In 2003 it was free to enter Xijiang西江镇Miao minority village, Guizhou and there wasn’t a tourist in sight. Now tourism is big business. The entrance ticket appears to be a whopping 90 yuan.
When we get into the lift and look down at our feet, we discover that yesterday’s floor mat, which read ‘Wednesday’, has been replaced by a ‘Thursday’ one. We wonder if this is a new fashion and whether there might be a special member of staff, responsible for keeping the lift mats up to date.
At the bus station we catch an 8.30 bus to Leishan, which takes just one hour. The scenery is great, we follow a beautiful river that runs through green fields with rolling hills behind.
The countryside is dotted with prosperous-looking wooden farmsteads, all with front balconies and rows of corn-cobs, hanging out to dry.
Near the river, there are several picnic areas with little wooden pavilions, kiosks or small restaurants, where families come and spend the day relaxing, eating, dipping their feet in the river. This might answer my question as to what on earth the Kaili people do in their free time.
I’ve never felt comfortable about visiting small villages, only to gawp at the exotic inhabitants. When trekking or walking in the countryside, passing through a remote village can be a rewarding experience and a nice break, but I am always glad to move on, unless I am going to eat there or stay the night. So it was with some conflicting thoughts that we set off to visit the Long Horn Miao.
Below are our thoughts on the visit. For Further information on how to get to the Long Horn Miao villages and how they do their hair go to: HolaChina: Your Gateway to China
I am not an Anthropologist, my degree is in East-Asian History. So it is difficult for me to pontificate on what should or should not be done about the Long Horn Miao villages. I enjoyed the visit. I took some great photos. The scenery is stunning, the costumes and hair are fantastic and the villagers friendly. Nevertheless, I can’t help wondering what impact tourism will have on their society. Are we, as some of the first tourists, only the shock troops that will pave the way for hordes of well-heeled Chinese and Western tour groups on ‘adventure’ holidays who will commercialise and eventually destroy the Long Horns’ traditional lifestyle? It is something that worries and disturbs me – though I can imagine many of you thinking ‘you shouldn’t have gone then..’.
On the other hand, and looking on the positive side, tourism might help the Long Horn Miao to preserve their culture. By learning to take pride in their ethnic culture and being able to earn a living from it, the exodus of the younger Long Horns to the towns might be halted.
Change is inevitable, and the modern world has already caught up with the Long Horn Miao. The young children go to school in Soga, which is only an hour and a half away from the large town of Liuzhi, which in turn is connected to Anshun and Guizhou’s booming capital, Guiyang.
The pretty and interesting town of Zhenyuan lies in the far east of Guizhou, not too far from the Hunanese border and can be easily reached by train from the railhead town of Huaihua in that province, or by bus from Kaili and Taijiang in Guizhou. Apart from being pretty, Zhenyuan is close to some remarkable scenery and is also home to many of Guizhou’s Miao minority, 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….
This triangle linking the south of Sichuan province with the north of Guizhou is a great combination of lush subtropical scenery, traditional villages and impressive architectural monuments. Yet, in spite of its attractions, the area has not been put on the tourist map, which only contributes to its charm.
This route is equally feasible from Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, or from Guiyang, capital of Guizhou, given that the bus connections are good both ways. If you start from Guiyang, like we did, you may find the first part between Guiyang and Chishui, a bit long and tiring, though you could always break up the journey in the historical city of Zunyi….
The dreaded entrance ticket 门票. The expensive surprise you get when you visit a remote village in China
Shitou Zhai (visited in 2007)
The stone Bouyi (ethnic group) village of Shitou Zhai 石头寨 , not far from China’s largest waterfall at Huangguoshu黄果树 and easily accessible by public transport, is said to have been around for some 500 years, and judging by the condition of some of the houses it could well be true.
The Bouyi build stone houses that resemble dwellings in European medieval villages. Anyone who has visited the remoter parts of the Spanish provinces of Castilla and Leon, or Galicia, will recognise the style immediately.
These days, visitors are met at the entrance by friendly young women, dressed in traditional clothes, who act as guides – included in the steep 40 Yuan ticket (the dreaded Menpiao: That unexpected expense when you arrive in a village in rural China) – and give you a reasonably interesting demonstration on batik making techniques, provided you can speak Chinese.
They then take you for a walk around the village. Some of the old stone houses are still quite impressive, but many are just ruinous shells with nobody living in them.
You might catch a glimpse of a few local Bouyi dressed in their dark-blue, dyed and embroidered clothes, but not many.
However, you will find plenty of opportunities to purchase batik products (蜡染 /Làrǎn) , your guide will be more than happy to point them out. While you are browsing, you may bump into wholesalers from Anshun 安顺 , many of whom buy their stock in Shitou Zhai.
It’s a good idea to check out Anshun 安顺 prices first (especially the shops lining Nanhua Lu, near the bus station, specialised in Bouyi batiks (蜡染 / Làrǎn and Miao clothes) and then buy here. Prices are very reasonable, as long as you bargain.
If Shitou Zhai is a bit of a let down, the surrounding countryside is stunningly idyllic. Slow rivers and water canals meander through rice fields, buffalo and village children swim in inviting pools, and enchanting paths lead off to other stone villages (without ticket) and towards the beautiful karst mountains.
If you continued for another 3 km after Shitou Zhai, through the rice fields, you’d reach the river ( Baishui River (白水河 ) only a few kilometres before it cascades over the rocks and turns into Huangguoshu falls.
Getting there and away:
You should get on a Huangguoshu– bound bus from Anshun 安顺 and ask the driver to drop you at the turn-off for Shitou Zhai, from where it is a pleasant 2- kilometre walk, following a slow winding river (Baishui River 白水河 ) and grazing buffalos to the village.
Returning, there are many buses that pass through Shitou Zhai going to the town of Zhenning, from where buses depart every 10 minutes to Anshun 安顺 .
Not Much! There are (were) no restaurants, but there is a small village shop where you can buy drinks, snacks and sweets.