Visiting the Fujian Tulou from Xiamen
As the title suggests we took a day-trip to visit one of the world famous Fujian Tulou cluster. So a little background on the Tulou. They are round or rectangular earthen structures built by the Hakka in the mountainous areas as their homes. Tulous were built with a compact mixture of earth, stone, wood and a few other things which I cannot recall. These magnificent structures were built without a single nail yet, they have withstood the test of time for over 600 years. The Fujian Tulou were listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2008. There is so much to it that I think it would be best for me to refer you to the Unesco page as they are probably better at relaying history than I am.
If you decide to visit the Tulou, you should first consider if you would like to go for a day trip or an overnight trip. Most of them have a hotel or B&B and staying overnight would be well worth the experience to gain a further insight into their lifestyle. Just be aware that there are many, many hotels that are shaped like a tulou near REAL tulou clusters so…if you want the real thing, best to double check. We decided on a day trip as we had to get back to the city to visit granddad’s the village the next day. We chose to visit only one cluster so that we could properly explore the place and still get back to the city in time for dinner. After much discussion, we decided to visit the Chuxi Tulou Cluster at Yongding County because we wanted to go to one that was less touristy and this cluster was greatly recommended for its picturesque surroundings.
The cost to visit the tulous can be quite high especially if you aren’t into following big tour groups. I find that tour groups are too rushed which prevents you from fully enjoying the experience also, there are few companies that make day tours to the Chuxi cluster. So what we did was hire a private taxi. The price is dependent on which cluster you would like to visit and I am pretty sure it is negotiable. The driver we hired was well spoken and really knowledgeable. His name is Mr Li and you can contact him on +8618950003197. He told us that the Tulou were relatively unknown to the world up till the Cold War era when USA saw these fortress like buildings dotted all over the countryside via satellite and they came to check it out cause you know, just in case China were making nuclear bombs in these fortresses. Of course this wasn’t the case and from there on, Tulou gained popularity for being architectural marvels. Oh, just a note – he doesn’t speak any English which was a bit of a bummer.
On our way we passed by many towns but one significant place was Banana Town. Actually, I am not even sure what the actual name of the place is but it is unmistakable. When you drive through it all you will see are banana tree and vendors selling bananas of every variety you can imagine. Then as you head further up the mountain the bananas give way to beautiful terraced tea plantations like the one in the picture above. Along the way to Chuxi you will see many other tulous and at some point you will wonder to yourself where the heck is Chuxi. Yup, that is how far away it is. We eventually got there 3.5 hours after we left Xiamen city. I know that it doesn’t sound too far but I’m like a kid who can’t sit in a car for too long.
There is a ticket entry fee (about RMB70 I think) to enter the village area. It is handy to have your student card with you because student tickets are available. As you can see, the place was indeed very picturesque and green. Upon arrival the first thing we did was go to the loo and the loo was quite literally a drain with a wall to partition it to two ‘cubicles’. Reminds me of our earlier to trips to China; oh the memories of using an umbrella as a door…
The first thing we did was go on a short trail to the lookout point. I regretted as soon as we started because it was stairs, stairs and more stairs. As you can tell, I really love climbing stairs in stifling heat. But the view from the lookout was pretty awesome and the picture you will capture from here is basically the promo poster image for the Chuxi tulou cluster.
Pretty cool ae? It was quite intriguing to see the multi level apartments behind it and the varying sizes of the tulous. Basically each tulou is a village for each clan. So everyone who stays in that particular tulou will have the same surname. All the tulous are inhabited except Jiqinlou which is a museum now.
After snapping our many shots, we headed down to wander around the village. There is another trail that you can take to visit a waterfall but we decided against it. From the main parking area you will have to cross a stream to access the tulous. We saw kids playing by the river and catching little fish with their hands! How different to the technology oriented children we find in the big cities. It was really great to see that this simple way of life still existed.
There are many stalls around the main tulous selling their homemade goods. They mostly sell different types of candy, dried goods and tea. I would recommend the peanut and ginger candy! Also, try buying your souvenirs from the stalls round the back area – their goods are better priced . If you are buying the dried goods, be sure to check for bugs and whatnot. We found bugs in some of the packs we bought.
Most of our time was spent in the Jiqinlou as there are so many, many exhibits in there. Before we went inside we took some time to look around outside especially after reading this sign.
The wall is 2m thick can you imagine building that 2m thick wall by hand 600 years ago?!?! And so me and my family set out to examine this for the longest time – just to verify that it really is that thick (just kidding!). It really is quite fascinating that there is little damage considering the wall is build entirely of earth. According to one of the villagers, people lived in here up till a few years ago.
