Cost of Guizhou Tour

Cost pp:  £1950

Including: 11 nights of accommodation; all entrance fees to the attractions; all meals during the 9 days spent in the mountainous region of southeastern Guizhou; all transportation costs during designated tour times; the services of an English speaking guide; a pdf file with information about Dong and Miao minorities, and the destinations we will visit; help with any further travel in China following the tour.

Single sup:£2350

Please Note: the cost is based on the subscription of no less than 4 participants; the maximum number of participants being 10.

Accommodation: We will stay in 4-Star, 3-Star and local Guesthouses, as specified in the itinerary.

Note: There might not be en-suite bathrooms in the Diaojiaolou Guesthouse because of its design. In this instance, all rooms will have shared toilets and bathrooms.

Food: We will provide 3 meals per day, consisting of local Chinese food, when staying in the mountainous region of southeastern Guizhou. Our guide can help you order food while we are in Guilin.

Transportation: Mini coach

Duration: 12 days and 11 nights

 

Itinerary of Guizhou Tour

Day 1:

Arrive at Guiyang, the capital city of Guizhou province. We will arrange our meeting time according to everyone’s flights.

As the landmark of Guiyang City, Jiaxiu Tower is a traditional Chinese style building built in 1598, during the Ming Dynasty.

We will visit Jiaxiu Tower in the late afternoon and then we will have dinner nearby. After dinner, you can enjoy the view of the tower at night. You may get to see some local people setting off Chinese lanterns in the square. There’s also the opportunity to walk around and get a feel for local life in a typical Chinese city. Read more about Guiyang.

Accommodation: Four-star hotel.

Note: We can meet at the airport or the hotel. If your flight is in the late evening or the night, you may feel too tired to join us, so you can miss the dinner and go to the hotel directly if you wish.

Day 2:

Travel to Xijiang from Guiyang

Xijiang nightIt will take us 3 hours from Guiyang to Kaili, where we can stop and have  lunch. After that, it will take us about 1 hour to get to the village of Xijiang.

After a guided tour around the village, we may still have some time to explore the village freely before we have dinner.

Accommodation: Diaojiaolou Guesthouse

Dinner: Traditional Xijiang Miao Cuisine

Day 3

Xijiang Miao Village

Xijiang lifeWe will watch a traditional performance by the Miao people in the morning. After lunch, our guide will organise a hike up the nearby South Hill so we can enjoy a panoramic view of the whole village. Once we’re finished with the hike, everyone is free to enjoy exploring the village at their leisure.

We will go to Langde Upper Miao Village in the late afternoon.

Accommodation: Diaojiaolou Guesthouse

Dinner: Traditional Langde Miao Cuisine

Day 4

Langde Upper Miao Village

langde01After we’ve taken our guided tour and watched the traditional performance in the centre of the village, you are free to explore the village by yourself or stay with our guide and do some shopping. This would be the ideal opportunity to pick up a few souvenirs related to the Miao ethnic minority, including their jewelry and even their traditional clothes! There are many small shops for you to choose from, but you may need an interpreter to help you translate.

In the afternoon, we will go to the town of Rongjiang.

Accommodation: Three-Star hotel in Rongjiang.

Dinner: Traditional Guizhou-style Cuisine

Day 5

Sanbao Dong Village

Sanbao is a typical Dong ethnic minority village lying on the Duliu River Bank. In the morning, we will take a short hike along the river bank. In the afternoon, we will go to the town of Congjiang.

Accommodation: Three-Star hotel in Congjiang.

Dinner: Traditional Guizhou-style Cuisine

Basha haircuttingDay 6 

The Dong Village of Yintan and the Miao Village of Basha

In the morning, while it is still beautifully quiet, we will visit the isolated village of Yintan, and then return to Congjiang for lunch.

The afternoon in Basha will be a stark contrast, as the rowdy rifle displays and music performances we will enjoy are bound to be quite noisy!

Accommodation: Three-Star hotel in Congjiang.

Dinner: Traditional Guizhou-style Cuisine

Day 7

xiaohuang dong villageXiaohuang Dong Village

It is time to enjoy the incredible performance of the Dong people’s Kam Grand Choirs! Let’s do it in Xiaohuang, the celebrated “Village of Songs”.

In the late afternoon, we will travel to the village of Zhaoxing.

Accommodation: Zhaoxing Guesthouse

Dinner: Traditional Zhaoxing Dong Cuisine

Day 8

Zhaoxing Dong Village

zhaoxing01We will dedicate this entire day to exploring this beautiful Dong village. In particular, the five marvelous Drum Towers are an attraction not to be missed!

In the evening, we will have  a second chance to watch a traditional Dong performance in Zhaoxing.  Their performance will be noticeably different from the one we will have seen in Xiaohuang.

Accommodation: Zhaoxing Guesthouse.

Dinner: Traditional Zhaoxing Dong Cuisine

Day 9

The famous Wind-Rain Bridge of Chengyang Dong Village.

In the morning, we will go to Chengyang, which is home to the most beautiful Wind-Rain Bridge of all the Dong villages in China.

This is the last Dong village we will visit, so please feel free to explore at your own pace and soak up the atmosphere.

Accommodation: Well-equipped hotel in Chengyang.

Dinner: Traditional Chengyang Dong Cuisine

Day 10

Guizhou moutainous villageTravel to Guilin

Guilin is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, places in China according to many tourists. It will take us 3 hours to get there, but fortunately we will get to enjoy stunning views of the mountains along the way.

Accommodation: Three-Star hotel in Guilin

Dinner: Not included. Guests are free to explore the area and sample the local food themselves.

Day 11

Boat tour through the Karst mountains

Guilin 03The Li River, also known as Lijiang, is probably the most famous scenic spot in all of Guangxi. It is so prominent that a tableau of the Li River is featured on the Chinese 20 Yuan note. The river is surrounded by Karst Mountains, which boast such unusual shapes and verdant greenery that they have an almost mythical appearance.

We will take a bamboo raft down the Li River to experience the majesty of the Karst Mountains first hand. We will also stop to explore a natural Karst cave.

Accommodation: Three-Star hotel in Guilin

Dinner: Traditional Guangxi-style cuisine

Day 12

Once the tour has ended, you are free to head home or continue your travels in China alone. Guilin has an airport, from which you can easily fly to large cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou.

