A rain sodden trip to see local markets in Xishuangbanna 西双版纳 Yunnan Province
Menghai 勐海 xishuangbanna 西双版纳 yunnan Province云南省
Our attempts to reach the Sunday market at Menghun 勐混 were thwarted by the monsoon: due to heavy rain the new highway between Jinghong 景洪 and Menghai 勐海 had collapsed and no buses were running that Sunday morning.
When we eventually headed to Menghai 勐海 a few days later the buses were running again, but only on the old road, turning the normally smooth 45- minute journey into a four- hour crawl .
The most chaotic scenes occurred at the exit of Jinghong, as lorries, buses, tractors and private cars leaving the city fought with those vehicles trying to enter the city to either get on or leave the old road.
The chaos was such that there were kilometres of traffic jams in each direction and not one person of authority was there to put some order to the mayhem.
With so many vehicles stuck with nowhere to go, local entrepreneurs ran between the traffic, selling anything from boiled eggs to grilled meats and soft drinks.
Overturned lorries and their spilt loads only further aggravated an already desperate situation.
In the evening as we settled into our clean but rundown hotel in Menghai we watched the well-organized and meticulously planned Olympic games taking place in Beijing on T.V and wondered if we were really in the same country.
Our first destination from Menghai 勐海 was Gelanghe, a Dai 傣族 and Akha / Yaozu 瑶族 settlement, some 30 kilometres southeast. We took the lazy and wrong option and hired a car and driver for 200 Yuan to take us to Gelanghe.
The road starts climbing into the jungle clad hills only a few kilometres outside Menghai affording stunning views of the valley below.
Unfortunately due to torrential rains the road had become a quagmire. Our van slid and skidded its way up and up. Twice we had to release it from the mud with stones and planks of wood until the van eventually succumbed to the inevitable and got completely bogged down.
We now became the spectacle. The passing Akha / Yaozu 瑶族, who we had gone to see, stopped to gawp, comment and laugh at our predicament until a tractor, the only type of vehicle able to navigate the road, and its friendly driver pulled us out of the bog and turned our van round.
Defeated we headed back.
To compensate for the aborted trip to Gelanghe, we visited the Bajiao Ting (The Octagonal Temple) at Jingzhen 20 kms from Menghai and the Manlei Buddhist Temple at Mengzhe, a few kilometres further along the road.
Although both temples are pleasant, they are reconstructions of originals destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.
The Jingzhen Octagonal Temple Bajiaoting 景真八角亭，had some pleasant Dai style Buddhist murals that depicted gentle rural Scenes.
Don’t miss Menghai’s morning Market just behind the Main road near the post office.
It has a real buzz and you might catch a few Akha, Dai and Lahu dressed in their finest.
Unlike the Menghun market 勐混 市场, the Menghai market 勐海市场 is a market for locals and people from the countryside around. The market gets underway at the crack of dawn and is heaving by 9.00 a.m. By midday it has fizzled out.
It should be a brisk 45 minute to 1 hour zip along a new highway from Jinghong 景洪 to Menghai 勐海. That is if the monsoon rains haven’t washed the highway away.
Buses run continually throughout the day from both Jinghong’s bus stations. From Menghai’s bus station there are regular buses to Jinghong, Menghun 勐混, for the Sunday market.
There are inconvenient buses for Xiding and its Thursday market (see article). If you are heading to the Burmense border there are buses to Daluo. For the route to Ruili there are plenty of buses to Menglian and Langcang.
This was our plan but the rains made the trip a travel nightmare. Eventually we had to back-tract and head to Menglun and Laos. Outside the wet season this westward journey would make a great trip.
We stayed at the post office hotel. A clean double cost 80 yuan. Staff were extremely friendly.
Food was a bit limited in Menghai to say the least. Simple restaurants can be found along the main street and some noodle stalls set up at night near the main square.
Anshun 安顺 is a medium sized city in the western part of the Chinese province of Guizhou.
China has changed so much and so rapidly over the last twenty years that trying to make sense of what has been happening can be almost impossible. In such a short space of time China has been catapulted from a largely agrarian society into a modern industrial and high tech country. While pockets of old China remain, evidence of modernization reaches even the most remote corner.
The Chinese have a saying: If the old doesn’t go, the new won’t come ( 旧的不去，新的不来， jiù de bù qù , xīn de bù lái ). Nowhere is this saying more appropriate than when used to describe the virtual disappearance of the Sunday Farmers Market in Anshun; a quirky barometer to show just how far and fast China has changed.
just over a decade ago hordes of peasants, farmers and merchants, who made make up a vast array of a jack of all trades, would descend upon the Sunday market in Anshun in their thousands to sell their wares and ply their goods:
Some would produce their wares on the spot; basket makers, tobacco pipe craftsmen, chili sauce grinders all jostled for space with sellers of human hair, street dentists and Taoist soothsayers.
