Wuhan is the capital of Hubei Province in China and a major port on the Yangtse River. Wuhan once consisted of three separate cities; Hanyang, Hankou, and Wuchang. Hanyang was a busy port as long as 3,000 years ago in the Han Dynasty. Yellow Crane Tower was first built in 223BCE and gained fame throughout China through the poetry of Cui Hao during the Tang Dynasty. Wuchang has been a center of learning for centuries, especially in the field of the arts. It became a provincial capital in the Yuan Dynasty.
Would-be travelers who do not care for the heat should avoid visiting Wuhan in the summer months. As the hottest of all the “four furnaces of China” (along with Chongqing, Nanjing, and Xi’an), temperatures in the summer (namely July and August) can easily reach 35C. Combine heat with humidity, a lack of wind, and heavy urban pollution typical to most of the rapidly industrialized cities in China and one encounters a recipe for a cloudy yet simmering day of uncomfortable heat.
There are plenty of airlines offering flights to Wuhan from major UK airports including London Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester, Aberdeen, Belfast, Glasgow, Cardiff, New Castle, London Gatwick. Wuhan is a major city in a central position. It has all the bus, rail, road and air connections you would expect.
Wuhan can be accessed easily from Wuhan Tianhe International Airport (WUH) about an hour outside of the city center. Flights from all major domestic airports are available, including Xian, Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Hong Kong and Taipei. International flights operate from Seoul.
Wuhan is a major railway hub, connected by direct trains with most of China’s major cities. Overnight express trains (Z series trains) take one from Beijing for ¥263 or Shanghai in 9-12 hours. There are also frequent train connections from Guangzhou taking about 12 hours and a bit less frequent trains from Shenzhen.
Besides over night trains, there are also day-time high-speed trains which connect Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. It takes 05h 38m to Shanghai, 8.5 hours to Beijing and 3-4 hours to Guangzhou.
There are three major passenger train stations: Wuhan, Wuchang and Hankou. High-speed trains arrive at Wuhan station. Hankou station is current being renovated.
There are two major long distance bus stations, again in Hankou and Wuchang respectively, which tend to have buses visiting both.
You can also reach Wuhan via boats on the Yangtze River, either from downstream centers such as Shanghai and Nanjing or from Chongqing further upstream, via the famous Three Gorges route.
Wuhan has a cheap, efficient, but horribly bewildering bus system in place. The service has vastly improved compared to the past. It is the cheapest way to get around the city. If you have a local to guide you, it can be used to get from place to place with impressive speed (if not comfort or safety). Without a local to guide you, you should better have a very good map and a good grasp of Chinese.
Taxis abound in Wuhan, easily outnumbering other private and public vehicles. Rates are relatively cheap at ¥6 on the flag and with around ¥70 getting you between almost any two spots you are likely to want to travel between. It is possible to get higher taxi fares, but usually only because the taxi driver has deliberately taken you on a longer trip (which is, thankfully, not a common occurrence).
Airport taxis are the exception. Foreigners in particular are likely to get ripped off by taxi drivers at the airport. They will demand prices starting at ¥150 to go anywhere in the city. For reference, going from the airport to the middle of Hanyang costs about ¥50 typically. It is advisable to insist on the metre before the taxi starts moving and if the driver refuses, step out, collect your luggage and go back to the taxi stand. Note that this is not a serious problem in the daytime when there is a supervisor at the taxi stand who is an airport employee, rather than a taxi driver himself.
One oddity of the taxi system is crossing the bridges. Because of the traffic problems and snarls at the bridges, the city has instituted a system in which half the taxis are not permitted to cross the bridge on half the days. Basically, if the day of the month is odd, odd-numbered taxis are allowed to use the Number One Bridge. If the day of the month is even, even-numbered taxis are allowed to use the Number One Bridge. This system may extend to the Number Two Bridge (this is not yet confirmed) but it does not extend to the Number Three Bridge. In most circumstances, however, it is not advisable to use the Number Three Bridge as it tends to increase the taxi fares dramatically (although it is an interesting ride).
