Changsha (长沙; Chángshā) is the capital of Hunan Province.
Changsha's claim to fame is that during World War II, it was the first major city that was successful defended by the Chinese from the Japanese invasion. The XiangJiang river runs through Changsha.
Huanghua International Airport is the major airport for those seeking to visit Changsha. A 45 minutes drive on the expressway will take you to the city center. Airport buses operate from 06:00 to 22:00 from downtown Changsha to the airport and costs 16.5RMB. The bus leaves from the CAAC Aviation Hotel on Wuyi Dadao (五一大道) a block west of the central train station.
Traveling from the airport, will allow for some window-viewing of the relatively wealthy countryside surrounding the city. Although annual floods do sizable property damage, the overflowing of the rivers help irrigate the evergreen and enormous rice paddies.
Changsha Railway Station is in the heart of the city. There are direct train connections from many cities in China or indirect ones using a connecting train. From Beijing it is about 14 hours.
Changsha South Station (of the Wuhan-Guangzhou High Speed Rail) is located south-east of the downtown, about 25-30 minutes from the city core. From Guangzhou South it is about 2.5 hours on the high speed train, or a minimum of 8 hours on the much cheaper normal trains (a little over one quarter of the price) .
Trolleys with the usual Chinese array of instant noodles, dried vegetables and packed fruit are noteable for their regularity, but for something slightly more fulfilling (and expensive), hop down to the restaurant car.
Ubiquitous taxicabs flood the city streets, willing to transport you just up the street or to the other side of town, the meters start at ¥6.
If you want to spend like a native or just want to experience the sensation of being sandwiched between natives, then hop on a bus for ¥2 and feel the thrill of speeding down the bumpy roads with barely any breathing room.
Hunan Provincial Museum (湖南省博物馆). Museum hours are posted as 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM (except closed Mondays), but expect to get kicked out 20 minutes before closing. See the Han-era tomb of Xin Zui, the Marquess of Dai, and her 2,100 year old preserved body. Its extraordinary and looks more real than Ho Chi Minh. Her body was still moist and flexible when they found her, complete elastic skin. Also at the museum, is many exhibits on all kinds of Han Dynasty artifacts, including pottery, to lacqureware, to an impressive collection of intact silk, etc. Admission is free, but it is on a first come first serve basis - your ticket will have a time stamped on it that will show when you are allowed to enter the exam. Show up early in the morning if you want to get in right away, otherwise you might have to pick up a ticket and then return in a few hours to enter.
Hunan University, (Across the river). You will find lots of great places to eat in and around the studious atmosphere of the various campus' south of Yuelu Shan. Mao Zedong attended Hunan University and there is a statue in honour of this most famous of their alumni.
Theaters. Watch traditional folk art, eg lion dance, drum opera, clam dance and Xiang Opera.
Yuelu Academy, Hunan University (Changsha's west side, South Lushan road), ☎ 0731-88822352, . Yuelu Academy is the "Thousand Year Old" center of culture and learning of southern China. Rich in history and beautiful period architecture, a visit to the academy will put you in touch with the ancient elites of southern China. You can find all the history on the website and then visit the academy yourself to get the real experience.
Wuyi Shopping Circle. The most important shopping area downtown.
When eating in Changsha there is nothing better than a plate of stinky tofu (chou dofu) or soo-yo-bing bought right off the street. If you have just arrived, be wary of eating from street vendors. Although the inviting aroma of food cooking may be too tempting to resist, you better have a strong stomach if you do not want to get an upset one.
Food in Changsha is famously described as "xiang cai". As Xiang Jiang is the major river that borders the city to the west, Xiang denotes not only the flavor and taste of the food but also of the land. Changsha, like Szechuan is known for spicy food, but without the additional "ma", numbing affect of certain spices and pepper. In summer, oversized metal mixing bowls filled with crawfish seasoned with plenty of chili and spices, take the stage atop countless tabletops. Restaurants get so busy and overcrowded that tables, chairs along with diners spill into the busy streets and the parade of tantalizing dishes endlessly leave the kitchen to appear on the tables of hungry diners.
