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Published: October 31st 2020
While I was researching my trip to Huangshan, I came across some information about the two UNESCO World Heritage site, Hongcun and Xidi that are located in Anhui province and are pretty close to Huangshan. I decided after my trip to Huangshan that I would stay in Tunxi and use it as a base for getting to the villages. I had read online that a lot of people tended to visit both villages in one day due to their proximity to each other, but I decided to go at a slower pace and visit one each day. I decided to visit Hongcun first as it is the largest of the two villages and also the furthest away. I headed to the bus station and while waiting in the queue to by a ticket I heard a tout shouting for Hongcun, so went over to him instead. This meant I got to leave earlier as his minibus arrived and departed around 7:40, whereas the legit bus left at 8:00. It probably didn't save me any time in the long run as the bus went to a few different places, but I wasn't too bothered as I got to see more random parts
of China. We pulled up by the bus station in Hongcun around 9 am and the guy showed me where to go to buy my ticket. There is a ticket office, just next to the car park/ bus station. The ticket was 104 RMB, which is quite steep, but most entrance fees are in China. The good thing about the ticket is that pretty much everything in the village is covered, so you can wander into all the buildings. Also, it helps to preserve and maintain the village and supports the villagers. I had recently read a book, 'Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine', which was about the famine in China during the late 1950s and early 1960s. I knew very little about the famine and through reading this book I found out that Anhui, the province I was now in, was one of the worst hit. This was definitely on my mind as I wandered around the villages and travelled through the countryside. This also negated any hard feelings I had about the hefty entrance fee. These people's families have had a rough time in the past.
The ticket office was about a ten minute walk from the entrance
to the village. Although, it wasn't too busy, I just followed the other people heading in the general direction of the village. I was really hungry and the road was lined with lots of small restaurants, so I stopped at one to get some breakfast. I had a huge plate of egg fried rice with pickled vegetables in it. It was really good and since I love sour foods, it really hit the spot for me. It set me up well for the rest of the day. After my breakfast detour, I made it to the village, which was already pretty busy. I was lucky that I was here in low season, I imagine summer would be a special kind of hell. I entered through the gate and had a look at the map to orientate myself. The area had a really peaceful feel about it and there were people working in the fields surrounding the village and I could see someone doing some washing in the river. I also loved seeing the roofs across the way.
I headed to South Lake which is at the edge of the village. The lake was built in 1607 during the reign
of the Ming Dynasty and is known as 'Little West Lake' for its similarities to the infamous West Lake in Hangzhou. The traditional Anhui style buildings across the lake looked beautiful with their white walls and contrasting dark roofs and edging. There were also mountains in the distance and the trees around the village were autumnal in colour, which added to the beauty. I headed across the bridge towards the village proper. I decided to walk around the edge first, next to the lake and see where my wanderings would take me. All the buildings looked old, but well cared for. I also liked that the buildings I walked past seemed to be real as people had their bedding and laundry hanging out to air and dry. It stopped the place from feeling purely like a tourist attraction. I loved all the red lanterns hanging from the buildings, too. As I was walking, I took a side street into the village. The street was narrow and there was a ditch on one side with water running through it. As I walked along, I got glimpses into the houses and gardens of the village. Some of the streets were busier than
others. It was a real mix of people, some were tourists like me and others were locals going about their day to day business. Other streets had no one on them apart from me. On my walk I came to busier parts of the village. There were loads of gorgeous doorways and entrance ways for different buildings. I love the banners with messages of good luck that are stuck on or around the entrances. It makes them look prettier.
Included in the ticket price for the village is the entrance fee for several of the different halls dotted around the village. I came to one, I forget its name, and had a quick look around. From there, I came across a small guesthouse that, for a small entrance fee, would let you climb up to the roof and get some views of the village. I thought it would be nice to get a view of the village from above, so I paid the entrance fee and headed up the stairs. Luckily, there weren't too many floors as my legs were still recovering from scaling Huangshan. I spent a little while on the roof, taking in the views in every
direction. I saw some art students sitting with their sketchbooks and a man riding past on his horse and cart. The views across the rooftops and of the surrounding mountains were nice. The view was a little hazy, but not too bad. Back on the streets, I wandered around some more. I passed a few more picturesque doors and washing drying on bamboo poles in the street. I also saw bok choy drying on fences and chili peppers drying in trays. It reminded me a bit of Korea. I came to a basketball court, which also bok choy laid out on it. There were also some houses here that were a bit higgledy piggeldy looking. They were a contrast to the buildings in the centre of the village. I also came across a cat sitting on a wall that was happy to pose for photos.
I came to Chengzhi Hall so went in for a look around. The hall was built in 1855 during the reign of Emperor Xianfeng of the Qing Dynasty. The building was beautiful with an all wooden interior. There were some beautifully carved wooden panels depicting flowers and birds. I like that the buildings have
a one way system as it means you come out on a small side street that you may not have thought to wander down yourself. The next building I came to was Shuren Hall, which was built during the reign of Emperor Tongzhi of the Qing Dynasty. After taking a look around, I was back on the street. I prefer wandering the streets to looking around the old halls as I find it much more interesting. The next place I visited had the rather nice name of the Utopian Residence. I really liked the small courtyard garden in this place as it was very green. As I continued on, I came to one of the main streets, which was lined with shops. In the centre of the street was the Old Gingko Tree, which looked beautiful with its bright yellow leaves. There was also an Old Red Poplar Tree nearby, but I didn't notice it as it paled in comparison to the gingko tree. My walk took me along the path near the river that flowed into South Lake.
There were a couple of places that I still had to see, so I made my way to those. The
first was the South Lake Academy. This was a rather extensive set of buildings set in large grounds. I wandered around the different buildings. One was a more modern classroom and the others were all really traditional. Then Ning Xue Building was used by scholars to recite and write poetry. I'm sure that this task was made easier in such a beautiful place. In one of the halls, there were some beautiful wooden carvings. I really admire the skills that has gone into producing them. The last place I visited was Moon Pond, which is in the centre of the village. It is really nice to see all the traditional buildings around the pond and to see their reflections in the water. I just wish the water had been a little clearer as that would have improved the view. I had a walk round the pond, there were a few other tourists about, but no big hordes. I enjoyed taking in the view. While I was there, I saw the the Lexu Hall was nearby, so headed in there for a look around. The hall was built in 1403 and was used for various purposes such as meetings, ancestor worship,
discussion, punishment and marriage.
I had passed a café earlier, so I headed in there for a coffee and to relax for a bit. The café was quite cute. After finishing my coffee, I made my way to the bus station. I wasn't really sure where it was, but knew it was near where I'd been dropped off. The bus station was a small hut in the corner of the large carpark, next to the place I'd bought my entrance ticket. I bought a ticket for the next bus to Tunxi, and had to wait about 20 minutes until it was time to depart. The journey back to the city took about an hour or so, and passed through Xidi, so I knew where I needed to be the next day.
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