Why Bother Visiting Jiangxi?
Jiangxi boasts some of the most amazing lush vegetation and beautiful mountains of China, but with few exceptions, by lacking nationally famous historical sights and having been one of the poorer provinces for some time, it’s not a place many think of when choosing a place to visit.
But if you’ve ever tried traveling to the Summer Palace, Tai Shan, Huang Shan, or Jiuzhaigou, especially during holiday season, you’ve definitely wished fewer people knew about those places. So when you visit the scenic spots in Jiangxi, not only are you less likely to be wasting precious holiday time stuck waiting in lines, but your money will go much farther.
The Starting point: Nanchang, The City of Heroes
For most travelers, Nanchang is their first experience of Jiangxi province, since this city has the province’s busiest airport and train stations. Nanchang is Jiangxi’s largest city and the provincial capital and is known as the City of Heroes because of the Nanchang Uprising of August 1, 1927, which marked the founding of the People’s Liberation Army and the beginning of the Chinese Civil War. In honor of this event, the biggest square in the center of the city is known as a Ba Yi Square, which literally means 8 (i.e. August) – 1 square (八一广场). This 3rd-tier city can be quite enjoyable to visit.
What’s good about Nanchang is its location. With the completion of the new West Train Station (南昌西站), Nanchang can now be reached within 5 hours from most major cities in China by the G “bullet” trains. As a quick overview, Changsha is now 1.5 hours away, Shanghai 3.5 hours, Xiamen 4 hours, Hefei 4.5 hours, Shenzhen 5 hours.
If you are coming from Beijing or Western China, unless you are up for train rides of over 8 hours, you are better off taking an airplane to the Nanchang International Airport (昌北机场), but be aware that the airport is quite far from the city, so be ready to drop 100 Yuan to get to downtown Nanchang by taxi (there is also Airport Bus Line 1 which for 20 Yuan will take you to Ba Yi Square).
If you like spicy food, Jiangxi, and especially Nanchang is the place for you. Most local dishes are quite similar to Sichuanese and at times even spicier. Many people like the local food better even than Sichuanese because of no need to avoid those little round numbing peppers. Due to the inclusion of various pickled and fermented veggies and generous heapings of red hot peppers and MSG, Nanchang people are proud of how “heavy” their taste is (重口味).
A local specialty to try is Chao Fen (炒粉), a fried rice noodle dish often ordered instead of rice at the end of a meal. For breakfast, as everywhere in China you can get steamed baozi and jiaozi, but Nanchang also offers Ban Fen (拌粉), a rice noodle which is cooked within just a few seconds by being stirred in boiled water and then mixed with roasted peanuts, various pickled veggies and of course hot peppers. An order of Ban Fen will run you 2-4 Yuan.
Another popular breakfast option is the Wa Guan Tang (瓦罐汤), which are little simmering pots of soup of many varieties for only 3-4 Yuan. You can choose from lotus root, seaweed, pear, egg and many other options, but the base will always be a pork broth with some pieces of pork rib or minced pork. You know if a place offers these soups because you will see outside of their front door a huge pot that holds and steams all the mini pots (think huge Ming Dynasty-looking vase).
If you are looking for Western food, you’re out of luck, as aside from five-star hotel buffets, your only options are going to be McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut.
Culture: The Tang Wang Pavilion
One of the “Four Great Towers” of China, the Tang Wang Pavilion is the most famous historical site in Nanchang. For a 60 Yuan entry fee you can walk up its levels and look at the paintings and museum shop. For an extra fee, you can even get an English-speaking guide, but to be honest, this place is not all that impressive or large enough of a site to justify the entry fee, and you will likely feel bored and ready to go within an hour. You can pay 8 Yuan for a little bag of fish food and throw it into the little lake surrounding the Pavilion and watch thousands of fish scramble for it, but that’s about the most excitement to be had here.
