Yongding Tulou (永定土楼), Fujian Province
“Tulou” (土楼), or earthen building, is the name given to the communal dwellings of the Hakka ethnic minority. The World Heritage-recognized buildings are scattered throughout the western portion of Fujian Province, and there are some in nearby Guangdong and Jiangxi provinces. The most famous are located in Fujian’s Yongding County. The magnificent multistory dwellings are the center of their respective villages and serve as homes for entire clans. Now, living in the tulou is becoming less popular with locals — but tourists are flocking in. It is even possible for visitors to spend a night in a tulou!
Read more about my visit to the tulou and see more pictures in this blog post from March 2010.
- Gaobei Village (高被村): This village is home to the “king of the tulou,” Chengqi Lou, which is composed of several concentric rings of buildings centered on the ancestral shrine. This was the building that won a visit from President Hu Jintao in February 2010. Entrance costs 50 RMB (25 RMB for students).
- Tianluokeng Cluster (田螺坑): This is the best cluster for getting a sense of what the tulou look like en masse. A viewing platform has been helpfully constructed in the nearby hills, so that one can admire the five giant tulou — square, round and oval — from above.Entrance costs 100 RMB (50 RMB for students).
- Zhencheng Lou (振成楼): This is the closest tulou to Liuyuan, and as such is the most developed and crowded. However, there are a lot of tulou in this neighborhood, so you get some bang for your RMB. Entrance costs 70 RMB (45 RMB for students).
Tulou Accommodation & Food
In part because of a general movement away from tulou living, there are now plenty of unoccupied rooms in the massive buildings. And thanks to entrepreneurial residents, a handful of those have been opened up to overnight guests. Because it was convenient, we stayed in Huanxing Lou (环兴楼) in the middle of the town of Liulian. A small room with two twin beds and electricity (but no bathroom!) cost just 40 RMB per night. The beds were of the wooden-plank-covered-with-blanket variety, but this is more about the experience than the comfort. When you get off the bus in Liulian, you’ll surely be grabbed up by hotel managers — just tell them you want to stay in a tulou, as they can probably arrange that, too. And they may let you take a shower at their hotel in the morning.
The food in the tulou areas is not going to win any awards. The restaurants in Liulian are divided into two categories: those in hotels, and those outside of them. In both, the kitchen set-ups are simple and the menus are limited to simple stirfries. But you’ll save a few bucks by eating at one of the restaurants that’s not linked to a guesthouse.
Getting to the Tulou
The tulou are, by their very nature, rural, and thus rather hard to get to. It is possible to take the train to Yongding and from there take a bus to the various tulou. But if you’re in Xiamen, it’s more convenient to take a bus directly to the tulou region, bypassing the town of Yongding. A 9 a.m. express bus departs from the Hubin Lu long-distance bus station and takes two hours to reach Longyan (71 RMB). From Longyan, buses leave frequently for Liulian (六联), though the buses are simply labeled “土楼” (tulou). This trip takes 45 minutes and costs 22 RMB. On our return to Xiamen, we caught one of three daily buses direct from Liulian to the Xiamen Songbai bus station (3 hours, 55 RMB). Buses depart at 9 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 2:40 p.m. Tickets can be purchased from the small bus station across from the entrance to Zhencheng Lou.
Once we reached Liulian, we hired a car to take us to some of the more distant tulou, including the Gaobei and Tianluokeng clusters. The trip took about three hours and cost 180 RMB. We arranged it with the guesthouse owner who put us up in the Huanxing Tulou.