Langzhong (阆中; Làngzhōng) is a town in northeastern Sichuan province.
Langzhong is a city of about 100,000 people on the Jialing River. The main attraction is the ancient town (古镇, Gǔ zhèn), a mostly unadulterated section of ancient architecture, closed to vehicle traffic. The town is famous as the abode and headquarters of Zhangfei (张飞), a notable emperor during the years of the Han dynasty. There are also some hiking and sightseeing opportunities in the surrounding area.
Langzhong's size and offerings makes for an ideal weekend trip, but could host several days of sightseeing, especially for those interested in classical Chinese culture and architecture.
Three buses leave daily from Mianyang (4 hours, 75Y), departing from Fu Le bus station northeast of the city. There are also multiple buses leaving from Chengdu's Beimen station (5 hours, 94Y). Chongqing and Xi'an also offer buses to Langzhong.
The main bus station is located 5km south of the town. Another, smaller station is located north of town. The two bus stations are connected by bus 89, which also passes by the old town.
Langzhong has a simple bus system with several lines serving the bus station, Grand Buddha, and old town. Taxi flag fall is 4.5Y.
The main attraction is the old town (古镇, Gǔ zhèn), a sizable section of ancient-looking buildings in classical style. It was from this town that the famed warrior-king Zhangfei administered the Kingdom of Shu during the late Han.
The town offers a combined ticket (80Y) to five main attractions, listed below. Individual tickets can also be purchased for each. All sites have slightly informative English captions on some displays. Once in the old town, these sites are easy to find by either following town maps posted everywhere, or buying a town map (10Y).
Huagong tower (15Y) and
Zhongtian tower (10Y), two towers of about three stories, fine locations from which to overlook the town and river.
Zhangfei Temple (40Y), where the warrior king was laid to rest after being betrayed by his closest advisors.
Fengshui Museum (20Y), an exhibition of geomantic principles including a scale model of the town. There is also a beautiful, small courtyard with well-kept vegetation and multiple levels. A (Mandarin only) fortune teller is sometimes available. The attached museum houses multiple displays without English captions.
Gongyuan (35Y), a preserved ancient examination hall. Up until the Communist Revolution, individuals seeking government employment memorized ancient Confucian texts and were later grilled on the quality of their memorization as the sole qualifier for employment. This hall is one where students were examined, and houses a tribute to Langzhong's top scholars.
For the very time- or budget- conscious, a tower and the Fengshui museum will probably suffice. Otherwise, these and other various sights (2-10Y) make for a day or more of sightseeing.
In addition to sightseeing in the old town, there are two mountain areas south of the town, just across the river.
One of these, southeast of the city, is a large mountain park. Referred to collectively as East Mountain Forest Park (东山林园, dōng shān lín yuán) it hosts three major sights:
Grand Buddha Temple (10Y) A large temple complex including what is described as one of Sichuan's ten largest stone-carved sitting Buddhas. The area has many lesser shrines as well as a restored but ramshackle living complex, and offers many views of the city and river. From the road, you can't miss the large parking area.
Number 1 Scholars Cave (4Y) One of Sichuan's greatest bargains, a small grotto where several of Langzhong's greatest scholars prepared for examinations. The complex occupies a small pond and temple. In low season, you can have the place all to yourself for a mesmerizing experience. The area is not quite visible from the road; look for a parking turnoff and informational sign.
White Tower Pagoda (2Y to climb) A prominent spike-shaped erection conspicuously visible from town, the pagoda was originally built in the 1600s, severely damaged in the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake, only to be rebuilt by the end of that year. If the attendant is present, you can climb the stairs inside the pagoda for a small price.
The scenic area is accessible a number of ways. Tourist transport buses and ferries run between the town and the scenic area. The public bus also stops at the entrance to the park (bus stop: Grand Buddha Temple Park Entrance, 大佛寺园入口). From the bus stop, walk up the signed road. You can walk to the Buddha Temple (3km) or to a set of steep stairs on your right (1km) which goes to the pagoda. From there, follow signs to the remaining sights.
Probably the most rewarding experience in any time of year is a few hours dedicated to wandering the streets, looking for glimpses of the goings-on of ancient China.
Langzhong is famed as one of China's main vinegar production centers. However, despite what some popular guidebooks say, everything is not pickled here.
One local specialty is Zhangfei's Beef (张飞牛肉, Zhāngfēi niúròu), a dried beef dish attributed to the warrior-king, who was a butcher of animals before he became a butcher of men.
Within the old town, most of the best dining is found on North street (北街, Běi jiē) (changing to South street after crossing the main street, Wumiao jie).
Guzhen Bakery Just north of the Zhongtian tower at Wumiao Jie is a very small bakery whose extremely jolly proprietor will gladly speak English with foreign guests. Look for candied hamburgers (4Y).
For a delightful meal full of atmosphere, try dinner just south of Zhongtian Tower on south street. Look for a huge wok of fried dumplings. A plate of these and a self-serve bowl of pumpkin porridge with pickled vegetables costs about 10Y.
There are no obvious dedicated drinking establishments within the Old Town itself. Beer can be bought at most restaurants. Coffee/milk tea bars are common in the old town.
There are many courtyard homesteads in the old town, often advertised as "so-and-so's family complex." Some, such as the Li Family Courtyard, are quite similar to the complexes where families lived in ancient times. There is no shortage of these: look for the sign 住宿, or sleeping-place, or just walk into any open, inviting looking courtyard. Most proprietors are glad to rent space to travelers for around 100Y for a double.