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Which Fujian Tulou (Earthen Castles) to Visit

First of all, there are three main areas of tulou ('earthen buildings', 土楼, tǔlóu /too-loh/) in Fujian: Nanjing Tulou, Yongding Tulou, and Hua'an Tulou, which are depicted as green, blue, and orange in the graphic below. Each area has similar tulou but they are all distinct from each other for many reasons.

So, which area should you go to, which tulou is a must-see, which is the nearest/easiest one to reach, and, above all, which one was depicted as Mulan’s house in the Disney live-action Mulan movie in 2020? In this article, we have provided you with all of the answers.

1.Best Recommendation: Nanjing Tulou — Convenient Access

nanjing tulo map

Nanjing Tulou (Chinese:南靖土楼 Nánjìng Tǔlóu /nan-jing too-loh/)area retains its original appearance and it's a good place to get close to the earthen building culture. It is the nearest tulou hakka house area to Xiamen city. Nanjing Tulou includes two tulou clusters: Hekeng Tulou Cluster and Tianluokeng Tulou Cluster.

nanjing tulouTianluokeng Earthen Building Cluster, Nanjing Tulou Area
  • What to see: three famous Hakka residences in addition to “Mulan’s home”
  • Distance from Xiamen: 2½ hours
  • Tickets: Tourist Line A 100 yuan (includes Tianluokeng Tulou cluster, Yuchang Building, and Taxia Village); Tourist Line B 90 yuan (includes Hegui Building, Huaiyuan Building , and Yunshuiyao Ancient Village)

Tianluokeng Earthen Building Cluster — The Classic Cluster

Tianluokeng Earthen Building Cluster (田螺坑土楼群), also known by its nickname of the "missile weapon base" is a neat Olympic-rings-shaped group of five earthen buildings: one square building and four round buildings around it. Many travelers call it "four dishes and one soup".

Hekeng Tulou Cluster — Less Touristy and the Filming Location for “Mulan’s Village”

yuchang buildingTilted pillars of Yuchang Lou

Although Hekeng Tulou Cluster is one of the six tulou clusters that belong to the World Heritage Site – the Fujian tulou – it is not heavily affected by tourism yet. Hekeng Tulou Cluster is depicted as being Mulan's hometown in the Disney live-action movie of Mulan (2020).

1)"The Tilting Tulou" and the Oldest — Yuchang Tulou

Yuchang Lou (裕昌楼) was built in 1308 and is one of the oldest existing Tulou. This five-story earthen building is most famous for its tilted pillars. The most extreme is slanted at 15-degree angle. Yuchanglou has been like this for more than 600 years and remains intact today. Because of its uniqueness, it is one of the most interesting buildings in the area.

Mulan's home:xiaochun tulou"Mulan's home": Xiaochun Lou

2) "Mulan’s Home" — Xiaochun Tulou

If you are a Disney movie fan or love to visit filming locations, Xiaochun Lou (晓春楼) is for you! This is the real earthen building where Mulan is depicted as living in Disney’s live-action remake of the movie Mulan. Built from 1967 to 1970, it is 11 meters high and has three floors. Each floor has 32 houses and, at present, about 26 houses are still occupied by local villagers. Visit it before the hordes of tourists arrive!

3)The Highest Square Tulou — Hegui Building

Hegui Earthen Building (和贵楼) was built on a swamp over 200 years ago. It covers an area of 1,300 sq. m. (14,000 sq. ft.), has 5 stories, and is 21.5 meters high. It is amazingly stable considering it was built over swampland. With 220-pine logs as its base, this building looks just like a huge boat anchored in a quagmire.

4)The Most Well-Preserved — Huaiyuan Building

Huaiyuan Earthen Building (怀远楼) is the most intricate earthen building. This typical round building has the best-preserved and ornate architectural features. The most attractive part of the building is the Sishi Shi (斯是室 Sīshì Shì /srr-shrr shrr/ 'This-Is Room'), the family study. The carved beams and painted rafters are very beautiful.

2.The Largest — Yongding Tulou

yongding tulou map

yongding tulouAn earthen building in Yongding

Yongding Tulou Area has more big earthen buildings than Nanjing, and its tourism is better developed than Nanjing, but it can be crowded. It is mainly composed of four earthen building clusters: Hongkeng, Gaobei, Chuxi, and Nanxi. And each cluster has its own unique features. 

  • What to see: six famous earthen residences in four building clusters
  • Distance from Xiamen: 3½ hours
  • Tickets: Hongkeng Combo 90 yuan (includes Zhencheng, Kuiju, Fuyu, and Rusheng buildings); Gaobei Combo 50 yuan (includes Chengqi, Shize, and Wuyun buildings); Chuxi Combo 70 yuan (includes Jiqing, Shengqing, Shanqing, and Gongqing buildings, and a museum)

Hongkeng Earthen Building Cluster

1) Zhencheng Building — The Earthen Princess

Zhencheng Tulou Zhencheng Building

Zhencheng Buidling (振成楼) was built in 1912. Its outer ring has 48 rooms on each of its four floors. The rooms are divided into four quarters according to the Eight Trigrams with firewalls in between. The multi-ring concentric architectural structure is a mix of Chinese and Western architecture, making the building a gem of round earthen buildings.

