Ping’an Village

Ping'an Village 01

Ping’an Village has become by far one of the most famous locations to witness and hike up the magnificent Longji Rice Terraces of Longsheng County. It is located about 100 kilometres (62 miles) away from Guilin city and is home to over 50 families, with a population of about 200 people in total. The vast majority of people living in Ping’an are of the Zhuang ethnic minority and so it is sometimes referred to as Ping’an Zhuang Village. These Zhuang locals have been living in this area for over 600 years and their ancestors built the Longji Rice Terraces that are still in use today. These rice terraces stretch up the mountain, from 300 metres up to 1,100 metres above the sea level, and were first built during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), although they were not finished until the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

The rice terraces near Ping’an are considered to be the earliest and most developed in the Longji Scenic Area, which is why Ping’an is the most popular village for tourists. This has both its advantages and its pitfalls. Since Ping’an is far more tourist oriented than the other villages, there are plenty of guesthouses, restaurants and other modern amenities available there that the other villages simply aren’t equipped with. That being said, the downside of this is that Ping’an is far more crowded than the other villages so, if you want a more rugged, remote tour of the rice terraces, perhaps Ping’an is not the place for you.

The village of Ping’an is characterised by its 80 households, which are three-storey stilted wooden houses that have lasted for over 100 years. Like the Miao ethnic minority, the Zhuang people also refer to these houses as Diaojiaolou, although the architectural style greatly differs from that of its Miao counterpart. The Zhuang Diaojiaolou are built on flat ground, unlike those of the Miao people, and each of the three storeys will have a hemp railing. The top two storeys are supported by the large wooden pillars below and are used mainly as living spaces. The bottom or ground floor is used as a stable for domestic animals. All of these little homes, stacked next to one another in neat wooden piles, make the village of Ping’an look rather quaint and adorable.

The Zhuang people living in Ping’an still maintain many of their ethnic customs, so Ping’an is also a wonderful place to experience the daily life of the Zhuang ethnic minority. The men wear hand woven long sleeved shirts and trousers whilst the women wear white shirts, black pants and colourful cloths or wraps atop their heads. This traditional dress is far simpler than many other ethnic minorities and reflects the humble, industrious lifestyle of the Zhuang people. As you walk through the streets of Ping’an, you’ll notice that village life has remained largely the same for decades. The adults still diligently farm the fields, the children still play with their modest toys, and the elderly still sit on their doorsteps, chatting or snacking on sunflower seeds. With the backdrop of the golden rice terraces in the distance, Ping’an is truly a rural paradise.

The two main attractions in the village are the two scenic spots known as “Seven Stars Surrounding the Moon” and “Nine Dragons and Five Tigers”. “Seven Stars Surrounding the Moon” consists of seven small piles that stand separately in the middle of seven rice paddies. These seven piles are remnants from the construction of the rice paddies. There is another, empty rice paddy in the centre and, when it is filled with water, it is said to look like a small moon with the seven piles surrounding it resembling the stars. “Nine Dragons and Five Tigers” are nine ridges that have branched off from the main terrace and five nearby piles leftover from their construction. The nine ridges look like nine dragons winding their way towards the Jinsha River to drink and the five piles resemble five tigers guarding the dragons and the land. These two scenic spots provide a perfect birds-eye view from which to admire and take photographs of the rice terraces billowing out across the mountains.

From Ping’an, there are many hiking trails along the Longji Rice Terraces, the shortest of which will normally take about 2 hours. You can also hike from Ping’an to Longji Village, which takes about 2 hours, and, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can hike from Ping’an to Dazhai, which takes 5 to 6 hours. In this case, it is advisable that you stay overnight in either Ping’an or Dazhai. These hikes are a wonderful way to exercise, enjoy the fresh mountain air, and wander through the terraced fields at your own pace. These rice terraces look particularly beautiful at sunrise and sunset, meaning any traveller would benefit from an overnight stay in Ping’an.

