Thanks to the cult of personality that built up around Mao in the 1960s and ’70s, Changsha was once a major destination for tourists. They traveled to the capital of Hunan Province to see where Mao once lived and taught. Now that Mao’s star has declined, there is not much in the way of notable sites to attract visitors. Most of Changsha was destroyed by fire in 1938 during the Sino-Japanese War, so the cityscape is now an uninterrupted line of hideous modern Chinese architecture.
All that aside, there are two good reasons to keep Changsha on your itinerary:
- Seeing “real life”: In Beijing and Shanghai, you’re like to see as many expats as you see locals, depending on the neighborhood. That is definitely not possible in Changsha. Instead, you’ll see the fruits of the past 30 years of economic reforms: tons of new construction, streets crowded with shoppers and a growing number of Western brands, from Wal-Mart to Haagen Dazs.
- The food: Hunanese food, called 香菜 (xiangcai), is one of China’s great cuisines. It is famous for the heavy use of peppers (辣椒, lajiao), making for intensely spicy dishes. Changsha has tons of great places to sample authentic xiangcai. (My favorite is HuDa Impressions)