If you plan on continuing your exploration of Guangxi, we strongly recommend you visit the town of Yangshuo. Resting on the Li River and surrounded by the Karst Mountains, this backpacker’s paradise is the ideal place to relax and meet a few fellow foreign travelers.

 

Highlights of Guizhou Tour

Xijiang Miao Village

xijiang01

Nestled on the northern side of Leigong Hill, surrounded by mountains covered in rich greenery and split in half by the fiercely beautiful Baishui or White Water River, Xijiang prides itself on being the largest Miao village in China, and perhaps the largest Miao village in the world. It is actually made up of a cluster of Miao villages, so it is more like a township than a village proper.

The Diaojiaolou, a kind of stilted wooden dwelling built by the Miao people, stretch up the hillsides on either side of the river. The banks of the river are connected by vast numbers of stunning Wind-Rain bridges, which look like tiny palaces hovering over the rushing water…Read more about Xijiang.

 

Langde Upper Village

langde02

There are only 500 villagers living in Langde Upper Village and all of them come from only ten different family lines. The village has become like a museum, preserving ancient buildings and local customs that have been practised by the Miao for hundreds of years.

The village rests by a stream and is nestled deep within the mountains. There are five “flower roads” that lead into the village and three wooden gatehouses, or village gates, at the northern, western and eastern entrances to the village. These roads are paved with smooth blue flagstones or rippling cobblestones that, alongside the looming stilted houses, look incredibly picturesque…Read more about Langde Upper Village.

 

Basha Miao Village

basha04

Basha is a village unlike any other in China. It is home to members of the Miao ethnic minority but it is unique amongst all other Miao communities. This is because it is the only place in China where residents are still legally allowed to own and carry guns. When the Chinese government tried to confiscate the guns from the members of Basha village, they refused and it was decided that they should be allowed to keep their rifles as part of their rich cultural heritage. To this day, visitors are welcomed with a thrilling display of expert shooting by the local men.

Due to their cautious nature, the villagers have virtually isolated themselves from the outside world. They are almost completely self-sufficient and still maintain practices and customs that date back hundreds of years…Read more about Basha.

 

Xiaohuang Dong Village

xiaohuang village

Xiaohuang is often referred to as the Village of Songs because the Dong people in this village are particularly accomplished at performing polyphonic folk songs known as “Dage” or Grand Songs. In 1996 the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China bestowed the title “the Village of China Folk Art” on Xiaohuang because of its preservation of the Dong singing tradition. Over one third of the population of Xiaohuang is made up of professional folk singers. While some folk songs are accompanied by the pipa[1], most are sung without any musical accompaniment…Read more about Xiaohuang.

 

Zhaoxing Dong Village

Zhaoxing01

Zhaoxing is one of the most famous Dong villages in China, in part due to its size but predominantly due to the fact that it has five Drum Towers. Each tower is specially named in order to promote a certain virtue, and is different in terms of its method of construction, size, height and external appearance.

According to local legend, this village was supposedly founded during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), meaning the village ancestors settled there over 840 years ago…Read more about Zhaoxing.

 

Yintan Dong Village

drum tower yintan

Obscured by misty mountains and dense green forests, Yintan is a gem largely hidden from the rest of the world. The gate is flanked by ancient Chinese yew trees, which give the village an air of mysticism as you enter. Even the name “Yintan”, meaning “Small Silver Lake”, has a certain ethereal quality to it.

Almost every household in the village has a barrel for preparing indigo dye and almost every piece of clothing worn by the locals will have been made entirely by them…Read more about Yintan.

 

Sanbao Dong Village

sanbao01

There are actually about 19 small villages that make up Sanbao, with three main villages, making it the largest Dong village in China. This cluster of villages lies along the banks of the Duliu River and is flanked by stunning banyan trees, which stretch for over a kilometre along the river’s banks. Many of them are over 300 years old!

Aside from these marvellous natural wonders, Sanbao is resplendent with stunning architecture, including a series of drum towers that have earned it accolade over the years. The magnificent Chezhai Drum Tower was built during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and it has remained undamaged for over 130 years, in spite of having been built without the use of nails or rivets…Read more about Sanbao.

 

Chengyang Dong Village

Chengyang Wind-Rain bridge

The main draw to this scenic area is Chengyang Wind-Rain Bridge, which was built in 1912 and is now over 100 years old. Though there are hundreds of wind-rain bridges in the area, this one is considered the most magnificent. It is also known as Yongji or Panlong Bridge and is made up of 2 platforms, 3 piers, 5 pavilions, 19 verandas, and 3 floors, giving it the appearance more of a palace than a bridge! Read more about Chengyang.

 

Guilin Karst Mountains

Guilin 05

In China, there is a popular saying which goes “the scenery in Guilin is the greatest under heaven” (桂林山水甲天下). The lush Karst Mountains, blossoming osmanthus trees, and majestic Li River combine to make an ethereal paradise. It is no wonder that, historically, people doubted its existence! Read more about Guilin.

 

Miao Ethnic Performance

Miao performance

Performances in Miao villages will always be set to music and, when it comes to the Miao people, the lusheng[2] is the instrument of choice, although other instruments like the suona[3] and the copper drum are also popular…Read more about Miao Performance.

 

Dong Ethnic Performance

Kam Grand Choir 01

The most talented singers in any Dong village make up what are called Kam Grand Choirs. The Kam Grand Choir tradition is thought to date back all the way to the Warring States Period (475BC-221 B.C.), with a history of over 2,500 years behind it. In 2009, it was made a World Class Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.

A Kam Grand Choir is a polyphonic choir that sings without the help of a conductor or any accompanying orchestra. Their songs are designed to imitate the natural world, such as the chirping of insects, the gurgling of streams, the whistling of the wind and other soothing natural sounds.

 

Diaojiaolou 

guizhou diaojiaolou

Diaojiaolou is a kind of dwelling popular among several of the ethnic minority communities throughout southern China. The word “diaojiao” (吊脚) in Chinese means “hanging feet” and “lou” (楼) means “building”, so diaojiaolou literally means “hanging feet building”. They are so named because of their unusual appearance. The history of the diaojiaolou stretches back over 500 years and they are widespread throughout Yunnan, Guangxi, Hunan, Guizhou, Hubei, and Sichuan province, but differ in appearance depending on the ethnic group who built them. During our tour, we will have the opportunity to compare the Dong-style diaojiaolou with the Miao-style diaojiaolou…Read more about Diaojiaolou.

