Yongding County

Yongding (永定; Yǒngdìng) is on the western edge of Fujian Province, west of Zhangzhou and south of Longyan, near the border with Guangdong Province. Most visitors come here to see the Hakka tulou, literally "earth buildings" but also translated as "roundhouses"; these are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Hakka (客家, Kèjiā, in Mandarin) translates as "guest families"; they are people who migrated to southern China Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi, Hunan, Hainan, Guangxi and Sichuan some centuries back because of various wars and other troubles in the north. There are about 80 million Hakka spread out over those provinces and among overseas Chinese; in China they mainly inhabit relatively isolated mountain regions the fertile valleys were already taken when they arrived and Yongding is part of such a region. They have their own language, called Hakka in English and kejia hua in Mandarin.

A tulou is a structure where a number of residences are built inside a single fortified compound. Hakka people have been building these since the 12th century, and in the last couple of centuries some of their non-Hakka neighbours have built some as well. There are now more than 20,000 of them in this district and adjacent areas.

The people in the area are friendly, tourist infrastructure is minimal, the countryside is extremely beautiful, and there are no large tour buses - which makes for a very pleasant contrast with other touristed rural areas in China.

Understand

Chuxi Tulou cluster

Tulou generally housed a whole clan (a few dozen households, up to 800 people) and are three to five floors high; most are circular, up to about 70 m (200-odd feet) in diameter. They were designed for easy defense; you can see the openings for archers or riflemen on the upper floors but lower floors have no windows. The walls are typically a mixture of packed earth, lime and straw and about 150 cm (5 feet) thick, or a bit more. Other materials including stone, brick and bamboo are also sometimes used. There are usually only one or two gates, thick oak covered with steel plates, and there is a well and food storage to withstand a siege if necessary.

Most of these tulou are still in use, but the area has suffered an extreme population drain as the able-bodied have generally moved to coastal cities as migrant workers, leaving behind a population of the very old and the very young. The villages also contain modern housing, and older houses that are not tulou.

An amusing bit of historical trivia is that in Cold War days when the US first began getting satellite photos (initially, with poor resolution), intelligence analysts spotted many fairly large circular structures in this region, not far from Taiwan. They took them for missile silos and a considerable kerfuffle ensued in the American and Taiwanese military. Eventually they got spies in on the ground and found that the structures were tulou.

Get in

Hongkeng Village

The easiest and most convenient way to get to the tulou is from Xiamen by direct bus. Other options include a bus through Longyan or the train through Yongding or Longyan. Xiamen has multiple bus stations, so pay close attention to the station name.The trains from Xiamen to Yongding is also convinient.Yongding Railway Station is close to Bus station(0.2km).You can take Bus to Tulou,the buses there are cheap and convinient.

If you intend to see as many tulou as you can, it's best you find your way to Hukeng (pronounced Woo Kang) village, where the government showcased unit is, and stay at the many lodgings available right where your bus or taxi drops you.

Get around

The best way to see the different tulou is by private taxi or motorbike. Your guesthouse can help organise this for you, or else just walk around and some local will come up offering their service. Prices range from ¥100 to ¥120 for a half day tour. Be sure to negotiate a price before the tour. Most tours allow you to choose 4 or 5 tulous to visit and a car with driver, who also acts as impromptu guide is ¥200, (2011 pricing) A motorbike with rider is ¥120 and would therefore be expensive and uncomfortable if there are two or more of you. You are not allowed to rent or ride a bike. While you will not be hurried, starting the tour at 07:00 will mean you will be back at your lodging well before lunch time. There's no tour that operates by half day or full day. Just select one from the menu and you are on your way.

It is fairly easy to arrange a tour with a guide who can serve as translator; you can either join a tour group or hire a guide for you own group, though hiring your own guide will be relatively expensive for a single person or couple. Many travel agents in Xiamen offer such tours. Some of the Xiamen companies will do built-to-order itineraries, and Fuzhou-based Amazing China does those anywhere in China. It may help to have a guide who speaks Hakka as well as Mandarin, but it is not really necessary; nearly everyone you meet will know at least some Mandarin and many will be fluent.

Talk

As anywhere in China, Mandarin is the language of education, government and media, and the lingua franca for communication between groups. As anywhere, speaking that or having a guide who does will stand you in good stead. However, over 90% of the district's population are Hakka, so that language is also very useful here. The main local language of the surrounding region is Minnan.

Very little English is spoken in the region, except by a few people in the tourist industry; this is a rural area and many locals, including most of the well-educated ones, have left for jobs in the cities. Even Mandarin may not be universally known among the largely very young and very old population who remain, though it is at least reasonably common.

See

Zhencheng Lou in Hongkeng
Zhengcheng Lou, inside view
Gaobei village

The UNESCO World Heritage List entry for Fujian Tulou includes 46 buildings at ten locations, mostly but not all in this district. There are also many others scattered in between and around the main attractions.

The main clusters are:

There is a Chinese government site (in Chinese) for the tulou.

Buy

Souvenirs are available throughout the area and include mini tulous, snow globes, keychains, and magnets. The region is also famous for its tea. Most tulou have stores and vendors inside, but be sure to haggle as prices for tourists are expectedly high.

Eat

Each site has local restaurants so you will not go hungry.

Sleep

Most of the more touristed earth houses offer simple lodgings, which generally will not provide the most basic conveniences and should cost around ¥30. Rooms are simple, and bathrooms are frequently located outside of the tulou. Many tulou also close around 20:00 every evening.

Hukeng village has several lodgings that are a step up from this, speak basic English, and offer Western food and coffee, try:

There are in fact plenty of sleep options. Almost every other restaurant shophouse has rooms upstairs for ¥60-80 (2011 pricing). As you alight from your bus or taxi, depending on which section of the road you will be approached, by the owners of these establishments, who would be more than pleased to allow you to view rooms before taking. Generally, the rooms are very clean, well-kept, with ensuite bathroom, western W.C., TV, Aircon. No toiletries or towels however. Ask and they will supply you the towels. Sheets and blankets are already spread out and are very clean.

Go next

If leaving the area from a village, the bus stations are very informal. Check with locals to make sure you're waiting at the right spot or just flag down the bus as it passes by.

There are regularly scheduled buses from Liulian (or Tulou Station) (see "Get In" section). Direct buses for Xiamen leave at 07:30, 12:30, and 15:00. From Hukeng to Xiamen the bus ticket costs ¥55 (2011 prices). Different ones terminate at different stations in Xiamen, but this is not crucial; most stop in more than one place and driver will be yelling out the names when approaching them.

Hourly buses from Liulian to Longyan are also available from 06:20 to 16:35. There are also buses to Yongding, and two to Zhangzhou (漳州).

Visit Gulangyu island in Xiamen - a beautiful car free island full of historic buildings. A great place to relax. About 3-5 hours away.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, September 13, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.