a sleepy town makes for a nice overnight getaway
Langzhong, located 220km northeast of Chengdu, is a pleasant, laid-back town with an excellently preserved section of traditional architecture. Rich with historical prominence, it makes for a convenient overnight or weekend getaway from Chengdu or Chongqing.
The town is nestled along the tranquil Jialing River, with mountains to its south. Pushed against the riverbank by an ever-expanding frontier of modern high-rises and commercial complexes, Langzhong's main attraction is its old-town section, located in the southeast. With its sloping tile roofs and narrow alleys, the old town easily evokes the city's 2,300-year history as a political and economic center.
True to form for a picturesque old town, during a late January visit it proved sedate, with little activity beyond the occasional sleepy shop. One doesn't have to travel far for hubbub, however. The nearby open market is as crowded and intense a sensory experience as any Chinese market scene, with fresh butchery, produce, household goods, and, best of all, the town's locals busy conducting business.
In the afternoon, we crossed the river to the southern side, which provides a gentle, scenic afternoon's hike. Its hills are dotted with sites varying from the Taoist Eight Immortals Cave shrine and Grand Buddha to a pagoda dedicated to astronomer Hong Luoxia, inventor of the first complete written calendar. Near the pagoda is a teahouse that provides an ideal location to kick back and wile away a few hours.
Ferry service across the river seems neither vigorous nor systematic, though that might have been due to season (shortly before Spring Festival). After we waited for about 20 minutes, one boat was opened to passengers. We boarded, and then proceeded to sit for another half-hour watching the boat attendant, who showed no apparent interest in departing. Some fellow passengers managed to cajole another nearby boat into giving us a ride—which took a mere five minutes—for RMB5.
Langzhong's sites, from the popular Zhang Fei Memorial (the tomb of a Shu Kingdom general, complete with shrine and temple) to a fascinating handmade-silk manufacturer and shop, are historically significant and varied enough to hold visitors' interests over a day or two. Bilingual maps and signage, as well as a straightforward ticketing system, make it a walker-friendly, navigable destination.
But where the town really wins over visitors is in its locals' friendly genuineness. Though there is active effort to develop Langzhong's tourism industry, and consumerist homogenization exists, Langzhong retains an unpretentious, relaxed, and inviting charm.
Buses to Langzhong leave regularly from the North Bus Station (Liang Jia Xiang 梁家巷), dropping passengers off at Langzhong's main station, north of the Zhang Fei statue.
Buses to Chengdu leave from Station No. 89, from Platform 9 (marked "Chengdu"). Tickets are RMB89 each way. The journey usually takes between five and six hours.
The Du Family Inn (Dujia Kezhan/杜家客栈/Tel. 08176224436), located in the heart of the old town, is beautifully preserved, with impressive shingled roofing and quaint courthouses. Staff are friendly and helpful, but bring extra thermals, as the older, non-centrally heated construction makes for cold evenings. Also useful: a flashlight to get through the maze-like complex after dark. Rooms run from around RMB140 (for a single) up to RMB280, though listed prices may be higher.
Langzhong may be famous for its zhangfei niurou (local preserved beef), but there didn't seem to be an abundance of quality restaurants, particularly near the old town section. Small Muslim noodle houses might be the traveler's best bet.
This article by was first published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 10 ("in the year 4706"). Text and photo by Mark Hiew.