Changsha (长沙; Chángshā) is the capital of Hunan Province.
In the first millenium BC, it was an urban centre in the state of Chu. In the centuries following, Changsha was often in a state of contention, sometimes incorporated into Han China proper, and at other times heading an independent state. Mao Zedong started his political career here, as a newly-arrived country boy from the nearby village of Shaoshancong. During World War II, it was the first major city that was successfully 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 6AM-10PM from downtown Changsha to the airport and cost ¥16.5. 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 southeast 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).
Also is 3 hours on high speed rail to shenzhen.
Ubiquitous taxis flood the city streets, willing to transport you just up the street or to the other side of town. The meters start at ¥7.
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. Buses with air-con (hot or cold) cost 2 ¥2 and buses without cost 1 ¥2
- Hunan Provincial Museum (湖南省博物馆). Tu-Su 09:00-17:00, expect to get kicked out 20 minutes before closing, 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. See the Han era tomb of Xin Zui, the Marquess of Dai, and her 2,100 year old preserved body. It's 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 are many exhibits on all kinds of Han Dynasty artifacts, including pottery, lacqureware and an impressive collection of intact silk. Admission is free.
- 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 Yuelushan.
- changshahua.com, . This English language website is an up-to-date resource for those visiting to or living in Changsha. Meet other English speakers, find out what to do, where to go and what Changsha has to offer.
- Theaters. Watch traditional folk art, eg lion dance, drum opera, clam dance and Xiang Opera.
- Yuelu Academy, Hunan University (Changsha's west side, South Rd), ☎ 0731-88822352, . The Thousand Year Old centre 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.
- Yuelu Mountain (岳麓山). A local mountain, Yuelushan is a pleasant retreat from the urban grit of Changsha. Take the cable car up in the morning, and spend your day wending your way down. There are plenty of teahouses, pavilions, and the occasional temple to stop at on the way down. You can explore Yuelu Academy near the bottom of the mountain, Central South University at the base.
- 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 Xiangjiang 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 crayfish 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.
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.
- 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 restaurant stays bustling through the wee morning hours as food enthusiasts, businessmen, and families with their children flock to this fun food court. 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.
- Huo Gong Dian (火宫殿; lit: The Fire Palace), 78 Pozi St (坡子街) (behind Wal-Mart, on the snack street), ☎ +86 731 85817591, . Local Hunan cuisine. Chairman Mao ate here. You might enjoy Choudoufu (stinky tofu), Changsha Doupi, Pineapple bread (contains chunks and similar to some Indian breads), Yangrou Chuar (lamb kebabs), Niurou (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) has 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 is in quite a handy location.
Taiping Street (太平街; Taipingjie) is a newly refurbished area, with traditional/tacky facades has a few smaller bars, some with live music. It is just off Jiefang West Road towards the river. 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. But the shops are worth seeing to get an idea of what is available.
- The Fifth Tone, Xinmin Rd, Shimenlou St 3 (west side of town, after crossing the middle bridge to the west side, take a left onto Lushan Rd, take a left at the first light onto Xinmin Rd, halfway down the street on your left is the small street Shimenlou St, the cafe is the third storefront on the left), ☎ +86 731 88805303, . M-Sa 14:00-22:00. It is American run, and offers homemade desserts such as brownies and banana bread. Although mainly popular with expats, it also has a Chinese clientele. There is an English Corner (where Chinese invite English speakers to join them to speak English) on Tuesday evenings, and live music on Friday nights. ¥15.
- Hooligans Pub (Huli Ba), 1 Hualongchi (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. From 07:00. Consisting of three floors with the 2nd offering free Karaoke and Xbox camera dancing and sports games - great fun with friends and strangers. It is 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 is a great place to meet English speakers and celebrates all Chinese and western holidays. From ¥20, Heineken on sale ¥25.
- Caco Cafe, Taiping St 138 (太平街), ☎ +86 731 89785030, 15116389218, . noon-midnight. A good place to meet other visitors. Western & Chinese menu. Ladies drink free margaritas on Wednesday. Open bar on Thursdays. Full English breakfast and bacon rolls. ¥20.
- gan-bei.com, . gan-bei.com is a same-day drink delivery service and shop in Changsha. They deliver a variety of cold, imported beer to Changsha based customers. Purchases can also be made in-store.
- Jinjiang Inns, Nanhu Rd, Tianxin District (taxi straight from the airport costs ¥100, the rate seems to be fixed into town). After each bath the room steams up for hours because the flooring was made of an unidentifiable material. It is a bit of a way out, but the staff are nice. Around ¥200.
- FeeTel Inns Changsha, Wuyi St, Furong District (芙蓉区, 五一大道) (near the corner of Huangxing Zhong Rd (黄兴中路)), ☎ +86 1807 310 3459.
- Yuelu Shan Youth Hostel (岳麓山国际青年旅舍), Villa No. 1, Lushan Huaqiaocun, 50 Xinmin Rd (新民路50号麓山华侨村1号别墅) (In a courtyard behind Yangcheng Restaurant (Yángchéng Cānguăn hòumiàn), in Yuèlù, West of the Xiang river.), ☎ 0731-85368418. Comfortable, well kept and friendly staff. Conveniently located for climbing Yuelu Shan. Doubles for ¥128, Dorms around ¥50..
- 7 days Inn. ¥140.
- Huatian Hotel Changsha (华天大酒店总店), 300 East Jiefang Road (Jiefang Dong Lu),Changsha, . The Huatian Hotel Changsha (Changsha Huatian Dajiudian) is a five-star hotel located about 2 kilometres from the railway station. The hotel provides various guestrooms, all equipped with air conditioning, mini bars and international direct-dial phones.
- Dolton Hotel Changsha (长沙通程国际大酒店), 159 North Shaoshan Road (Shaoshan Bei Lu) Furong Changsha, . Changsha's Dolton Hotel (Changsha Tongcheng Guoji Dajiudian) is a five-star hotel located in the heart of the city only 30 minutes by car from the airport and five minutes from the railway station.
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