Rongjiang Sunday Market (Guizhou Province, 2007)
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: the area near the bridge and the bus station is mostly for vegetables, while about a kilometre away there is another, covered market that sells household goods and also has a pretty gory meat and poultry area, where chickens, geese and ducks are killed, plucked and boiled in front of your very eyes.
The market gets going around 8 o’clock; a good place to position yourself is on the bridge crossing the river, to catch villagers coming into town laden with goods.
Coming and Going
There are numerous buses to and from Kaili, running into the early afternoon. The five- hour journey is spectacular: the narrow road, which follows a bluish river all the way, winds its way over innumerable passes and through deep, forested valleys, dotted by small and scattered Dong and Miao settlements. You may see a variety of Miao along the way, among them the fantastically named ‘Short Skirt Miao’. Voyeurs don’t get too excited, they wear trousers underneath. About halfway between Kaili and Rongjiang, you will cross over from the Miao heartlands into Dong territory.
There are also plenty of buses to Congjiang throughout the day, from where you can catch a bus to Liping and then on to the beautiful wooden Dong town of Zhaoxing.
Some direct buses go to Liping and others to Sandu, the centre for the Shui minority.
For short distances and excursions, hiring a taxi is pretty cheap around here. Expect to pay 60 to 80 Yuan for half a day.
We stayed at the Qingfeng Bingguan next to the bridge, where overpriced, dumpy doubles went for 118 Yuan and no haggling. The local Dong staff, however, are very friendly and helpful. The Rongjiang Hotel, almost next to the bus station and slightly newer, looks a better option, though prices were similar to the Qingfeng. No concessions were being made for single travellers in either hotel.
Again, slim pickings. Next to the Qingfeng Hotel there is a pleasant open-air teahouse on stilts, popular for its ‘Baobing’, shaved ice with condensed milk, which also serves very cold beer and boiled peanuts. Real food, however, is more difficult to come by. We eventually ordered a few simple dishes from a small hole- in- the- wall opposite and then carried the food over to the teahouse, returning the plates later.