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Outside In

Heartland Rocks

The southern Henan city of Nanyang is shaking off its industrial past with festivals, green space and a huge collection of dinosaur eggs

By Mina Yan Updated Dec.1

Festivalgoers rock out at Nanyang Central Plains Midi Festival 2023, September 30 music (Photo by Mina Yan)

I bought train tickets to Nanyang, in the southwest of Henan Province to attend a giant music festival. I had never been to Nanyang before. Heck, I hadn’t even heard of the city prior to this trip and when I shared the excitement of my upcoming travels with my friends, they were surprised that I would be taking a quickie weekend trip to Singapore. Wait, what? Singapore? The more well-known of the Nanyangs does indeed, refer to Singapore.  

Until recent years, Nanyang, Henan hasn’t been at the top of people’s domestic travel lists. But the city has been taking steps and making efforts to change its image. They’ve invested in a city-wide tourism facelift with large-scale music events and festivals planned to take place on a regular basis.  

As with many cities in China, Nanyang is rich in history having once been an important commercial trading hub for iron and a point of business and commerce during the Han Dynasty (206BCE – 220CE). Nowadays, the city relies heavily on agricultural trade and is known in China as the biggest producer of animal feed.  

While the city thrives financially, they’ve yet to find their niche to attract visitors. But that’s all about to change with the city’s willingness to try new things and already existing cool attractions that are just waiting to be discovered.  

So with that excitement in mind, I packed a light suitcase and made my way to Nanyang Station.  

I arrived in Nanyang on a rainy afternoon which is a major bummer, because even through the cold dreary rain, the city felt like it had a lot of character to offer. I could only imagine what it would have been like stepping into Nanyang for the first time had it been nice and sunny.  

The city has a distinctively southern China vibe to it with its lush tall trees and telephone poles closely bundled together. The majority of the city feels dated with its early 90s style architecture. It almost feels like you’ve driven through a time machine and have been teleported back a few years. I lived in China in the early 90s and as soon as we drove into the city center, the architecture of the buildings and close-knit street stalls immediately brought back nostalgic memories.  

Prehistoric Attractions 
One of the coolest things about Nanyang is that it’s home to dinosaur egg fossils. Paleontology enthusiasts should make this their top stop. The Xixia Dinosaur Relics Park is home to some rare dinosaur eggs. Back in the early 1920s, a number of dinosaur eggs were unearthed in Xixia by local farmers who called them “stone eggs.” It wasn’t just one or two fossils that were discovered. Thousands of dinosaur egg fossils of various sizes were discovered in Xixia over the years. The park is great for families, and with indoor and outdoor education-based attractions, it’s great for half a day of family fun. The city is big on paleontology. Also discovered close to Nanyang in Neixiang County is the Nanyangosaurus, a herbivore from the Late Cretaceous period. Visitors can see a full reconstruction of the dinosaur at Xixia Dinosaur Relics Park. 

Soak it In 
For nature lovers, Nanyang has some underrated hidden natural treasures. If you’re lucky enough to visit the city during a nice warm season, a day trip to the SeventyTwo Pools should be on your list. Located a bit out of the city in Fangcheng County, the pools are a cluster of natural spring pools that make for an unforgettable hike – or as with most tourist places in China, take a ride for an additional fee. Tickets to Seventy-Two Pools are only 50 yuan (US$7) and with the added option of taking a cable car, the place becomes suitable for people of all ages.  

Inside the city is a plethora of parks for locals to enjoy. In the center of the city is People’s Park that’s filled with lush green trees and free entry all day long. It reminded me a bit of New York’s Central Park where locals and visitors can spend the day relaxing and taking in some peace and tranquility of nature right in the middle of the city.  

Then, right down the street from there is Nanyang’s neon-lit foodie snack street ZuiMingGuo where you can find stall after stall of local eats as well as the latest internet foodie sensations that has a similar feel to Osaka’s famous Dotonbori District.  

And when you’re exhausted and worn out from all the sightseeing and eating around the city, there’s a hidden oasis right in the city center that’ll recharge you for the next day. For just 80 yuan (US$11) you can spend a few hours at Longwan Hot Springs where you bathe in water from 1,000 meters below. But to be quite frank, don’t expect it to be a luxurious experience with spas and massages. The hot spring has been around for quite a number of years and the wear and tear is starting to show.  

For a break from sightseeing, try some of the local cuisine. The people of Nanyang are big on meat. The city is known for its black beef which has a leaner and gamier taste than other beef. The locals love stewing it in a salt soy sauce base. As a matter of fact, most food in Nanyang tends to be on the saltier side.  

Aside from beef, locals in Nanyang love their noodles. According to our driver, flour-based staple dishes are a must in Nanyang. Rice just doesn’t cut it here. Comfort noodles for locals here are lamb-pulled noodles. They’re chewy in texture where you can feel the gluten in every bite, served in a big bowl of lamb meat and broth.  

One of the reasons I really respect how much dedication Nanyang has put on bringing more visitors to their city is their convenience of travel. Though it’s a small city, Nanyang East Railway Station is clean and organized. And, during large events where the city knows it’ll be expecting tens of thousands of visitors, it takes the extra step and adds more trains to its regular schedule so that even though you’re visiting Nanyang during a high season, your first impression of the city, when you get off the train, isn’t going to be a stampede of people headed in all directions. 

A bowl of Nanyang mutton noodles tempts diners (Photo by Mina Yan)