 

Jiaxiu Tower

Jiaxiu Lou

Jiaxiu Tower has long been the symbol of Guiyang, the provincial capital of Guizhou, and yet it appears to suffer from rather mixed luck. On the one hand, the tower was supposedly responsible for the success of three Guizhou scholars in the imperial examination. On the other hand, it’s been destroyed and rebuilt six times. It is sometimes referred to as First Scholar’s Tower because the term “jiaxiu” can be interpreted to mean “first scholar” or “to come first in the imperial examinations” and the tower was initially built to encourage local scholars to study hard and perform well. While it seems it managed to achieve its aim, evidently whatever good luck the building had went to the scholars and left it with none for itself! Read more about Jiaxin Tower.

 

[1] Pipa: A four-stringed plucking instrument that has a pear-shaped wooden body and anywhere from 12 to 26 frets. It is sometimes referred to as the Chinese lute.

[2] Lusheng: A wind instrument made of multiple bamboo pipes, each fitted with a free reed, that are all in turn fitted into a large, hardwood pipe. Normally there are five or six bamboo pipes that are each of a different pitch. Air is blown into the hardwood pipe to create sound. They vary in size from small, handheld ones to ones that are several metres in length.

[3] Suona: A Chinese wind instrument. It is made up of a horn with a double reed that makes a distinctively loud and high-pitched sound. It comes in several sizes and the size of the horn affects the sound it makes. It is used throughout China in ritual music and folk music.

Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region

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Ningxia is one of five ethnic minority autonomous regions in China and its official name is Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, since over one-third of its population is made up of the Hui ethnic minority. The Hui people follow the religion of Islam and so everything, from their elegant traditional dress to their vibrant architecture, has a particularly Central Asian flair. Mosques such as the Tongxin Great Mosque in the city of Wuzhong, the largest and oldest mosque in Ningxia, can be found dotted throughout the province. These mosques are usually a stunning blend of Han Chinese and Central Asian architectural features, demonstrating the hybrid culture of Ningxia.

The region itself is located in north-central China, sandwiched between Shaanxi province in the east, Gansu province in the east, south, and west, and Inner Mongolia to the north. While most of Ningxia is made up of unforgiving desert, the vast plain of the Yellow River in the north has long been a fertile centre for agriculture. The thought of sandy deserts may conjure up images of sweltering heat, but Ningxia’s weather is far from scorching! Its climate is largely continental, with long chilly winters and short mild summers. While average temperatures in July range from a comfortable 17 to 24 °C (63 to 75 °F), in January it can regularly plummet to between −7 and −15 °C (19 to 5 °F).

west xiaIn ancient times, modern-day Ningxia almost entirely belonged to the Western Xia Dynasty (1038–1227), which was ruled by the Tangut people. The Tanguts were eventually conquered by Genghis Khan, and Ningxia was incorporated into China proper during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). Very little is known about these ancient people and their mysterious dynasty, although the Western Xia Tombs at the foot of the Helan Mountains have provided historians with a treasure trove of invaluable information. These tombs represent one of the largest imperial burial sites in China and offer a fascinating insight into this lesser-known period of Chinese history. Nowadays several of the tombs have been opened to the public, and are often called the “Oriental Pyramids” thanks to their unusual shape.

Just 35 kilometres (22 mi) east of the tombs, the regional capital of Yinchuan was once the imperial capital of the Western Xia Dynasty and remains Ningxia’s cultural centre. Since Yinchuan and several other cities used to be important trading hubs along the Silk Road, there are numerous Buddhist sites scattered nearby that were constructed by traveling monks. The most magnificent of these is undoubtedly the Xumi Mountain Grottoes. While this grotto complex is relatively unknown outside of China, it is nationally regarded as one of the finest works of Buddhist architecture in the country.

From the Northern Wei Dynasty (368-534) until the Tang Dynasty (618-907), over 130 caves were delicately carved directly into the eastern cliff-face of Mount Xumi and filled with lifelike Buddhist sculptures. The style of these sculptures integrates visible Indian and Central Asian features, acting as a testament to the cultural exchange that took place along the Silk Road. The site’s crowning jewel is a colossal 20-metre-tall (65 ft.) statue of Maitreya(1). Other spectacular Buddhist monuments include the 108 Pagodas near Qingtongxia and the Haibao Pagoda in Yinchuan.

If you’re more of an adventurer than a historian, you may want to sign up for some of Ningxia’s famed desert tourism! The district of Shapotou is regarded as the “Capital of Sand” and is located on the southern rim of the Tengger Desert. It’s home to the Desert Research Centre and one of China’s four celebrated singing sand dunes. The strange shape of the dunes means that, as the wind whips over them, it creates a unique sound that is said to resemble the tolling of a bell or the beating of a drum. It may not sound as pleasant as Pavarotti, but it’s still pretty impressive! Standing atop the dunes, you’ll be treated to a panoramic view of the surrounding desert that is both awe-inspiring and humbling in equal measure. The district also provides access to long sections of the Great Wall, which span across northern Ningxia.

NINGXIASimilarly, the Sand Lake Scenic Resort in Pingluo County offers stunning views of both the desert and the resort’s many scenic lakes. Sand Lake itself is one of the best places for bird-watching in China, as it attracts over one million birds from 198 different species every year. Throughout spring and autumn, migratory birds such as white cranes, red-crowned cranes, swans, and mandarin ducks flock to the lake in order to rest their weary wings. The resort is even equipped with a Bird-watching Tower, where hundreds of people gather and use the high quality telescopes provided to spy on the feathery fowls. Standing at the top of the tower, you could almost say you’ll have a bird’s eye view!

 

1. Maitreya: In the Buddhist tradition, Maitreya is a bodhisattva who will appear on Earth sometime in the future and achieve complete enlightenment. He will be the successor to the present Buddha, Gautama Buddha, and is thus regarded as a sort of future Buddha.