For international cuisine, four and five star restaurants have reputable chefs although for a visitor, the inifite array of dishes native to or with a Hunan flair are sure to please even the most discriminating palate.
Head straight to Snake Alley for the best "point-and-eat" in the city for merely pennies (US$ of course).
Food Street, (On the first floor of Huatian Hotel). Choices and a sampling of regional foods of the country. Long established and well-regarded, this cozy and rustic eatery stays bustling through the wee morning hours as food enthusiasts, businessmen, and families with their children flock to this fun food court styled eatery. Do not be fooled though by the fast-food style of ordering (prepared food is displayed at various stations, your orders are placed by a hole punched on your menu card and then served freshly prepared within minutes of ordering), the food here is superb. From the sweet taro dessert topped with gingko biloba nuts to steamed pork chops dusted with a layer of sticky rice powder, the food here arguably some of the best you will find. With the huge range and style that is presented at Food Street, you will be sure to find new favorites for you and each of the guests you bring.
Huo Gong Dian (Translates as: The Fire Palace; Written 火宫殿), Pozi Jie #78 (Behind Wal-Mart, on Changsha's snack street Pozi Jie (Written (坡子街))), ☎ 0731—85817591, . Itchin' for some smokin' Hunan cuisine? Check out the history-rich Fire Palace. Good enough for Chairman Mao is good enough for all of us! Addition: They come around with trolleys and serve you. The trolleys contain different food types... soup, dim sum, and so forth. You might enjoy Chou Dou Fu ("stinky" tofu), Changsha Dou Pi, Pineapple bread (contains chunks and similar to some Indian breads), Yangrou Chuar (lamb kebabs), Niu Rou (Beef in baskets - relatively fat-free), Corn soup and vegetables which are cooked in front of you.
Jiefang West Road (解放西路; Jiefangxilu) - there are a few Chinese clubs along this road, including SoHo, the ubiqiutous Chinese chain. Drinks tend to be expensive, the music loud, and clubs crowded. It's just off the main walking street so it's in quite a handy location.
Taiping Street (太平街; Taipingjie) - this newly refurbished area, with traditional/tacky facades has a few smaller bars, some with live music. It's just off Jiefang West Road towards the river. Addition: This is a touristy shopping street and many prices are on par with the West. Bargaining is impossible here. Even those who speak little English know how to say "No Bargains". I would only shop here if really pushed for time AND have extra money, although the shops are worth seeing to get an idea of what is available. Bargain extra hard here if you can...
The Fifth Tone (Coffeeshop), Changsha's West Side, XinMin Road, Shimenlou Street #3. (After crossing the middle bridge to the west side, take a left onto Lushan Road. Take a left at the first light onto Xinmin Road. Halfway down the street on your left is a small street called Shimenlou street. The cafe is the third storefront on the left!), ☎ 0731-88805303, . 2pm-10pm, Mon thru Sat. It's American- run, has real coffee drinks and homemade desserts like brownies and banana bread. Although a hangout for local foreigners, it also has a Chinese clientele. There's an 'English Corner' (where Chinese invite English speakers to join them to speak English) on Tuesday evenings, and live music on Friday nights.15yuan.
Hooligans Pub (Huli Ba), #1 Hua Long Chi (From the center square of walking street take the 2nd left and go by Starbucks, keep walking a short distance and turn right at Daylight Donuts. Go to the end of the alley and look for the statue out front.), ☎ 13973116221. open 7-? 7days/week. Consisting of 3 floors with the 2nd offering free Karaoke it's a western style pub owned by a foreigner. It plays popular western music, large-screen TV's with satellite connection, a professional dart board, has imported drinks, homemade burritos, hot chocolate and coffee. It's a great place to meet English speakers and celebrates all Chinese and western holidays. 25-kuai Heineken on sale.20 Yuan and up.
