China – Laitan Ancient Town


When we travel we try to seek out unique experiences outside the loop of standard tourist itineraries. A tough ask with our limited schedules, but we have been fortunate enough to have managed a few detours to some places less trodden.

On our trip to China, one such detour led us to the Chongqing region with its proximity to spectacular natural world heritage sites, rock carvings and ancient walled towns.

Of all the amazing places we explored from here, Hechuan Laitan Ancient Town, considered one of the 10 most beautiful ancient towns in China, was undoubtedly the highlight.

Golden Buddha of Laitan, China

The walled town of Laitan was originally constructed during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907AD) and rebuilt during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Unlike the disneyfied old towns within the larger Chinese cities, this one seemed authentic and quite untouched by the China boom.

Vegetable vendor with traditional straw hat and shoulder strung basket placed on floor behind him.

Our guide Jimmy timed our visit to coincide with the small Sunday market outside the gates. It had started to drizzle and the ground was slushy but the market was buzzing with activity. The local population – evidently poor – seemed laid back and cheerful and a refreshing contrast to the urban crowds we had left behind in Beijing. This was the China we had come to see.

Group of men in the Laitan market in traditional straw hats.

“Gobsmackingly beautiful” was one adjective by a previous visitor whose description of the old town inspired us in the first place. Laitan is indeed a hidden treasure not mentioned in most guide books. You walk through the ancient gates – not a tourist in sight – down narrow blue stone covered alleys.


Head down some steps to the Erfo temple, taking a moment to catch your breath over stunning vistas of the valley below. Everything is so verdant with rice fields and orange groves and the sparkling river Qu in the horizon.

Inside the temple is the second largest Buddha in Western China (the one in Leshan is the biggest). It is carved into the Jiu mountain and surrounding it in the lower level are 1670 little Bodhisatvas. It was Diwali day back home and we lit incense and felt blessed to be in this beautiful place.

Path leading to Erfo temple.
Little Buddha statues against a wall in Erfo temple, Laitan


From the base of the statue, you climb a flight of stairs to the upper level to view the Buddha’s head close up. A circular door up here, opens on to a path leading to the well preserved Wenchang Palace.

The Tang dynasty performance theatre in the courtyard of the palace has beautiful wood cut details, partly defaced during the cultural revolution.

Another little hall with a panoramic view of the verdant valley below had Mahjong tables set up. Some chilled beer and spicy nibbles and we could have been in heaven. We agreed with Jimmy that staying overnight might have been a good idea.

Wenchang Palace performance hall.

The rain had long stopped but the path down to the river was still slushy, so we drove down and Jimmy and our driver led us through another village at the bottom of the hill – presumably meant for lesser mortals – to the river. A farmer and his wife on their boat dished up what was one of the best meals in our three weeks in China.

A simple meal of fish (with garlic, chillies, ginger), vegetables & rice. And for dessert, fresh, sweet tangerines plucked from the trees nearby. There were a few young children frolicking in the water nearby, a woman washing clothes and the four of us. Idyllic!

Not sure how long Laitan will remain out of the coach tour radar, but we were so glad we came here before the inevitable invasion of the 2$ souvenir vendors.

Antique shofront Laitan, China
Temple exterior, Laian, China
Old butcher outside his shop in Laitan, China


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Laitan is located 168 km north of Chongqing and takes about 2.30 hours by road. You can get there by taxi or hire a private car and driver. Full day tours from Chongqing combine a visit to Diaoyu Fortress. Check prices here.


Looking for places to visit in China? Laitan, an authentic ancient town near Chongqing, is a true hidden gem that was the highlight of our visit. Read all about our day-trip. #China #Chongqing #DayTrips #PlacesToVisit #ChinaPlacesToVisit #HiddenGems
Hechuan Laitan Ancient Town is one of China's most beautiful ancient towns. it is home to the second largest Buddha in Western China and makes a great day-trip from Chongqing.
#China #Chongqing #DayTrips #PlacesToVisit #ChinaPlacesToVisit #HiddenGems

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on

58 thoughts on “China – Laitan Ancient Town

    1. Thank you Judy! This was our favourite place in China! A bit difficult to get to, but well worth the effort!

  1. Absolutely, this would be the China one dreams of seeing, but doesn’t really believe exists any more.
    Thanks so much for the glimpse into a wonderful place, both magical and superreal.

  2. I’m so glad you lucked into this detour, Madhu – just wish you’d been able to stay overnight and spend more time just wandering around this breathtaking, and ‘authentic’ old city – ’cause I want more!

    1. Wish we had! The monastery attached to the temple had some basic rooms for rent that seemed perfect for a blissful retreat. I knew you would like this 🙂
      Reblogged this today, so more people get to read it. I had all of 5 followers (including daughter and friends) when I wrote this 😀

    1. Yes, the views were lovely! Would have been spectacular on a sunny day, but we weren’t complaining 🙂 Thanks Ledrake.

  3. I had made a promise to myself that I was going to sit down and read your blog from beginning to end one day, and savor every minute. Thanks for getting me started!

  4. What a memorable detour…thanks to Jimmy. I’m so glad you reblogged this. I would never have known such a place existed without your photos and descriptions. My favorite is the adorable old butcher as well as the ancient Buddhas. The valley views are astounding. That’s my kind of traveling.

    1. It wasn’t quite accidental Lynne. I saw this place mentioned on one of the travel forums and on impulse swapped Yangshuo for this. The logistics of seeing all that we had planned on doing here was daunting, so we hired Jimmy, recommended by the original visitor. He followed the itinerary I worked out, but his local knowledge of the area was invaluable!
      You would love this place and Ron would have a field day with his camera 🙂

  5. Busy lady. I don’t know why but I just love statues of Buddha. Funny how the weather in your pictures match the weather here in Ontario right now. I am sitting inside at my desk enjoying tea and your blog. How’s the weather where you are?

    1. I love statues of Buddha too!
      Weather here is sunnier than ever, with just enough rains in the late evenings to keep the heat under control, thank God!

  6. Belle immagini e una descrizione sintetica che fa apprezzare la bella semplicità del posto. Buon viaggio anche a te e grazie per gli angoli di mondo che mostri. 🙂

  7. Three weeks in China… is time for me to retire to get so much time away from work! Thanks for sharing the hidden China.

  8. Amazing! How do you find guides and drivers, Madhu? I love to go to the places less traveled. Did you rely entirely on your guide to interpret for you? Or did someone in your party speak chinese? What an awesome trip, and awesome photos!

  9. This looks like a great town to visit, Madhu. I’m adding it to my list of places to visit. You don’t find many of these preserved ancient towns, at least not in my neck of the woods.

  10. A wealth of history in that place. The ancients knew how to pave their towns to make living there better in wet seasons and keep dust down in summer. But outside of the towns in the farm communities life was not as pleasant in spite of the beauty of surroundings.

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