Hungering for a break from the from urban cityscapes? China’s still got a wealth of offerings for nature lovers. Guizhou province is often overlooked by Westerners looking to get a taste of China. But with its jaw-dropping geologic formations and remote villages tucked in among one of China’s biggest plant and vertebrate diversity hotbeds, there’s a lot to love in this corner of the country. I recently had the opportunity to spend a few glorious days sampling some of Guizhou’s most famous sites (not to mention its flavorful cuisine) and came away from the experience hungering for more.
Welcome to Guizhou | 贵州欢迎你
I arrived in Guiyang, Guizhou’s capital late on a Saturday night. My flight from Changzhou on Colorful Guizhou Airlines had been an easy one, a little more than two hours from end to end. In the run up to my trip, I’d peppered friends with questions about the province. Expats tilted their head to one side and said, “Guizhou? Where’s that?” Changzhou friends were more encouraging. Several adventurous souls had tales of road trips through and homestays in quaint mountain villages and warnings of the spiciness of the local food. Armed with these tales, I felt pretty optimistic about what awaited me.
Once you leave the city, however, the landscape quickly consumes the man-made structures.
I didn’t get to spend much time in Guiyang aside from eating at a couple of the city’s better known restaurants and hunting down a Starbucks for a coffee fix after a broken coffee machine incident at my hotel. With its sky-tickling towers, broad, airy avenues, and familiar Chinese and international brand shops, the urban center feels like a lot of mid-to-large sized cities around China. Once you leave the city, however, the landscape quickly consumes the man-made structures.
Economically, Guizhou is one of the poorest provinces in China. Its per capita GDP is the lowest in the country. A lot of this is thanks to challenges posed by its picturesque mountains. Much of the transportation in and out of Guiyang is via winding mountain roads that swirl around the forest clad stone giants. Tellingly, when the communists were reeling from seemingly insurmountable odds during their revolution, it was to Guizhou that Mao Zedong led them on The Long March. The retreat gave them the chance to recoup for their eventual victory. Even now, much of the province continues to feel incredibly remote, a world away from the megacities of the east.
Libo Zhangjiang Scenic Area: A Fairyland Brought to Life | 荔波樟江风景名胜区
Tucked away along the border with Guangxi Province, about a four-hour drive away from Guiyang, Libo County is home to some stunning natural sites at the expansive Libo Zhangjiang Scenic area, a part of the South China Karst UNESCO World Heritage Site. Named after a seven-arched bridge built in 1835 that has weathered the ravages of years and is the icon for Libo Zhangjiang Scenic Area, the Xiaoqikong (“Seven Small Arches”) section of the scenic area is a photographer’s dream. Clear turquoise pools and streams meander around lush green mountains and bubbling waterfalls. Sightseeing cars help make the great distances between landmarks accessible in Xiaoqikong, but even so, it’s a good idea to leave plenty of time for a visit as lingering feels like a must. My visit was squeezed into three hours, and I probably could have contentedly wandered for at least another three.
Daqikong (“Seven Big Arches”) has a grander name, but occupies a smaller area. A river-dug gorge forms the heart of the route, flanked by footpaths and bridges for sweeping views. The site’s most iconic feature is the Nature Bridge, an eighty meter high natural arch—the result of a collapsed underground river—that towers over everything. Although the scenery can feel massive, a visit to Daqikong can be completed within a couple of hours.
Clear turquoise pools and streams meander around lush green mountains and bubbling waterfalls.
Singing and Sour Fish | 唱歌和酸汤鱼
After a couple of days, marveling at nature, it was time to hit the winding road again. Another four hours of driving brought me to Kaili, a city of half a million people that also acts as the seat for the Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture. Kaili is famous inside and outside of Guizhou for its abundance of ethnic minorities and its sour fish soup.
Of all the flavorful dishes to be found in Guizhou, Sour Fish Soup—consisting of a fresh locally caught fish, served up in a bubbling broth of tomatoes, chili, beansprouts, and assorted spices—is king…
Fans of Sichuan and Hunan cuisine will find much to love in Guizhou’s spicy and pungent flavors. Home to China’s most (in)famous liquor brand, Moutai, Guizhou has the art of fermentation mastered and this also shows up in the local cuisine. Fermented seeds and vegetables are a common ingredient, lending many dishes interesting multidimensional sour notes that enhance rather than detract from the freshness of the raw materials.
