The air is cool and crisp, stirred only by a slight wind that causes a frenzy of leaves and petals to flutter to the ground. It is a mesmerising sight, this spellbinding vision of hundreds of pearly-pink cherry blossom trees in full bloom, swaying in the breeze like large pink umbrellas, enchanting all who chance upon them at the panoramic East Lake Eco-Tourism Scenic Spot’s Sakura Palace.
The spot is just one of the attractions in Wuhan, AirAsia X’s latest destination in China. On a media trip to Wuhan (only a five-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur), I arrived virtually clueless – Wuhan doesn’t quite have the ring of “Beijing” and “Shanghai” to it and nearly every single person I mentioned the trip to didn’t know where Wuhan was. “Have you reached Walian yet?” a friend texted soon after I arrived, which sort of says it all really.
Thankfully, the trip to Wuhan proved enlightening in more ways than one and I left the city with an intense feeling of yearning (i.e. I will be returning).
The capital city of the Hubei province in central China (incidentally also its most populous city, with over 12 million denizens), Wuhan is where China’s largest river – the famed Yangtze – intersects with its tributary, the Han river. A night river cruise on the Yangtze will give you a better view of the river, though, as well as a kaledeiscopic peek into the colour constellations on the iconic Yangtze river bridge and other Wuhan buildings, amidst a glittering canopy of stars. Interestingly, the riverside city is over 3,500 years old and is one of the birthplaces of the ancient Chu culture.
So what can you do in Wuhan? It turns out the city has a surprising diversity of attractions to satiate all sorts of travellers.
East Lake Eco-Tourism Scenic Spot
China’s largest in-city park encompasses 88 sq km of land, of which the picturesque lake takes up about 33 sq km.
The site is divided into lots of places of interest, including the Sakura Palace, which is only open during the cherry blossom season in spring, from February to April.
Depending on the seasons, you can also see plum blossoms, peonies and lotus flowers.
The park is sprawling, with features like a bird park and even a poetry-reciting pavilion, so you’ll need at least half a day (or a full day, if you have the time) if you really want to take in as much as possible – and trust me, you’ll want to.
It’s the sort of place where you can spend hours just gazing at the sunny, dappled lake or walking lazily past giant trees and sloped hiking paths.
You can also rent bicycles (most are free) and cycle around the park at your leisure, taking in all the wondrous natural beauty around you.
Hubei Provincial Museum
One of the best-known museums in China, this is the place to go if you’re a history buff or want to know more about ancient Chinese culture as it hosts over 200,000 objects of cultural and historical significance, including artefacts from the Qujialing culture (a 5,000-year-old Neolithic culture) and the Yunxian man (a species of early Paleolithic homo erectus that’s over a million years old).
But probably the most fascinating exhibition on display is the collection unearthed from nobleman Marquis Yi of Zeng’s tomb – he died around 400BCE.
The tomb is host to the biggest collection of ancient Chinese instruments in the world, including an intact, well-preserved (and really humongous) collection of musical bronze bells.
Yellow Crane Tower
Considered one of the four great towers of China, the Yellow Crane Tower is famous for the poetry it has inspired in Chinese poets like Cui Hao and Li Bai – poems which school children in China now learn from a young age.
The tower, designed to resemble a yellow crane spreading its wings, has existed since 223 AD but it has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times since.
What’s great about climbing the multitude of stairs to the top of the tower (although you can cheat and take the lift, like I did) is the bird’s-eye view you get of the Yangtze river – an unparalleled sight that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.
If you’re after a spot of culture, the small theatre nearby hosts classical music performances, so you can listen to some classical Chinese music and if you’re lucky (and ask nicely!), they’ll even let you bang and clang on some chimes and gongs after the show is over.
The Three Gorges Dam and Tribe Scenic Spot
The Three Gorges Dam (a two-hour train ride to the city of Yi Chang, followed by a two-hour drive) is the world’s largest hydroelectric dam and has been critical in averting floods. Although it’s essentially a lot of concrete, it’s worth a visit just to see the enormity of this 17-year project. A panoramic view of the dam can be glimpsed from the Dam Viewing Point or the 185 Platform, which stands at 185m, equivalent to the height of the dam crest. If you have the time, though, a multi-day river cruise will show you far more.
The Three Gorges Dam Tribe Scenic Spot, on the other hand, is further downstream from the dam and makes for a great day tour.
A boat will take you on a slow ride to the area, which feels like a slice of China where time has stood still. The highlight of the tribal scenic spot is the cultural practices of the Chu and Ba people, who have lived off the mountains and rivers for aeons.
You’ll be able to see Chu girls singing traditional songs and watch a re-enactment of a Tujia marriage, called the crying marriage, where girls who are married off traditionally spend half a month crying (with their unmarried girlfriends) in preparation for their big day.
Also worth seeing if you believe in the power of inanimate objects is the Stone Tablet, a white granite stone, said to bring good luck.
On top of all that, there are the views – pristine, sparkling waters, mysterious caves, thick green foliage and dense mountains beyond. It’s the sort of natural beauty that looks like it’s been plucked straight out of a fairytale.
Overall, my trip to Wuhan far exceeded my expectations. From picturesque lakes and parks to the interesting places of attractions that dot the city, Wuhan offers a rich, multi-hued cultural, natural, historical and gourmet experience that is hard to beat. My next trip to China will definitely include a pit stop in Wuhan, and it would be a pity if yours didn’t too!
AirAsia X flies daily to Wuhan, China. Check out airasia.com for more information about flight schedules.