As part of my job I need to visit Guangzhou in south China every so often (2 hours from Hong Kong by train) and on my last trip there I took the opportunity to venture further inland to Wuhan (武汉). Sitting slap bang at the intersection of many transport routes in the middle of Hubei province its an easy place to reach, and indeed I first visited back in 2007.
The biggest change since my previous visit there is that the city is now connected by a number of long-distance high-speed rail services, which have been rapidly covering most of China over the past few years. The 968-kilometre (601 miles) Wuhan-Guangzhou route which I took is currently the world’s fastest train service with trains running up to a maximum in-service speed of 350 km/h (217 mph).
The impressive trains are based on technology developed by Siemens (CRH3) and Kawasaki (CRH2) modified to the standards of China Railway High-speed (CRH) and manufactured in China. Unsurprisingly the CRH2 model train I took looks very similar to a Japanese Shinkansen bullet train. The journey from Guangzhou to Wuhan takes 3.5 hours with one stop at Changsha.
I didn’t take the photo above since it was late at night but arriving at Wuhan Railway Station you immediately get an overwhelming sense of the immense impact of China’s rapid growth and aspirations in a building worthy of any major world city – at a cost of 14 billion Yuan (US$ 2 billion), you’d hope so!
In the freezing cold of the following morning, I set off in search of some local cuisine for breakfast. A friendly taxi driver took me to a great place where you ordered what you wanted from a number of small stalls outside then took it inside to eat.
I’d almost forgotten how much you get stared at when venturing inland – I don’t think this place gets many foreign visitors so it felt good to be trying something authentically local (and so cheap compared to Hong Kong).
Wuhan is famous for a dish called re gan mian (热干面) which literally means ‘hot dry noodles’ that are served with a mixture of sauces and dried vegetables. Each stall has its own unique variation, but a typical bowl of re gan mian will have soy sauce, sesame paste, pickled vegetables, chopped garlic chives and chilli oil.
The noodles are placed into a cone-shaped strainer and dipped briefly into boiling hot water before being swirled and drained. They’re then poured into a paper bowl, with the sauce and dried vegetables being poured on top.
I ordered mine with some hot soy milk and fried dumplings – for about 5 RMB you’ll have yourself a very tasty breakfast.
Feeling better after some food I wandered down to the edge of the Yangtze river and walked along the docks. As with my last trip to Wuhan, the skyline was hazy but not unpleasantly so. Because of its hot summer weather, Wuhan is commonly known as one of the Three Furnaces of China, so it’s not necessarily a bad time to visit.
Ancient-looking wooden carts piled high with boxes waiting to be dragged to nearby lorries.
Walking across a bridge to the ferry pontoon I noticed that the water was covered by a carpet of something green and organic. At first, I thought it must be algae but on closer inspection (not too close mind you) it turned out to be thousands of discarded cabbage heads!
The bottom deck of the ferry was reserved for electric bikes with passengers on the top. You could take a bus across one of the nearby bridges but this seemed a bit more relaxing.
Some industrial-sized pulleys with Turtle Hill (Guishan) in the background.
The Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge (武汉长江大桥) was built in 1957 with the assistance of the Soviet Union. Unlike today’s high-speed trains, prior to its construction rail cars took an entire day to cross the river by train ferry.
Walking northwards I came across Wuchang Shouyi Culture Park where an old man was practising his calligraphy on the pavement with a water brush. A girl with bright pink candy floss looked on inquisitively.
He asked if I was American in Chinese, to which I was able to reply that I was actually English (Ying Gou Ren). He proceeded to write in beautiful characters 英国朋友 – meaning “Friend from Britain”.
Opposite the park was a huge paved square (not unlike Tiananmen in Beijing) with an enormous obelisk of a building at the far which I’m still undecided whether to love or hate. It’s use/purpose was unclear.
Below Snake Hill nearby was the Memorial Hall of Wuchang Uprising in 1911 Revolution where Sun Yat-Sen issued his edict to overthrow the Qing Dynasty. I didn’t go inside but it looked like a well-maintained museum.
While looking for somewhere to have lunch I came across a bizarre cafe hidden in a street of nondescript shops furnished on multiple floors with dusty wicker chairs and rows of ancient books in mock-victorian style. Being almost empty and in the middle of nowhere, it was verging on being creepy – perfect for filming a cheap horror film.
Someone had painted something in Chinese on the pages of an abandoned newspaper.
After a light lunch, I went to the campus of Wuhan University (武汉大学), known to be one of the most beautiful in China, and walked up the heavily wooded Luojia Hill.
A nearby hostel was hosting a live outside music event that evening (Dec 10) and I stayed up to watch the lunar eclipse which was apparently best visible from Asia. Nothing beats sitting around a warm fire on a cold night.
In the morning I had re gan mian noodles again and sampled some of the other food in the area. I love the suspicious look in the eye of this street vendor. Remember, when it comes to street food – the dirtier the better!
Something tells me that small restaurants like this will soon be swept away.
By this point in my trip, I was beginning to feel like I was coming down with flu so decided to find a warm cafe to hold up in until my flight back to Shenzhen and then across the border back to Hong Kong. Wuhan is definitely not a must-see destination but it certainly has an interesting side to it.