Hubei Province in Central China is well worth adding to your itinerary of a trip to China.
Hubei (pronounced Who-Bay) is best known for the River Yangtze, which runs right through the capital of the province, Wuhan, on its way to the sea.
As well as the grand river, Hubei’s fiery cuisine is well worth sampling.
Hubei Province is a fairly hard place to visit for a Western traveler to visit. Although Mandarin is spoken, you’ll often hear people talking in more local dialects. English isn’t too widely spoken here, and there’s not a great deal of English signage around. For this reason it’s usually better to sightsee around Hubei as part of an escorted tour.
Western visitors to Hubei are also very rare. I saw the occasional tourist in Wuhan, but most Westerners in Wuhan were there on business.
Western tourists are vanishingly rare in Western Hubei Province. I saw only a single other Westerner in the few days I was there. In fact I was quite a celebrity. When I got my shoes shined by a migrant worker (cost, around $0.30), a small crowd formed. You’ll also find that you might get asked for your photograph to be taken beside a Chinese person – apparently it’s quite something to be photographed next to an exotic looking Westerner (even if you’re pretty average looking like I am).
So I was a celebrity in Hubei, but what of the other sites in this province?
As far as the capital goes, Wuhan is an industrial city, and to be honest there’s not a lot to see here, especially if you don’t have a Chinese speaking guide.
The River Yangtze flows right through the heart of Wuhan. Apart from its size, the river here isn’t particularly impressive. More developed cities like Shanghai or Guangzhou are certainly more spectacular when it comes to the river front (and Shanghai’s Bund is hard to beat).
The Yellow Crane Tower is arguably Wuhan’s most famous tourist site. It’s well worth a visit, if only for the spectacular views of the sprawling metropolis you get from the top of the tower.
Wuhan Zoo is also worth a visit if you have several days to spend in Wuhan. The zoo has seen better days, and it’s not a great place to go if you’re concerned about animal welfare. But you’ll find a good assortment of animals, including some entertaining monkeys and the obligatory pair of Giant Pandas. It’s also many times cheaper than zoos in Western countries.
Bear in mind that Chinese roads can be dangerous places, and in all the places I’ve visited in China I’d say it was most risky to cross the road in Wuhan. Be very careful indeed.
As far as getting around Wuhan, the taxi is your best choice. Taxis are plentiful and affordable.
Wuhan does have a metro system, but I didn’t make use of it while I was there. It’s certainly a far less extensive network than that in cities like Shanghai, Guangzhou or Beijing.
I failed to find any English maps of Wuhan. In the hotel I stayed in, the only map was in Chinese, and the guidebook was in French (on account of so many French speakers visiting the Renault car factory there).
Wuhan has two major railway stations that can be used to travel to a wide variety of destinations throughout China. While I was there most trains were diesel powered behemoths that slowly trundled to all parts of China. Train travel was a fascinating way of seeing the real China, although not a particularly fast mode of transport.
Wuhan is now connected to the rest of China by a network of high speed rail lines. The most well known of these is the Wuhan-Guangzhou high speed line that slashes the twelve or so hours it used to take to travel between these two major population centres.
Wuhan also has a modern airport with regular connecting flights from Beijing, Shanghai and other major destinations. The airport is about an hour’s taxi drive from the center of Wuhan. Be sure to get a taxi from the official taxi stand outside the terminal building.
Hubei Province’s cuisine can best be described as fiery! It’s pretty similar to the Sichuan cooking found in neighbouring Sichuan Province. In Hubei, nearly everything comes with chilies. The nice thing is that although the dishes are often stupendously hot, they are balanced with Szechuan Peppercorns, that allow you bear to eat fearsomely hot food.
Food is very affordable in Hubei, especially from smaller restaurants. Just watch out for poor food hygiene standards in this part of China – in Wuhan I saw a lot of restaurant staff preparing their vegetables in the street! For this reason it’s a good idea to take some Immodium with you in case of stomach rumbles. I’ve never had any serious food problems in China, but having to rush to the toilet occasionally is a part of life here (and the locals are similarly afflicted).
Aside from the fantastic food, quite honestly there wasn’t a great deal I found to spend my money on in Hubei Province. If you want to visit China for the shopping experience, then you’ll find a far better choice in Shanghai, Guangzhou or Hong Kong.
In fact, I’ve found most things to be quite expensive in China. I was interested in buying some clothes and some Chinese gold coins in China. The coins were more expensive than the best price I could get back in the UK. Chinese clothes can be quite pricey as well, particularly higher quality products from boutiques.
Yangtze River Cruises
Probably the best reason for a Western tourist to visit Hubei Province is to see and take a trip down the River Yangtze.
The river Yangtze (often called Chang Jiang by the locals) is certainly worth a look.
Cruises down the Yangtze River are available as day trips, or as longer 3 or even 7 day trips. Usually these trips are organised as part of a package tour of China.
If you book a trip to China through a tour operator like Wendy Wu then you’ll usually have a river cruise included in the itinerary.
How long you spend on the river is up to you. The Yangtze is indeed spectacular, especially the Three Gorges section from Yichang up to the Three Gorges Dam.
The Three Gorges Dam
The Three Gorges Dam was one of the highlights of my trip to Hubei Province. I visited the dam as part of a day trip from Yichang. This was a trip aimed at Chinese tourists. I was the only Westerner on the trip, so I had an authentic Chinese day out that sadly you might not be able to experience for yourself.
It’s not all bad though – my trip was somewhat eccentric. The small boat from Yichang to a port just before the Three Gorges Dam left from a pier situated amongst stockpiles of slate from a local mine. The small boat itself was perilously overcrowded, and I wasn’t entirely sure there were many lifejackets!
For lunch we stopped at a local café that was swarming with flies. I feared the worst and yet that meal was just about the only food I didn’t have problems with while I was in Hubei! Oh, and it was delicious, especially the spicy potato.
After lunch we visited the dam itself. This was quite an ordeal, involving several changes of buses, security checking, and (for some reason) the confiscation of all alcohol and sharp objects on board the bus. I was a little bemused by this as I couldn’t comprehend any type of terrorist being able to damage the mighty Three Gorges Dam.
And what a sight the Dam itself was! The viewing platform is on a hill left over from the construction, and it allows some fabulous views of the dam. Also look out for some rather nice Chinglish on the signage!
Some trips might also take you round a museum or two that are associated with the dam construction. I got to see some of the construction vehicles they used in the dam construction. However, I did find that the trip was a thinly veiled tour of overpriced gift shops – well this is capitalist China I suppose!
So that’s a few things to see or do in Hubei Province. If you have any feedback or comments about Hubei or China in general then leave your thoughts below.