Huaihua (怀化, Huáihuà) is in western Hunan, southwestern China. It is a prefecture-level city in a mountainous area with some rural poverty problems. The city itself has a population around 400,000, the prefecture as a whole 5 million.
The prefecture encompasses several autonomous ethnic counties, towns and villages. Major ethnic groups found here are the Dòng or Kam (侗族), Miáo or Hmong (苗族), Tǔjiā (土家族), and Yáo (瑶族). It was long inhabited by these ethnic group before the arrival of the Han Chinese more then a thousand years ago. They are known to be indigenous to these mountainous areas. They also inhabit neighboring Guizhou province.
Huaihua is located on the Shanghai-Kunming railway line, which now host both fast and regular trains. 1 hour and a half by fast train and 5 to 9 hours on regular trains from Changsha. 1 hour and 15 minutes by fast train and 3 to 5 hours on regular trains to Kaili in Guizhou province.
Regular trains also go northwest towards Chongqing and it takes between 8 to 18 hours. Check out schedules and journey time on 12306.com, because it can vary in an exaggerated way.
There are trains to Zhangjiajie as well.
The two train stations in the north and south of the city are connected via bus number 12 (~30 minutes).
Huaihua City itself has nothing to offer a tourist. All the main attractions and ethnic towns are out of the city, in Huaihua Prefecture, and can be reached by bus.
Tongdao Dong autonomous county (通道侗族自治县). Visit Kam people, whose language is a branch of the Tai-Kadai linguistic family. A distant relative of the Thai people.
Jingzhou Miao and Dong Autonomous County (靖州苗族侗族自治县)Visit Hmong people, whose language is a branch of the Hmong-Mien linguistic family.
Hongjiang old commercial town （洪江古商城）a Ming dynasty town that flourished back in the old days. Has a ancient brothel with waxwork figures and it explains a lot about the local lives back in imperial china.
Qianyang old town （黔阳古镇）
Pao Cai (泡菜) or pickled vegetables are found everywhere around the city. It's a must try if you are in this dusty city.