Besides its breathtaking natural scenery, Wuhan is renowned for its unique cuisine and rich culture, writes Hanna Hussein
CHINA is huge, with a population of over 1.3 billion people, making it the most populous country on Earth.
To be honest, I only know of a few of its provincial capitals such as Shanghai, Beijing and Chengdu, obviously the three most popular ones.
There are many other huge cities that few outside China have heard of, including Wuhan, one of AirAsia X’s newest routes to China.
While China is on my bucket list, I never thought that Wuhan is the first city in China that I will be visiting. But here I am, on an AirAsia X direct flights to one of China’s major cities not yet known to many — before it becomes a hit tourist destination.
If Paris has the Eiffel, Dubai the Burj Khalifa, and Kuala Lumpur the Petronas Twin Tower, Wuhan’s iconic masterpiece is the Yellow Crane Tower.
Located on the summit of Snake Hill, it is one of the Four Great Towers of China and has been an inspiration to many poets, writers and artists, including Cui Hao, who wrote a beautiful piece about it.
Legend has it that there was once a wine shop run by a young man named Xin. One day, a shabbily dressed priest came by and he was very thirsty. So, Xin gave him a free drink. The priest continued to stop by daily and Xin continued to serve him for almost half a year. One day, the priest asked Xin if he could repay his kindness by drawing a crane which could dance at his request on the wall. . From that day on, people flocked to the wine shop to see the magical crane and Xin’s business grew. To honour the priest, Xin built a tower and named it the Yellow Crane.
As much as I love the beauty of the legend, the tower was actually constructed back in AD 223 by Sun Quan (the Emperor of Wu during the Three Kingdom period) as a watch tower for his army.
The five-storey tower, which stands at 51.4m, is not the original structure. It has been destroyed and reconstructed numerous times. It was previously located on the Yellow Crane Jetty on the banks of Yangtze River, which is about one kilometre from its present location. The present structure was rebuilt in 1981.
I am dazzled by the beauty of the architecture, especially the golden glazed tiles roofs and eaves, which look the same regardless of the direction and which resembles yellow cranes spreading their wings to fly.
Wanting to see more, I head inside. But before I climb up to the fifth floor, I’m awestruck by a massive ceramic mural on the wall.
It is definitely worth the while to stop at every floor as each has a different and interesting display such as poem inscriptions, paintings and cultural relics. On reaching the top level, you’ll be blessed with the marvellous panoramic view of the city and the Yangtze River from four directions. Do check out the music performance at the theatre. Find out the schedule before you start your tour so that you don’t miss it.
Another exquisite building in Wuhan is the first Zen Buddha temple built in Hubei Province, the Guiyuan Temple. Psst... this is where you can get plenty of Insta shots!
Located in Hanyang district, this temple was constructed in 1658 during the reign of Shunzi Emperor of the Qing Dynasty. Covering 46,900 square metres, it comprises five courtyard complexes — East, North, South, West and Middle courtyard.
While Buddhists come here to worship, I, on the other hand, am busy admiring the delicate carving and architecture of the temple. My favourite part is the Grand Hall, with its bright red and pop blue paints with precise gold details.
In front of the main hall is a special place where you can make your wish. Coins are an obvious symbol of wealth and prosperity, so all you have to do is try to stand a coin on its edge on the stone pillar. If you manage, it’ll bring you luck.
LAKE AND RIVER DISCOVERY
Who says you only get to see cherry blossom in Japan? You can find it in Wuhan too. The best time to visit is early spring, in March. You can catch it blossoming at the East Lake Scenic Area, Wuhan’s biggest scenery attraction.
We start our tour at Sakura Garden where we are welcomed by pretty white and pink cherry blossoms. Here in East Lake, there are nearly 500 cherry trees of 18 varieties. Lucky me, I am here at the right time, since Sakura blossoms only last between 15 and 20 days.
After spending more than an hour strolling, we hop on a buggy to explore the other parts of the East Lake. It’s impossible to cover everything on foot, in a day. But renting a buggy makes it possible to do so.
You will be taken up a hill, where there are more statues and more natural scenery. Take in the fresh air and view the breathtaking scenery of the largest urban lake in China.
