Hukeng to Xiamen bus

I thought I’d have to travel back to Yongding to get a bus to Xiamen but lucky for me there’s a bus running direct from Hukeng.

Just outside the main gate to ‘Yongding Hakka Earth Building Folk Cultural Village is a bus station, well, it’s a small shop on the corner with a few chairs on the footpath, but it’s where the bus going to Xiamen stops and that’s where I’m off to.

Apparently there’s several buses leaving from here to Xiamen throughout the day and considering I didn’t have any accommodation booked in Xiamen I decided to get on the first bus at 7.30 in the morning.

Stephen from the Fuyulou Changdi gave me a lift down to the bus stop where there’s a few people waiting, sitting on rickety looking cane chairs along what must be the centre of the hustling bustling business district of Hukeng. Ok, in reality there’s semi-sealed road with some fairly empty looking shops and on the other side an ancient round tolou and some rice fields. Stephen helped me buy the ticket which cost too, I cant remember exactly, maybe 50RMB.

The bus is a small modern coach, fortunately I’d say the seats have been used so much that they are actually comfortable and soft, Chinese seem to love their hard seats. Its got air conditioning too, which is a bonus as it’s pretty hot.

The bus winds it’s way around the area making a few stops to pick up extra passengers before hitting the new highway which cuts the trip time down to about 3-4 hours.

There’s some great scenery of the countryside to take in along the way and there’s plenty of places I wish I could have jumped out and gone mad with the camera. I think keen photographers could easily spend a week exploring and taking shots around this area if they were interested in Chinas rural village life.

I had no idea where to get off, I just figured when the bus stopped to go no further, i’d get off. With that comforting thought I went to sleep.

After a long time travelling down the highway the bus started making stops, the bus attendant was calling out the stop names but I had no idea, I’d stick to my original plan and get off at the death.

But I keep forgetting how thoughtful Chinese people are, at the next stop the attendant comes up to me and waves signaling to get off, saying ‘Xiamen, Xiamen’. How did this guy even know I wanted to get off here? Anyway, thanks to him.

It must have been about 11am when I jumped off the bus, grabbed my bag, looked around and wondered, ok, I’m in Xiamen, but where?

Hukeng and Xiamen – Map

A Day at the Hakka Tulou Buildings of Fujian Province China

A Day at the Hakka Tulou Buildings of Fujian Province China

The south-east region of Fujian Province in China is a quite picturesque green mountainous landscape that has long been a home to many of one of Chinas minority groups the Hakkas.  The Hakkas are probably most well known for cuisine, culture but mostly for their very unique homes of which many still standing today date back over 700 years old.

As rumor has it, in the early days of satellite spying, the US suspected these may have been missile silos and reportedly sent spies to investigate. Lucky spies, as they would have stopped in and got to enjoy the delicious local Hakka cuisine!

Tianluokeng Tulou cluster at Nanjing

Their homes are referred to as ‘tulou – 土楼’  literally meaning ‘earth building’ due to being built with wood and rammed earth.  Some are square or rectangular, but many were built in a round or oval shape to create a defensive structure that would keep the community within safe from attacking bandits.

Some of the tulou’s are quite large, featuring over 200 rooms across multiple stories. One of these tulou’s would be a home to many families, and a cluster of tulou’s would make a community.  It’s somewhat fascinating that these buildings, built many hundreds years ago, are still providing a home to many people today, and that many of those people are descendants of the original inhabitants, continuing the Hakka lifestyle and culture.

There are many clusters of these tulou buildings throughout the Yongding, Hukeng, and Nanjing, so lucky for me, I got to jump on board a day tour of these ancient cultural wonders. Hats off to the friendly French couple, Phillipe and Fon Fon, who were kind enough to let me share the day with them on the tour they’d organized with the Fuyulou Changdi Inn.

My French is as good as my Mandarin, but fortunately, Fon Fon spoke great Mandarin, so, when intuition and hand gestures failed, she could speak Mandarin to an English speaking local who could translate for me. There’s an interesting circle of linguistics but the day worked out terrific regardless of any language barriers.