The Yangtze River can be crossed by ferry for a very reasonable fee of ¥1.5. The ferry runs frequently starting at 7AM and ending at 9PM. It offers by virtue of its unique location some nice views of the city, the Number One Yangtze River Bridge, Yellow Crane Tower, etc. during the day and an interesting nightscape view after dark.
Places to See
- Yellow Crane Tower The single largest tourist attraction in Wuhan, the tower is a modern construction built on the site of twelve previous incarnations. It is considered one of the four great towers in China. The tower sits atop Snake Hill near the Number One Yangtze River Bridge and affords a commanding view of the Yangtze River as well as the mouth of the Han River where it connects. The view of the city is very impressive, although at times made slightly hazy by smog. On the clearest days, one can see practically the entire city of Wuhan and far up and down the Yangtze River.
Entering the park costs ¥50 which gives access to Snake Hill Park, Yellow Crane Tower and the Mao Pavilion (in which many of the poems of Chairman Mao are etched into stone for viewing pleasure). The park as a whole is nicely landscaped with many charming buildings. Of particular interest is the enormous bronze bell located behind Yellow Crane Tower itself as well as a teahouse on the premises which features regular performances of traditional Chu-era music. The performance itself is free, but it is expected that patrons enjoying it order at least a beverage or a small snack.
The current tower was completed in the 1980s using modern materials, most notably, concrete is used instead of wood for all supporting members so as to prevent yet another disaster, since the twelve previous towers were all destroyed by fires and war. The ground floor of the tower contains a large entrance hall, two stories tall, with enormous decorative lamps and a giant ceramic fresco displaying the quasi-mythical story of the tower’s initial construction. The second story, essentially a balcony around the entrance hall, contains a souvenir shop as well as displays of traditional Chinese paintings and calligraphy. The third story has a residence done up in the very ancient, Chu style modelled after the kinds of sitting rooms used by nobility greeting guests in the ancient period. The fourth story contains another souvenir shop and a set of models displaying the tower in five of its previous incarnations. This latter display shows the fascinating development of an essentially military watchtower into an increasingly residence/tourist-oriented showpiece. The top accessible story has pay telescopes and some nice art displays.
Yellow Crane Tower (and, in fact, Snake Hill Park in general) is wheelchair-accessible in most areas of interest. The tower even has two elevators suited to the elderly and the handicapped who would otherwise not be able to climb the stairs to the top. Ramps abound in most of the areas of interest.
- Guiyuan Temple. Open from 9 AM to 5 PM. Built in 1658, Guiyuan Temple is known as the first zen temple to be built in Hubei Province. The most famous and impressive building in the complex is the Arhats Hall, which contains 500 arhat (Buddhist saints) statues. When you enter, from whichever part you choose to begin exploring, you are supposed to count the arhats. When you have counted to your current age, you are then supposed to write down the number above the statue that you stopped on and you can then present it to the small shop outside to purchase a golden card with your fortune, as well as a depiction of that statue. The statues inside are all quite different and intricately designed, so it’s well worth the time to thoroughly explore the temple. Entrance is ¥10.
- Memorial Hall of Wuchang Uprising in 1911 Revolution, (Just below Snake Hill on the south side), . On October 10, 1911 the infamous Wuchang Uprising that started the Xinhai Revolution that led to the fall of the Qing Dynasty and the election of Sun Yat-Sen as the provisional president. This was one of the biggest events that shaped modern China, making it a must-see for anyone interested in historical travel. The Revolunary Army was officially here, and inside the Red Chamber (the main building) they issued the edict to bring down the Qing Dynasty. In the outside Uprising Plaza, stands a statue of Sun Yat-Sen.
- Hubei Provincial Museum . Exhibit of ancient Chinese artifacts excavated from throughout Hubei Province. Displays range from pottery, jewelry, clothing, and even ancient human skulls. One of the highlights are the well-preserved instruments, and a brief concert is played daily on reproduction instruments.
- Wuhan Zoo. Although it is technically a zoo, there is more to this zoo than just animals. The zoo contains a small area of amusement park rides, and a beautiful bonsai garden. Of course, those who are interested in seeing the animals will not be disappointed, as the zoo features a Giant Panda (be aware that they occasionally take the panda out to travel to other parts of the country), red pandas, hippos, wolves, zebras, and many other popular zoo animals. No visit to this zoo would be complete without seeing one of the daily shows! Well-trained animals performing unbelievable stunts, from puppies doing tricks to bicycling bears.