Accommodation

Since Ping’an has been developed as a tourist site, the facilities and hotels in the region are much better than in other villages. The village boasts about 80 hostels and hotels, which are all of a good standard. Li An Lodge, a four-storied hotel located on top of the rice terraces near to the “Seven Stars Surrounding the Moon” scenic area, is considered to be the best hotel in the area. The stunning views from its balconies and its beautifully decorated rooms have made it exceedingly popular with tourists. However, the hotel only has 20 rooms and they can be quite expensive so it is important to book well in advance.

Dining

There are plenty of lovely restaurants in Ping’an that offer a variety of home-cooked, local cuisine. The most popular local dish is called Bamboo Rice and consists of roasted meat, rice, taro or pumpkin and spices that have been stuffed into a fresh bamboo tube. The bamboo tube is then filled with a small amount of water and sealed using a corn cob. The tube is roasted on an open fire until the bamboo has turned black and the ingredients are thoroughly cooked. The soft roasted rice absorbs the tender flavours of the bamboo and spices, giving this dish its distinctive flavour. Other local dishes include a kind of locally cured and preserved bacon and a spicy sauce known as Longji Spicy Chilli Sauce that is made from locally sourced chillies.

How To Get There

Ping’an is the most accessible village in the Longji Rice Terrace Scenic Area. First you need to take the express bus from Guilin to Longsheng County Town, which takes about 2 hours. The buses between Guilin and Longsheng are very regular and usually run at 15-minute intervals. In Longsheng you’ll need to purchase your tickets for the rice terraces. From Longsheng, you’ll have to take another bus to Ping’an Parking Lot, which should only take you about an hour. The parking lot is not actually in Ping’an so you’ll need to walk about another 20 minutes to get into the village proper. If you are only taking a day trip to Ping’an, you’ll need to arrive and leave early. The last bus from Ping’an to Longsheng departs at 4.30pm every day, so be sure not to miss it!

We recommend you bring some warmer clothes with you and a raincoat, as the rice terraces will get cooler as you ascend them and the wind makes it difficult to carry an umbrella if it rains. Please also remember to ask permission of any of the locals before taking photos of them.

Sanbao Dong Village

sanbao

Long ago, it is said that there was once a huge lake in Rongjiang County, with three rivers running into it. In each river there lived a dragon and, every so often, the dragons would gather in the lake to play. One year, there was a thunderous monsoon that rained for nine days and nine nights, raising the water level of the rivers and disturbing the three dragons. The thunder became louder and louder, until eventually one deafening crash scared the three dragons so much that they all swam into the South China Sea, leaving behind only three precious treasures. When the Dong people’s ancestors arrived, they found each of the treasures and settled three villages there, as it seemed like an auspicious location. The three villages then came to be known collectively as “Sanbao” or “The Three Treasures”.

Magical though this story may seem, there are actually about 19 small villages that make up Sanbao, with three main villages, known as Shangbao, Zhongbao, and Xiabao, being acknowledged as the treasures. When you live in a place called “The Three Treasures” and your village isn’t one of them, I can’t imagine it does much for your confidence! Overall Sanbao boasts about 2,500 households and a population of over 13,000 people, making it the largest Dong village in China. So, unless you’ve seen any Dong villages sprouting up near you lately, this means it’s probably the largest Dong village in the world.

Duliu River SanbaoThis cluster of villages is just 5 kilometres from Rongjiang City and lies along the banks of the Duliu River. Sanbao is flanked by stunning banyan trees, many of them over 300 years old, which stretch for over a kilometre along the river’s banks. Most of them were planted during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and, after hundreds of years of uninterrupted growth, their roots and branches have intertwined lovingly. A cobbled path winds its way around these banyan trees, dubbed “Flower Street” by the locals, and at the end stands a statue of a man named Zhu Feng and a woman named Lang Mei, the veritable Romeo and Juliet of Dong folklore. When even the trees are embracing, you know that love is in the air!

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. It towers in at 15 metres (50 ft.) in height but is tragically no match for the village’s local behemoth! The Sanbao Drum Tower, which was built in 2001, is over 36 metres (118 ft.) tall and holds the Guinness World Record for largest drum tower in the world. Though it’s not physically as large, this makes it taller than Buckingham Palace!