Avoid the fake monks right outside the front gate who will shove little golden stamps into your hand and then demand a “donation”. I also wouldn’t bother with the fake fur traders trying to sell you tiger and cheetah skins either. Neither of these animals have been seen for a while (never, in the case of the cheetah) in Jiangxi, so the authenticity is worse than questionable.
Note: As of early 2016, the Tang Wang Pavilion tourist area is being expanded with additional smaller pavilions being constructed. Once the expansion is complete, I imagine this site will become more interesting (and more expensive).
Partying: The Bar Scene
For small bars, I would recommend Rong Men Road (榕门路) which has several dozen small bars, most with live music. From Ba Yi Square, a taxi or a motorized tuck-tuck can get you to Rong Men Road for about 10 Yuan. A specific bar to consider is Guang Yin De Gu Shi (光阴的故事) which has a unique Chinese look with traditional Chinese musical instruments hanging from the walls and an old huge bamboo boat on the ceiling.
It also serves traditional Chinese alcohols for drinking in porcelain bowls, most famously Nv Er Hong (女儿红), which literally translates to “Daughter’s Red”. This is an alcohol that in the old days of Nanchang was prepared, bottled and buried underground on the day a daughter was born. On her wedding day, the bottle was dug up and served to the guests. Daughter’s Red is a kind of Chinese yellow rice wine that is extremely sweet and doesn’t seem to have any effect until you find yourself waking up in a puddle in a strange alley.
If you like big, loud Chinese clubs, then Fuzhou Road is the place to go. From Ba Yi Square, walk North on Bayi Road for one block and take a right. Within a few minutes you will see Muse, which at the moment is the most popular club and the most expensive at 800 Yuan a bottle of whiskey.
If you continue down Fuzhou Road, you will find C2 and Caribbean Bar, which are a little cheaper and attract a lot more of a countryside crowd, and if you keep walking you will run into CD 1925, which is best avoided as foreigners will be barred entry at the door, for this bar is known for attracting all sorts of small time gangsters and is almost guaranteed to be the sight of a bar brawl every night.
The Major Mountains
Enough with the city life. The best thing about Jiangxi is its natural beauty, especially the mountainous areas. I call these three the “major” mountains because they are the ones people from other provinces will actually have heard of. Entrance fees are going to be a bit higher and the crowds a bit bigger, but it will still be more enjoyable than going to Huang Shan, where you may wait several hours in line just to enter the mountain park.
Lu Shan (庐山), or Mount Lu, is the most famous mountain area in Jiangxi, and it does get crowded. Generally considered one of the ten major mountains of China, you do not want to be here during a holiday like the National Day. The entry fee to the Lu Shan resort area ranges from 135-180 Yuan per person, depending on the season (there is also a 50 Yuan student discount, so always bring your student ID or something in English that looks like it could be a student ID).
Notice that, for visiting Lu Shan and the other mountains and scenic areas discussed in this guide, I will generally recommend taking the train, as this method has become particularly convenient in recent years. When the trains are sold out, there is the alternative long distance bus option.
These rarely sell out, even during holidays, but cost more, take longer time to reach your destination and are often quite dirty, loud and uncomfortable due to the incessant honking and swerving, so I prefer trains. But if are ever in a bind because the train to one of these destinations is sold out, just find out where the closest long distance bus station（长途汽车站) is. There is usually no need to pre-purchase tickets for these buses.
The best way to get to Lu San is to take a train to Jiujiang (45 minutes by G train from Nanchang). Do not get off at the Lu Shan train station, for it’s in the middle of nowhere.
From the Jiujiang train station, you can catch a taxi to the entrance of the Lu Shan resort area for about 60-80 Yuan. There are often many minivans that will charge you less if you share a ride and are willing to be squeezed in and wait until it’s full to set off (around 10-20 Yuan a person). Your best bet for accommodation is also to stay in Jiujiang where you can get a two or three-star hotel near the train station at rates between 100-200 Yuan.
If instead you choose to spend the night in the village of Guling located deep in the mountains, prices will be much higher, and you will find you need to bargain hard just to get a 400 Yuan room (I mention Guling because you will inevitably pass through it when walking through the Lu Shan resort area, and the locals will be very aggressive about trying to sell you a room).