The first stop on this tour was Chengqi Lou, here’s a couple of panorama shots:

Chengqi Lou – Click on image for larger version…

 

Inside Chengqi you – click image for larger version…

What is seriously interesting about these buildings is their sustainability. Built from rammed earth consisting of mud, rice juice, and reeds or shredded bamboo. The buildings are thermally efficient and the communal lifestyle has inbuilt efficiency. The open center creates a well-lit environment and great ventilation.

While we walk around with all our buzzwords for eco-living, cohabitation, sustainability etc. etc., they were actually doing it simply because it made instinctive sense to do so, hundreds of years ago.

A primary consideration in their design was defense. Back in the day of the Qin Dynasty, the Hakka people were often ostracized by Han Chinese and as outsiders, they fled to where no one wanted to live and through determined efforts carved out a life.

Yet, they still came under attack from bandits and the tulou was designed to defend against such. Something they were obviously very successful at as many homes are housing 12th and 13th generations of the original inhabitants.

The larger round tulou can have up to five levels with three interior rings and cover 40,000 m². Livestock, central kitchens, and utilities occupy the ground floor, the second floor for storage, and floors above that are bedrooms. Larger ones could house some 200 families.

 

More Tulou photos:

The hallways inside Chengqi Lou
Gaobei Tulou cluster
Local craft and souvenirs
Tianluokeng tulou cluster
At Tianluokeng

See the previous posts on how to get there: Yongding Station, Train to Yongding, Yongding Xiamen Bus

Map

From Yongding Station to Hukeng Village

From Yongding Station to Hukeng Village

Yongding is a rural county within Chinas Fujian Province, the city of Yongding itself is small, minute by Chinese terms in that it probably has a population of less than 10,000, but I’m only guessing.  This is the place where I to go on and see the famous tulou buildings.

Once again my efforts in foward planning had rewarded me, here I was, I’d just stepped off a train at a small country town somewhere in China with no idea where to go or what to do next.

Conveniently, the GPS wouldn’t pick up a signal and at 5am in the morning, it was pleasantly pitch black. Hmmm, are there hotels here? How do I find them? Where are these Toulu buildings I came so far to see? As I walked towards the station exit I once again committed to myself ‘i must book things in advance, I must book things in advance, i must book things in advance’….

Fortunately this China, and here opportunities are never wasted. When I walk out the station exit there’s a lady with a handful of brochures and spotting me she immediately shoves one into my hand. It’s in Chinese but it’s got pictures of tuluos, things are looking up. She starts yelling out and waiving to another man who quickly comes over and points to the picture of one of the tuluos and says ‘this is my hotel’. Cool.

Turns out this guy speaks great english and after a bit more chatting it turns out he’s running a full day tour of all the tuluos in the area at 10.30. He’s got a deal. Minutes later I’m in some other guys van and on my way to a tuluo hotel.

We wound around a few of the streets of Yongding, which made me feel good to be in this van, theres not much going for Yongding by the look of it, not at that time anyway. This driver didn’t speak english, and after heading further into rural China I start to wonder…where are we going? Who cares, the countryside is beautiful, as the sun rises I could see misty clouds rolling over the many mountain ranges into the lush green valleys below.

After a drive of 40 minutes or so, and dropping a few drop offs of what must have been locals getting a ride home, we pulled up beside an old stone bridge and a beautiful river that was lined with a handful of ancient buildings. Wow.

On the other side of the river I lay my eyes for the first time on a one of these famous round tuluo built by the Hakka people so many hundreds of years ago. The driver leads me down along the stream and into an wonderfully old building of traditional architecture, to be greeted by friendly young guy speaking english.

Turns out, I’m in Hukeng, this is the hotel (called the Fuyulou Changdi), this friendly young guy is the actual owner, he speaks great english, it’s less than 100RMB to stay the night, it’s a wondrously beautiful building that’s over 800 years old, and I can join another two people heading off in a private car for day tour of the tulous. I couldn’t have organised things this well.

It’s still early in the morning so I decide to settle into the room and grab an hour or so rest before the tour begins.

