Changhsa China. It's the capital city in the Hunan province and the most populated city in the region (but still nowhere near as populated as China's major cities). It's an entertainment hub, the site of Chairman Mao's conversion to communism, and its become a major commercial and manufacturing center in recent years. It's not as popular with tourists as other Chinese cities, but while it may not be as westernized as Shanghai or as large as Beijing it is still a very interesting city to visit and worth more then just a passing glance.
For me it's the site of the assembly plant for the Jeep Grand Commander, and I've visited the city 5 times now. I have a few recommendations for anybody traveling to this city.
The Intercontinental is my preferred hotel while staying in Changsha. It's very clean and comfortable, and the lobby always smells like flowers and perfume (which is a nice change from the smell of pollution that generally permeates China). The staff speak English, which is great because despite having visited China many times I don't speak Chinese at all. There are a couple of restaurants onsite offering both buffet style dinner (with food from all regions of the globe) and more traditional restaurants. Hotel services at what you would expect: laundry, room service, TV, Internet, currency exchange, ect... Location wise it's kinda set back from the main part of town and not only borders the river, but has a nice walking trail which runs next to the river, which is nice if you are looking for a more quiet setting. But it's not so far that you cannot walk downtown if you want. The only thing I would change about the hotel is the menu at the buffet really does not change all that often, and while the food is good there is only so much fish and chips that I can eat. So if you are like me and stay there for 2-3 weeks at a time you may find yourself going out in search of new food options.
My alternate hotel, the Sheraton, is more centrally located in downtown Changsha, but smells like smoke all the time. It has the same amenities, the staff also speak English, the hotel has slightly better restaurants then the intercontinental (they also vary the menu more), and a McDonalds next door in case you get sick of hotel food.
Getting Around and Paying For It
Changsha is cheap. Dirt cheap. Gotta love that exchange rate cheap. An hour long taxi ride costs about 10 USD. Food is cheap as well. Because of the hours I worked while in Changsha I mostly ate at the plant or hotel, but when I went out $5-10 USD would easily cover a good meal on the go.
There are a couple of good ways to get a cab in Changsha (and the rest of China as well):
Have your hotel write your destination (as well as the hotels address) on a piece of paper, that will get you to and from your destination. The concierge at the hotel can help you with this, as well as helping to arrange taxi's. Additionally most of the hotels have business cards with the address written in English and Chinese, I'd recommend grabbing a few of these since they can come in very handy. I've found taxi drivers in Changsha to be pretty reliable and generally honest, other cities in China - not so much.
DiDi. This is an amazing app for getting around in China. It's essentially Chinese Lyft/Uber. The English translations are not too bad, but in using it you can hail a Taxi, which automatically gets your location via GPS. You get an arrival time for the Taxi, a rating for the driver and a license plate of the cab. When you hail your taxi you also input your destination into the app so you don't need to try communicating that to the driver as the app has nav built in so it can route the driver where you want to go, this also allows you to track the progress on your route. Then you can just pay in cash according to the meter. You can also use DiDi to hail vehicles other then taxi's, but that requires the ability to pay via WeChat, which requires a Chinese bank account. Using it for just taxi's and paying in cash is much easier. The app works throughout China, so you can use it in Beijing, Shanghai, or wherever you happen to be. It's a great way to get transportation without speaking the language.
Walking. It's a great way to get some exercise and the best way to take a few pictures while you are out. Nav wise, if you have one of GoogleFi's phones you can use their included international data plan to use google maps, otherwise apple maps works fine. Plus walking is free.
Cabs are a bit cleaner then getting a lift in this tractor too.
Sights to See
While I spent most of my time in Changsha in an assembly plant, there are a few places in Changsha worth seeing. Both of these sights can be visited in a single day. When sightseeing in Changsha I will typically start the day walking from the hotel to the Yuelu academy then exiting by the which begins the ascent of Mt. Yuelu, stopping on the way to the top at the Aiwan pavilion, and the Lushan temple. Once I reach the top I check out the view for a bit, then I head back down via the main road. Then I swing by Orange island on my way back in the afternoon. It's a fully day and many miles of walking, could definitely make it a faster day if you took a cab instead of walking but either way it's a very full day of exploration.
Yuelu Academy- A hugely popular park, and the sight of the thousand year old Yuelu academy. The academy itself is a interesting place to visit. Lots of old buildings, with exhibits and statues detailing the history behind everything. It's one of four ancient academies in China, and over time has evolved into a more modern institute of higher learning. Additionally, it is one of the more important academic centers in China, the site of a national library, and places that a focus on research of ancient Chinese language.
A few shots of the academy
More Sights to See
Mt. Yuelu - Yuelu Academy rests at the foot of Mt. Yuelu, so its a natural place to continue your tour. It's not a particularly tall mountain, but the steps going up are fairly steep and with the humidity in summer you will need to bring some water. It's worth it though, the view at the top is pretty cool. On the way to the top you can visit numerous tombs of revolutionary Chinese figures as well as Lushan Temple, an the Aiwan Pavilion.
Lushan temple - The first Bhuddist temple in the Hunan province, it was built in 268 AD in the Jin Dynasty. Inside its divided into a few sections: The Entrance, The Hall of Great Heroes, Zazen Room, ect... The temple is free and open to the public, definitely an interesting stopping place on your way up the mountain. They do have signs that prohibit photography inside, so please respect that.
At the top of the mountain there is an observation platform with a great view. From the top of the mountain you can either follow the paved road back to the base, or hike back down the stairs. If you like hiking, nature, or history then both the mountain and academy are can't miss spots in Changsha. It can get pretty crowded though, so I'd recommend getting there early in the day.
More Changsha Sights
Orange Island - This small island (I say small, but it is the longest inland island in the world) is located in the Xiangjiang River, which flows down the middle of the city and splits Changsha into two parts. You can take a cab to it or just walk to it, the Juzizhou bridge crosses right over it and has ramps where you can walk right down to the island. The island rests between Mt. Yuelu and the city, so it's a natural stopping point after touring the island. The island itself can has a few main attractions: The Statue of Chairman Mao Zedong, various pavilions, and a temple. While they are all worth seeing the most impressive object on this island is the statue of his head. It's a huge cultural draw to the locals, there are crowds of people talking photo's and selfies in front of the statue.
Changsha's is home to China's second largest television network, which means there is a large entertainment district in town. Changsha residents love their nightlife and the city is known for being an entertainment center. Jiefeng Xilu, is a central part of the nightlife area and a good starting point. There are numerous bars and restaurants all along the road and it's packed almost every night.
Changsha, while a smaller city compared to the rest of China, is quite an entertaining place to spend a weekend. It's tourist friendly, has good food, and plenty to occupy travelers on their journey.