Formerly known as Huizhou (from which Anhui derived part of its name), this region was home to many wealthy salt merchants who in the Ming and Qing dynasties built many memorial arches and residences in such a unique style as to create a distinct regional Huizhou style of architecture. The district of Huizhou and the counties of She Xian and Yi Xian are famous for their well-preserved memorial arches (paifang), memorial halls (citang), and traditional villages of narrow streets and flowing streams.
Yi Xian is approximately 50km (30 miles) northwest of Tunxi, while the Huizhou District and She Xian are to the north and northeast. All three can easily be visited as separate day trips, but a combination of the three will be trickier. It is possible to visit both She Xian and Yi Xian in a long day, but you'll most likely only be able to visit one or two sights in each place and you won't have time to linger. You'll also have to rent a private taxi or car for the day, since public transportation to and between sights is slow and infrequent. If you have some command of Chinese or would simply like to brave it on your own, you can hire a taxi in Tunxi for the day to Xidi, Hong Cun, and Nanping in Yi Xian for ¥250 to ¥300, and to She Xian, Qiankou, and Chengkan for around ¥280. Minibuses also leave for She Xian (30 min.; ¥4) and Yi Xian (1 hr.; ¥8) from the bus station and the roundabout in front of the railway station.
The first village you encounter on the way to Yi Xian (7km/4 miles away) is Xidi ★ (¥80; 8am-5:30pm), a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its over 300 well-preserved ancient residences. The houses, with their amazingly ornate stone, brick, and wood carvings, are really the highlight here at this boat-shaped village, which dates from the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127) but which developed into its present size during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The memorial archway (built in 1578) that greets visitors when you first arrive is the sole remaining archway in the village and is said to have survived the Cultural Revolution because it was covered with Mao slogans.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hong Cun (¥80; 8am-5:30pm), located 11km (7 miles) northeast of Yi Xian town, is probably the most picturesque of the towns, with two spots in the village vying for top honors: the exterior view with an arched bridge across a large lily pond; and the crescent-shaped pond Yuezhao Tang, whose reflection of the surrounding traditional houses on a clear day is truly magnificent. If these vistas appear familiar, it is probably because the two locations were used in the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Water is the main feature at this village, with the two large ponds connected to a series of flowing streams and canals that pass by every house, providing water for washing, cooking, and bathing, and that taken altogether are said to outline the shape of a bull.
Just over 5km (3 miles) west of Yi Xian, Nanping (¥36; 8am-5:30pm) is a late Tang, early Song dynasty town that served as the location for Zhang Yimou's 1990 film, Ju Dou. In fact, so many films have been made in this picturesque village that it is also unimaginatively called Movie Village of China. All the houses in the village have concave corners that bow inward, the absence of rigid sharp edges symbolizing the avoidance of quarrels in the community. With 72 lanes that seem to double back on each other like an Escher maze, the village is best visited with a local guide (included in the price of admission), even though he or she speaks practically no English. The guide also has the keys to open various halls, including the 500-year-old, 1,500-sq.-m (16,146-sq.-ft.) Ye's Ancestral Hall, where the teahouse fight scene from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was filmed.
Although She Xian has 94 memorial arches scattered throughout the county, Tangyue Paifang Qun (Tangyue Memorial Arches), with its collection of seven four-pillared arches, is the best place to view these impressive structures. Located about 6km (3 3/4 miles) west of She Xian, the arches may be viewed from 6:30am to 6:30pm for a fee of ¥80. The arches were built by a salt merchant family named Bao over the course of 400 years in the Ming and Qing dynasties. If you're coming by minibus (¥4) from Tunxi, ask to be dropped off at the archways. From there, it's another 1.5km (1 mile) to the arches. Walk or take a tricycle taxi for ¥5 to ¥10.
She Xian claims the only eight-pillared memorial archway in China, the Xuguo Shifang (Xuguo Stone Archway). Built in 1584 to honor a local scholar named Xu Guo, this magnificent structure has eight pillars decorated with carved lions, phoenixes, and qilin (Chinese unicorns). Up the hill from the archway and down a left side street is Doushan Jie, a narrow alley lined with traditional houses and shops.
Huizhou Qu (Huizhou District)
The highlight at Chengkan village (¥60; 7am-5:30pm; Nov 16-Mar 15 8am-4:30pm), 34km (20 miles) north of Tunxi is Baolun Ge (Baolun Hall), an impressive building alone worth the trip. Located in the back of the Luo Dongshu Ci (Luo Dongshu Ancestral Hall), the bottom half of the structure, with stone square pillars supporting exquisitely painted (though now faded) wooden beams and brackets, was built in the Ming dynasty to honor the Luo family ancestors. The top half, with wooden windows and tiled roof, was built 70 years later to honor the emperor. At Zhongying Jie 12 is a Qing dynasty house worth visiting for its intricately carved wooden doors and panels.
Qiankou village has a Museum of Ancient Residences (¥40; 7:30am-6pm), a collection of 12 Ming dynasty Huizhou-style residences formerly scattered throughout She Xian county but relocated here and restored to their original state. This museum provides a comprehensive overview of the local architecture if you don't have time to tour individual towns.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.