Jiangsu Local Snacks

Since Jiangsu or “Su” cuisine is often praised as one of the Eight Culinary Traditions of Chinese Cooking, it goes without saying that the snacks on offer in this province are plentiful and delicious! This style of cooking places emphasis on presentation and the natural essence of ingredients, resulting in dishes that are visually stunning and richly flavourful without being overly seasoned. Soups play a starring role in most snack dishes and are highly acclaimed for being light and fresh, rather than oily or greasy. With palate-cleansers that are this scrumptious, you might even forget about the main course!

Yangzhou Fried RiceYangzhou Fried Rice (扬州炒饭)

Also known as Yangzhou Egg Fried Rice, this staple dish hails from the city of Yangzhou and is one of the most immediately recognisable dishes in Jiangsu, since it’s served in Chinese restaurants throughout the world. The ingredients of this hearty dish vary from restaurant to restaurant, but some of the staple items include: cooked rice that is preferably a day old, since freshly cooked rice is often too sticky; cooked shrimp; diced char siu or Chinese barbecue pork; chopped spring onions; eggs; and fresh vegetables such as peas, Chinese broccoli, carrots, and corn. Like glittering jewels in a fine brooch, these multi-coloured ingredients add a touch of vibrancy to the dish.

According to local legend, the dish was brought to the region during the Sui Dynasty (581-618) by a powerful imperial minister named Yang Su. Fried rice was one of his favourite foods and, when he was escorting Emperor Yangdi through the district of Jiangdu, he introduced his recipe to the people of Yangzhou. There are two ways of cooking this sumptuous dish based on when and how the egg is scrambled. The first, known as “silver covering gold”, is when the egg is scrambled separately and then mixed in with the rice. The second, known as “gold covering silver”, is when the liquid egg is poured over the rice and vegetables as they are being stir-fried. It’s rumoured that the finest chefs in Yangzhou can cook the dish with a rice grain to egg piece ratio of 5:1 or even 3:1. Talk about precise!

Jiangnan ShumaiJiangnan Shumai (江南烧)

Shaomai or shumai in Chinese cuisine is a traditional type of bite-size pork dumpling served as dim sum. They’re living proof that good things definitely come in small packages! They are believed to have originated from the city of Hohhot in Inner Mongolia, but the ones served in the Jiangnan region of Jiangsu, just south of the Yangtze River, are considerably different to their northern counterparts. In this variation, the wrapping for the dumpling is much larger and tougher. The filling is made up of glutinous rice and pork pieces that have been marinated in a delectable mixture of Chinese rice wine (Shaoxing wine) and soy sauce. They are normally steamed with pork fat to keep them tantalisingly moist and are markedly larger than other types of shaomai. Most restaurants typically serve them as an appetising accompaniment to a cup of tea. Once you’ve tried these juicy little parcels, you’ll never look at afternoon tea the same way again!

Fengzhen NoodlesFengzhen Noodles (枫镇大面)

These enticingly aromatic noodles originate from Fengqiao Town in Suzhou and are said to have the fragrance of rice wine. So be sure not to breathe in too deeply, or you might end up drunk! The delicate noodles are first boiled before being served in a light broth made from stewed eel bones, river snails, rice wine, and soy sauce. However, the highlight of this dish is considered to be the topping. Thick, streaky slices of pork are marinated in rice wine and stewed for at least four hours before being used as a garnish. The resulting dish is an ideal combination of subtle flavours that melt in the mouth and glance off the tongue. Fengzhen Noodles are typically served during summer, as they are believed to cool the palate during the hotter weather. So if you’re traveling in Jiangsu, be sure to use your noodle and order a bowl of this tasty treat!

Huangqiao Sesame CakeHuangqiao Sesame Cake (黄桥烧饼)

Sesame seed cakes are thought to be the oldest style of cake in Jiangsu and the earliest record of them, written by an agronomist named Jia Sixie, dates all the way back to the Northern Wei Dynasty (386–535). So it seems the locals have had plenty of time to perfect the recipe! Unsurprisingly, this particular type of sesame cake originates from the town of Huangqiao. According to local legend, sometime during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), the magistrate of Rugao County was visiting the region when he tried a few of these crispy cakes. On returning home, he was so taken with them that he began getting serious cravings. Unfortunately, the counties were over 30 kilometres (19 mi) and it seemed impractical to go all that way just for a snack. So he sent one of his servants to buy the cakes for him instead!

The cakes themselves come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from the typical round and oval ones right through to triangular and square ones. Unlike conventional cakes in the West, Huangqiao sesame cakes come in sweet and savoury varieties. This means the basic dough can vary, as sweet dough incorporates caramel while savoury dough includes pork suet and onion. More sophisticated varieties of this crunchy snack include fillings such as pork, sweet osmanthus paste, crab roe, jujube paste, chicken, and shrimp. So, if you happen to spot a tray full of these fluffy treats, choosing one can feel like a game of roulette!

 

 

Reed Flute Cave

Reed Flute Cave 01

Reed Flute Cave (Ludi Yan) earned its unusual name thanks to the plentiful reeds growing outside of the cave’s entrance that are often used to make flutes or other small wind instruments. The cave is about 5 kilometres northwest of downtown Guilin and the main entrance to the cave is situated on the south side of Guangming Hill or “Bright Light” Hill. Reed Flute Cave is a natural limestone cave that has formed over a period of 180 million years. Although it was only officially opened as a tourist attraction in 1962, it has in fact been a tourist site for over 1,200 years. As a testament to its popularity throughout the years, more than 70 inscriptions have been written in ink on the cave’s walls, some of them dating all the way back to 792 A.D. These inscriptions are evidence that the cave has been a beloved attraction since the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

For many years, the cave remained untouched until, in the 1940s, a group of Chinese refugees fleeing from Japanese troops during World War II came upon the cave and used it as a hiding place. The cave itself is 240 metres long and boasts a glittering array of stalagmites, stalactites, stone columns and bizarre karst formations. All of these fantastically alien shapes have been created by the deposition of calcium carbonate in the water as it trickles through the limestone. When the water hits the floor, it deposits tiny particles of calcium carbonate that eventually grow upwards to form stalagmites. When the water drops from the ceiling of the cave, it leaves behind tiny deposits of calcium carbonate that eventually form stalactites. It is estimated that the stalactites and stalagmites in Reed Flute Cave grow on average about 1 millimetre per year.

