One of Guizhou’s Most Attractive Town
See next article for Wuyang river 舞阳河TRIP
The pretty and interesting town of Zhenyuan 镇远 lies in the far east of Guizhou 贵州, not too far from the Hunanese 湖南 border and can be easily reached by train from the railhead town of Huaihua 怀化 in that province, or by bus from Kaili 凯里 and Taijiang 台江 in Guizhou贵州.
Apart from being pretty, Zhenyuan 镇远 is close to some remarkable scenery and is also home to many of Guizhou’s Miao minority 苗族, even though in town very few people wear traditional costume and are mostly indistinguishable from the Han majority.
For the traveller it is worth spending a few days in Zhenyuan to soak up the relaxed small town atmosphere, unwind in a riverside teahouse, snoop around the ancient back alleys, and visit a some of the scenic spots in and around the town.
There is good cheap accommodation and enough bars and terraces by the river to make the evenings a pleasurable experience. We spent four nights there in 2005 and found it hard to tear ourselves away.
What to See
Qinglong Dong 青龙洞
Qinglong Dong 青龙洞 is the name of Zhenyuan’s main monument, a cave and temple complex on the other side of the Wuyang river 舞阳河 facing the town and reached by crossing an attractive bridge.
Qinlong Dong 青龙洞 dates from the 16th century and has a series of separate halls dedicated to the 3 most important religions and beliefs in China, Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. Unfortunately, the halls are mostly empty, as all the statues were smashed up during the Cultural Revolution 文化革命.
However, the best bit about Qinglong Dong are the views. Exploring the halls, covered walkways and cut-out niches that ramble up and down the cliff face, you get fantastic vistas over the town and the aquamarine Wuyang River with its romantic sampans.
Near the exit there is another surprise: a marvellously carved and painted guildhall with a stage for performances. The far end of the Hall houses a slightly dusty exhibition on traditional architecture with wooden models and black and white photos.
Nearby, just past the exit, we found a lovely teahouse/restaurant with stone tables outside on the waterfront, sheltered by the willow trees. It’s an excellent place to watch the afternoon float by. We definitely rate it as one of the most relaxing we have found in China.
The Town itself
There are two Zhenyuans: there is the usual new white- tile modern area near the train and bus stations and then there is the older section on the other side of the river, romantically enclosed by a bend in the river.
The older section itself is also divided into two quarters: first, there is the slightly revamped main street with its old Qing dynasty 清朝architecture and eave roofs, where you can find a couple of hotels, restaurants and shops.
The buildings all have wooden fronts and pillars flanking the doorways. Then there is the even older section, running up the hill, and this is where you’ll find cobbled streets, stone houses, patios and steep narrow alleyways full of grubby children and roaming livestock.
Curiously, the river front is lined by tall, narrow, white-washed houses, some of them with stepped façades, just like in Dutch or Belgian architecture. It is here that most of Zhenyuan’s inhabitants seem to while away their days, sitting on the quay or the bridge, fishing.
While we were there, the ‘Ghost Festival’ was celebrated, to honour the dead. We saw many people light candles in front of small house altars and portraits of their ancestors and burn incense by their doorways. Later at night firecrackers were set off and small fires lit by the riverside.
In the oldest part of town, we were moved when observed a little, bent old lady in an old-fashioned Mao suit shuffling around, lighting the candles on her wooden house-altar. Her room was tiny, its walls papered in newspaper and every stick of furniture inside made of wood.
Besides beautiful architecture and a laid-back ambience, in Zhenyuan we actually found a bit of ‘nightlife’. Apart from the teahouses, there was an excellent bamboo bar, right by the bridge in the centre of the old town, lit up by atmospheric lanterns and coloured lights and with a terrace overlooking the river.
It is a great place for chilling out with a bottle of Black Korean Beer (the Asian variety of Guinness) in your hand. At night, while watching the reflections of the lanterns and the lights dancing on the water, you can find yourself drifting off into another China long gone by.
See following article for the Wuyang River
As we were exceedingly comfortable and enjoying the town, we decided to prolong our stay and hired a taxi to take us to nearby places.
Our first excursion took us to Chong’an market 重安市场, with a stop at the Taoist Feiyun Dong Temple 飞云东洞 on the way back. While Chong’an is probably better reached from Kaili 凯里 (see Chong’an Market), the two-hour ride is lovely, over some quite steep hills and through lush countryside.
On the way we also passed through Huangping 黄平, a not very attractive town, famous for its street of silversmiths and the Miao singer A Yun Duo, whose native village is just a few kilometres outside town.
The setting of Feiyun Dong 飞云东洞temple is beautiful: the buildings are dwarfed by a canopy of enormous trees, there are moss-covered rocks and statues scattered around the grounds and a bubbling stream running next to it. Inside however, the temple is empty, no sign of the promised ethnic museum or dragon boat… We never found out what had become of them.
On our last day, our driver took us to Taijiang 台江 via Shidong 施东 (2 to 3 hours). Before Shidong we had to go to the Matou 码头 (quay) and get on a small ferry to cross the Qingshui River, over to Shidong.
The latter is the site of an important Dragon Boat Festival 端午节 Duānwǔjié.
The scenery on the journey is spectacular and the mountainous road also passes through beautiful Dong 侗族 and Miao villages 苗族. The last part between Shidong and Taijiang in particular has some wonderful Dong settlements 侗族村, completely made of wood, not a white tile in sight.
Taijiang 台江is a convenient place from where to visit the village of Fanpai反派. Moreover, it is well-connected with Kaili 凯里.
We were recommended a hotel by a taxi driver at the train station, but unfortunately we have lost the hotel card and cannot remember its name. A pity, as it was one of the best hotels we have stayed in. It cost 136 Yuan for a spotless double with bathroom and great views over the river and town.
To get to the hotel, going from the train station to the centre of town, turn left just after crossing the bridge. The hotel is in a new building, to your right. You have to go up a ramp, as if you were driving into a parking garage, but then you’ll find yourself in an airy courtyard. The reception is up a flight of stairs.
You can snack on street food, or eat in one of the small restaurants along the main street. There is a nice Miao restaurant a few hundred meters after the bridge, you’ll recognise it by its ethnic decoration of low wooden stools, round tables and wall hangings. They specialise in Miao hot and sour soups 酸菜汤, such as our excellent cat fish soup. They also do some fantastic fried green chillies in salt that can literally blow you away. The rice is served in wooden buckets.
Another good place is the already mentioned teahouse/restaurant near the Qinglong Dong temple, which does some tasty fish dishes.
Lastly, the famous beer bar by the bridge also serves spicy potato and tofu snacks and shaved ices (baobing 刨冰) for dessert.
Coming and Going :
Zhenyuan is fairly easily reached from the West by bus from either Kaili, Taijiang or Huangping. From the East, Zhenyuan is best reached from Huaihua, the rail head junction just across the border in Hunan. There are plenty of trains from Changsha to Huaihua.
Both Huaihua and Guiayang are now on the China’s high speed rail network making getting to Zhenyuan much easier. From Huiahua,there are many fast trains daily going to Guiyang and vice versa that will stop at Zhenyuan and take about 3 to 4 hours either way.
Zhenyuan 镇远can easily be combined with a visit to the beautiful, but much more touristy, Fenghuang 凤凰 in Hunan province湖南省, which is also reached from Huaihua 怀化.