From China’s largest urban lake to Hubu Alley’s bustling street life, Wuhan provides a distinctly charming cultural adventure.
The storied East Lake is like a blue pendant surrounded by green-gemmed gardens and has been a scenic attraction for millennia.
Perched atop Yellow Crane Tower, the city of Wuhan wreathed in mist, it’s easy to imagine a time long ago when legend tells of a penurious Taoist priest’s visit to a wine store on Snake Mountain. Unable to pay for his wine, the sage drew a magic crane on the wall and performed a rite so that, whenever it heard clapping, the bird would perform a jig.
The citizens of the city were so enraptured that the wine store was always full. A decade later, the sage returned, played his flute and rode that crane to the heavens. To commemorate the wondrous event, the wine store owner built the tower that still stands today, albeit in its reconstructed form.
And it is still a magical place in the heart of the city, not just in terms of location but also spiritually. First built in approximately 220 AD, it has been lauded in Chinese poetry over the centuries and has borne witness to some of the most historic events to shake the country, from the battle of Red Cliffs just before the Three Kingdoms period (220-280AD) up to the present day.
Centre of Culture
From the peaked pagoda of Yellow Crane Tower, you can see the iconic 1.6-kilometre double-decked road and railway of Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge that spans China’s and Asia’s longest river while connecting two of the three cities that historically make up Wuhan. Also nearby is Hubei Provincial Museum, tracing the more than 3,500-year history of the metropolis. It will take at least a morning or an afternoon to peruse a portion of the 200,000-plus cultural items and relics on display in one of China’s best-known museums, but you will certainly have a strong grasp of the nation’s long and fascinating history by the time you finish. Special highlights include the Sword of Goujian and artefacts from the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng.
A short walk from the museum is Mao Zedong’s Summer Villa, where the chairman used to visit once a year. Built in a 1950s style, it features the revolutionary leader’s car in a glass enclosure. History buffs will also want to see the Memorial Hall of the 1911 Wuchang Uprising, which is where Sun Yat-sen sparked the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and China’s last emperor.
City of A Thousand Lakes
The beating heart of China, Wuhan has oft been called the “Orient’s Chicago,” partly because of its central geographical location and status as a transportation hub, and also because of its impressive lakes. Hubei’s provincial capital is also known as “The City of a Thousand Lakes.” The storied East Lake is like a blue pendant surrounded by green-gemmed gardens and has been a scenic attraction for millennia.
A notable site near the lake is Wuhan University’s grounds, that appears to flame up so beauteously in spring that even the Japanese make “sakura” or cherry tree blossom pilgrimages there. The largest urban lake in China also boasts of a record-breaking variety of plum trees that provide a riot of seasonal colour in the environs of Mount Muo and its six peaks.
Also at the heart of the city is Shangri-La Hotel, Wuhan, offering views of the vibrant financial district and lush gardens. Each of the 442 spacious guestrooms and suites have been recently refurbished, featuring contemporary Chinese décor. Signature restaurant Shang Palace is a must, famed for its dim sum and Cantonese specialities.
The hotel’s plush environment and impressive lifestyle-boosting recreational facilities make it the perfect base to explore Wuhan – a thrusting and ambitious metropolis of 9.8 million people, which has a growing reputation as a venue for business meetings and conventions.
While venerable history, impressive culture and modern conveniences are draws, so too is Wuhan’s shopping and street life. For a genuine taste of the city, seek out the 400-year-old Hubu Alley, which is famed far and wide for its breakfast dishes. Pick at your pleasure along the narrow and long roadside from vendors’ treats such as hot dry noodles, bean and rice flour wraps filled with a variety of fresh ingredients (a favourite of the Chairman!) or fried dough cakes – a savoury Eastern equivalent of the doughnut.
Another destination for the epicure is Jiqing Street. Packed with roadside stalls, bars, music and restaurants, this street doesn’t truly come alive until after 9p.m. Some say, “You don’t know Wuhan until you’ve been to Jiqing” and there’s truth to this. Meanwhile, for a more leisurely look at what the city has to offer, Tanhualin is a charming area accentuated by colonial architecture and home to quaint coffee shops, local crafts and curios.
Quoting the poet Cui Hao and his poem Yellow Crane Tower, “The yellow crane has long since gone away, but here remains a land of plenty and wonder.”