Lu Shan is not just one mountain but a mountain range comprised of hundreds of peaks. So I suggest you devote a minimum of a full day, and ideally two days to this area. What’s also nice about Lu Shan, is that unlike some mountains in China, it’s not just a long meandering stairway. Instead, it’s many short stairways that take you to a tourist spot and then you go down a different stairway, see something else and then go up again, down again and so on. As a result, it’s psychologically and physically less strenuous.
There are many interesting spots on this mountain, in particular I would suggest checking out the Five Old Man Peaks, Donglin Temple, Guanyin Bridge, White Deer Grotto Academy, and the Lulin Villa which used to serve as a former residence for Mao Ze Dong. If you are staying for more than one day, a good choice for the second morning would be the Lu Shan Western Sea Hot Springs (西海温泉). If you’re willing to spend a bit more on accommodations, then you can stay in the nicer hotels near the hot springs for 300-600 Yuan a night, and the price includes entry to the hot springs. The hot springs entry tickets range from 165-190 Yuan, if booked without a hotel room.
If you’re a tea aficionado, buy some of the locally grown and nationally famous Lu Shan Clouds and Fog Tea (庐山云雾茶) before leaving Lu Shan.
Long Hu Shan: The Dragon Tiger Mountains
If you only have one day to visit a mountain resort, Long Hu Shan (龙虎山) is a great choice because you can see practically the entire tourist area within eight to ten hours. Long Hu Shan is located near the city of Yingtan, so your best option is to catch a train there. It takes 2 hours by K train or 40 minutes by G train to get to Yingtan from Nanchang.
If you are staying the night, you may consider lodging at one of the numerous small hotels near the entry gate (for approximately 200-300 Yuan a night) because even though the neighboring city of Yingtan is only 30-40 Yuan away by taxi, most of its hotels don’t have a permit to accommodate foreign guests. The entry ticket to the Long Hu Shan resort is 220 Yuan (160 Yuan with a student ID) which includes a bamboo raft ride (not to be missed). A nice feature of this resort area is if you buy your entry ticket after 1pm, they will give you two tickets – one that’s good for the rest of that day and another for the following one.
It’s best to bring waterproof shoes to the bamboo raft ride, for your feet will get wet. You will be sharing the raft with a total of eight to ten other passengers. The twenty-minute bamboo ride will give you a view of the entire Long Hu Shan area and the guides will point out the various animal shaped mountains (Dragon, Tiger, Elephant etc.) you pass as you go down the Luxi River. You will also want to check out the hanging coffins located in caves high up in the mountains where ancient worshippers of the sun god buried their dead. It’s still a mystery how they did it, but at the end of the raft journey you will want to watch the acrobatic performance where you can see a possible way of how a coffin could have been hoisted so high up in the sky (free to watch).
The raft guides will ask for 10 Yuan extra from each passenger to share “secret” stories about the mountains, but every time I’ve taken the raft ride, they couldn’t get unanimous commitment from the passengers, so we never learned the secrets. If you learned the secrets, perhaps you can share them in the comments.
In the last two years, this mountain area has been developed with many more breathtaking views from the newly constructed plank roads hanging off the sides of the mountains, and I highly recommended checking them out. As the name suggests, the Dragon Tiger Mountains offer plenty of huge unique animal-shaped rock formations. There is a free bus within the resort area that takes you between the various scenic spots, and I suggest stopping at as many of them as you can. Since Long Hu Shan is known as one of the birthplaces of Taoism, the Shanqing Taoist Temple is considered a required stop as well.
San Qing Shan
While San Qing Shan (三清山) is known by some as “little Huangshan” (referring to the famous mountain in Anhui Province), there is nothing little about this mountain area. The granite peaks are amazing and reminiscent of the floating mountains in the movie Avatar. Quite possibly the most impressive mountain area in Jiangxi, San Qing Shan is second only to Lu Shan in popularity with Chinese tourists. Though San Qing Shan has connections with Taoism, its truly the natural sights that are most impressive on these mountains. Get ready for waterfalls, lakes, springs, scary plank walkways and vertigo-inducing ledges.