- Baotong Temple.
- Changchun Taoist Temple.
- Wuhan Botanical Garden. Wuhan Botanical Garden was established in 1956 and is known today as one of China’s top research botanical gardens. There is an impressive variety of gardens and greenhouses within the grounds of the botanical garden.
- Moshan Hill. A large park area filled with monuments, temples, and various shops. While most of the monuments in the area were built in the 1990s, Moshan Hill is still a great place to go hiking and enjoy the natural scenery. ¥40.
- Mao Zedong’s Summer Villa, 56 Donghu Lu. Wuhan is home to one of the villas of the infamous Chairman Mao. He returned here annually and typically stayed a few months. The decor was designed in the 1950s fashion, which strikes many visitors as odd, yet there are plenty of indicators that it is no ordinary person’s home. One of the most interesting sites is Mao’s large indoor swimming pool.
- East Lake (Donghu), Donghu Rd, Wuchang District (take bus no 401 or 402). Largest lake in Wuhan. Entry through ting-tao gate is free.
Things to Do
- Jiqing Street (吉庆街). An ordinary-seeming street by day, becomes transformed by night into a bewildering maze of streetside restaurants and buskers performing music, dance, opera and stand-up comedy. It is a strongly-recommended experience. Food is plentiful and cheap, and it features a lot of unique local cuisine. The performances can be enjoyed by proxy as performers work other tables or they can be purchased. One can expect to pay about ¥10 per song performed. Other performances are more based on contributions—the more you contribute, the longer the performers will do their routines and the more daring/interesting/funny the routines will be.
- Dragon Boat Festival (Duanwu Festival). May 5 at the East Lake. The famous Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated throughout China however, it’s origins lie with the ancient Chu Kingdom that resided in Hubei Province and surrounding provinces during the Warring States Period. The festival was brought about from the story of Qu Yuan, advisor of King Huai, who had made many predictions about the dangers of the surrounding kingdoms to their own. Qu Yuan had advised the king on ways to protect the Chu Kingdom, but the king refused to listen and instead banished his advisor from the court. Years later, when word reached Qu Yuan that all of his predictions had come true, he committed suicide in the river out of despair over the fall of his kingdom. It is said that the people of the town loved him so much that they paddled down the river in dragon boats making music and throwing rice into the river so that the fish would not eat his body. This event is believed to have occurred on May 5, and the festival is celebrated in much the same way today as the event had occurred with the dragon boats and music in the river. People eat zongi, special rice wrapped in bamboo leaves, on this holiday. Although Qu Yuan is said to have drown himself in the Miluo River, just outside of Hubei Province, the festival is believed to have originated in Wuhan.
Food in Wuhan
Wuhan is famous for its morning xiaochi – a variety of breakfast foods. Hubuhang in Wuchang is Wuhan’s famous breakfast alley where you will find all of Wuhan’s famous breakfast dishes. Reganmian (hot dry noodle) is the epitome of Wuhan’s breakfast food. It is tossed in sesame paste and other seasonings. You will find these noodles for ¥2 from street vendors. Other Wuhan breakfast specialties include mianwo, a type of savory donut; tangbao, small dumpling-buns filled with pork and soup; mibaba, a lightly sweetened pancake made with rice flour; and mijiu tangyuan, a sweet soup of rice wine (fermented from glutinous rice) with rice flour dumplings stuffed with sesame paste.
Real men find their fuel on the streets betwixt the hours of 12:00-5:00 in the AM. On these streets there are generous and well-meaning folk selling dumplings, noodles, wok food, and foies gras. On the odd occasion that the lounge is closed, one is able to sit outside and enjoy the night air, the delightful local dialect, and any foods you order. If you are in the mood for a more romantic night on the town, there are countless 3-wall restaurants with candle lights upon the tables, live music flowing from the muses’ mouths, and 4-star restaurants’ finest fair at a reasonable and sanitary locale.