Beijing Getaways: Guizhou 贵州
Ethnic Adventure: Experience Guizhou's cuisine, cascades and colorful culture
Located in southwest China bordering Yunnan, Sichuan, Chongqing, Hunan and Guangxi, Guizhou Province is a less well-known travel destination for many overseas visitors to China.
With its often spectacular scenery, vibrant ethnic culture, and fairly well-developed transport system however, Guizhou can make a good getaway from more touristy locations such as Yangshuo, Dali and Lijiang.
Like neighboring Yunnan Province, Guizhou contains a diverse range of minority groups, who together account for more than a third of the total population.
They include Yao, Miao, Yi, Qiang, Dong, Zhuang, Buyi, Bai, Tujia, Gelao and Shui - over half of Guizhou is made up autonomous regions for these minorities.
In addition to Guizhou's geography, the rich and varied customs and cultures of these ethnic groups are what make this province so appealing.
Guizhou was well known by the Chinese for thousands of years, but it was not until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) that it came under Chinese domination, eventually becoming a province. This prompted mass migration from neighboring areas and the population swelled - today it stands at around 35 million. Guizhou is one of China's poorest provinces, and the per capita GDP is way below that of the more affluent eastern coastal regions.
The capital of Guizhou is Guiyang, situated on the eastern side of the Yungui Plateau. The city is compact, and has a mild climate the best seasons for visiting Guiyang and the rest of Guizhou are spring through to autumn. In ancient times, Guiyang was reportedly surrounded by dense bamboo groves and was famous for producing a musical instrument known as a zhu some people still call Guiyang "Zhu" for this reason.
There are regular flights and trains to Guiyang from Beijing - flights take around 3 hours, while the more sedate rail journey lasts about 30 hours. While there are quite a few moderately diverting attractions in Guiyang, with minority festivals held throughout the year, the city is not particularly attractive, and can be covered in a couple of days at most. For keen shoppers, souvenirs along Beijing Lu, Zhonghua Lu and Yan'an Lu, and local products such as Maotai Wine (pretty vile) are widely available in the large supermarkets.
Jiaxiu Tower, built in 1587, is a wonderful example of Ming Dynasty architecture. The tower was originally built to encourage scholars to meet at the provincial Confucian examinations held here. For subterranean adventures, try the Southern Cave, or Underground Park. About half a mile in length, the cave contains hardy and colorful stalactites and stalagmites.
Guiyang has numerous street stalls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants where the adventurous can try out local Guizhou cuisine, which is similar to Sichuan and Hunan food with an emphasis on spiciness (chilies abound) and sourness. Apparently there is a Miao minority saying that "if you don't eat sour food for three days, you'll be dizzy and walking in circles". Those who overdose on chilies and vinegar may also experience similar symptoms, however.
Those visitors who find themselves in Guizhou over New Year will get the chance to sample the "Old Three" - blood sausage, smoked sausage and fatty sausage. Since Guizhou people are typically poor villagers with no refrigeration, there is always pork left over from the New Year slaughter which is all made into sausage which must be consumed before it goes off.
Vegetarians may like to opt for ze'ergun, or cold fish root, which consists of mountain grass stems doused with vinegar and sprinkled with ground chilies and minced garlic. Don't let the smell put you off, it actually tastes pretty good.
Three hours west of Guiyang by bus, thunderous sounds and waves of mist resonate from the largest waterfall in Asia - Huangguoshu Waterfall. As the Baishui River plummets 74 meters, slamming into the Rhinoceros Pool (Xiniu) below, it kicks up a nebulous mist that often creates some spectacular rainbows. A natural cave has formed directly behind the falls where visitors can stand behind the solid sheet of plunging water. The entire area comprises eighteen falls above and four falls below ground, all of which pump out more than 700 cubic meters of water per second.
Huangguoshu is very popular with Chinese tourists (avoid national holidays) and many love to have their pictures taken to commemorate the visit. Elaborate costumes can be rented on site to add to the uniqueness of the occasion. Picture taking seems to be a far safer pastime than attempting to go over the falls in a barrel (which has been tried). The falls are considered a national treasure among the Chinese and were recently featured on a special national stamp the area was also named a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 2000.
About 125 km east of Guiyang, the city of Kaili is located in the Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture, and makes a great base for exploring Guizhou's rural ethnic culture. A significant part of the population is made up of Miao and Gejia people, and Kaili hosts more than 100 Miao festivals throughout the year. The liveliest of these are the courtship festivals such as "Dancing on the Flower Hill", "Sisters' Rice Festival" and "Lusheng Festival", where beautiful Miao girls are courted by the boys.
- Regular flights/trains to Guiyang from Beijing (hard sleeper around RMB 400 / soft sleeper RMB 600)
- For cheap flights check elong.com
- Huangguoshu Area: tickets RMB 180 (including main waterfalls, Tianxingqiao Bridge and Doupotang Scenic Areas enough to see for a whole day)
- Guizhou festival info at www.sinowaytravel.com