Yongding – Hukeng Map

The K636 Train – Shenzhen to Yongding

The K636 Train – Shenzhen to Yongding

I’d been working away in Shenzhen for a while now so it was time for a journey. But where too? I’d been to nearby Hong Kong, Macao and had a quick look at Guangzhou, so where to next? I wanted to find somewhere not to far away, reasonably simple to get to, and somewhere that had something special going for it.

A quick look at the Shenzhen train schedule showed me something interesting, the Shenzhen to Fuzhuo train stops at Yongding, and Yongding is where the very famous Tulou buildings are located. Yongding is also close to Xiamen, a place famous for its clean streets, beaches and it’s nearby island, Gulangyu. So, it’s a done deal, Im off to Yongding.

The train takes just over 7 hours to get to Yongding, and it’s another overnight train leaving from the Shenzhen Railway Station at Louhu at 9.30pm and arriving at Yongding at around 4.50am the next morning. The other overnight trains I’d been on while travelling China were ‘D’ series trains meaning they’re new, modern, luxurious and fast. This was a ‘K’ series train which is apparently next best, not quite as fast nor as luxurious.

The available seating options are similar to the D series train, with this particular K series train offering a seated option (no choice of hard or soft like other trains), a hard sleeper and soft sleeper option. The last two times I chose the soft sleeper option, which is a cabin with a closing door containing four bunk beds, a comfortable mattress, blanket, pillow, a personal TV and your own light. Unless your travelling in a group it can be a lucky dip as to who you’ll be sharing a cabin with but I haven’t had any complaints so far.

This time though I decided to try the hard sleeper option. All the bunk areas are open and there is three bunks attached to each wall, so the top bunk is up fairly high. You can choose which bunk you want when you buy the ticket, so I went with the top bunk, turned out to be good choice, the bunk is well above head height, so it has some privacy, and a greater chance of not being woken up by people moving down the passageway.

The hard sleeper bunks still have a comfortable mattress, clean sheet, blanket and pillow. There’s no personal reading light and the main lights go off before 11pm.

Is it safe? Even though I’m a foreigner who can hardly speak a word of mandarin, I’ve never been made to feel uncomfortable by Chinese people, in fact it’s usually the opposite with welcoming smiles and ‘ni hao’s’ (hello) and some looks of curious intrigue when I’ve ventured to places where foreigners are a rare sight. There’s no chance that I’d leave my bag containing my laptop, clothes etc on the luggage rack on a western train while I went to the dining car to get a drink, but I do so here. I should probably be more cautious, but in reality wheres this thief going to go and like everywhere in China there’s police on this train too.

As for actually sleeping on a train, I’m a light sleeper, so I keep waking up often, add to that a group of girls below that talked for the whole trip, seriously, one girl didn’t even take a breath in the whole seven hour or so journey. I could see it was annoying the guy across from me, he wanted to sleep too, but Chinese are sometimes far to polite and just endure things. It got the better of me, but I don’t know how to say ‘could you please keep it down’ in Chinese. Maybe they know english, ok, i’ll try, ‘will you f#@%ing shut up’ I joyfully hollar, nothing..they just kept rabbiting on, damn, they don’t speak english.

Regardless, I’m sure that the sleeper option is still more comfortable than the sitting in a hard or soft seat. Next time I’ll remember my earplugs.

When I first got on the train, staff came around and swapped my my paper train ticket for a plastic card, and my paper ticket was carefully stored into the sleeve of a black folder this train hostess carried with her. Later I realised why, the train staff actually keep track of your departing station and wake you 15 minutes prior to arrival then handing you back the original paper ticket. Cool service.

The hard sleeper option is also close to half the price of soft sleeper ticket at 166RMB to Yongding. I could have flown to nearby Xiamen for around 800RMB and then caught a bus to Yongding, but the train is so much cheaper and being overnight service it saves a nights accommodation too.

The train pulls in at Yongding Station, I jump off, I’m in rural China, it’s dark, I’ve had next to no sleep, I’ve booked nothing and the GPS maps on my phone isn’t working. The people who got off the train are quickly disappearing into the dark, they know where they’re going, I don’t.

Map – Shenzhen – Yongding