Composed of three peaks: Yujing, Yushui and Yuhua, this mountain park is truly grand and requires two days to traverse and appreciate in its entirety. Unlike Lu Shan or Long Hu Shan which don’t necessitate you to be in good shape to enjoy, with San Qing Shan, you can’t realistically get more than halfway up after eight hours of climbing stairs, and your legs will be like jelly by that time. Most people choose to take the cable car up instead and then continue circling the mountain up to see the various sights. Once it starts getting late in the day, you can either find accommodation on the mountain and walk down on the second day, or instead pay 50 Yuan more to take the cable car down if you are trying to squeeze the visit into one day.
To get here you will want to take a train to Shangrao (one hour by G train from Nanchang). Shangrao is also close to Poyang Lake (see below), so you can try to kill two birds with one stone and visit the Lake as well as the mountains.
Entry to San Qing Shan National Park will run you 269 Yuan, but since you will likely want to stay an extra day, you don’t have to pay again even if you stay overnight. If you want to take the cable car halfway up, you will need to add 70 Yuan for that convenience. Be aware that the higher you go, the more expensive things get, so the 1 Yuan bottle of water you could have picked up in Shangrao is going to be 3 Yuan at the base of the mountains and 10-15 Yuan near the top. The same goes for the hotels near the peak which will demand upwards of 800 Yuan during tourist season. Near the peak, there are a few areas you could pitch a tent for free and avoid the high hotel costs, but you may have to camp directly on concrete as there aren’t too many grassy open areas. Your other choice is to get back to Shangrao where you can get hotels for as cheap as 100 Yuan a night.
The Lesser-Known, Less Crowded, and Often More Fun Mountains
These two mountains are cheaper to visit and are quite unknown even by many of the local Jiangxi people. As a result, if you are looking to enjoy nature in a quiet way, consider hiking at Ming Yue Shan and Wugong Shan.
Ming Yue Shan
Ming Yue Shan (明月山) is a beautiful mountain range that’s quite accessible and inexpensive. The entrance fee is only 105 Yuan a person (60 with a student ID), and even though it has gone through a recent upgrade, it’s still not very popular with tourists. The last time I went, even though it was on a Saturday on a warm Spring day, as I recall my group ran across no more than ten other tourists in the four hours we spent on the mountain.
The new renovations really make this mountain worthwhile. Similar to Long Hu Shan, there are now plank roads perched along the sides of the mountain giving a hanging, falling feeling, and are ideal for photography buffs.
To get to Ming Yue Shan, you will want to first take a train to the city of Yichun (only 49 minutes by G train from Nanchang; just make sure you go to the Jiangxi, Yichun and not the other Yichun, located in Heilongjiang province). Then, you need to take the Number 9 or 2 bus to get to the old train station, near which you will find the bus stop for the Number 118 bus which will take you to the base of the mountain for just 5 Yuan. Alternatively, you could arrive to Yichun by slow train therefore arriving at the old train station, so you can avoid the transport time getting from the new to the old train station.
Similar to Lu Shan, there are hot springs not far from the foot of the mountain. I recommend Tianmu Hot Springs Resort (月山天沐温泉), which has over fifty small hot springs pools, each with different herbs added that provide a wonderful aroma and various purported health and libido benefits. A room will cost you about 300 Yuan a night, but you will need to add 150 Yuan for entry to the hot springs. Or you can pay 250 Yuan for a day pass to the hot springs resort without the hotel room.
Note if you go during the off season (that is when the weather is warm, since people love hot springs when it’s cold out), the prices can be much lower. Along with the hot springs, the pass includes entry to the small water park, swimming pool, and sauna as well as fruit snacks and massage chairs. Take bus Number 116 from downtown Yichun to the town of Wentang, and from there you can walk to the Tianmu Hot Springs Resort.