Alongside these spectacular architectural achievements, the village also boasts nine temples dedicated to the goddess Sa Sui. She is one of the most important deities in the Dong canon and her temples serve as perfect examples of the elegance and decorative quality of Dong architecture. In a place this scenic, you’ll soon realise why they named it “The Three Treasures”. Let’s just hope the dragons don’t decide to come back!

 

Join our travel to enjoy the fantastic Dong performance in Sanbao Village: Explore the culture of Ethnic minorities in Southeast Guizhou

Sanjiang

Sanjiang

With the stunning Rong River, Xun River and Miao River winding their way through its mountainous expanse, the name Sanjiang or “Three Rivers” is particularly befitting to this county. Located in the north of Guangxi, Sanjiang refers to both the county and county-level city, which lie on the border between Guizhou to the northwest and Hunan to the northeast. The city acts as a central hub between these three regions and is constantly alive with the hustle and bustle of travellers making their way across southern China. It is the capital of the Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County and thus over half of its population is made up of ethnically Dong people.

The city was established in 1105 during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and is itself relatively unremarkable, as it is made up primarily of concrete high-rises and modern shopping districts. However, this modernity is punctuated by several Dong-style buildings, including the city’s very own drum tower. Though most of these structures were built relatively recently and were artificially aged, they are none-the-less beautiful and provide a stark contrast to the contemporary new builds. In most places, it’s “out with the old, in with the new”, but in Sanjiang it seems to be “out with the new, in with the old-looking”!

In the western part of the city, locals still hold vibrant markets where traders offer anything from fresh vegetables and handmade clothing to live chickens and discount microwaves! These markets are an organised chaos of food stalls, clothes merchants, haberdashers, fortune tellers, and the occasional street dentist. So if you need your tooth pulling out and have a loose heel on your shoe, but don’t have time to go to two places, the Sanjiang market is the place for you!

duliu river SanjiangSanjiang County encompasses several Dong villages and plays host to over 60 ancient theatrical stages, 120 wind-rain bridges, 200 drum towers, and 500 historical sites. The magnificent Wind-Rain Bridge in Chengyang, just 18 kilometres from Sanjiang City, is considered the most well-preserved of its kind, while the Mapang Drum Tower in Mapang Village, about 28 kilometres from the city, is a true masterpiece of Dong architecture that dates back to the Qing Dynasty. Yet perhaps one of Sanjiang’s greatest claims to fame is its newly built Bird’s Nest, which was designed to ape the strange beauty of its Beijing counterpart.

This architectural monolith was completed in 2010 and can be found in Guyi Town, just outside of Sanjiang City. Towering in at 27 metres (89 ft.) in height, with a diameter of 80 metres (262 ft.), this colossal stadium was built by local Dong people in their own architectural style and, like their drum towers and wind-rain bridges, was miraculously constructed without the use of nails or rivets. Dove-tailed joints are all that keep this arena together and each of its corners is bedecked with a beautiful carving of a bird; a symbol of luck in Dong culture.

Though this building may appear ancient, it seamlessly combines contemporary and traditional features in its performances. Numerous singing and dancing performances take place within its walls and are accompanied by modern lighting and sound. On the third floor, there are 66 exhibition rooms with displays about Dong folklore, customs, festive outfits, and works of art. One painting in particular, which was made by 20 local farmers and took two months to accomplish, is over 125 metres (410 ft.) long and is considered the largest of its kind in the world. After all, when it comes to art, sometimes size does matter!

 

Enjoy the amazing landscape in Sanjiang County on our travel: Explore the culture of Ethnic minorities in Southeast Guizhou

Jinkeng Red Yao Terraced Fields

The Jinkeng Terraces are the lesser known, less tourist oriented portion of the Longji Rice Terraces Scenic Area. Jinkeng is made up of several small villages, including Dazhai, Tiantou, Zhuangjie, Xinzhai and Xiaozhai, with Dazhai and Tiantou being considered the most scenic. The Jinkeng portion of the rice terraces is actually much larger than that of Ping’an village or Longji Ancient Zhuang Village but, because of the poor condition of the roads leading into the villages, it has yet to become as popular with tourists. The Jinkeng Terraces stretch up the mountains from 800 metres to a colossal 1,180 metres above sea level and their highest mountain, Fupingbao, is 1,900 metres at its peak. The hiking opportunities in Jinkeng are tremendous and we strongly recommend anyone looking for an adventure holiday in the rice terraces to opt for the villages of Dazhai or Tiantou as their base.

