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Huizhou, Anhui Province, China (中国安徽省徽州)
Photo Travel Guide

Introduction

Main photographic interest: Hui-style (徽派) architecture and cultural relics

Huizhou is an area in Anhui Province (安徽省) consisting of several relatively small villages which were established more than eight hundred years ago and still largely preserve ancient Hui-style culture (徽州文化). The culture is mainly represented by exceptional memorial archways(牌坊), distinctive memorial temples (祠堂) and unique civil residences(民居). Hongcun (宏村), Xidi (西递) and Nanping(南屏) villages, as well as a group of memorial archways (棠樾牌坊群) in She County (歙县) are usually named as main attractions. On 30 November 2000, Hongcun and Xidi were placed on the List of World Cultural Heritage sites by UNESCO. Many scenes from "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (卧虎藏龙)" were shot in the area.


Huizhou, Hongcun

Transportation

First you need to go to the city of Huangshan(黄山市)which is also known as Tunxi(屯溪). If you depart from Shanghai, there are two options - by an overnight slow train or by bus. The latter seems more preferable as it is only a five hour drive. Buses (clean and comfortable) leave from Xujiahui bus station(交通大宇徐家汇客运站)at 6:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.

From Tunxi you need to take a bus to the County Seat of Yi County(黟县县城)to obtain your Alien's Travel Permit(外国人旅行证). If you depart from Shanghai, you can alternatively take a bus directly to Yi County (same bus station in Shanghai, same departure times). Once you get the visa, take a bus to Hongcun(宏村), which I suggest making your base.

To make things a lot easier you can get in touch with one of the drivers (see local contact below) who can meet you in Huangshanshi or Yi County and drive directly to Hongcun; they charge around RMB100 to meet you in Huangshanshi and drive to Hongcun via Yi County. You will also need their services to drive from Hongcun to nearby villages.

Accommodation and where/what to eat

Basically, there are two options - you can stay in either one of the hotels outside the village (e.g., Hotel Hongcun, 宏村饭店, a 3 star hotel, RMB180/night/standard double room) or a guesthouse in the village. Guesthouses seem to be a better choice - many of them are quite old traditional houses and staying in one will allow you to be in a closer touch with the village and the culture. Most of them are as clean and convenient as the hotels outside the village and actually cheaper - prices normally range between RMB50 and RMB100 per night. For about RMB100 you can stay in the best room in the village (a standard double room with a balcony overlooking South Lake, see contact below).

As pretty much anywhere else in China, there are a lot of cheap restaurants. If you stay in a guesthouse you can ask your hosts to cook for you (at an additional price, of course).

Photographic tactics

I suggest making Hongcun (宏村, entrance: RMB55) your base as, first, it is arguably the most interesting place in the area and second, it seems to be the most convenient location to explore the villages in the area. You are likely to need two to four days depending on the weather and the scale of your exploration. I found that one full day in Hongcun was about right. I also suggest spending half a day photographing in each of Xidi (西递, entrance: RMB55) and Nanping (南屏, entrance: RMB35). You might also be interested in going to Mukeng (木坑, entrance: RMB20) to photograph bamboo forest and landscape in general. All these places are very near to Hongcun.

You are very likely to be suggested to go see Mudiaolou (木雕楼, wood-carvings house; entrance: RMB28). Quite honestly, the house itself is not nearly as interesting and good looking as it is on the postcards. When I visited there was a huge cloth hanging in the building to protect the carvings from bright sunlight and photographing in it was unrealistic. The village in which it is located, though, Lucun(卢村), is a very interesting place as it is very authentic and has not been commercialized even a bit yet - this alone makes it worth a visit.

I personally found that going to photograph a group of memorial archways (棠樾牌坊群, entrance: RMB50) in She County(歙县)was not a wise decision. First, the place is quite far away and takes a lot of time and money to get to. Second, entrance price appears way too high for what you get to see. Most importantly, though, I did not find the place particularly interesting photographically. The only case when it might potentially be worth going there is if you can predict and get to photograph the archways against a dramatic pre-sunset sky.

Best time of the year to visit

I found that the place has very different appearance in different times of the year. Two best periods to visit, though, are April (when cole flowers bloom) or late October (when tree leafs turn yellow and red). It might be interesting to go photographing in winter if it snows. Another good thing about visiting in winter is that the sun is not so high and you can photograph all day long, whereas in the summer the sun is so bright during the day that the only time suitable for photography is roughly a couple of hours after sunrise and a couple of hours before sunset.

Sunset and sunrise

I could not find any interesting locations to photograph at sunrise and sunset. The time when the sun is near the horizon is only precious for the softer light.

Local contact(s)

If you would like to use a local taxi to transfer between Tunxi/Yi County and Hongcun as well as to visit other destinations in vicinity, contact one of the following drivers:

Mr. Jiang Shihua(蒋世华), mobile: (0086) 137 0559 8244
Mr. Jiang Jiachun(蒋家春), mobile: (0086) 139 5595 0335

If you would like to stay in a guesthouse in Hongcun and book your accommodation directly, here are two contacts:

Mr. Wang Guangan(汪光安)runs Hongan guesthouse(宏安饭店)and can be contacted on (0086) 130 8322 7639 or (0086) 0559-5541919. The guesthouse is located in northwest part of the village.

Mrs. Guo Hongqin(郭红琴)runs Huqinlou guesthouse(湖沁楼客栈)and can be contacted on (0086) 131 9559 4024 or (0086) 0559-5541287. The guesthouse arguably has the best location in the village - it is right near the South Lake; two rooms have nice balconies and overview the lake.

(Please read Disclaimer here.)

Photo and other gear recommendations

All the villages are very cramped and you will certainly need a wide-angle lens - the wider the better. A 17-35 zoom lens (on a film/full frame camera) or similar would be indispensable and ideal. Tripod is a must as in many situations you will be shooting at f/16 to get deep depth of field, which will require to use slower shutter speeds. Make sure you have sufficient recording media (digital or film) as neither slide film nor CF cards can be purchased in the area.

Issues to be aware of

  • Any foreign national traveling to Huizhou area needs to have an "Alien's Travel Permit (外国人旅行证)". The permit can only be obtained in the Police Department of The County Seat of Yi County (黟县县城) and costs RMB50. You do not need any special documents or qualifications - all you have to produce is your passport and, of course, cash. This permit is supposed to be obtained by your travel agency in advance if you travel with a group. Make sure that they validate the Permit for both Hongcun and Xidi; also ask to make it valid for the number of days you plan to stay in the area.

  • Make sure you use all services directly from those who provide them. If you ask a third person to arrange, say, your accommodation, that person is going to get a kick-back thus increasing your price.

Other notes

  • Additional information on and more photographs of Huizhou can be found in this essay.

  • It might be a good idea to visit The Yellow Mountain(黄山, only about 40 miles away from Huizhou) during the same trip.

UPDATE - February 2009

One of the readers of this Web site recently traveled to Huizhou and has advised that the Alien's Travel Permit is no longer needed.