Reed Flute Cave 02Visitors enter the cave at Bright Light Hill and follow a U-shaped path that eventually leads them to an exit not far from the entrance of the cave. It takes approximately one hour to make your way through the entire cave at a steady pace. We strongly recommend that you wear appropriate shoes and warm clothes in the cave, as the floor of the cave is wet and muddy and, although it may be warm outside, the cave tends to stay very cool. Inside the cave, the interior has been beautifully lit with differently coloured lights. This myriad of colour illuminating and bouncing off of the strange shapes of the rock gives the cave an almost mystical feel, as if you are travelling through a fairy-tale world.

As you travel through the cave, you’ll come across several rock formations that have been given whimsical names based on their appearance, such as the Dragon Pagoda, Mushroom Hill, the Red Curtain and Pines in the Snow. There is even a rock formation that looks just like the Statue of Liberty. Perhaps the most impressive part of the cave is a grotto known as the Crystal Palace, which is large enough to hold just over 1,000 people. In this grotto, there is a stalagmite that appears to be in the shape of a human being. This stalagmite was once supposedly a visiting scholar who came to Reed Flute Cave with the aim of writing a poem that would perfectly capture its majesty. He spent so long in the cave trying to find the right words for his poem that he eventually turned to stone. There are so many beautiful rock formations such as these in Reed Flute Cave that it is now often referred to as “Nature’s Art Palace”.

Reed Flute Cave 03Unfortunately the cave is so dark that it is very difficult to get any decent photographs within the cave unless you are using specialist photographic equipment. However, at certain stations throughout the cave, such as the Crystal Palace, camera equipment has been set up so that visitors can pay to get their photograph taken near some of the more fantastic rock formations. These photographs, along with the reed flutes which can be purchased at the entrance and exit of the cave, make a wonderful souvenir. At the cave’s exit, a park has been built with many elegant pavilions, crystal clear ponds, wonderfully engraved stone bridges and numerous colourful flowerbeds. It is the ideal place to relax after a long trek through the cave. There are public buses that run between Guilin city and Reed Flute Cave, although they are not very regular so we recommend that you check the bus schedule in advance.

 

 

Qin Shi Huang

QIN SHI HUANG 01

Qin Shi Huang (259-210 B.C.) is a figure who’s met in China with both reverence and disgust. He was the First Emperor of China and the first man to single-handedly unify the country, but he was also a tyrant whose dictatorial reign had him reviled for centuries after his death. He masterminded the construction of the Terracotta Army and ordered the construction of what would eventually be the Great Wall. However, his all-consuming greed decimated the country’s resources and it is thought that, under his reign, the population of China more than halved in size. He was so despised by his own people that he was the target of several unsuccessful assassination attempts, one of which was the inspiration for the martial arts epic Hero starring Jet-Li. Qin Shi Huang’s rise to power and his dynasty, though bloody and brutal, has undoubtedly become the stuff of legends.

Early Life

WARRING STATES OF CHINAThere is much controversy surrounding Qin Shi Huang’s birth. He was born in 259 B.C. in the city of Handan and was given the name Ying Zheng. He was the eldest son of the Qin prince Yiren. His mother was the Lady of Zhao, Yiren’s beloved concubine.

Before Ying Zheng’s birth, his father Yiren was supposedly being held hostage by the State of Zhao and was liberated by a wealthy merchant named Lü Buwei. Yiren then ascended the throne as King Zhuangxiang of Qin. According to historian Sima Qian[1], Lü Buwei introduced Yiren to Ying Zhen’s mother, Zhao Ji. However, unbeknownst to Yiren, Zhao Ji had been Lü Buwei’s concubine for some time and was pregnant with his child. It was rumoured that Ying Zheng was in fact the illegitimate son of Lü Buwei. Ying Zheng’s potential illegitimacy was widely believed throughout China at the time and contributed to the negative view that many people had of him. Modern analysis suggests that Sima Qian probably added this rumour to his records to slander Ying Zheng as, according to Confucian principles, merchants like Lü Buwei were among the lowest of the social classes.

King of Qin

After his father’s death in 246 B.C., Ying Zheng ascended the throne at the age of 13. In light of Ying Zheng’s inexperience, Lü Buwei was appointed as regent prime minister. Lü Buwei was worried that, if he continued as prime minister, Ying Zheng would eventually find out about his affair with Zhao Ji, so he made Lao Ai prime minister instead. However, when an attempt by Lao Ai to overthrow Ying Zheng failed, he was executed. Lü Buwei’s involvement in this coup led to his exile and in 235 B.C. he committed suicide. It was then, at the age of 22, that Ying Zheng took complete control of the State of Qin.

Ying Zheng became King of Qin during what is known as the Warring States Period (r. 475-221 B.C.), which followed the Spring and Autumn Period (r. 770-476 B.C.) of the Zhou Dynasty. During the Zhou Dynasty, dukes were appointed to rule over separate fiefdoms. As the Zhou Dynasty began to collapse, these fiefdoms began to develop into separate states. When the Zhou Dynasty finally fell, these former dukes took control of their respective states and each claimed to be the rightful King. This was a period of great political unrest as the Seven Warring States were constantly at war with one another in a desperate bid to try and expand their empires. Only these major seven states survived as the smaller states, lacking the protection of a centralized government, were swiftly annexed. After seizing control of Qin, Ying Zheng began a military campaign to conquer the six other Warring States.

Unification of China

QIN SHI HUANG 02The State of Qin was shielded by mountains, which provided a natural barrier and made it difficult to invade. This gave Ying Zheng a military advantage. Behind these mountains, Ying Zheng built up a large and powerful army. Between 230 B.C. and 222 B.C., Ying Zheng conquered the States of Han, Zhao, Yan, Wei, and Chu. Finally, in 221 B.C., he annexed the State of Qi and completed his domination of the Warring States. For the first time in history, China was unified under one ruler.

Ying Zheng gave himself the regnal name Shi Huangdi. He believed he was greater than the divine Three Sovereigns (Sān Huáng) and the legendary Five Emperors (Wŭ Dì) of Chinese prehistory, so combined their names to create the title Huangdi or “Emperor”. The “Shi” part of his regnal name indicates that he was the first, so his title can be translated to mean “First Emperor”. His intention was that his successors should be named “Second Emperor”, “Third Emperor” and so on. He is now commonly referred to as Qin Shi Huangdi to differentiate him from emperors of other dynasties.

The Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.)

Qin Shi Huang was responsible for unifying China in more ways than just conquering the Warring States. He centralized the government by abolishing the rulers of the previous States and placing the whole country under his rule. He changed the imperial system so that official appointments were based on merit rather than on hereditary right, meaning he chose his own officials.

With the help of his chancellor, Li Si, Qin Shi Huang standardized Chinese units of measurement, such as weights and measures, and also units of currency. He created a standardised currency known as the Ban liang coin, a circular coin that has a square hole in the middle. He created an extensive network of roads and canals that helped link all regions of his empire, enabling people to trade much more easily. These measures helped to unify the country economically. Perhaps his most significant achievement was his regularisation of Chinese script. Under the guidance of Li Si, the seal script of the State of Qin became the standard script for the whole country. This was the first time in history that there had been one language and one system of communication across the whole country.

QIN DYNASTYYet, even after he had unified China, he was still the target of several assassination attempts, including one in 218 B.C. when he was traveling through the mountains and an unidentified strongman supposedly threw a colossal, metal cone, weighing approximately 97 kilograms (160 lbs.), at his carriage. The vitriol levelled against him was in part due to the many pitfalls of his reign. He banned all other schools of thought besides legalism and eliminated the Hundred Schools of Thought, which included Confucianism and older forms of Buddhism. The ideology behind legalism was that people should obey the laws or be punished accordingly, making it a strict and ruthless philosophy of governance.

In accordance with his attempt to quash these schools of thought, on the advice of Li Si, Qin Shi Huang had almost all of the books written before his Dynasty burned. He spared only books on astrology, agriculture, medicine, divination, and the history of the State of Qin. According to Sima Qian, he also had 460 scholars buried alive, although modern analysis suggests that this was a fabrication used by Confucian scholars to distance themselves from the failed dynasty.

In terms of his architectural achievements, the construction of the Great Wall is often attributed to him. During his reign, in order to protect the northern frontier from the Xiongu people, he masterminded the building of a huge wall to the north that connected the existing state walls and incorporated mountains and cliffs as defensive structures. This was the precursor of the Great Wall. He also built the Lingqu Canal, which was intended to transport supplies to his army. This massive canal is 34 kilometres in length and links the Xiang River and Li River, connecting North China with South China. The Lingqu is considered one of the three great feats of Ancient Chinese engineering, along with the Great Wall and the Sichuan Dujiangyan Irrigation System. However, his greatest legacy is arguably his mausoleum. It contains the Terracotta Army, an army formed of over 6,000 clay figures. Each figure is unique and was based on a real soldier in Qin Shi Huang’s army. His tomb remains unopened to this day.

Qin Shi Huang was notoriously superstitious and was obsessed with trying to find the elixir of life. In his lifetime, he visited Zhifu Island three times in the hopes of finding the Mountain of Immortality (Penglai Mountain). Yet his quest for immortality would eventually prove his undoing. In 211 B.C., Qin Shi Huang was plagued by a dark omen, a meteor that landed in Dongjun. Someone supposedly carved the words “The First Emperor will die and his land will be divided” into the meteor. Qin Shi Huang had all of the people in the vicinity executed and had the meteor burned and pulverized.

Terracotta Army01A year later, the Emperor died at his palace in Shangqiu prefecture. His death was caused by ingesting mercury pills, which ironically had been prescribed to him by alchemists to make him immortal. He was succeeded by his son, Huhai, but Huhai was not as capable a ruler as his father. Revolts soon broke out across the country and, only four years after the First Emperor’s death, the Qin Dynasty collapsed. Perhaps the meteor’s prophecy was true and Qin Shi Huang was right to have been so superstitious after all.

 

 

[1] Sima Qian (145–90 BCE): A Chinese historian whose most noted work was called Shiji or Records of the Grand Historian

 

Qianling Mausoleum

Qianling Mausoleum 03

The Qianling Mausoleum is unique in that the main tomb has not been looted by grave robbers nor has it been excavated, meaning it has remained sealed and untouched for over 1,300 years. Thus, of the 18 Tang Dynasty Mausoleums, the Qianling Mausoleum is considered to be the most well-preserved. The main tomb houses one of China’s most controversial royal figures, Empress Wu Zetian, who was the only woman to have ever formally ruled China. She is also the only Empress to have been buried alongside her husband, the Emperor. The tomb itself follows the same structural pattern as Zhaoling Mausoleum in that it has been built into the side of a mountain. Only members of the imperial family were allowed to build their mausoleums into natural mountains and, of the 18 Tang Dynasty emperors, 14 of them chose to have mountains serve as their burial mounds. Though in scale Qianling Mausoleum may not be as impressive as the colossal Zhaoling Mausoleum, in terms of artistic beauty it is unmatched. Littered throughout the mausoleum you’ll find statues, murals and painted pottery, all a tableau of ancient China frozen in time. From the haunting stone funeral procession that leads to the Emperors tomb to the underground tombs of Princes and Princesses that have now been opened to the public, the Qianling Mausoleum takes you back to a time when men were gods and built monuments so as to be remembered for time immemorial.

Qianling Mausoleum is located on Mount Liang, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) northwest of Xi’an, and was built in 684 A.D., a year after Emperor Gaozong suffered the debilitating stroke that killed him. With the Leopard Valley to the east and the Sand Canyon to the west, the Mausoleum on Mount Liang is the perfect scenic spot to enjoy the diversity of landscapes in China. On the surface of the Mausoleum there were once 378 magnificent buildings, including the Sacrificial Hall, the Pavilion, and the Hall of Ministers. Sadly these surface buildings have all but disappeared, leaving only their underground counterparts. Aside from these surface buildings, which were relatively common among Tang Emperor’s tombs, Qianling Mausoleum has several features that make it unique among the other mausoleums. The burial mounds on the southern peak of Mount Liang each have towers erected at the centre of each mound and are thus named “Naitoushan” or “Nipple Hills” due to their resemblance to breasts. These Nipple Hills form a sort of gateway into the Mausoleum, creating a visual effect that is both stunning and exclusive to Qianling Mausoleum. The main imperial tomb, however, is located on the northern peak. There you’ll find the tallest burial mound and a 61 metre (200 ft.) long, 4 metre (13 ft.) wide tunnel carved out of the mountain that leads into the inner tomb chambers. This is the final resting place of Emperor Gaozong and Empress Wu Zetian, which has remained unopened to this day.