If you like camping, Wugong Shan (武功山) this is the mountain to check out. The best part of this mountain is that once you get to the top, you will find yourself on a wide open grassland plateau. Very few tourists come here because it doesn’t have any historical political importance but that’s a good thing, and at an entry fee of only 60 Yuan, you can’t go wrong. You can find plenty of spots near the top to pitch a tent and even start a bonfire. If you don’t want to bring your own tent, there are usually vendors that will rent one to you near the top of the mountain. And depending on the season when you reach the top, you may find yourself above the clouds.
It takes about six hours of hiking to reach the top. For an extra 50 Yuan, you can cut the walking up time in half by taking the cable car. If you really want to relax, you can take two different cable cars at 50 Yuan each, and only walk for about an hour, but I think then you’re skipping the whole point of hiking up the mountain. Note: unlike many Chinese mountains, this one is not very developed, so there are very few vendors, mainly just those renting tents and selling water, so come prepared.
Another word of caution: Avoid the official Wugong Shan camping festival which takes place in September (though not every year), when 15,000 people come to pitch tents on this mountain. Not only will there be huge lines for the cable cars, the rubbish and noise generated by these crowds will lessen your enjoyment of the views considerably. And I can only imagine how loud it gets late at night when you actually try to fall asleep in your tent.
To get here, you will want to take a train to Pingxiang (1 hour 10 minutes by G train from Nanchang). Near the Pingxiang train station there is a bus station which has a direct bus for 22 Yuan person for going directly to the entrance of Wugong Shan. There are also black taxis available but they will demand upwards of 120 Yuan a ride as the drive will take over an hour.
Wuyuan: One of The Most Beautiful Countryside of China
It used to be necessary to take a bus to get to Wuyuan, but as of 2015, there is now a G train that can get you from Nanchang to Wuyuan in just two hours. The most popular time to visit is the Spring, especially April and May when the golden rape flowers are in bloom. Unfortunately, during these two months the hotel and guest house prices double in price. If you can visit during the workweek, there will be fewer visitors though not much cheaper.
It is not Wuyuan itself that people visit, but the surrounding villages and pastoral terraced landscapes. The main draws include the natural scenery and some of the most well-preserved Ming and Qing dynasty architecture. For a 210 Yuan a person fee, you get a 5-day pass which lets you into all the sights around Wuyuan, including all the historical villages, the Song Dynasty Rainbow Bridge, and Flexible Rock Cave. The most popular of the villages for visitors are Jiangwan Town (江湾) and Sixiyan village (思溪延村) .
For dining options, your best bet is to eat directly in the villagers’ homes. If a villager or farmer opens up his home for guests, you will often see a sign saying 农家乐, which literally translates to Happy Farm Family. Since there are usually no menus, you will want to have someone with you that can speak at least basic Chinese to figure out what dishes the locals can prepare and be sure to confirm the cost before you place your order. Many of these villagers will also have several rooms available for staying overnight. They generally don’t worry or even know about regulations for registering foreigner passports, so you just need to negotiate the rate and pay cash. Prices range 80-120 Yuan a night but can double in April and May.
For the pastoral views and rape flowers and terraces, Jianglin Titian (江岭梯田) is the resort area to check out (also included with the 210 Yuan fee). If you don’t want the “all-inclusive” package, most of the individual sites charge 60-80 Yuan entry fee.
Poyang Lake: The Largest Freshwater Lake in China
Poyang Lake is truly huge. When you stand on its edge, you may actually feel you are on an ocean shore, for you will not see the other side. It’s so big that it’s been called China’s Bermuda Triangle because a number of boats have gotten forever lost while crossing it.
If you are birdwatcher, this is your spot in China. Over half a million migratory birds from as far away as Siberia, Korea and Japan arrive in Poyang Lake to spend the winter. There are researchers from the U.S. and Europe who come to China just to stay near Poyang Lake to study the bird movements, especially in winter when the Lake is estimated to have the world’s single largest population of birds. Late winter is generally better for birdwatchers, for your view is less likely to be encumbered by fog. The main bird to look out for is the highly-endangered White Crane. You will want to bring binoculars to catch this majestic creature for it doesn’t let watchers get too close before flying off.