Of all the flavorful dishes to be found in Guizhou, Sour Fish Soup—consisting of a fresh locally caught fish, served up in a bubbling broth of tomatoes, chili, beansprouts, and assorted spices—is king, and the Sour Fish Soup found in Kaili is considered the best of the best. I must admit, after a long, chilly ride, the Sour Fish Soup I tried in Kaili for lunch that day was spectacular. Complex, warm, and flavorful, it chased away the chill that had seeped into my bones.
Many ethnic minorities live in and around Kaili, and thanks to tourism to the area, villages have been able to capitalize on their traditions to bring in revenue. After lunch and a shortish drive, I arrived at Xijiang Miao Village, the largest Miao community in China. Zijiang is home to over 1000 Miao families who still follow customs that have been passed down through generations.
The Miao live in wooden houses, built up the slopes of hills and mountains. They do this to maximize arable land for farming. Xijiang’s structures cluster together across two hills. The Miao are famous for singing, dancing, and silversmithing. In the evenings, music wafts out from across the village, twinkling with thousands of lights. Restaurants lure dinnertime guests with musicians, singing waitresses and promise of special “long table” dinners.
In the Miao culture, special occasions and special guests are times for special dinners served at long tables. Guests are plied with locally brewed liquor. The Xijiang specialty is a sweet rice wine that goes down far too easily to stay sober long. Back at lunch in Kaili, my tour guide had warned that the village food was an acquired taste that even many Chinese people didn’t care for. “It’s okay if you don’t eat much, but please try it.” However, my dinner in Xijiang would end up being one of my favorite in Guizhou with novel flavors and ingredients fresh from the local fields and forests.
Back to Nature | 回归自然
Anshun, a prefecture-level city southwest of Guiyang, is a favorite location for rock climbers in China. The city is surrounded by a forest-clad limestone landscape,carefully chiseled and shaped over the millennia by underground streams and waterways. This has led to a wealth of jaw-dropping scenery; caves, waterfalls,arches and crags are in abundance. For climbers, the chief attraction tends to be the climbing routes of Getu Valley, but for everyone else, it’s the dramatic waterfalls in the area that take top billing, especially the two most famous: Doupotang Waterfall and Huangguoshu Waterfall.
Huangguoshu National Park is home to a lot of waterfalls. In fact, it constitutes the world’s largest waterfall cluster with 18 falls throughout the park. Huangguoshu Waterfall, the park’s main attraction, is the tallest of these, but Doupotang Waterfall—the second most famous—is the widest. The path to Doupotang meanders through a lovely park, flowing with greenery and dotted with statues. The large, hulking form of Doupotang Waterfall crouches at one end. Most visitors to the park head to Doupotang first before visiting Huangguoshu, which isn’t a bad scheme. As the latter waterfall offers a far more dramatic impression.
Huangguoshu Waterfall is the largest waterfall in Asia and the third tallest in the world. It also boasts its own literary reputation. The famous Ming dynasty traveler and geographer Xu Xiake offered this poetic description of Huangguoshu: “The sprays burst apart like pearls and jade, and the foam rises from the rocks like a mist. The waterfall is with such a momentum that even the couplet ‘a screen of pearls released from hooks or silk that hangs on faraway peaks’ cannot completely describe its majesty.” Behind the waterfall is a “Water Curtain Cave,” named for the famous home of Sun Wukong—aka “The Monkey King”—the trouble-making protagonist in the famous Chinese epic Journey to the West. Visitors can enter the cave for a very up-close experience of the pounding waterfall.
The approach down to the Rhinoceros Pool in front of Huangguoshu Waterfall is filled with dramatic peekaboo glimpses of the fall from various distances and angles, offering titillating teasers that amp up the experience in a way the Doupotang Waterfall lacks. The Rhinoceros Pool viewing platform also happens to get you impressively close to the monstrous torrent of water, offering a face-full of spray from the falls alongside the booming roar. Unfortunately, the day I visited Huangguoshu, the Water Curtain Cave was closed, so I’ll have to find another time to take a peak at Sun Wukong’s lair.
Palace of Water and Stone | 水与石头的宫殿
Just the Beginning | 只是个开始
SupCZ, Changzhou’s first bilingual hub for Chinese and foreign cultural exchange, was founded in 2014 by American artist TK and her friends.
SupCZ creates and hosts multi-cultural, inspiring and creative workshops, events, salons and exhibitions by connecting different groups of people and communities to explore life, exchange ideas, and share social networks.