Whether you are leaving Guizhou Province from the West, or entering it from Eastern Yunnan, you’ll probably end up passing through Xingyi (see Map), a small town undergoing rapid development. To be honest, Xingyi is not the prettiest of towns, though we didn’t find it quite as grim as it was depicted in our guidebook. It is true that the town is entirely lacking in sights and has lost all its old neighbourhoods to the rampant white-tile and concrete construction that continues to proliferate in China. However, it’s a pretty laid- back place and its major sight, the Maling Gorge, just a few kilometres out of town and easy to reach, is truly spectacular.
Locals also recommend visiting nearby Fenghuang Shan (Phoenix Mountain 凤凰山), which they claim is another natural wonder not to be missed. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to check this out.
We arrived in Xingyi on a bus from Anshun 安顺. The journey took around six hours and passes through some of the most dramatic limestone scenery you are likely to see.
As in the rest of China, rapid changes are underway even in this remote corner of the country. The future cross-China East to West Highway, currently in the initial phases of construction, will eventually pass close to Xingyi. For the moment, it’s giving China’s civil engineers and architects a field day in designing immense and seemingly impossible construction projects to dominate this wild and spectacular landscape.
Witness the huge suspension bridge being built to span a gorge, a few kilometres after Huangguoshu falls 黄果树大瀑布 .
However, this development comes at a cost. It was on our arrival in Xingyi that we first witnessed revolting peasants in action. We had heard about serious disturbances in Guangdong province earlier in the year (2007) and other rumours that violent protests against the authorities were taking place on an almost daily basis throughout the Chinese countryside, though mostly hidden from Western eyes and media. But suddenly, there we were, right in the middle of such a protest.
Our bus came to a grinding halt 15 kilometres outside Xingyi, where angry farmers had erected a road- block. Local farmers, whose land was about to be expropriated by the local authorities in order to build a new motorway, had cut the main road at a strategic point, right between the city and the train station. A depressingly huge pile-up of trucks, buses, and other vehicles, waiting hopelessly to be let through, was the result.
Our bus driver tried to sneak round the blockade, turning into a narrow and potholed back lane, only to find a line of pickets blocking the access to the main road, just when it seemed we were going to get through. Gridlock soon occurred as other drivers had cottoned on to our driver’s intentions and followed him, leaving no space for manoeuvre. We all got off the bus and stood around. Taxis on the other side of the picket line started demanding extortionate fees to take people to Xingyi.
I asked the driver why the police didn’t come and disperse the farmers, he replied that the peasants would probably lynch them if they even dared to show their faces. Tensions certainly seemed high and there were heated discussions between desperate drivers and intransigent farmers. Despite the inconvenience, most of the passengers, drivers and local people from Xingxi, actually expressed a lot of sympathy for the peasants’ plight.Nearly all put the blame squarely on the rampant corruption of the local authorities.
Just when it seemed we would have to cave in to the demands of the taxi drivers, our driver suddenly jumped behind his wheel, peasants began to dig a path through the mound of coal that they were using to block the road and … our bus was through! We quickly boarded and off we went. After us, other drivers made a dash for it as well, in case the peasants changed their minds and closed the gap again.
We have no idea why we were let through. Nobody wanted to answer our many questions. Maybe the driver bribed the pickets, or perhaps they were worried about the presence of two foreigners on the bus? It is still a mystery. Whatever the reason, our driver then made a quick killing by picking up any stranded passengers who had decide to start walking and triple- charged them for the trip into town.
Getting there and away: Getting to Xingyi from Anshun is quite straightforward; from Anshun’s main bus station there are hourly buses that complete the trip in about 6 hours. The scenery just after Huangguoshu is breathtaking, with huge Karst mountains rising from a deep valley. Travelling time will be reduced in the future, when the spectacular new bridge crossing an enormous gorge just after the falls, will be completed (2008/9).
Getting from Xingyi to Yunnan is equally easy. There is a daily train to Kunming – originating from Guangzhou – which leaves at 9.45 am and takes about 7 hours. Xingyi train station is quite a way out of town, but there is a booking office in the centre, slightly hidden away down a small alley. Get someone to write down the direction for you, the helpful receptionists at the Rongjia Binguan did it for us. Don’t bother asking at the Panjiang Binguan, they will probably tell you that you can only buy tickets at the train station.
