Yongding County (永定县; Yǒngdìngxiàn) is in the south of Fujian Province in China. It is just to the southeast of Longyan, near the border with Guangdong Province. Most visitors come here to see the Hakka tulou or roundhouses.
The countryside is extremely beautiful, and punctuated by around 30,000 tulou, a Hakka structure where a number of residences are built inside a single fortified compound. Most of these tulou are still in use, however the area has suffered an extreme population drain as the able-bodied have generally moved to Eastern Coastal cities as migrant workers, leaving behind a population of the very old and the very young. The villages also contain modern housing, and older houses that are not tulou.
The people in the area are friendly, tourist infrastructure is minimal, and there are no large tour buses - which makes for a very pleasant contrast with other touristed rural areas in China. However, do not expect any English to be spoken, anywhere.
The easiest and most convenient way to get to the tulou is from Xiamen by direct bus. Other options include a bus through Longyan or the train through Yongding or Longyan. Be sure to check the bus and train timetables before departure. Xiamen also has multiple bus stations, so pay close attention to the station name.
- From Xiamen, there is a direct bus to Hukeng (湖坑) at 9:10AM from Xiamen's Hubin Bus Station (湖滨南长途汽车站). There are also seven buses to Yongding that depart from 7:10AM to 4:00PM (each 2 hours) every day from the Hubin Bus Station. All buses pass the village of Liulian (六联), which is the most convenient base for exploring the tulous. The Liulian bus station is also frequently referred to as "Tulou Station" (土楼汽车站). It takes around 3.5 hours to travel from Xiamen to Liulian. (60 rmb - price 2013)
- There is also frequent bus service from Xiamen to Longyan, but you will have to transfer buses in Longyan. The journey from Longyan to Yongding is approximately one hour, and from Longyan to Hukeng is approximately two hours.
- The nearest train station is Yongding. There are two daily trains from Xiamen to Yongding (K230 and K298) that take approximately 6.5 hours. There are also six trains daily from Xiamen to Longyan that take approximately 5 hours. From both train stations buses and mini-vans are available to take you to the tulous.
- If you intend to see as many tulous as you can, it's best you find your way to (pronounced) Woo Kang village, where the government showcased unit is, and stay at the many lodgings available right where your bus or taxi drops you.
The best way to see the different tulou is by private taxi or motorbike. Your guesthouse can help organise this for you, or else just walk around and some local will come up offering their service. Prices range from ¥100 to ¥120 for a half day tour. Be sure to negotiate a price before the tour.Most tours allow you to choose 4 or 5 tulous to visit and a car with driver, who also acts as impromptu guide is 200Y,(2011 pricing) (motorbikes with rider is 120Y and would therefore be expensive besides being uncomfortable if there are two or more of you. You are not allowed to rent or ride a bike)and while you will not be hurried, starting the tour at 7am will mean you will be back at your lodging well before lunch time. There's no tour that operate by half day or full day. Just select one from the menu and you are on your way.
As anywhere in China, Mandarin is the lingua franca, the language of education and government. The ethnic group that build tulou have their own language, Hakka. The main local language of the surrounding region is Minnan.
There are four main clusters of tulous with many others scattered in between and around the main attractions.
- Hongkeng Tulou Cluster Scenic Spot (洪坑土楼群), Hongkeng. This world heritage site contains some beautiful tulou of all different shapes - around, square, U-shapes. Zhencheng Lou (振成楼) is the highlight and Rusheng Lou (如升楼) is the smallest tulou. It is located across the street from the Tulou Bus Station in Liulian. A point to note is that Zhencheng Lou is the government showcase unit and is therefore heavily padded up for touristy appeal.Those who know avoid the place, simply because everything looks so unnaturally spick and span, not to mention the overabundance of souvenir stalls. But it's rear gate is where the public transport stops and picks passengers whether to or from Yongding or Xiamen. ¥70, students ¥45. edit
- Tianluokeng Tulou Cluster (田螺坑), Tianluokeng. On a slope of the Hudong Mountain, sits five tulou - three circular, one oval and in the middle a square tulou. The locals call this place si wan ee tang (literally four bowls and a soup).These were built over 600 years between the end of the Yuan Dynasty and the 1960s.At nights, the place is lighted up with multicoloured lights and do make fantastic postcard perfect pics. However, you have to stay the night, most probably at the lodgings provided by the lady operating a local style teashop. But be prepared for a long and boring night after the initial excitement with your photographing done. ¥100, students ¥50. Admission includes Yuchang Lou (裕昌楼) and Taxia Village (塔下村). edit
- Yuchang Earth Building (裕昌楼). Twenty Five generations have lived in this tulou, even though its leaning up to 15 degrees in places.The slant mentioned is what makes the inhabitants proud. For whatever the reason their ancestors used crooked beams and columns, these have withstood the test of time.And Chinese tourists particularly looked forward to marvel at this curious crooked building. Included with Tianluokeng ticket. edit
- Gaobei Tulou Cluster Scenic Spot (高北土楼). This the largest of the tulous and is on the route from Xiamen to Liulian. The main building is called Chengqi Lou (承启楼). ¥50 (in 2013), students ¥25. Attention: Bus station to Xiamen is not on the main road, but near the Tulous. edit
- Chuxi Tulou Cluster Scenic Spot (初溪土楼群). This is perhaps the most picturesque of the tulou clusters, and is located approximately 30-40 minutes south of Liulian. ¥55, students ¥30. edit
Souvenirs are available throughout the area and include mini tulous, snow globes, keychains, and magnets. The region is also famous for its tea. Most tulous have stores and vendors inside, but be sure to haggle as prices for tourists are expectedly high.
Each site has local restaurants so you will not go hungry.
- Ke Lai Den Hotel, Hongkeng. This place has an English menu. edit
Most of the more touristed earth houses offer simple lodgings, which generally will not provide the most basic conveniences and should cost around ¥30. Rooms are simple, and bathrooms are frequently located outside of the tulou. Many tulous also close around 8PM every evening.
Hukeng village has several lodgings that are a step up from this, speak basic English, and offer Western food and coffee, try:
- Fuyu Building Changdi Inn. +86 597 5532280 edit
There are in fact plenty of sleep options. Almost every other restaurant shophouse has rooms upstairs for Y60toY80 (2011 pricing). As you alight from your bus or taxi, depending on which section of the road you will be approached, by the owners of these establishments, who would be more than pleased to allow you to view rooms before taking. Generally, the rooms are very clean, well-kept, with ensuite bathroom, western W.C., TV, Aircon. No toiletries or towels however. Ask and they will supply you the towels.Sheets and blankets are already spread out and are very clean.
If leaving the area from a village, the bus stations are very informal. Check with locals to make sure you're waiting at the right spot or just flag down the bus as it passes by.
There are regularly scheduled buses from Liulian (or Tulou Station) (see "Get In" section). Direct buses for Xiamen leave at 7:30AM, 12:30PM, and 3:00PM. From WuKang Village to Xiamen the bus ticket costs 55 RMB (2011 prices). Be sure to confirm which bus station in Xiamen is the terminus but this is not crucial, the bus driver will be yelling out the names of the stations for passengers to disembark when approaching them in Xiamen.
Hourly buses from Liulian to Longyan are also available from 6:20AM to 4:35PM. There are also buses to Yongding, and two to Zhangzhou (漳州).