The main scenic spots in Jinkeng are Xishan Shaoyue or “Musical West Hill”, Dajie Thousand-Layer Terraces, and Golden Buddha Peak. Xishan Shaoyue is the first viewing platform on the mountains and offers a wonderful vantage point of the rice terraces. It is the easiest of the three scenic spots to get to and should only take about 2 hours to reach on foot. It’s a superb place to watch the sun rise and set over the rice terraces and it offers the broadest view of the Jinkeng Terraced Fields. Dajie Thousand-Layer Terraces is near to Xishan Shaoyue and there is a well-kept path on a gentle gradient leading to it so it is fairly easy to reach on foot. This area is particularly impressive due to the sheer number of rice terraces carved out of the mountains below, which perfectly exhibit the industrious work of the farmers who built them. It also offers an ideal view of the Yao villages below and is considered the perfect place to watch the sunrise.

Golden Buddha Peak is the only scenic spot that has cable car access in the Longji Scenic Area and this is simply because it is so far away! The cableway is about 1,580 metres long and takes just 20 minutes to reach the peak, although you do have to pay extra to ride the cable car. Otherwise, it’s about a 3 hour hike to reach the top, but this hike does reward you with stunning views of the rice terraces as you ascend the mountain. Golden Buddha Peak is considered the best scenic spot in Jinkeng and offers the most spectacular views of the rice terraces, particularly at sunset. If you’re feeling adventurous or you’re making an overnight stay in Dazhai or Tiantou, we strongly recommend taking the hike up the Golden Buddha Peak. Trust us, watching the sun set across the cascading mountains is a more than suitable reward.

The Jinkeng Red Yao Terraces are so named because the majority of the villages in the Jinkeng area are home to the Red Yao ethnic minority. These are a branch of the Yao ethnic minority that are named for their traditional dress. On festival occasions, the Red Yao women will wear a vibrant red coat and black pleated skirt, hence the name “Red” Yao. Yao women are also famous for growing their hair long and the best place to witness this unusual tradition is in nearby Huangluo Village.

The best time to visit the Jinkeng Rice Terraces is between April and late October, as this is when the farmers will be planting the rice. Each season affords different views of the rice terraces, so choose when you want to go carefully!

Dazhai (大寨)

“Dazhai” literally means “Large Village” in Chinese and, unsurprisingly, Dazhai is one of the largest villages in the Jinkeng area. Over 1,000 people live in the village of Dazhai and over 98% of them are from the Yao ethnic minority. Dazhai is far less crowded than Ping’an but is still reasonably well-equipped for tourism. There are just over 30 hotels and hostels in Dazhai and a number of restaurants. Although these hotels tend to be wooden and are not equipped with as many modern amenities as those in Ping’an, they offer a far more rustic feel and make you feel as though you are truly part of the village. On top of visiting the rice terraces, many of the local Yao people in Dazhai will gladly welcome you into their home and offer a glimpse of their simple, rural lifestyle.

Tiantou (田头)

“Tiantou” literally means “Head of the Fields” or “Farms” in Chinese and this aptly demonstrates the rustic atmosphere of this small village. Although Tiantou is smaller than Dazhai, it is located far closer to Xishan Shaoyue and Dajie Thousand-Layer Terraces. There are a handful of hotels in Tiantou, which make it the perfect place for an overnight stay should you wish to catch the sunrise at either of these scenic spots.

Quanjinglou or “Panorama Lodge” is considered to be the best hotel in the Jinkeng area and can be reached from both Dazhai and Tiantou. It is located not far from the Xishan Shaoyue scenic spot and has 26 rooms, which all offer outstanding views of the rice terraces.

bamboo-tube riceDining

Like Ping’an, the local cuisine in Dazhai and Tiantou is simple. Popular local dishes include bamboo-tube rice, smoked bacon fried with bamboo shoots, braised chicken, and fresh vegetables fried in oil. Many of the ingredients for the dishes will be locally sourced and taste incredibly fresh. A handful of restaurants and guesthouses in the area will offer some simple Western food, such as pizza or French fries.

