In western Hunan province, the area located south of Fenghuang (凤凰) remains off the radar of many foreigners. After I wrote about a few of the hidden gems of the region, the ancestral hall of the Pan Clan in Jingping (荆平), the ancient business town of Hongjiang (洪江), the old town of Qianyang (黔阳), and the Dong villages around Tongdao (通道), I have gotten feedback from a lot of travelers who went and check-out these places by themselves.
A few of these travelers have reported issues, specially concerning hotels and guesthouses not accepting foreigners while some others were told by local police that foreigners are not allowed to stay in some counties of this part of west Hunan province.
Based on travelers’ feedback, my own experiences in the region and the help of a faithful reader, here is a short round-up post about foreigners journeying in the west Hunan, specifically the region between Tongdao in the south and Huaihua.
You are welcome to comment and share your stories and tips about travel in this region of west Hunan.
Off-limits to foreigners | Jingzhou and Huitong
The counties of Jingzhou 荆州 and Huitong 会同 which includes the ancient village of Gaoyi 高椅 (south of Hongjiang) are simply off limits. No foreigners are allowed to travel in these two counties. When found, you will be escorted out of the county by the local Public Security Bureau (PSB). They were with a Chinese driver who probably got into trouble later.
The main reason for this adventure is the presence of a military base which contributes to make a sensitive area and off-limits to foreigners.
A driver I hired in Tongdao during my first trip in the region told me that an army based of the region had shut and/or moved. This is why, according to him, foreigners were now allowed to finally travel in Tongdao.
Some restrictions apply | Tongdao and Qianyang
Foreigners may travel and visit the Dong villages around Tongdao, however, they are not allowed to stay for the night. From personal experience, I have been refused at the Tongdao Binguan 通道宾馆 (although it seems it is open to foreigners by now), however, I stayed twice in one of the hotels which are opposite of Tongdao bus terminal. A reader wrote me once to say that she arrive late afternoon in Tongdao, slept in one of the hotel near the bus terminal and went on to visit the Dong villages the next day. That’s when she was found by the police who told her to leave.
Same for Qianyang, people can visit the old town, but it seems are not allowed to stay in any of the hotels in town. This rules seems inconsistent since one reader have actually stayed in Qianyang, but I heard from a few readers who tried to book online and are told that they cannot stay in Qianyang.
I based myself in the nearby town of Hongjiang (洪江), only 30 minutes away by bus.
For more information, read to comments at the end of the Qianyang article.
I traveled twice in the region, and never had any problem. Based on the different feedback I received from readers either via comments or e-mails, there are no clear cut rules. Yet, it seems you may or may not experience some type of problem, ranging from a hotel owner declining to let you stay or having the local police follow you and ask you to pack your stuff and leave.
There are no obvious signs that warn foreigners that Huitong and Jingzhou are off limits, yet you have to travel through these two counties if you go from Tongdao to Huaihua.
The most important is not to get Chinese people into trouble. Either the driver you may have hired and at the hotel, make sure they make a copy of your passport and visa. It may avoid a fine.
About this map : in green we have the highway, in grey the secondary roads and in black the Huaihua 怀化 prefecture limits. You are basically looking at a corridor that stretches from Fenghuang in the north to Sanjiang in Guangxi (the gateway to Chengyang Dong village) in the south.
To give an idea of distances : the bus ride from Tongdao to Huaihua on the highway takes 3+ hours.
Qianyang vs Qiancheng vs Hongjiang
Many readers wrote and asked me where exactly was Qianyang. They were unable to find it on a map. Check this article about Qianyang in which I clarify everything.
Jingping Pan Clan Ancestral Hall
One reader has reported that the Pan Clan Ancestral Hall in Jingping was going through a renovation process. Who knows what it will look like once the scaffolding have come down.
Traveling to and in the region
Huaihua is emerging as a regional transportation hub. Indeed, Huaihua is now connected to the national high-speed rail system and it is now very easy and fast to travel between Hunan provincial capital of Changsha and Guizhou’s capital of Guiyang via this remote region. See my article about high-speed rail network between the provinces of Hunan, Guizhou, Guangxi and Guangdong.
In addition to high-speed train, the Huaihua – Tongdao highway which opened in December 2013, has cut travel time between the two cities to 3 hours only (compared to 7-8 hours before the completion of the highway). From Tongdao, the highway will connect to Sanjiang 三江 in north Guangxi province, if it’s not already done yet.
At the moment, there are only four buses between Sanjiang and Tongdao, however, between Tongdao and Huaihua.
Share your travel stories and comments about the region.