Hong Kong is an amazing city to live in, but it's so small, sometimes, we need a break. Neither snowy mountains nor sunny beaches this time, we're off to the Fujian Province of China -to meet the Hakka people and discover their ancestral lifestyle. No skyscrapers, no traffic, no noise except the sound of flowing rivers and singing birds. Hello, countryside.
Fujian is a southeastern Chinese province, situated about 700kms north of Hong Kong, inland from the Taiwan Strait. Set amongst rice, tea and tobacco fields stands a unique architecture treasure : the Tulou. Those are large earthen houses dating back centuries with a multi-story construction, built along an inward-looking, circular or square floor plan. Housing a whole clan -up to 800 people-, Tulou houses function as village units, and are still inhabited today.
The Hakka Tulou earthen houses are listed in the UNESCO World Heritage. And even though it attracts many tourists from China, you can easily get lost and go on a lovely journey, back in time...
the hakka tulou earthen houses
Those great pieces of history were built by Hakka people between the 12th and the 20th centuries. Hakka people is a unique subgroup of the Chinese Han. The name literally means guest family. Today, the major heritage of the Hakka ethnic group is their cuisine as well as their houses of nonesuch architecture, Tulou.
More than a home, the Tulou houses represent a lifestyle that is about to disappear. This massive complex forms an incredible self-sustaining micro-community. Communal life usually takes place in the central courtyard: marketplace, worship and celebration, kids' playground, outdoor kitchen. Each level has a function. The first floor is used for food storage, while the upper floors are for living space. It's a great fusion of both communal and private space.
Nowadays, many Tulou houses are still inhabited by hundred of people, from multiples families...
A STAY IN FUJIAN HAKKA TULOU IS NOT COMPLETE WITHOUT A STAY IN A TULOU
Some people are still living in Tulou, and so you can, too. We booked a room in Fuyu Lou, an old fortified square Tulou situated in Yongding district. The house belongs to the Ling clan and is over 130 years old. About 80 locals live there, and a part of the Tulou has been converted into an atmospheric guest house. The rooms are basic but comfortable. We had the pleasure to not only visit, but live the Tulou experience...
Staying in a Tulou was the best decision we took during this trip -much better then deciding to explore the surroundings by bike under the rain, I have to say. We were happy to meet Stephen, who hosted us warmly, and helped us to avoid the tourist buses during our explorations. Plus, we got to taste some delicious Hakka food and meet the whole family.
How to explore the fujian hakka Tulou?
You've got different options: a bus tour -argh!-, a scenic bicycle tour, a car with driver or, well... your feet. We had the bright idea to go cycling on our first day, even though the sky was threatening -you have to know the Fujian province can be very, very wet... The roads are beautiful, but from the moment it started to pour with rain, we didn't see much. However, since I live in Hong Kong, you put me on a bicycle on the countryside, any weather, I'm happy! Anyways, on our second day, we decided to play safe and shared a car with two other travelers. It allowed us to make two new friends, stay dry and go much further. We had a bus at noon on our third day, so we simply walked around the village.
Regardless the way you explore the Fujian Hakka Tulou, you'll discover a unique atmosphere. It's a trip back in time. Organize your days to avoid the crowds. The recipe of tranquility is simple: be an early bird and try to go off the beaten track -or go bicycling under a rainstorm, it helps too.
Most locals speak very little English, so get ready to use the few Mandarin words you know. And if you don't know any, take a conversation guide or download a translator app on your smartphone -don't forget there's no Google/Google Translate in China.
After three years exploring Asia, I've seen many wonderful places, but there aren't many places where I felt that immersed in a culture. For a few days, I was far, very far from everything I have ever known or seen before. And that's the whole point of going on a weekend trip, isn't it?