Because of plane ticket prices, I had a 12-hour layover in Changsha, China! I was going between Hanoi, Vietnam and Beijing, China. My way there, I had a day in Shenzhen, China. On my way back, I had a stopover in the capital of Hunan Province. It was between about 11 am and 11 pm – enough to take advantage!
When I arrived, I wanted to figure out how to get to the main attraction in Changsha – Yuelu Mountain. It’s not a huge mountain, about 300 meters above sea level, but I saw lots of beautiful pictures of it. The trick is that the mountain is on the West side of the city – across the river. The airport (Changsha Huanghua International Airport, CSX) is on the far East side. The subway system doesn’t serve the airport, but luckily the bus system does!
Getting to Yuelu Mountain on Changsha Public Transportation
What you have to do is go to the departures level of the terminal, since that is where the buses leave. There is a ticket booth on the left side of the building (if you are facing the check in counters). They take only cash, so make sure you’re prepared. You should be able to take several of the buses, since none of them go directly to the city center. Instead, you can just take one that stops next to the main train station. It leaves from platform 2 outside every 15 minutes or so, and is known as the one that stops as the Changsha Civil Aviation Hotel (民航酒店).
Note that if you are going somewhere else, the luggage compartment doesn’t open until the last stop. If you get off before the hotel, you won’t be able to get your luggage. Also, once you buy your ticket, it will be scanned before you can go on the bus. Keep it handy and don’t lose it!
From the Bus Stop to the Subway to the Mountain
The ride from there to the center of the city takes around 40 minutes. If you’re looking out at the road, you can turn right towards the subway station and the main train station. When I went, it was really crowded, but overall it’s not that bad. The subway stop will be the Changsha train station (长沙火车站) on Line 2. Pay ¥2 to go to YingWanZhen station (溁湾镇).
Once you get to the station, you should start to see signs for the entrance to the foot of the mountain! You should exit from Exit 3. It requires crossing some pretty large streets, but you can do it through underground tunnels. Along the way you can (probably) see some street food vendors! I would not recommend trying the food unless you aren’t afraid to get sick or have an iron stomach. Since I am neither of those things, I avoided those stalls. Changsha is pretty famous for its stinky tofu though. If you see some of that, it might be worth the risk. (Do note that I will take stinky tofu from Taipei, Taiwan over any other place any time!)
Getting Up to Yuelu Mountain
Soon, you should see people waiting to go up the mountain! There are two main ways to do it – unless you want to challenge yourself and walk. You can either take the “cable car” up (it’s more like a ski lift) or ride in the bus. I took the cable car.
Because I went on the Chinese National Holiday, the line was terrifyingly long! I have no idea what it’s like on a typical non-holiday but I was lucky I was traveling alone. I got to cut a good portion of the line to find a group that was uneven, since the seats were two to a seat. Even still, I waited at least half an hour, meaning other people probably waited over 2 hours. That’s China tourism for you!
Other than the wait time for that, visiting Yuelu Mountain was pretty great! The views from the cable car were stunning. You can see Orange Isle from it – a long, thin island in the middle of the Xiangjiang River. I highly recommend stopping here (the subway is just one stop from Yuelu Mountain) but I was already feeling sick and decided not to go. It’s absolutely gorgeous though!
The cable car ride was about 20-30 minutes total. The nice thing is it takes you directly to the top of the mountain, no fuss! You’ll see a line of restaurants as you get off, boasting local foods. I didn’t find anything that looked particularly mouthwatering, so I decided to forego it.
What to Do on Yuelu Mountain
The mistake I made after getting off the cable car was turning down a small trail too quickly. The whole mountain has a main paved trail for the buses and is the most direct trail wherever you want to go. However, the only “attraction” or thing worth seeing on that road, besides a ton of trees and people, is the sightseeing corridor. If that’s all you end up seeing, it’d be a shame! (Unfortunately, besides some trees, that was all I saw.)
What you should do is not turn down the first left you can see, unless you’re content with hiking around everywhere. Instead, keep walking until you see a large ticket booth, past the part on the left that looks like a military base wall. That’s where you can get tickets for the buses that will bring you directly to the sights (like small temples) around the mountain – otherwise you’re in for a long walk! It’s also where you can come back after you’re done, to get a ticket that will bring you to the foot of the mountain again.
The things that are most worth seeing are deep into the mountain. You’ll have to walk for at least an hour, or just ride along on the bus. The spots most worth visiting are the Yuelu Academy, the Lushan Temple and the Aiwan Pavilion. The only thing that I saw was this stele of Chinese characters. Still, it was ancient enough to have Chinese characters that predate modern writing, so that was pretty cool!
If you walk, definitely stop by the sightseeing corridor. It’s a nice place with some areas for you to sit – some of the only spots that you’ll have! There isn’t too much of a view, but the structure is nice.
Going Down the Mountain
When it’s time to go down the mountain, you have several choices. You can take the cable car, walk, or take the bus. However, the best choice is definitely going down by the slide! It’s an awesome, small contraption along the side of the mountain. And, you won’t have to spend hours waiting in line for the cable car!
You can find it by going back to the ticket booth where the tickets for everything are sold. From there, the entrance to the slide is a little ways away, but they have a shuttle bus that will take you directly there. It’s a van with no markings, so make sure you get on the right one!
It should take you past the exit of the cable car, and a little bit down towards the foot of the mountain. They should have a ticket booth for the slide there, if you didn’t get your tickets at the top. Then, follow the crowd down the small flight of stairs to the slide!
It works if you sit on it. You should have a lever between your legs that you can pull to brake and push to speed up! It’s insanely fun – just make sure you aren’t stuck behind a slowpoke who is terrified of going even a tiny bit fast. It ends near the beginning of the cable car, and you should be able to follow the signs back to the entrance of the mountain!
Getting Back to the Airport
The bus that took me from the airport to the Changsha train station was the same one that I took back! The bus station is out of Changsha train station’s (长沙火车站）Exit 1. As with the bus station at the airport, you will have to buy tickets in advance with cash! This is the ticket booth; just make sure you have ¥16.5 to cover the cost of the fare.
The Things I Didn’t Do
Unfortunately, I was feeling a little bit sick when I arrived in Changsha. I decided that I would never forgive myself for not going to Yuelu Mountain, but I didn’t really have the mental energy to go anywhere else. If I were feeling completely fine, I would have gone to the following places:
- Orange Isle (桔子洲): The small strip of land in the middle of the Xiang River (the one that splits Changsha into two). Because Hunan was the birthplace of Mao Zedong, the founding father of Chinese communism, there is a giant statue of him on that island. It’s also apparently like a giant park, so it’s a nice place to stay outside. The even better thing is there’s a subway station that goes directly to it.
- Food Street (on the ground floor of the Huatian Hotel): Apparently a down-to-earth street food haven.
- Mawangdui Han Tombs: Further away, but I assume these are like the Ming Tombs near Beijing.
- Changsha Ferris Wheel: Views of a great city with a river running through it? If only I hadn’t felt sick!
[Recommended Read: Itinerary: The Ultimate 7 Days in Beijing]
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