Professional pickpockets took advantage of non-too street wise peasants from the countryside to relieve them of their hard earned profits.
It was organized bedlam that now, due to modernization, has been reduced to a few dilapidated streets and left waiting for the final death knell.
Below is our account from our diary of the first of our three visits to Anshun’s Sunday Market 安顺星期七农民市场. Some of the photos are from our later visits in 2005 and 2007.
Anshun 2003 安顺星期七农民市场
The receptionist looked at us with a puzzled expression and asked: “What market?”.
“The Sunday market”, I replied, almost in despair, in my faltering Chinese. My spoken Chinese tends to lose a lot of its coherence when the reply to a question is not at all what I’m expecting.
“There are some good shops
near the bus station, all the tourists go there”, she insisted.
“No not those; we have already seen those”, I responded.
“Oh I don’t know. There is a local market where all the villagers come to buy and sell their products, but you wouldn’t be interested in that one; there are no souvenirs, or anything else for foreigners to buy”.
“Yes, that’s the one!”. I
could have given her a hug. “How do we get there?”
The city of Anshun, a mere two-hour bus ride away from Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, is a pretty ordinary modern town.
Nowadays, its new concrete buildings are encroaching relentlessly upon the few remaining pockets of old wooden architecture.
However, we had been told that Anshun’s Sunday market was well worth seeing and, as it turned out, we were not disappointed.
Compressed into the north-western part of town, the market mostly follows one long street, spilling over into side streets and small squares.
All goods are rigorously divided into sections: there is a square for vegetables and chillies, an alley dedicated to tobacco and pipes, a hairdressers’ and dentists’ corner, streets full of artisans, another square where carpenters work on wooden and wicker furniture, etc. etc.
Watching the artisans at work is fascinating, especially now that so many of the old trades have become redundant and have almost disappeared from the modern cities.
Here, you can still observe street dentists extracting a tooth, see people having their bodies cupped, or watch a bearded sage selling ancient Taoist tracts.
You can try and guess which of the five bamboo poles that the farmer is carefully inspecting and testing, he will eventually buy. Marvel at how quickly the wicker workers can put together a chair or a basket.
Encourage groups of young men pounding mounds of chillies into a pulp. Work out how much that mass of human hair, lying on a set of portable scales, might be worth.
Finally, you might also catch a professional pickpocket at work, using a giant pair of tongs to extract a purse or wallet from his unsuspecting victims.
A sea of blue.
However fascinating the artisans are, the real highlight of this market are the people. Anshun is the heartland of the Bouyi ethnic group, whose origins are Thai, and who are related to Guangxi’s Zhuang nationality.
Many of the Bouyi, as well as a few Miao, come to the market, dressed in their Sunday finest, for a few hours of hectic buying and selling.
Most of the women wear indigo blue tunics over baggy black trousers and aprons. On their heads they wear black or white headscarves, folded into small turbans.
A few of the younger Bouyi girls wear brighter colours, such as turquoise or light-green, and combine their traditional clothes with high-heeled shoes, creating quite a stylish and fashionable look.
The older men tend to dress in blue Mao jackets and cloth caps. Many of them have distinguished long grey wispy beards and smoke elongated and extravagantly carved pipes.
Try and find a quiet spot from which to observe this blue-grey sea of shoppers and traders, pushing and shoving their way through the jam-packed, narrow streets.
Most of the time you will pass unnoticed, as the people are so engrossed in their shopping; other times you might become the actual focus of attention, as many of the Bouyi from further afield have rarely seen foreigners.
What to eat
Food at the Sunday market is not that appetising: fiery dog- meat hot pots and other such local specialities very much dominate the menu. It might be worth waiting for the excellent daily night market to set up its stalls to enjoy a decent meal.
What to buy
Finally, as far as shopping is concerned, our receptionist was right: apart from the delicately carved tobacco pipes and rustic wicker products the market hasn’t got much to tempt travellers with.
If you really want to buy something in Anshun, you are better off going to the shops on Nanhua Lu, next to the bus station.
Here you can find a good selection of Batiks, a Bouyi and Miao speciality, such as wall hangings, table cloths, ethnic jackets and bags at a fraction of the price you will be charged in touristy places such as Kunming or Dali, or around Beijing’s Houhai lake.
Moreover, some 64 kilometres from Anshun is Guizhou’s number one tourist site and China’s most famous waterfall, Huangguoshu. In full flood the waterfall is a spectacular sight, while the surrounding area, with other, smaller falls and little villages, offers wonderful opportunities for walking and exploring.