In the evening, I suggest you go on a scenic cruise on the Yangtze River, the longest river in Asia and also the third longest in the world. Cruise operators are available at the jetty along Linjiang Avenue.
You’ll get to see the dazzling and colourful lights of the city during the hour-long cruise. It’s relaxing, so just enjoy the view.
FOR THE FOODIE
Wuhan is the place for a foodie eager to try out new dishes. Okay, we can hardly get halal-certified dining around the city, but there’re plenty of seafood options.
Just 10 minutes walk from the ferry jetty at Linjiang Avenue is Hubu Alley. This is a long stretch of narrow alleys where you can try out the local street food. There’re obviously a lot of non-halal options but there’re also vegetarian, seafood and sweet delicacies worth a try. The crayfish is definitely a must-try!
Besides Hubu Alley, there’s another nicer, more comfortable dining place for crayfish. Crayfish is Wuhan’s traditional food and spicy is how they cook it! The Bali Lobster restaurant is the No.1 spot to get it and it has quite a number of branches around the city. Popular among the locals, the restaurant is normally packed. You need to take a number and wait for it to be called. We waited for more than half an hour to get a table.
Up for more spicy hot dishes? Check out the hot pot and see if you can bear the heat! Hot pot is Wuhan’s specialty. We try it out at Yuan Lao Si Hot Pot. It’s like steamboat, with two types of broth. One is super spicy with dried chillies and mala sichuan pepper as the base, while the other broth is just mild.
Another restaurant that I recommend is the Zui Xiang Long, at Lumo Road in Qiao Liang Cun. Besides the scrumptious local cuisine (there’s seafood and vegetarian options too), I really love the atmosphere, which offers waterfront view. You can opt to dine on the deck!
RAIL TO YI CHANG
A holiday in Wuhan is not complete if you don’t stop over at Yi Chang, to check out the impressive engineering of the Three Gorges Dam. So, here we are, on a train ride from Wuhan Hankou Train Station heading to Yi Chang East. It normally takes more than four hours to travel on the road from Wuhan to Yi Chang. But travel time is cut down to just two hours on a bullet train. It is a pleasant ride with very comfortable seats. Most of us just laze around and doze off on the way.
Upon reaching Yi Chang, our transport picks us up and it will take another two-hour drive to get to the Three Gorges Dam. Well, if you’re into engineering and mechanical stuff, this trip may interest you.
The Three Gorges Dam is the world’s largest hydroelectric dam and the most expensive hydroelectric project ever built in history.
You have got to see it with your own eyes to know how massive the concrete construction is! The dam is 2.3 km long and 185m high, stretching over the Yangtze River.
The controversial construction began in 1994 and took more than a decade to complete. During the construction, over a million people were displaced because their towns and villages were flooded. Designed with 26 turbines, this hydroelectric dam is said to produce more than 18,000 megawatts of electricity!
MEET THE TUJIA
The favourite part of my China exploration trip is the Three Gorges Tribe Scenic Spot, which is further down the Yangtze River from the dam.
From the main jetty, you have to take a ferry to check out these scenic spots. There’s the Brookside Village which showcases the Tujia ethnic minority. It’s a beautiful village that runs along the Long Jin stream. Long Jin means jumping dragon in Chinese and the stream was named after it because of its resemblance.
You’ll also get to see the cultural practices of the Chu and Ba people, including folk music. Enjoy the scenery and watch some exciting performances such as the re-enactment of a Tujia marriage, also known as the crying marriage. The bride, bridesmaid and her family will spend half a month crying in preparation for their big day. If you come to think of it, it does makes sense since marriage is such an emotional event.
We also stop at Ba Village, which is constructed from huge stones and logs. Here, you can visit the King's Castle, check out the farming tools of the ancient Ba people, admire the folk shows and acrobatics and more!
FLY WITH AIRASIA X
Plan your holiday and book your tickets to Wuhan via AirAsia X flight as the world’s best low cost airline is now operating a new route from Kuala Lumpur to Wuhan four times weekly! Visit airasia.com.my