Kaiping / Guangdong Province
Majianglong 马降龙 is a must when exploring the Diaolou in the Kaiping region. The local tourist propaganda calls it the most beautiful village in China and one of the 50 places that can’t be missed. Heard that one before? Actually, while I’d take some of the hype with a pinch of salt, Majianglong is undoubtedly very pretty and makes for a fascinating visit.
Majianglong is not one village, but a collection of 5 small hamlets: Yong’an永安, Nan’an 南安, Qinglin庆临, Hedong河东 and Longjiang龙江，linked together by bamboo- shaded stone paths along the shores of the Tanjiang River 潭江.
The buildings in Majianglong are sturdy, grey- brick constructions with beautiful roofs and lovely paintings above and around the doorways, showing scenes from classical China: beautiful maidens, song birds, flower arrangements, etc. The vernacular buildings mostly date from the Qing dynasty, while the Diaolou are early Chinese Republic edifices.
Obviously, the number one activity around here is ‘spot the Diaolou’ (Click here for a definition of a Diaolou). Given that these are rather tall buildings, you’d be surprised how challenging this can be. Many are hidden by the dense vegetation and the tall, swaying bamboo trees, or concealed down blind alleys.
The best way to get your bearings is to climb to theroof of the first Diaolou you track down and from there make a mental map of how to get to the others.
Once you get up there, you can see how the Diaolou roofs sprout out of the bamboo forest like the Mayan ruins at Tikal; their extravagant faÇades transporting you to India, Malaysia, Europe, or wherever their founders made their fortunes. It really is quite an incredible and exotic sight, even for seasoned China travellers.
There are maps and sign posts in English and Chinese to guide you around, but they aren’t that clear or useful. We found ourselves going around in circles more than once. We suggest you try the rooftop orientation method instead; it’s almost foolproof.
The best part of a visit to Majianglong is the feeling that you may stumble upon something unexpected every time you turn a corner, and quite often it’s true. Walking along the narrow paths, completely hemmed-in by bamboo, you can still fancy yourself an explorer; an innocent kind of Indiana Jones. To explore all 5 villages properly, you’ll need between two and three hours, more if you want to have a bite to eat or chill out for a while.
Your Majianglong entrance ticket allows you to enter some of the Diaolou that have been turned into museums. However, if you’re lucky, you might stumble upon a Dialou that’s still inhabited and the owners, or their tenants, might let you in. In our case, we were roaming around the village, together with a boisterous Chinese lady and her two male companions, when we came across an old lady unlocking a Diaolou gate with a rusty key. It turned out that she was a relative of the original owners who – after a long absence – had come to give the building an airing.
For 5 Yuan a head she allowed us to come in, look around the interior and climb to the roof. Everything was exactly as the original owners had left it: dusty, traditional farming implements, wooden beds so small that no 21st century Chinese would ever fit in them, as well as a kitchen filled with utensils from a bygone era.
Majianglong 马降龙 Getting there:
Buses from Kaiping’s Yici bus station run regularly to Majianglong throughout the day and stop near the ticket office. If you are hiring a car from Kaiping, make sure your driver gives you plenty of time to enjoy the place. You’ll need at least two to three hours to get a real feeling for the area and soak up the atmosphere. Majianglong grows on you and very quickly.
Majianglong 马降龙Food and Accommodation:
As we were leaving, we noticed that some of the old village buildings had been turned into restaurants and quite possibly a hotel/hostel as well.
Getting to Kaiping (from Guangzhou)
Getting to Kaiping is no sweat. Take a bus from any of Guangzhou’s bus stations. As we were staying on Shamian Dao, we used the nearby Fangcun bus station. To get there from Shamian Island take subway Line one from Huangsha and get off at Kengkou station and cross the bridge. There are hourly buses, 60 Yuan, 2½ hours. They leave you at Kaiping’s new Yici 义祠 bus station, which is a few kilometers from the central Kaiping Binguan and the waterfront. Regular buses from Kaiping also go to Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Zhaoqing (the one we took) and Hongkong.