Dehang (德夯), Hunan Province
Nestled in the mountains of western Hunan Province, Dehang has historically belonged to the Miao minority group, also known as the Hmong. It is surrounded by karsts, similar to those around Yangshuo and in Zhangjiajie. Before tourism came to Dehang, the village economy depended on farming the terraced fields that sit at the base of the karsts. Now, the center of Dehang has been spiffed up for travelers. But the level of development is nothing like that of Lijiang, where tourism has all but drowned out local culture. Outside of Dehang’s village center, the hustle and bustle disappears, and you are free to meander through the magnificent landscape.
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Places to See
Dehang is located in a nature preserve, and tourists must pay a 60 RMB fee to enter the preserve and the village. Once you reach the village center, signs will point you to the main trails. There aren’t that many different branches, so once you find the appropriate trailhead, it’s almost impossible to get lost.
The Liusha Waterfall is billed in Dehang as China’s longest waterfall, at 216 meters. I’m not sure about that. But the veil of water descending over the mountains is most definitely beautiful, particularly after a rainfall. The hourlong walk to the waterfall takes you along a mostly flat flagstone path in the shadow of the karsts, with plenty of photo opportunities along the way.
To reach the waterfall, walk from the center of town to the Jielong Bridge (接龙桥). Staying on the same side of the river, pass the bridge. From this point, the path leads directly to the falls.
Tianwen Tai (天问台)
While the waterfall is improved by a rainy-season visit, the path to Tianwen Tai is not. The last bridge before the stairs up to the platform was flooded when I first visited in late May, but I made it there on my second visit a year later. The view over the valley is indeed stunning.
The path to Tianwen Tai begins at the far end of the village square, where you cross the river to the beginning of the path. That bridge is underwater in the rainy season, but there is another bridge to the right. From there, it is a direct path to the viewing platform, which is mostly flat until the very end, when the path becomes a staircase to the top of the karst.
There are tons of small restaurants scattered around Dehang, primarily offering local Miao specialties. Most of the inns also had their own restaurants, and I had a tasty light dinner of egg fried rice at the Dehang Stone Inn, below. A few snack vendors scattered along the walking paths sell soft-shell crab and fish on skewers.
Miao Zu Feng Wei Guan (苗族风味馆)
This restaurant, whose name translates roughly to Miao Local Flavor Restaurant, is one of many almost-identical restaurants lining the main road into the town square. I ordered my lunch by pointing at ingredients in the kitchen and letting the cook suggest combinations, which works great when you don’t really know what you want to eat. Two dishes is too many for one person, but I wanted to try a couple of different things. The meat dish, left, was smoked pork (la rou, 腊肉, like thick-cut bacon) with ye cai, which is a generic name for edible herbs. It was tasty and a bit spicy, with plenty of ginger and peppers. I also had stirfried cabbage and rice.
Lunch for two, or an excessively large lunch for one, cost 50 RMB. (The price was inflated by the cost of the smoked pork dish.) Stick to eggs, tofu and veggies and you could eat for two for 20 or 30 RMB. Bring your own drinks if you want them.
Dehang Stone Inn (德夯石头客栈)
After rejecting the Jielongqiao Inn, below, I returned to the main square to canvass for another option, when I ran into one of the proprietors of the Stone Inn. This inn is run by a very large, very nice extended family who live in the first-floor rooms. Only the second-floor is open to guests. My tiny double room had an even more miniscule bathroom — basically just a squat toilet with a shower overhead. But it was clean and the water was hot. This is definitely not a five-star accommodation: the linens were worn and there was water damage on the walls. You will need to bring or buy your own towel and toilet paper. But for the price, it was perfectly acceptable.
A room with a tiny private bathroom and no air-conditioning costs 40 RMB per night.
The Inn is located a five-minute walk outside of the village center, off of the main road in the direction of Jishou. The same family operates a small shop on the corner of the main square and the main road — look for the name of the inn on the sign. You can also call for reservations and directions: 07438665358, 13257438068 or 13517438780. They do not speak English.
Jielongqiao Inn (接龙桥客栈)
I took a look at this place before I settled on the Stone Inn. The rooms were more attractive and the location was better — closer to the village center. But all of the rooms shared one common bathroom, which was uncomfortably dark and dungeon-like and located in the basement.
Rooms are 40 RMB per night, without airconditioning or a private bathroom. The Jielongqiao Inn is located next to the Jielong Bridge.
To reach Dehang, you have to travel via Jishou, a larger town to the southeast. Trains run from Changsha to Jishou several times per day. The journey is about eight hours. Hard sleeper fare ranges from 110 to 150 RMB, depending on which train you choose.
Buses run directly from outside the Jishou Train Station to Dehang every 20 minutes. As you leave the station, turn right and look for the Xiangxi Tourism Office. The Dehang buses are right outside, and they will say “德夯 — 火车站” on the windshield. The fare to Dehang is 6 RMB, and the trip takes about one hour. Before you reach the village, tourists have to get off the bus and pay the 60 RMB entrance fee at the ticket office. The driver will wait for you.