Fujian Tulou and other ancient architectural wonders in China

Updated: 2011-12-15
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Fujian Tulou.


Kaiping Watchtowers.


If you're looking for a more authentic and rustic experience in China, skip all the skyscrapers and highways and pay a visit to one of its many ancient and breathtaking architectural wonders. Here's a quick guide to some of the more unique and trip-worthy spots.

1) Fujian Tulou

Also known as the "Hakka Earthen Castle" or "Hakka Round House," this is a form of traditional residential architecture built by the Hakka tribe mostly between the 12th and 20th centuries in the southwestern mountain region of Fujian province. After being listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2008, tours of the Fujian Tulou have become increasingly popular.

Fujian Tulou houses were built for defensive purposes around a central open courtyard, with only one entrance and outward-facing windows positioned only above the first floor. In the 1950s, when an American satellite took pictures of the buildings from outer space, they mistook them as a military factory.

Each Tulou house was built as a fortress and functioned as a village unit to accommodate hundreds of residents. Therefore, Tulou houses are also known as "family kingdoms."

Transport: Take a bus from Xiamen to Hukeng, or take a train to Longyan.

Where to stay: There are a variety of hotels in Longyan, with prices ranging from 100-500 yuan ($15.7-$79).

Local cuisine: Like most Chinese food, the local Hakka food can be oily and salty, but isn't overly spicy. Try the braised meat.

2) Kaiping Watchtowers, Guangdong

Heavily influenced by Western architecture, the Kaiping Watchtowers are a fascinating representation of what this region of China experienced in the late 19th century.

The first Kaiping Diaolou was built in the late Ming Dynasty and started to catch on in the early 1920s with the arrival of more overseas Chinese. The buildings reflect the significant role of Kaiping immigrants in the development of several countries in South Asia, Australasia and North America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the close links between overseas Kaiping and their ancestral homes.

Kaiping Diaolou are divided into three types: Night Watchtowers, Communal Towers and Dwelling Towers.

Transport: Since these buildings stand far from each other, it's recommended to rent a car. There are also buses available from Kaiping to the villages.

Where to stay: Camping is allowed near the watchtowers, but hotels in the city are also economical.

Local cuisine: It's strongly suggested that you bring something to eat, as restaurants are rare in Kaiping. If you find one, order the mud-eel cooked rice.



Hui style ancient buildings


3) Hui style ancient buildings, Anhui

This charming and fascinating Hui-style architecture impressed many in the hit kung fu movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

Distinctive elements of Hui architecture are the ubiquitous white color of the buildings, the grey-tiled roofs and the horse-head walls (where the wall descends staircase-like along the angle of the roof). Like northern residential architecture, Hui-style dwellings also feature storied buildings, multiple courtyards, winding corridors and upturned eaves, all hidden behind high horse-head walls. Inside, patios of various kinds allow the passage of sunlight.

Transport: Take the train to Huangshan station, then take a taxi to the New Bus Station. The tour bus from Tunxi to the ancient village of Hongcun will take you to the destination.

Where to stay: There are plenty of hotels to choose from in Hongcun.

Local cuisine: The smelly mandarin fish enjoys a high reputation all over the country.


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