Caco Cafe (Coffee Cocktail Dessert), Taiping Street (太平街) #138, ☎ 86-731-89785030,15116389218, . 12:00-0:00. A good place to meet other travellers in Changsha. Western & Chinese menu. Beer and cocktails for 20 RMB and Caco is on hand to be the host. Ladies drink free margaritas on Wednesday. Open bar on Thursdays. Full English breakfast and bacon rolls for the tired and hungry.20RMB.
Jinjiang Inns, NanHu Lu, TianXin Qu (Taxi straight from the airport cost me 100 RMB in November 2011; the rate seems to be fixed into town at RMB 100.). I first stayed in JinJiang Inns on NanHuLu (南湖路) which was not great; after each bath the room steamed up for hours because the flooring was made of an unidentifiable material and then it was located a bit of a way out... The staff were nice enough but that wasn't enough, sadly. Check out my third listing which I personally felt was much better value for the same price.Around 200 RMB per night when I stayed.
Renting an apartment. One should be careful if renting unless you have Chinese friends who you don't mind bothering at any and all hours. I stayed in an apartment for 1 month which was a nuisance. Although they probably meant well, the landlords were irritating and loud and walked into my apartment quite a few times in the initial days. The cooker wasn't fixed for a month, the plumbing was not great and the flat ended up waterlogged. Of course, this may not happen in every apartment, but in such situations your Chinese better be really good. By this point I had enough and took help from a good friend to find a new place. The first places we saw were worse than this apartment but then we walked into this really cool, affordable theme hotel by FeeTel at the same price (even cheaper for some rooms) than JinJiang Inns above. It's below.
FeeTel Inns Changsha, Wuyi Dadao (五一大道) near the corner of Huang Xing Zhong Lu (黄兴中路), Furong Qu, Changsha (芙蓉区,长沙), ☎ For GuoQu who speaks English +86 1807 310 3459. The FeeTel Hotel (非特) gave me a wonderful end to my trip.
The theme and decor is different in all the rooms which they showed me. This is the coolest hotel I've ever been to. It was carpeted, warm and well-lit and has large windows. I loved the room enough to book for the rest of my stay in Changsha.
It is a new hotel located just a stone's throw from Crowne Plaza but much more affordable. It's very conveniently located right on Wuyi Dadao (五一大道, translated as 51 Avenue) near the corner of Huang Xing Zhong Lu (黄兴中路, Zhong Lu means Middle Road as the Chinese often use East, Middle, West, North or South to specify the exact part of the road).
On arrival, they asked if there were any special requirements. I asked not to be disturbed (after the previous apartment). Because it's new and they are putting up new signage, they said that to avoid disturbing me they wanted to upgrade me to a much bigger room. Both rooms have a 30" TV with many channels, a large desk for my studying, high speed internet, a coffee table by the window, 2 comfy leather chairs (3 in the new room) and TWO types of shower (regular hand held and wide overhead). The bed is comfortable and there is a lockable section in my desk which can fit a laptop and more. The room cleaning service is quick. The staff are very friendly and helpful. One of them (pronounced GuoChoo) speaks more than enough English, which is sadly not always easy to find in Changsha. She even left the hotel to find me and bring me back to the hotel and she helped me carry my things too. When the weather turned they gave me a second blanket, which was nice. These things make one more comfortable when away from home.
I have pretty high standards and have never even written a hotel review before but I am so happy with this hotel that I am compelled to. I hope to bring my family next year to stay here. This place is very reasonably priced at around GBP30 for the best rooms.
A lot of useful locations are less than 5 minutes walk from the hotel and simple to find. There are some tasty restaurants and well-stocked fruit markets in SanTai Jie and SanXing Jie (3-4 minute walk), the tourist shops on TaiPing Jie for souvenirs (5 minute walk), JieFangXi Lu for bars and nightclubs (3 minute walk) and of course, HuangXing Lu (Walking Street) is a great place for shopping. If you want convenient all-items-in-one-place shopping, try Wanda Plaza (1 minute walk) which actually has a Wal-Mart!!
Since this was written, a karaoke night club has opened on the floor(s) under the hotel, so the sound of terrible singing is likely to come up through the floor all day and all night until 7 am. I hope you are a sound sleeper.