Qianling Mausoleum 02The most magnificent and otherworldly feature of Qianlong Mausoleum are the stone statues that have braved the elements and remained suspended in time for over a thousand years. If you follow the Spirit Way that leads to the Emperor’s tomb, you will undoubtedly discover the 124 stone statues that serve as his funeral procession. These include statues of horses, winged horses, horses with grooms, lions, officials, foreign envoys and, most bizarre of all, ostriches. The first ostrich was presented to the Tang court by a khan of the Western Turks in 620 A.D. and the Tushara Kingdom sent another one in 650 A.D. It is believed that early Chinese representations of phoenixes were based on these ostriches. The ostriches at Qianling Mausoleum serve as a symbol of the Tang Dynasty’s power and influence over its foreign neighbours.

Similarly, the sixty-one stone envoys that perpetually mourn Emperor Gaozong’s death were directly commissioned by Empress Wu Zetian and designed after the sixty-one foreign envoys that were physically present at Emperor Gaozong’s funeral. Each figure is wearing a long robe with a wide belt and boots and, if you look closely, you’ll find the name of each individual and the country he represented carved on his back. These foreign envoys were constructed to further symbolise the Tang Dynasty’s far reaching influence and powerful empire. Tragically, for reasons unknown, these sixty-one statues have been decapitated.

Surrounding the main tomb, archaeologists have also recovered four gates, parts of the inner wall, and parts of the outer wall that guarded the tomb, along with remnants of houses that once belonged to workers charged with maintaining the tomb. The four gates are called Zhu Que Men (Rosefinch Gate) to the south, Xuan Wu Men (Mystical Power Gate) to the north, Qing Long Men (Black Dragon Gate) to the east, and Bai Hu Men (White Tiger Gate) to the west. Near the main tomb you’ll also find the magnificent Qijie Bei or “Tablet of the Seven Elements”, which is so called because it symbolises the Sun, Moon, Metal, Wood, Water, Earth and Fire, the seven elements in ancient Chinese philosophy. This tablet carries an inscription describing the achievements of the Emperor, which was composed by the Empress Wu Zetian and written in the calligraphic style of Emperor Zhongzong (Emperor Gaozong’s son). Interestingly, near the Tablet of the Seven Elements, there sits the Blank Tablet, which has dragons and oysters carved upon it but no inscription. It is the only blank tablet to be found in any royal mausoleum in China and was erected by Empress Wu Zetian, who stated in her will: “My achievements and errors must be evaluated by later generations, therefore carve no characters on my stele[1]”. This may seem like an odd thing for anyone to say, particularly from the only woman to have ever ruled as Emperor, and it shines a light directly on the controversy surrounding Wu Zetian.

Qianling Mausoleum 01Although the Emperor’s tomb has not been excavated, the tombs of Crown Prince Zhanghuai, Prince Yide and Princess Yongtai have all been unearthed and opened to the public. The one thing these three royal figures had in common was that they were all put to death by their mother and grandmother respectively, Wu Zetian, when they were still young. These three unfortunate youths, who suffered tragic deaths, were not even honored with imperial tombs until Empress Wu Zetian finally died in 706 A.D and their brother and father respectively, Emperor Zhongzong, was finally allowed to give his brother and children a proper burial. Wu Zetian was not only implicated in the deaths of these three relatives but also in the deaths of two of her other children and several other family members, friends and officials that either displeased her or threatened her claim to the throne. Thus you can understand why, in light of all these nefarious deeds, Wu Zetian’s tombstone has remained blank for over a thousand years. Though Wu Zetian’s reign of tyranny has long ended, her exploits have not been forgotten.

If you visit the tombs today, you’ll find a much more positive representation of ancient China. The three tombs that have been opened up to the public are covered in stunning murals of typical scenes in the Imperial Court, including beautiful maidservants, nobles playing Polo on horseback and royals receiving their foreign guests. Though these paintings have been worn by time, the exuberant colours and vivid facial expressions of the characters within them still evoke a real sense of how extravagant life must have been during the Tang Dynasty. Princess Yongtai’s tomb has been converted into a museum, where you’ll find a collection of the 4,300 historical relics that were exhumed from the three tombs. From the delicately carved jade funeral eulogiums to the painted figures of riders with their horses gilt faced, inlaid lavishly with gold, we’re sure you’ll find a trip to Qianlong Museum and Qianlong Mausoleum both rewarding and fascinating. From the outset, it is truly a feast for the eyes.

 

 

[1] Stele: An upright stone slab or pillar that bears an inscription and usually marks a burial site, like a tombstone.

 

Baihaba Village

Baihaba in xinjiang 01

With titles like “Number One Village of Northwest China” and the “First Village in the Northwest”, there are no prizes for guessing where Baihaba Village might be! It rests on the natural border between China and Kazakhstan, at the very northwesternmost corner of China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Since it is only 3 kilometres (2 mi) from this border, tourists must get permission before travelling to the village. Its location just 31 kilometres (19 mi) west of Kanas Lake makes it a popular stop on any tour of the Kanas region, but this bucolic paradise is more than just a glorified rest-stop! Flanked by the misty Altai Mountains and split by the shimmering Baihaba River, it’s a veritable utopia for nature lovers.

The nearby forests are full of pines, white birches, and poplar trees, meaning the landscape is awash with luscious greens, pearl whites, and deep chestnut browns. Temperatures in this virtually Siberian region regularly plummet to below 0 °C (32 °F) in autumn, yet photographers annually brave the cold to enjoy this most picturesque of seasons. When the leaves turn, the forests are flecked with reds, golds, and yellows that perfectly complement the dark green pines. The village’s characteristic log cabins blend seamlessly into their natural surroundings, with only the faint wisp of smoke from their chimneys indicating that they are still inhabited. No matter what the season, the scenery in Baihaba looks like it has just leapt out of a pastoral oil painting!

baihaba in xinjiang 02Water trickling down from the melted ice-caps of the mountains runs through the village’s centre and forms the Baihaba River, separating the community of Tuvan people on one bank from the Kazakh people on the other. Although they come from distinctly different cultures, these two ethnic groups have shared this fertile land and enjoyed a peaceful rural life for decades. The Tuvans are a Siberian people who have Mongolian, Turkic, and Samoyedic roots, while the Kazakhs are a Turkic people who mainly live throughout Central Asia.