Update; Anshun is now connect by high-speed trains to various parts of China.
Places to stay:
In recent years, Anshun has been put firmly on the Chinese tourist trail, not for the market but because of the waterfalls, and hotel prices have risen accordingly.
Bear in mind that at weekends and especially during the summer months the city can get quite full and finding a reasonably priced room may take a while. Most of the hotels that feature in the popular guidebooks seem to be eternally full.
We stayed at the clean, bright and friendly Huayou Binguann Tashan Xilu (tel. 322 6020) , excellent value for 150 Yuan. The hotel is in the centre of town, to the left of the roundabout on Tashan Donglu. Unfortunately, it was completely full on our last visit.
In 2007 we really had a hard time finding a room. Eventually we were pointed to the huge Fu Yun Hotel, right next to the bus station on Guihuang Gonglu lu. Light, airy rooms, arranged around an atrium, were 210 Yuan, a modest breakfast included. Staff were extremely friendly.
Other cheap options that may have vacancies are the Ruo Fei Binguan on Nanhua Lu, and the Anju Binguan next to the train station.
There are restaurants all over town, but nothing beats the night market. Try one of the many tents, where you can roll your own pancakes with an incredible selection of cold vegetables, pickles and noodles. The hot pots are good too, though they are not for those with a weak stomach. The food is spicy enough in Guizhou to rival any of its neighbouring provinces, such as Sichuan or Hunan.
For vegetarians there is a real treat, something that seems unique to Anshun: at the top end of Gufu Jie there are two tents that specialise in vegetable pancakes. For 4 Yuan you get ten small pancakes that you can stuff with any of the vegetable fillings, meticulously prepared and attractively laid out on plates. Sauces and chilli are provided for dipping.
Not so long ago Anshun’s Sunday Market was one of the biggest, most vibrant and exotic in China. Kilometers of streets filled with farmers, traders, ethnic minorities, craftsmen and a gaggle of pockpockets. These days the market is a mere shadow of its former self and is restricted to a few delapidated streets.
These photos were taken in 2003 and show the hair seller at the market.
His bags are full of human hair that are sold in small bundles mostly to women who attach it to their own hair, either to cover thinning or to make it look longer. The bundles are sold by weight.
The early morning mist and heavy cloud cover bestowed an eerie atmosphere over Chong’an 重安. The river was motionless and silky smooth like a millpond. The town and the surrounding scenery seemed as if suspended in a landscape painting. Silence reigned.
Then there was a shout, a curse and the haggling began. Chong’an Market was open for business.
The huge market held in Chong’an every five days is one of the best and most colourful in Guizhou. The local Miao 苗族 and Gejia 革家 ethnic groups swamp the small scruffy town in a frenzy of buying and selling that lasts the entire morning and carries on into the early afternoon.
We are updating this article with new photos. Rongjiang 榕江 is dusty but expanding town in Guizhou Province 贵州省 that forms part of what is known as the Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture黔东南苗族侗族自治州; Qiándōngnán Miáozú Dòngzú Zìzhìzhōu.
Rongjiang is now connected to China’s High Speed Railway Network. The Train station is 5km out of town and there are buses, 2 Yuan, and Taxis 10/15 Yuan, connecting Rongjiang to the train station. Rongjiang is on the Guangzhou – Guiyang line.
Rongjiang 榕江 is definitely not one of china’s most attractive towns. It’s dusty, slightly chaotic and white tiled. However, there are a number of redeeming factors. Not only does Rongjiang provide a fascinating gateway to minority villages, but it also has an amazing Sunday Market that sucks in a myriad of different ethnic minorities for the day.
If you are there on market day you are sure to come across the Dong minority 侗族 in huge numbers as well as various Miao 苗族 ethnic groups including the Gaoshan Miao (see Bakai article)and maybe even the odd Top knot Miao coming up from Basha village 芭沙村 near Congjiang 从江.
So if you find yourself passing through this area on your way between kaili 凯里 and the famous dong Village of Zhaoxing 肇兴; Rongjiang 榕江 makes for great break in the journey. In fact, just the spectacular bus ride between Kaili and Rongjiang makes the whole trip worthwhile.
Xiding Market 西定市场 in Yunnan`s Xishuangbanna Region is one of the best. In the previous post we put up we hadn’t got the photos ready. So here is a second post with the photos. Some things will have changed. But travellers still report that it continues to be an authentic rural market that attracts a number of different minorities including Bulang, Hani, and Dai.