Additionally, there are buses to Qiujing and Luoping, just across the border in Yunnan, from where you can pick up connections to Kunming.
Incidentally, Qiujing and Luoping are trying to put themselves on the tourist map by claiming to be home to the most beautiful scenery in China (heard that one before?).
The train station is covered with posters of pretty looking waterfalls, mountainous scenery and ripening rapeseed flowers made famous in the film The Road 芳香之路(2002, directed by Zhang Jiarui).
It would certainly give you something to do if you got stuck.
Accommodation: Apart from the beautiful Maling Gorge, the other redeeming factor of Xingyi was our hotel. We stayed at the brand-new Rongjia Binguan, virtually next door to the Panjiang Binguan. It is one of the best mid-range hotels we have stayed at, with large clean rooms and a very good buffet breakfast for 200 Yuan. Definitely a much better deal than the snooty, overpriced and run- down Panjiang Binguan.
Food: Eating options in Xingyi are not the best in China, or even in Guizhou. The Rongjia has a reasonable buffet restaurant and the restaurant of the Panjiang also dishes up some okay food. In town there didn’t seem to be much on offer, just a couple of small noodle shops, or we just didn’t find it.
You might be better off eating near the Maling Gorge, where there are a number of good places doing slightly more expensive but tasty food in nice surroundings.
Maling Gorge 马岭河峡谷
The Maling Gorge is a stunning limestone canyon with numerous cascading waterfalls thundering into a meandering river that cuts its way through the rocks at the bottom.
Although August is high season, there were very few other tourists around when we visited. The weather was beautiful, the sky clear and bright blue, and the early morning sunlight brought out the various shades of green that abound in this verdant landscape. There was just a wisp of autumn in the crisp morning air. From the entrance a path winds its way down the side of the canyon to the river, crossing under waterfalls and offering fantastic vistas of the gorge and the surrounding scenery.
The lazy will soon be able to whiz down the rock face in a lift that is currently under construction.
At the bottom of the gorge the path divides into two, allowing you to complete a circular walk. On the left side, the main trail hugs the rocks and follows the course of the river.
The other trail starts on the other side of a bridge and climbs up the side of the canyon, providing stunning views and plenty of opportunities to get soaked, as waterfalls and streams crash down onto flimsily built shelters.
The vegetation is incredibly lush with banana trees and huge ferns fighting for space with a host of other plants, in order to catch the few rays of sunlight that can penetrate this far into the gorge.
Along the way you’ll also pass caves with crystal clear pools that tempt you to take a dip.
The sheer walls of the gorge have been eroded by the waterfalls into leaf-shaped patterns, called Travertines. These amazing shapes are the result of the inter-action between the calcium-rich water of the falls and the limestone rocks.
The trail eventually returns to the river where there is a pretty suspension bridge that you can cross to rejoin the other path. At the end of the gorge the scenery is at its most awesome.
There, the huge cataracts that you have been admiring from a distance fall thunderously into a succession of pools. You are sure to get drenched if you go anywhere near them! The path comes to an end here and you’ll have to backtrack a little before returning to the entrance via the main path.
A Peculiar Sight
The peculiar sight we witnessed at the Maling Gorge was the shooting of a clip for a presumably famous Miao singer.
Dozens of Miao girls, dressed in elaborate and bright costumes, had to perch precariously on small pointy rocks over the fast flowing river, while the cameramen and director endlessly fussed over the best shots.
Cries from the director for the girls to relax were met with stony stares, as they tried to keep their balance and avoid plunging into the foaming waters.
The singer, who was wearing a rather old-fashioned black-lace dress with her hair done up in a bouffant style, posed and strutted around, oblivious to the discomfort of her entourage.
MALING GORGE PRACTICALITIES:
Getting there and away: From downdown Xingyi it takes about half an hour on bus No.1, or ten minutes by taxi (15 Yuan).
The entrance fee to the gorge is a steep 80 Yuan in high season and 60 the rest of the year. It’s definitely worth it though. Besides walking, there are also rafting opportunities, which you can arrange at the entrance.
Also near the entrance, there is a small cluster of hotels (both expensive and cheap) and restaurants, should you prefer to stay out here. You can also buy drinks, snacks and sweets here.