Changsha (literally Long Sand), surrounded by fertile lands and bisected by the slow flowing waters the the Xiang River, is Hunan province's capital. Populated by some six million souls, Changsha is a lively town well known for its food culture, military tradition and being one of Mao Zedong's haunts prior to launching his political career.
The city is likely to attract two kinds of people, those interested in tracing the origins and journeys of Chairman Mao, and those interested in joining in the "renao" (literally hot and noise—two things the Chinese associate with having a good time) that sweeps over the city during the night time hours.
Hunan cuisine is infamous for being some of the spiciest in the land and is perhaps second only to Sichuan on China's spice-o-meter. Something to bear in mind if you're sampling street-side barbecue or noodles.
Changsha has an exceptionally long and no less brutal history. By 200 BC, Changsha was a fairly densly populated, fortified city. Its value as a strategic location has long been recognised by the powers that be. It was instrumental in Qin Shihuang's unification of China. At one point in the distant past before Emperor Qin's intervention, Changsha was a country unto itself.
Resident of nearby Shaoshan, Mao Zedong, spent several years in town attending school and later became principal of the very school he had attended—a position he would hold for 2 years while launching his political career. Between 1939 and 1942 Chinese Nationalists repelled 3 separate invasions by the Japanese, before finally being overcome in 1944. On this final successful attempt, it would take in excess of 350,000 Japanese troops with air support to conquer the city.
Changsha belongs to a climate that is almost subtropical, with long, hot and humid summers—most days will see the hygrometer pushed well above the 80% mark. June through August is the rainy season. Annual average temperature is 17.5º C (63.5º F), with an annual average rainfall of 1,387 mm (54.6 in.), and an annual average frost free period of 280 days.
Autumn is probably the best time to visit Changsha, when temperatures hit between 15 to 20º C (68º F). In spring the weather in Changsha tends to change very rapidly, so it is worth bringing more clothing with you. In the coldest days of winter, Changsha averages around 5º C (41º F).
There are around a hundred star rated hotels in town include a few names that you're sure to recognize. A room in a 3 star place should cost somewhere between RMB 200 and 300 a night. Ctrip card holders will be pleasantly surprised to find 5 star options for under RMB 500 are easy to find.
Hunan's chili-rich cuisine is similar to that of western China's Sichuan province. Chili, garlic and the intriguingly titled "strange sauce" enliven many dishes. Changsha specialties include dong'an chicken, stinky tofu (the kind that appears burned), chili smoked meat and cold rice noodles in a hot and spicy sauce. Honey sauces are favoured for desserts, which include favourites such as water chestnuts or cassia-flower cakes. For those who don't appreciate the spice, the city still has a selection of cooler dishes, including tasty dumplings (jiaozi), eggs and pickles.
The base rate for taxis in Changsha is 3 RMB for the first kilometer and then 0.9 RMB per additional kilometer.
There is a famous bus line named "Lishan Special Line" in Changsha running between Changsha Railway Station and Central South University of Technology. This line stops at some scenic spots like Yuelu Shan. Line 1 runs between the railway station and Yuelu Academy via Martyr Park, Provincial Museum, Qingshui Tang and Yuelu Park while Line 2 runs between Southern Suburbs Park and Huaxia Market via Hunan First Normal College, Tianxin Pavilion, Former Residence of Jiayi, Kaifu Temple etc. Tickets for the tour bus costs 3 RMB and can be used for twice.
To and from Changsha
Changsha Huanghua Airport is a national first-level airport. There are flights to more than 40 domestic cities, like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Macau and Hong Kong etc. and also international flights to Bangkok too.
Changsha is an important hub for railway transportation. Changsha Railway Station is a modern railway station along Beijing-Guangzhou railway line. There are nearly a hundred trains leaving from or taking a stopover at Changsha daily. Direct trains can take you from Changsha to nearly all the big and middle-sized cities in China.
The highway system of Changsha is relatively developed. National highways 107 (from Beijing to Shenzhen) and 319 (from Xiamen to Chengdu) both go through Changsha City. There are long-distance buses from Changsha to places inside and nearby Hunan Province. The major long-distance bus stations are South Station (No. 811 Zhongyi Yi Lu), East Station (No. 1 Yuanda Lu) and West Station (Wangcheng Po, Yulu District). There are a lot of buses to Xiangtan, Zhuzhou, Yiyang and Changde daily. Tour buses to Shao Shan, Heng Shan and Zhangjiajie are also available daily.
Ferries can run between Changsha Harbor and Nanjing, Shanghai, Lianyungang and other cities along Yangzi River. There are passenger ferries to Yiyang, Jingshi, Anxiang, Changde, Xiangtan and Yueyang etc. Daily at the Passenger Transport Ferry Terminal.
Changsha's local craftwork and specialty products are some of the best in the country. Xiang Embroidery (Xiang Xiu) is wonderful, regarded in China as one of the four best embroidery types along with the Suzhou & Sichuan embroidery and the Yue embroidery from Guangdong.
Other specialties include the Xiang Tea (Xiang Cha), porcelain & pottery, chrysanthemum stones, fans, firecrackers, lacquer reproductions, smoky quartz, bloodstone carvings, duck-down clothing and bamboo carvings, all of which can be bought in many stores around the city.
The main shopping streets in Changsha are Huangxin Lu, Zhongshan Lu and Cai'e Lu. For department stores, the Apollo Plaza (Apolou Shangye Jituan), is the best stocked. For the above mentioned products, most can be found in the Antiques Shop in the Provincial Museum, in the Embroidery Research Institute (Xiangxiu Yanjiusuo) at 70 Bayi Lu, or in the Friendship Store (Youyi Shangdian), on Shaoshan Lu, just off Bayi Lu.
Changsha is well known for its stellar nightlife. Typical of southern China, Changsha's residents like to take their merrymaking to the streets and spread it around. If you're not too weary after a day of sightseeing, the ambiance on Shaoshan Lu and Furong Lu in the post midnight hours should prove enjoyable to those who enjoy the nightlife.
Operas and acrobatics are the highlight of Changsha's performing arts scene. Red Sun Entertainment (theatre) on Dongfeng Xilu or the Huatian Theatre offer regular acrobatics and opera performances and cater mainly to tour groups. If you prefer a less formal environment, consider heading to some of the more popular nightlife streets and catch a busker or street performer, who take requests for a small fee.
Bars and Clubs
There's a popular bar street in town, Jiefang Xilu. It's a 3 km (1.86 mi) stretch of road jam packed with bars. There's bound to be one suitable for just about any taste. Golden Times on Jiefang Lu is a popular choice with locals and has live music from time to time. If you're looking for a DJ, Re Wu Disco on Wuyi Dadao might suffice.
Twilight River Cruises
If you didn't get enough sightseeing done during the day, maybe a night cruise of the Xiangjiang is for you. It's popular amongst locals as well as tourists and is more for entertainment purposes rather than sightseeing—a booze cruise of sorts, but non-drinkers will still probably enjoy the atmosphere and scenery.