2) Kuiju Building — Palace-Style Square Building

Kuiju Building (奎聚楼) has a high front and low back and a neat and exquisite layout. It contains numerous valuable sculptures, colored figurines, paintings, and calligraphic works. It's dubbed the Potala Palace of earthen buildings.

3) Fuyu Building — a Mansion-Style Tulou

fuyu tulou buildingFuyu Building

4) Fuyu Building (福裕楼) features an orderly structure, a neat layout, and a strong emphasis on symmetry. The construction is perfectly adapted to the topography of the slopes behind the building, making it an awe-inspiring sight.

4) Rusheng Building — the Mini Tulou

Rusheng Building (如升楼) was built in 1901 and is the smallest one of its kind ever found. It has a diameter of 17 meters and three floors with just 16 rooms. It's a corridor-style single-ring round building.

Gaobei Earthen Building Cluster

Gaobei Earthen Building Cluster (高北土楼群) is about 5 kilometers from the Hongkeng cluster. It's smaller, but it has the most famous "Tulou King" — Chengqi Building.

1) Chengqi Building — The Largest Tulou

Chengqi tulou building Chengqi Building

Chengqi Building (承启楼) is almost three hundred years old and is made up of four concentric circular buildings. This King of Earthen Buildings has 400 rooms and used to house 80 families, totaling more than 600 people in its most prosperous days.

2) Qiaofu Building — The Doctors Building

Qiaofu Building (侨福楼) is at the west side of Chengqi Building. The construction was mainly supported by the owners' overseas brothers. Uniquely, there are four Roman-style columns in front of the ancestors' hall. Eleven doctors were born there, so this building is also called "Building of Doctors".

Chuxi Cluster — Most Scenic in Yongding

chuxi tulou Chuxi Cluster

The Chuxi Earthen Building Cluster (初溪土楼群) in Chuxi Village consists of five round buildings and many square buildings in the surrounding hills. Three massive round buildings and one square building are near the river, hidden among the tall hills and lush vegetation like a treasure waiting to be discovered.

Chuxi is considered the most picturesque earthen building cluster in Yongding County.

Nanxi — Another Scenic Cluster

Nanxi Earthen Building Cluster (南溪土楼群) near Hukeng Town snakes through the green mountains and lush foliage. Earthen Buildings dot the vast fields like pearls scattered among the verdant mountains and green streams, creating a magnificent and elegant sight.

3. Hua'an Tulou Area — Less Popular

huaan tulou map

huaan tulou Hua'an Tulou Area

Hua'an Tulou Area only has 68 earthen buildings. It's not as famous as Nanjing and Yongding. The most famous earthen buildings are Eryi Building, Yusan Building, and Nanyang Building.

  • Chinese: 华安土楼 Huá'ān Tǔlóu /hwaa-an too-loh/
  • Distance from Xiamen: 3 hours
  • Ticket: 90 yuan (includes Eryi Building, Nanyang Building, Gaoshan Ethnic Performance, and other buildings) 

1) Eryi Building — The Most Livable Tulou

Eryi Bulding (二宜楼) was built near the mountains and creeks. There are two wells in the center of the building, called Yin Fountain and Yang Fountain, forming a Taoist icon. The temperatures of these two fountains are different! The highlights of this building are the wall paintings and wood carvings.

2) Yusan Building — The Umbrella: Unique Tulou Dome

Yusan Building (雨伞楼 'Umbrella Building') has a most unique roof like an umbrella. Most earthen buildings have a lower inner ring and higher outer ring, but Yusan Building's inner ring is higher than the outer, making a dome.

How to Arrange a Tulou Tour

  • Time needed: at least 2 days
  • Best time: open all year — choose by weather/price/crowding. See Xiamen Weather (by month).
  • Transport: From Xiamen there are regular buses to each county. See more on Xiamen Transport.
  • Recommended tulou areas: Nanjing (short trip) or Yongding (in-depth trip)
  • Accommodation at/near the earthen buildings has simple, clean, and small rooms.  Yongding Tulou Area has better hotels.
  • Local food: dried bamboo shoots, preserved vegetables, locally-raised chicken and duck 

Good to Know

  • Prepare snacks/medicine to allay motion sickness on the long mountainous bus journeys (2½–3½ hours), and in case you don't like the local food.
  • Most earthen buildings don't allow visitors upstairs. Respect the people who live there. Tulou are residences as well as tourist attractions.

Recommended Tulou Tours

tulou Hakka round building

We recommend you combine your tulou tour with Xiamen sights like Gulangyu Island. Take at least two days to see the amazing earthen buildings and China's garden-by-the-sea city. See our recommended tours below for inspiration:

Our tours can be customized according to your interests and requirements. If you're not interested in the above tours, just let us create your own tulou tour!

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