We abandoned our driver, his car buried deep in the mud, and mounted a motorbike. Ironically, the previously treacherous mud bath soon became a reasonably smooth, semi-asphalted road. The drive was stunning:
we passed Dai villages with their traditional raised wooden houses, thick jungle and vistas of mist-covered hills and valleys flashed by, and just when it seemed that the scenery couldn’t get better, we arrived in Xiding, looking like an island floating above the clouds. Unfortunately, on closer inspection, the town revealed itself as a bit of a dump.
The small, grubby market town of Xiding may seem a strange destination, especially if you have to spend so much time and effort trying to get there, but its Thursday market is one of the most authentic ethnic markets in Xishuangbanna.
A hive of activity from dawn to midday, the market attracts nearby Dai, Hani (Aini or Akha), and Bulang minorities. It is said that Lahu also drop in, but we didn’t see or recognize any. The only real sign of Han-Chinese presence are the huge military barracks overlooking the town, a reminder that the Myanmar border is only a few kilometres away.
Guangzhou Youth Hostel, March 1991, Shamian Island
The rumor going round the hostel was about an American tourist who had fled China in tears after only 2 days into her 1 month trip.
The unfortunate young girl had passed through Guangzhou’s notorious Qingping Market (清平市场) and seen two kittens kept in a tiny cage. The kittens were destined for the tables of Guangzhou’s restaurants. Thinking she would do the kittens a good turn, she negotiated a price for them. Expecting to save the kittens, she hadn’t counted on what would happen next. The store holder took the kittens out of the cage snapped their necks and handed their lifeless bodies over to her. She freaked out and was on the next express train back to Hong Kong.
Whether this is just an urban legend or a true story any visitor to Qingping Market in 1991 could believe it. The variety of animals waiting to be butchered made it feel like a zoo rather than a normal meat market. I remember Monkeys, Pangolins, giant salamanders, snakes, deer, dogs and even owls. The orangey color of dog meat roasting on spits was a common sight as were the restaurants with cages outside full of exotic fauna that made eating out a bit like dinning in a slaughter house.
However, we could never be certain that the cat story was true. Maybe it was just an urban legend.
Our bus bumped into Rongjiang’s run-down and grubby bus station after a gorgeous five- hour, 160- kilometre bus ride from Kaili. Rongjiang, a scruffy town spread along the banks of two rivers, the Duliujiang and the Zhaigaohe, sits firmly within the Dong heartlands. Though the town has very little to interest travellers, it makes a good base for excursions to nearby Dong villages, some of which, such as Chejiang and Zenchong, are extremely beautiful. There are also a few interesting Miao villages, like Bakai.
We arrived in Rongjiang on a Saturday, as we were interested in visiting its large Sunday Market.
The Sunday Market
Rongjiang’s Sunday market is not as huge or hectic as the one in Anshun, or as colourful as the market at Chong’an, near Kaili. Still, it is an interesting place to wander for an hour or two and watch the local Dong minority going about their business. Many of the Dong, especially the women, dress up in their finest to come to the market: some wear bright blue jackets with appliquéd and embroidered borders along the sleeves and cuffs, combined with dark, baggy trousers, while others prefer shiny indigo jackets and short skirts. Dong people tend to have strong, sculpted features, similar to their South-East Asian neighbours in Thailand or Burma.
You might also catch a few different groups of Miao, such as the ‘Top-Knot Miao’ proceeding from Basha, a village near Congjiang, whose name refers to the typical hairdo of the men who wear their hair tied up in a high bun, or the ‘High Mountain Miao’, or ‘Gaoshan Miao’, from the nearby village of Bakai, with their beautifully patterned and embroidered trousers.
The Dong traders make quite an effort to sell their wares and the vegetable displays are particularly beautiful and elaborate. The market has two parts: Continue reading “Rongjiang Sunday Market”
The hotel owner in Yuanyang had told us to get there early, as many of the hill tribe people have to walk all the way back and the market starts breaking up at around noon.
So we got to Laomeng at about 8:30, where we were among the first to arrive. We walked once round the town and had a look at the few stalls already set up by a small number of colourfully dressed Miao ladies and some older Yi women. Most of them seemed as curious about us, as we were about them. By the time we got back to our starting point, dozens of vans, carts and other vehicles had already arrived, unloading hundreds of passengers and all kinds of goods. They brought with them a kaleidoscopic mix of colours, as ladies from the Hani, Yao, Yi, Miao and Black Thai ethnic groups spilled out from the back and descended upon the market for a few hours of frenzied buying and selling.
For the next 3 hours we were treated to a visual feast that left us drained and out of film. Our driver had filled us in on some of the intricacies of the local costumes, so we were more or less able to distinguish between the women from the different ethnic groups…
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