How To Get There

You first need to take the express bus from Guilin to Longsheng County Town, which takes about 2 hours. The buses between Guilin and Longsheng are very regular and usually run at 15 minute intervals. In Longsheng you’ll need to purchase your tickets for the rice terraces. From Longsheng, you’ll need to take a bus to Dazhai Parking Lot, which can take up to 2 hours. At the parking lot, you can either make the short walk to Dazhai or walk to Tiantou, which takes about half an hour. Please be advised that the last bus back to Longsheng leaves from Dazhai Parking Lot at 4pm every day, so if you’re taking a daytrip to the rice terraces then you should aim to arrive and leave early.

Lucun

Lucun 01

The scenic village of Lucun is just one kilometre (0.6 mi) north of Hongcun village, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and matches it in both artistry and beauty. The village was originally established during the late Tang Dynasty (618-907), although much of its magnificent architecture dates back to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties. Of the more than 140 stunningly well-preserved buildings dotted throughout Lucun, Zhicheng Hall is considered the most spectacular.

lucunThis hall is almost entirely made out of woodcut pieces, a characteristic feature of Huizhou-style buildings. These wood carvings are so elaborate and vivid that setting foot inside this hall is sure to take your breath away. Plus you’re spoilt for choice if you ever need to knock on wood! It was constructed by the wealthy merchant turned politician Lu Bangxie during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). By that time, Lu had amassed such a colossal fortune that he had earned the nickname Lu Baiwan, meaning “Lu the Millionaire”!

The building complex consists of seven courtyards, of which Zhicheng Hall was used by Lu as his own personal living room. The interior is so exquisite and well-preserved that it is frequently used as a set for operas and television series. After all, when your name is “Lu the Millionaire”, the only thing you can’t afford is to look cheap!

Make your dream trip to Lucun Village come true on our travel: Explore Traditional Culture in Picturesque Ancient Villages

Longji Ancient Zhuang Village (Guzhuang Village)

Compared to its northern cousin Ping’an, Longji Ancient Zhuang Village is relatively isolated from the outside world and has yet to be embraced as a tourist attraction. Its Chinese name, “Guzhuang Zhai” (古壮寨), literally means “Ancient Zhuang Village” in Chinese, so it is often referred to as “Longji Ancient Zhuang Village” to differentiate it from other Zhuang villages. The “Zhuang” in its name refers to the vast numbers of people from the Zhuang ethnic minority who call this village home. Guzhuang village boasts over 200 households and a population of approximately 1,000 Zhuang people, making it technically larger and more populous than Ping’an.

Guzhuang is located about 5 kilometres east of the town of Heping and 3 kilometres southwest of Ping’an. Like Ping’an, it provides access to the Longji Rice Terraces, although there are few designated scenic spots along Guzhuang’s rice terraces as the area has not yet been geared up for tourism. The rice terraces surrounding Guzhuang are far quieter, less crowded and seemingly more natural than those of Ping’an. This is because their primary purpose is rice cultivation and not tourism. Guzhuang is the perfect rural retreat for anyone who has become tired of the bustling crowds and tourist atmosphere of Ping’an.

Guzhuang village has been home to the Liao Family Tribe, Hou Family Tribe, Pingduan Tribe and Pingzhai Tribe for over 400 years. The whole of the village’s population is made up of members from the Liao family, the Hou Family, and the Pan family, which form the four tribes. These families belong to the Baiyi or “White Clothes” branch of the Zhuang ethnic minority and are characterised by their beautifully embroidered white shirts. In keeping with its ethnic aesthetic, Guzhuang village also has the largest collection of Zhuang Diaojiaolou in China. Diaojiaolou are traditional three-storey wooden houses that have been built on large stilts in order to protect the inhabitants from insects and snakes, although styles of Diaojiaolou vary between the different ethnic minorities. The Diaojiaolou in Guzhuang are some of the oldest in the country and some even date back over 100 years.