The Tuvan people believe that they are descended from the legendary soldiers who served under Genghis Khan, so many Tuvan homes boast a portrait of the great Mongolian warlord above their fireplace. Similarly, the Kazakh’s trace their ancestry back to several medieval Mongolian tribes, including the Argyns and the Huns, as well as ancient Iranian nomads such as the Sarmatians and the Scythians. Although both groups speak their own language, the Tuvan’s Turkic language has been heavily influenced by and bears great similarity to the Kazakh language. So it seems these two diverse ethnicities have more in common than meets the eye. And they both certainly have impeccable taste when it comes to their choice of location!

Thanks to their relative isolation and remoteness, the villagers have managed to preserve their unique traditions and customs. Their homes are lavishly decorated with hand-embroidered tapestries, which add a smattering of colour to their modest furnishings. They cook their meals over quaint woodstoves and sleep on heated brick beds, living a life of humble simplicity. Although tourism now plays an important part in supplementing their income, many families still rely on hunting and raising animals for their livelihood. Every day, farmers graze their sheep and cattle on the verdant pastures, while women wash vegetables in the river and youths ride their horses deep into the mountain valley.

baihaba in xinjiang 03Some of the locals run horse rental businesses, offering guided tours of the countryside for those visitors adventurous enough to take the reins! A handful of Tuvan families have even opened small hotels or restaurants, where tourists can indulge in a brief taste of their rich culture. And the good news is most Tuvan people greet their guests by giving them snacks! Normally they will receive guests with an array of delicious home-made dairy products, such as yogurt, milk wine, milk tea, and freshly baked cakes. Generally speaking, it is not considered impolite to refuse the food, but some B&Bs will welcome visitors with a Tuvan tradition involving two compulsory bowls of milk tea. The host will pour the first bowl and offer the drinker butter, which they can add to taste. As soon as the first bowl is finished, the host will fill it again. According to local belief, it is this second bowl that will grant the drinker good luck. That is, unless you’re lactose intolerant!

 

 

People’s Park in Nanning

nanning people park

Amongst the many parks in Nanning city, few boast the number of strange and wonderful attractions that People’s Park has. From the bizarrely placed cannon on its slope to the small garden that rests on the surface of the White Dragon Lake, this park features a variety of scenic spots that will appeal to historians, naturalists, and those who simply want a fun day out. The park was established in 1951 and is located in downtown Nanning, so it’s within easy reach if you’re planning a trip to the city.

The People’s Park in Nanning is not to be confused with many of the other “People’s Parks” across China. The term “People’s” Park, or Renmin Park, was popularised in 1949 to express the solidarity and importance of the people during the rise of Communism in China. These parks still stand as a testament to the unity and strength of the Chinese people.

As you enter the gate of the park, you’ll immediately come upon the Wangxian Slope. “Wangxian” literally means “to gaze at immortals” in Chinese and this strange, ethereal hillside, with its thick forest and 10-metre-wide stone steps, is so-called because it directly faces Qingxiu Mountain. Supposedly, if you look out towards the mountain, you may catch sight of Luo Xiu, a scholar from the Jin Dynasty (265-420) who achieved immortality through the practice of Taoist alchemy. We’re not quite sure what he does all day but, if you see him, be sure to give him a polite nod and a wave.

The 141 stone steps leading up the slope symbolise the 91 enterprises that were built after the liberation of China in 1949 and the 50 programs that were settled in 1950. As you ascend the slope, you’ll soon catch sight of the Zhenning Cannon. Originally this site was once an ancestral temple dedicated to six historical figures who had each contributed to the development of Nanning. This temple was built during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) but was tragically dismantled in 1917 by the warlord Lu Rongting and replaced with a huge cannon. This cannon was made in 1890 by Krupp of Germany and has a firing range of 12,000 meters, although we hope that no one plans to test it again anytime soon. Alongside this cannon, you’ll also find battlements, barracks and forts, which seem rather out of place in this peaceful city park. Yet Lu Rongting’s army weren’t the first to settle in this seemingly idyllic place.

南宁人民公园01According to historical texts from the Southern Song Dynasty, when General Di Qing (1008–1057) went to Guangxi to suppress a rebellion that was happening in the region, he stationed his troops in modern-day People’s Park. When he looked down from Wanxiang Slope, he noticed a strange white figure floating on the surface of the lake. He stared at it long and hard, until a colleague pointed out that it was simply the reflection of a flock of sheep drinking on the bank! The General named it White Dragon Lake, after the shape of the sheep’s reflection. Nowadays there are no dragons, or sheep, hiding in the lake, but there are over 100,000 multi-coloured koi carp in its waters and beautifully carved bridges connecting its many islands and banks. On a warm sunny day, you can take a stroll along the bridges, feed the fish or take a paddleboat out onto the shimmering waters.

In keeping with the military aesthetic, there is also the Revolutionary Martyrs Monument on the northeast section of Wangxian Slope. This moving tribute to the revolutionists who lost their lives during the Great Revolution (1924-1927), the Anti-Japanese War (1937-1945) and the Liberation War (1947-1949) is a spot of reverence for many Chinese people and is decked out in flowers during the Tomb Sweeping Festival[1].

However, if you’re not historically inclined, we recommend a visit to the park’s Botanical Garden, where you can feast your eyes on a selection of over 80,000 plants. The garden contains many rare flowers, including numerous types of orchid, a 1,000-year-old banyan tree, and the largest ball cactus in Guangxi. At over 52 centimetres in diameter, the cactus is about the size of a large chair, but rest assured, no matter how tired you are, you definitely don’t want to sit on it.

If huge cannons, white dragons, and chair-sized cactuses aren’t enough to draw you in, there’s also a small amusement park, underground icehouse, numerous lovely pavilions, and a charming White Dragon restaurant. With all of these strange delights on offer, we’re sure you’ll find something in People’s Park that’ll make your day.

 

 

[1] Tomb Sweeping Festival: Sometimes referred to as Qingming Festival or Ancestor’s Day. It takes place on April 4th or 5th each year and is predominantly a day to pay respects to the deceased.