The best way to get to Poyang Lake is to take a train to Shangrao (1 hour 15 minutes by G train from Nanchang) and then take a bus to Poyang County Bus Station. From there you will need to hire a private car or a taxi to get to the Poyang Wetland Park (about 50 Yuan if not sharing a ride with others). Alternatively, you can take a long distance bus to Poyang County directly from Jiujiang, Jingdezhen or Nanchang and then a car to the Wetland Park. It will then cost you 120 Yuan to enter the Park which includes a boat tour of the “inner” lake. You can also visit the “outer” lake for 30 Yuan extra, but most travelers have not found that worthwhile.
If you want to go, you may want to hurry because Poyang has been shrinking. While the Lake’s “footprint” fluctuates greatly between the wet and dry seasons, every year it has gotten smaller due to ever-increasing droughts in the area caused in part by the Three Gorges Dam, which diverts water from the lake. The worst drought was in January 2012, when Poyang Lake shrunk to about 200 square kilometers. Compare that to the Lake’s average 3,500 square kilometer area.
For dining, going to local farmers’ homes is again the recommended choice. One local specialty is a dish called Li Hao (藜蒿), a crunchy green vegetable that only grows in Poyang Lake, and so can only be found in Jiangxi restaurants and generally only in the Spring.
Jingdezhen: The Porcelain Capital of China
You can’t visit Jiangxi without making a stop in Jingdezhen, the “porcelain capital” of China for over 1700 years. It’s possible that Jingdezhen was responsible for giving the English name of “China” to this country for the towns original name was Changnan, and its name became synonymous with ceramics. The legend goes that later foreign traders simplified the name of the town to “China” and this eventually lead to the country becoming so associated with ceramics wares as to take on the name.
This city is still all about porcelain. So much so, that even their streetlight posts are made of porcelain. Jingdezhen is also home to the Jingdezhen Ceramics Institute, the only college in China that provides advanced ceramics training. If you go, you can visit the Jingdezhen Ceramics Museum, Ancient Kiln Folk Customs Museum and the Hutian Ancient Kiln Site, but your main stop will be the Porcelain Street, which is always teeming with buyers and sellers of porcelain.
When you go shopping for porcelain products, as always you need to bargain and shop around. There are hundreds of sellers, and after checking prices at a few of them you will get an idea of what the “real” price is for the kind of product you are interested in. There is a great variety in quality and prices, ranging from as cheap as 20 Yuan for a porcelain tea set that may have sloppy designs with fading paint and jagged edges to 100-200 Yuan for a set that you would actually be proud to give as a gift. For those willing to pay more, there will be sets much more expensive, especially those claimed to be antiques.
If you are more interested in artistic “craftsman” porcelain wares, you will want to check out the Sculpture Factory, which is considered the center of the Jingdezhen artistic resurgence. It is home to hundreds of independent artists’ galleries. In particular, the Pottery Workshop is worth a visit, as their bilingual staff can get you oriented and suggest which shops may have what you are interested in.
Unfortunately, there is no direct G train to Jingdezhen from Nanchang, so you will need to spend 4 hours on the K train, or 3-4 hours if you take a long distance bus. There are plenty of hotels priced at around 200 Yuan a night close to the train station and the Porcelain Street.
Though I have lived in Jiangxi for almost seven years already, it wasn’t until I started writing this article that I realized just how much there was to see in Jiangxi. And there are still many wondrous places I didn’t get to yet. I hope you get the chance to experience this province!
[Photo Credits (Creative Commons License): www.flickr.com/photos/laurenceshan/, www.flickr.com/photos/santochino/, www.flickr.com/photos/zhouzhou/, www.flickr.com/photos/jackyding/, www.flickr.com/photos/drnantu/]