Phone number: +86 18274546208, 18674576000
      I hope it will be useful information for you!
      Alex and Marcela from Israel

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