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Archives for March, 2017

Zhenyuan

March 30th, 2017

Last stop on my little Guizhou adventure is 镇远 Zhenyuan near the border with Hunan. It sometimes gets called “Zhenyuan Ancient Town” but the taxi driver from the train station assured me it really isn’t that ancient. But it’s still a lovely picturesque place, and just the right amount of touristy. That’s Chinese tourists mind you, during my whole stay in Guizhou I didn’t see any other westerners, or even speak any English which was pretty good for my Chinese practising. February is very off-peak though.

There’s no high speed train here: you have to either take the old low-speed train on the Shanghai-Kunming route or a long-distance bus. Either way you’ll have an interesting cultural experience, and I like the feeling of remoteness.

Old part of Zhenyuan

The older part of town is across the river from the part with the train and bus station, and the waterfront above is quite photogenic.

On the day I arrived there was quite a dramatic change in the weather and the temperature plummeted to around five degrees. Who’d have thought it would be this cold so far south?! Turns out temperature is function of altitude and season as well as latitude…

Miao Great Wall

First thing I did was climb up the big mountain behind the town. On top is this Miao “Great” Wall. Not sure what’s “great” about it, it mostly resembles a regular city wall. Anyway it’s fun to walk along and the mountain scenery is very pretty. After a while the wall falls away into ruins and path quickly disappears. It might be possible to venture further into the mountains but it looked pretty wild.

Panorama of Zhenyuan town

On the other side of the river is a tourist attraction called 青龙洞. I thought 青 meant a greeny-blue colour but it’s translated here as “Black Dragon Cave”. I also thought it might be a cave, but it’s not, it’s a temple built into the side of the mountain. It’s really good fun spending an hour or so exploring the little grottoes and pavilions. And as you get higher you get some excellent views over the town.

Qinglong Dong temple

My favourite place in Zhenyuan is actually just out of town, called 龙池 or “Dragon Pool”. The titular pool is at the end of 4km-ish walk through a river valley. You can get there by taking local bus number 7 from the western end of the old street. Just ride it all the way to the “scenic area” final stop.

Path to the Dragon Pool

The trail itself is quite good with some impressive cliffs and waterfalls. I didn’t see any wildlife though. All the while you’re following the river upstream until it suddenly stops at this perfectly still pool which water flows out from but not in to?!! 😮

Dragon Pool – it really is this colour!

No idea how deep it is but it’s incredibly clear and you can see dead branches and other things standing vertically up waaaaay down. I guess the water must come from inside the earth somewhere. Weird.

Anyway I really liked Zhenyuan. I would go back, but probably in summer or later in spring. Because there were no boats operating I missed out on seeing the impressive sounding “Wuyang Three Gorges” down the river. Although that might be named along similar lines to the “Miao Great Wall”. 😛

Langde Miao Village

March 24th, 2017

Here’s another Miao village, called 郎德 “LangDe”, but it’s a lot smaller and quieter than XiJiang which I visited the previous day. Really it’s more of a hamlet.

According to the Lonely Planet guidebook you can only reach here by taking the 凯里 Kaili to 雷山 Leishan bus and hopping off on the main road at the “lower” village and then walking 2km up the valley to the “upper” village. This isn’t true as there’s a local hourly minibus that goes direct to the village from the same bus station in Kaili and takes a very picturesque, if mildly terrifying, back country route through the mountains. The return schedule isn’t clear and is possibly just “when the driver feels like it”, but I certainly managed to get one back around 16:30.

凯里 Kaili was the town where I was staying these few days, by the way. There’s not a lot in the town itself, but the transport links are good, there’s some interesting night markets, and a free “minorities museum” for rainy afternoons.

You can hike up the mountain behind the village via an incredibly steep and slippery path. The scenery looked almost alpine, apart from all those 梯田 terraced fields.

Some of the houses have been turned into museums, including one full of weapons used by a 19th century revolutionary warlord, one Yang DaLu according to the information panel, who apparently wasn’t famous enough to make it onto the English language Wikipedia.

There didn’t seem to be any restaurants, or at least none that were open in the winter, but luckily I made friends with this slightly batty old lady who made me some kind of hotpot lunch for 50元. Unfortunately she also forced me to drink a whole cup of her homemade 米酒, which is a sort of lethal rice wine, from a large tank in her living room – despite my protests of “我快醉了!”. I refused to buy a bottle. Anyway I managed to escape and decided to walk off my slight tipsiness by exploring down the river valley towards the lower village.

This is halfway down the landscaped path between the two villages. The lower village is on the main road and a bit more modern but the bridge over the river is very elegant.

Xijiang Miao Village

March 22nd, 2017

So one of the tourist highlights of Guizhou is visiting the collection of traditional ethnic minority villages in the province. There’s rather a lot so I picked one area 黔东南 “Qiandongnan” as a base and spent a few days travelling around and exploring by bus. 西江寨 “XiJiang village” is today’s stop, and probably one of the more famous of these villages, inhabited by the 苗 “Miao” nationality. 寨 “zhài” can be our word of the day and it means “stockaded village”, you see it in all the place names in this area.

The main street of the village along this river feels a bit touristy and a little too shiny. But it’s all very picturesque. If you head higher up the mountain it starts to become a bit more authentic, and people don’t seem to mind you wandering around peering at their houses. I tried chatting to some of them but their accent was pretty impenetrable, and my Mandarin isn’t great to start with.

In the afternoon I went for a walk in the countryside nearby. All around are these rice terraces. Lonely Planet suggested you could get to another village by walking up over the top of the mountain and into the next valley but the guidebook directions were almost uselessly vague and the upper levels of the terraces were difficult to navigate so I gave up. I did notice however that all the rice paddies seemed a bit… dead. I thought gloomily that maybe all the villages had given up traditional farming to live off the tourism money, but a Chinese friend said it was probably because it’s winter and not the rice growing season so they were off doing other work. This seemed to be supported by the massive amount of construction work going on, I guess they have to spend that hefty village entry fee on something.

Guiyang

March 16th, 2017

Done with work now it’s time to go adventuring! Actually this happened a few weeks ago, I’ve just been very lacklustre updating this blog. I’ve done a lot of exploring around the Suzhou area so I thought I’d like to try somewhere a bit different so this time I took a flight to Guizhou province in the south.

Guiyang 贵阳 is the capital of Guizhou. The 贵 “gui” bit means “expensive” which is presumably a joke because everything here is really cheap. It’s the first place I’ve been in China where prices regularly have the decimal point in them.

The city doesn’t have a whole lot of tourist attractions but the main one is this called Jiaxu Pavillion in the centre of town. It’s free to get in to which is nice, and there’s a temple on the opposite bank which is pleasant to wander around.

The area around the river is quite modern, the Chinese government investing a lot of money in developing the south west at the moment. But the rest of the city feels a bit more “traditional”.

On the second day I wasn’t really sure what to do. I thought about going to an ancient village that the guidebook mentioned but lack of time and poor planning on my part meant I had to give up on that. So instead I went to a “mountain park” 黔灵公园 more or less at random, which was actually a really good choice!

The park is just on the edge of the city and very busy on a Sunday morning. There’s a whole bunch of attractions including a temple and a zoo with some rather sad looking bears and tigers. But the best thing is the hordes of wild monkeys who are everywhere and not at all afraid of humans.

In fact they seem to be a kind of pest as there was a guy with a sling – presumably in an official capacity – flinging stones at them to keep them off the paths.