A Visitor's Guide to the City of Zhengzhou

shaolin temple
••• Zhengzhou is often used as a base from which to visit Shaolin Temple. Photo by Sara Naumann. All rights reserved.

Zhengzhou (郑州) is the provincial capital of Henan (河南) Province, located in central China. The Yellow River carves its way through Henan and it boasts four of China's ancient eight capitals as well as the birthplace of Chinese civilization. Zhengzhou is experiencing a revitalization from recent wealth coming into the province and the whole city seems to be getting a facelift: new buildings, new roads, new signs.

Everywhere you turn there's a construction site. In a few years, it might be a pretty city full of newly planted trees and modern buildings. Right now, it's not worth spending time in the city itself, but is the place to launch a journey into China's ancient past. From Zhengzhou, the visitor can make day trips to Shaolin Temple, the home of China's most famous martial art, Kung Fu, as well as the Longmen Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Location

Zhengzhou is about 470 miles (760km) south of Beijing and 300 miles (480km) east of Xi'An. The Yellow River, one of China's major waterways and the cradle of China's civilization, flows to the north. Mount Song, Song Shan, sits to the west and the Huang Hai plains surround the city to the south and east. The city is a major transportation hub as two major railways intersect here as they crisscross China. You'll have no trouble finding a train or plane to get you to Zhengzhou.

History

Zhengzhou was the first capital of the Shang Dynasty (1600-1027BC), the second dynasty recorded in Chinese history. Ancient packed-earth city walls can still be seen in some parts of Zhengzhou. Inhabitants of the city are proud of their heritage. The best way to review Zhengzhou and Henan province history is by visiting the Henan Provincial Museum, Henan Bowuguan, in Zhengzhou.

Attractions

  • Shang Dynasty Ruins
  • Henan Provincial Museum
  • Yellow River
  • Shaolin Temple
  • Longmen (Dragon Gate) Grottoes

Getting There

  • Air: Zhengzhou's airport lies about 21 miles (35km) outside the city center. If you've already made hotel reservations, contact your hotel about transfers from the airport. There are a few hotel counters in the airport where you can make reservations upon arrival. You can easily take a taxi to your destination although remember to bring along your hotel name and address to show the driver (preferably in Chinese).
  • Bus: The long-distance bus station is near the railway station in the southwest part of the city. From here you can take mini-buses to other Henan cities or to attractions outside of Zhengzhou.
  • Rail: The railway station is opposite the long-distance bus station in the southwest of the city. Zhengzhou is a major railway transit hub. It is possible to take short train trips to Henan's other historical cities such as Luoyang (2hrs) and Kaifeng (1hr), as well as long-distance destinations such as Beijing (12hrs), Shanghai (14hrs) and Guangzhou (36hrs). Bookings can be made at Erqi Lu #133 or at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Getting Around

  • Bus: Bus is an inexpensive way to get around Zhengzhou as most tourist attractions are not within walking distance from hotels. Ask your hotel/concierge how to take the bus to your destination.
  • Taxi: Personally, I always take taxis when traveling to new cities in China as they are still quite affordable and more comfortable than buses. It's essential to carry a map, hotel taxi card and any other information with you to help the driver understand your destination.

Essentials

  • Population: 7 million
  • Telephone Code: 037 (when dialing from overseas, drop the first 0)
  • Weather: In central China, Zhengzhou has a relatively mild climate in that it doesn't see the extremely cold temperatures of the north, or hot temperatures of the south. July is the hottest month with reported temperatures on average of 80F (27C). January is the coldest month with average temperatures of 32F (0C). Spring and fall are peak tourist times but going off-peak is rewarding to miss the crowds.
  • Recommended time for visit: 2 days.
  • Best time of year to visit: Officially spring and autumn are the best times of the year due to mild temperatures. However, I visited in mid-December, a decidedly off-peak time and found it to be wonderful. There were virtually no tourists at the major attractions but the weather was very sunny, dry and pleasant.

Where to Stay

While there are a number of hotels popping up all over Zhengzhou, probably the best bet as far as convenience and comfort is to choose from the Intercontinental Hotel Group's tier of three properties. All three hotels are within the same compound so you can use the facilities easily and conveniently.