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Hunan province... China's hidden utopia

As someone who tends to take nothing but city breaks, travelling to Hunan province in China, an inland mountainous area with minimal western tourism, was about as far out of my comfort zone as I could possibly get, but I had an experience that I will never forget. Here are some of the highlights of my trip.


Situated in the west of Hunan province, this historic, riverside town is often referred to as ‘the most beautiful town in China’. Its name derives from the Chinese word for the mythical phoenix bird. Legend has it that two phoenix birds flew over the town and remained hovering there, mesmerised by its beauty. We took a traditional boat ride down the river, the perfect way to see the ancient buildings lining the river banks. The streets facing the river come alive at night with karaoke bars and neon lights.

Taohuayuan Scenic Area

Taohuayuan spans an area downstream of the Yuan river. It means ‘utopia’ – a fitting name as it must be the most serene place that I have ever visited. It is said to have inspired a classic Chinese fable entitled Peach Blossom Spring, written by the poet Tao Yuanming in 421AD, which describes a land where people live in harmony with nature. I would recommend attending the live performance which tells the story and the life of the area; the audience travels along the river in a boat as various scenes light up on the water’s edge . The cast is made up of locals and is in Mandarin but it is still a magical experience and perhaps my favourite memory of the trip.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

The inspiration for James Cameron’s science fiction film Avatar, the surreal landscapes of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park are simply breathtaking. It is part of the larger, Unesco-listed Wulingyuan Scenic Area. The park is so unique because of the bizarre quartzite-sandstone formations, which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. This geological wonder includes 243 peaks and over 3,000 karst pinnacles and spires. It was the most extraordinary place I have ever visited. Photos simply cannot do the park justice.

Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge

Designed by the Israeli architect Haim Dotan, the Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge spans a vast canyon in the Wulingyuan Scenic Area. It is situated 300 metres above ground and is 430 metres long, which made it the world’s longest and highest glass bridge before it was topped in 2016 by the glass bridge in Hongyagu Scenic Area in Hebei province. The floor of the bridge is made of transparent glass panels, so you can look down past your feet to spectacular views of the canyon below. This might sound quite daunting, but each glass panel is surrounded by white flooring, allowing you to take a break if it all gets too much! The 360-degree views of the surrounding area are also astounding.

Golden Whip Stream

The Golden Whip Stream is a gentle, 7-km-long walking trail in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park that follows the route of a babbling brook through steep cliffs amid an abundance of rare flora. The name derives from a rock shaped like a military arm whip. There are lots of other rock formations along the route resembling all manner of things, such as ‘Fish Jumping Pool’ and ‘Eagle Protecting Whip’. At certain times of the year you may even spot wild monkeys. Be careful not to open your bag around them as they will try and steal from you!

Cox & Kings' private tour Hunan Explorer encompasses many of the above places of interest. We can also arrange tailor-made tours to Hunan province. Please either call one of our specialist travel consultants or complete our tailor-made request form and one of our experts will get back to you to help you plan an itinerary. For further information on other group and private tours to China, please visit our website here.