The outside looks very plain as there is little detail or decoration but once you walk through the gigantic wooden doors, it feels as though you have been transported to tan old school Chinese movie set . I’ll let the pictures below tell you why.
This place is massive. I was in awe when I walked in. To think that a wall of this size was built without a single nail and houses all this on the inside, it really is phenomenal. Right at the center is the ancestral temple and the outer rings are communal areas and shops. The outermost ring are the homes that are divided into apartments for every family. When I was walking around I could not help but think that tulou dwellers must have be very peaceful and rule abiding people. Why? Well, it is sort of like Bentham’s panopticon design isn’t it; except for the fact that tulous were built before Bentham came up with his idea . The ancestors sitting in the middle of the tower keeping an eye on everyone…can’t deny that it sort of echoes the elements 0f panopticism theory. Forgive my odd line of thinking but I took a paper about ‘Crime and Punishment’ where I had to write an essay on this topic and the information is now stuck with me forever. Moving on!
There were many many interesting exhibits and they are numbered so that it makes better sense as you view them. Oh! By the way, you can buy or rent a tent to sleep in here. Not sure if I ever would because we saw big fat rats scurrying everywhere. I was almost paralyzed from fear due to the sheer number we saw. Right, back to the exhibit. There were many many antique items on display which ranged from household items to imperial decrees.
The decrees were really interesting. They had a room full of them and it was fescinating to see how the decrees differed throughout the years. Must have been some good quality paint used then considering how the colour for most of the decrees have not fully faded after all this time. There were also many many intricate carvings made of wood and stone on display.
Some of the exhibits were really well put together but some were scattered and lacking in explanation. We even found a rabbit hutch in one of the exhibit rooms! Not sure if the rabbits were for display or… There was a particular item that intrigued me….
This trishaw or carriage thing. First off, it is very well preserved. Not sure how old it is but….I’d imagine it be a decent age. Secondly, the carriage is tiny! I know it doesn’t look it here but I swear, there is no way I could fit in that thing. In saying that….I am quite er…big(is this term politically correct? maybe I should use curvy but that doesn’t apply to dudes…meh). Was nobody big last time?!? In the following exhibit I saw the palanquin for brides and that was even smaller . If I lived in the olden days, there would have been problems. There wasn’t much space as well, like if you were tallish, you just would not fit in there ae? Wonder if they made special ones for tall people….
After exploring the first floor it is worth going up to the 1st floor! This is why:
All around the 1st floor of the tulou is an exhibit of all the different Chinese surnames and the history behind it. Unfortunately there is no English version of the exhibit so we relied on my mum’s translation. Please note that our surname is no44 – in total, there are over 100 surnames listed here. Good luck and have fun locating yours.
After locating our surname and my mum’s the family continued up to the next floor. I have a fear of heights and narrow stairs so I didn’t go any higher than the 1st floor – yea I’m a chicken. Like this one here.
But I don’t think there are any more exhibits upstairs…plus! The floorboards upstairs are loose. So while the family explored upstairs, I stayed on the 1st floor to take photos.
After we were done exploring the tulou we were famished and wandered back to the car-park in search of our cabbie who was coming to lunch with us. I am pretty sure it is customary to buy a meal for your cabbie if you hire one. We have always done this when hiring a private taxi. Under his recommendation, we dined at a home-cook restaurant in the village. Basically everything served was grown or raised in the village so it was very fresh.
Bottom, left to right: mixed vege with pork, deep fried fish and sitr fried mushrooms.
Just looking at these pictures are making me hungry. These were all so good even though they were cooked with such simple ingredients. The mushrooms, fish and sweet potato leaves were my absolute favourites. According to the chef, if the sweet potato leaves are yummy the potato itself won’t be as nice. Also the chicken is the freshest chicken I will ever have in my life. If you are squeamish….you may want to refrain from ordering chicken. Lets just say that the chicken was so fresh that she not only went to her garden to pluck sweet potato leaves but also a chicken …which we saw her do bad bad things to. After our lunch, we decided to head back to the city. There were quite a few roadworks along the way back so we were stuck in traffic for awhile.
And that brings us to the end of our day trip to the Chuxi Tulou Cluster. I would definitely recommend anyone to arrange a day trip to visit the tulou if they ever find themselves in the Fujian region. It is a great place to unwind, appreciate the simpler things in life, marvel at great architectural feats and enjoy great home-cooked food. Would you visit a tulou? Do you have any extra tips on visiting tulou to share? Let me know in the comments below! Would love to hear from you. Till next time, .