The name Zhengzhou comes from a city in the Sui Dyansty, but its actual location was in modern day Chenggao. During the Tang Dyansty, the name switched here. The area remained an unimportant backwater until it was selected for development by the Chinese Government after 1949. Strategically located in the center of the country, Zhengzhou is now a major transportation hub and rapidly growing city.
Zhengzhou is China's biggest train hub; you can get here from nearly every major metropolitian area in China. There are several arrivals each day from Beijing (about 11 hours), Guangzhou (about 18 hours), Xi'an (about 5 hours) and Shanghai (about 14 hours). Trains arrive from other places less often.
Across from the train station, you will find a long-distance bus station. Buses leave regularly to almost anywhere you would want to go in China. Buses are less comfortable than the trains, but are cheaper and you don't have to push and shove your way in and out of the train. The long-distance buses generally have sleepers rather than seats.
The airport is about 30 km outside of town. A public bus runs from the airport to a centrally located hotel. It costs Y25.
The city's focal point is Erqi (February 7) Square (二七广场). This large public square comes alive at night, when an entire market fills the space with vendors and locals hanging out. From the square, several main streets fan out to different areas of the city.
Since Zhengzhou was handpicked to serve as a transportation hub -- and does not have a very long history as a large city -- the urban planning is more noticeable here than in other places of China. This means there is plenty of green space, tree-lined streets and logical arrangment to the city.
Zhengzhou is relatively spread out, but most sites are accessible by public bus, which costs Y1 or Y2 per ride - depending on whether or not there is air-conditioning, those with A/C being more expensive but usually less crowded.
Taxi fares begin at Y6 in the day, Y7 in the evening, and Y8 late at night, with each kilometer after the second costing Y1.5. All taxis are metered, and the drivers rarely, if ever, try to cheat foreigners.
There's not a lot to do in Zhengzhou. A possible evening in Zhengzhou might involve eating at a Sichuan restaurant, getting yourself a bottle of whisky, getting crazy, and finishing off the evening at a 24-hour hot pot restaurant.
Large department stores and international brands tend to be concentrated around Erqi (February 7) Square. The two major department stores are Kingbird (金博大) and Beijing Hualien (北京华联), which are next to each other. Both stores have supermarkets in their basements.
Some of the most interesting gifts can be purchased at the city's antique market. Most of the shop owners will have a calculator handy so you can bargain by typing in prices. Consider that you got a good deal if you pay half of what they originally quoted. The people are friendly but many of the shops sell fake antiques made to look old. Nevertheless there are interesting items that will decorate your walls or look great on a stand back at home. You can even impress your friends by telling them you bought them an antique from China.
Some of the small shops sell real antiquities. You'll know when you're buying one because the prices will rise dramatically from about 100 Yuan or less for fake goods to well over 5,000 Yuan for the real deal.
If you are a collector, China will not let foreigners take antiques out of the country that are over 200 years old or possibly even more recent items depending on their cultural value.
Make sure you know where your wallet is at all times. There are some unsavory characters in the markets. This is, in fact, true of Zhengzhou in general, which has a reputation for pickpockets. Buses are especially risky. Keep your wallet in your front pocket.
Zhengzhou has a diverse array of fine Chinese cuisine. Its location at China's center means you can find almost any type of Chinese food here. The city's big enough to have a scattering of cosmopolitian restaurants, and while there are a number of fake Korean, Japanese, and Western options about, you will do best to stick with Chinese food.
Some of the finest restaurants are located on Jingsan Road (经三路). To find these restaurants, ask a taxi driver to take you to a restaurant called Xiaonanguo (小南国), located at 经三路北16号, and just look around. You'll find a number of options about. Xiaonanguo itself is an excellent restaurant featuring regional dishes from all over China.
The night market in Erqi (Feburary 7) Square is a good place for a snack and scenery. There's the usual assortment of dumpling shops and noodle joints on every street and back alley. There's a good number of Sichuan restaurants, which make sense considering the proximity to the Province of Spice. Noodles, especially the mutton noodle (Simplified Chinese:羊肉烩面 Pinyin: yangrouhuimian) and beef noodle (Simplified Chinese:牛肉拉面 Pinyin: niuroulamian) are must-eat in Zhengzhou.
There is a Korean-style eating and drinking establishment called Tu Da Li near the corner of Wenhua Road and Huanghe Road. If you have an affinity for soju, this is the place for you.
A good place for Western cuisine is Crowne Plaza, which has an Italian restaurant and a Western-style pub. It offers a buffet during dinner including Brazillian Rodizio and a desert bar. There is also a smattering of pizza and pasta joints called Cappucino around the city.
New Island Coffee serves a plethora of dishes including Waffles and fajita style meat plate alongside a smattering of coffee and deserts and has several locations throughout Zhengzhou.
There are bars around the city, but the best area for drinking is around the tree-lined Wei Yi Lu. Target Pub is an ex-pat favorite, located on the southernmost block of Jing Liu Lu (经六路) near the corner of Wei Yi Lu (伟一路). Lao Wang, who speaks great English, is the proprietor of this laid-back reggae-style pub.
If you're interested in getting connected with foreigners living in Zhengzhou, try to find Hank. Hank is a Zhengzhou native who speaks excellent English, knows every episode of South Park by heart, and is the portal to all things remotely interesting going on in the city.
For an unusual drinking experience, consider the Western Pub, located in a bunker-like concrete building to the right of the Henan Provincial Museum on Nongye Road. This place features a cabaret-style show with a mix of song, dance, and jokes. Unless you understand Chinese, it will be mostly incomprehensible, yet the experience will give you insight into Chinese drinking culture. The place is noisy, smoky, crowded, and occasionally bizarre. You can order half-a-dozen or so bottles of beer by the bucket. Try to get there early, around 7 PM, as the show ends around 10 or 11 PM. This building also houses one of Zhengzhou's movie theaters.
Zhengzhou isn't a major backpacker stop, so there are few cheap lodgings in the city. That said, there are some hotels that offer real value for money if you are more than two people.