For the benefit of visitors, one of the oldest Diaojiaolou has been opened to the public so that tourists can get an idea of what it is like living in these traditional wooden houses. Walking through these old buildings endows any visitor with a wonderful feeling of peace and many tourists spend over half a day simply wandering through the village and getting lost in its antiquated beauty. There is also a museum in the village that is dedicated to the history, culture and customs of the Zhuang ethnic minority. The museum is full of fascinating artefacts, detailed historical accounts, and traditional dress of the Zhuang people.

Other architectural features of the village dating back to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties have been wonderfully well preserved and exhibit the extensive heritage of Guzhuang. These include the Longquan Pavilion, the Site of the Military Camp, the Clean and Honest Politics Stele (Lianzheng Stele) and several water mills. The stone bridges in the village are perhaps the most elaborate structures of all. There are 300 of these stone bridges scattered throughout the Longji Rice Terrace Scenic Area, 57 of which can be found in Guzhuang. These bridges have been delicately carved with images of lotuses, swords and the eight trigrams of Bagua[1] theory. The finest of these bridges is called “Three Fish Share One Head”, which is a Wind-Rain bridge located just in front of the village’s administrative office.

To get to the village, you first need to take an express bus from Guilin to Longsheng County Town or Heping Town, which takes about 2 hours. From Longsheng or Heping, you have to transfer onto another bus heading to Guzhuang village. Alternatively, you can hike from Ping’an village to Guzhuang, which only takes about an hour. Unfortunately there are currently no established hostels or hotels in Guzhuang village and the village itself is lacking in many modern amenities, so staying there overnight is not an option. However, nearby Ping’an village has over 80 hotels and hostels that are ready to welcome any weary traveller hiking back from Guzhuang.

[1] Bagua: The eight trigrams used in Taoist philosophy to represent the fundamental principles of reality. In their most simplified form, they symbolise the sky, the lakes, fire, thunder, wind, water, mountains and earth respectively.

Baisha Village

Baisha (白沙), or “white sand”, is named for the powdery white sand that decorates the surrounding countryside. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that Lijiang Old Town and Shuhe Town both belong to, yet somehow has managed to avoid the crowds and tourist traps that plague its two historic cousins. It has become a favourite haunt for those travellers who want to engage in an authentic cultural experience without having to force their way through throngs of tourists or suffer the swarms of souvenir vendors! With its many temples, rich cultural heritage, stunning frescoes and zany homeopathic doctors, Baisha is one of the many must-see attractions in Lijiang County.

Baisha was the birthplace of the Mu clan, who were renowned for their skill and experience in city planning. They began expanding Baisha during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and by the Song Dynasty (960-1279) it had blossomed into a thriving town. It remained the political, commercial and cultural centre of the local Naxi people for over 400 years. The Mu clan ingeniously channelled water from the Jade River into a canal system within the village to provide locals with fresh water. This waterway system, coupled with the village’s beautifully preserved architecture, is what cemented its status as a World Heritage Site.

During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), the Mu clan were demoted by the Emperor to “Tusi” or chieftains, as oppose to rulers of the region. By the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), they had moved their base of operations to Dayan Town (modern-day Lijiang Old Town) and Baisha became their religious centre. Like Dayan, Baisha played a focal role as a trade hub along the ancient Tea-Horse Road. The local Naxi women were known for their exquisite silk embroidery and this precious export allowed the town to prosper and grow. This Naxi tradition carried on until 1972, when it was banned during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Many of the Naxi embroidery masters were imprisoned and tragically died in jail. The art was later revived and now thrives thanks to the Baisha Naxi Embroidery Institute.

Nowadays, the village serves as the ideal place to learn about Naxi culture and ancient Buddhist history. In the central district of the village, there are a group of temples known as “Mudu”. Many of them boast access to the stunning Baisha Frescoes, of which there are only 55 still in existence. While the frescoes are scattered throughout villages in Lijiang County, the vast majority of them can be found in Baisha. They are religious paintings reflecting famous stories from Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism and Taoism. What makes these murals so unique is that they were painted by artists from the Han, Naxi, Tibetan and Bai ethnic minorities, meaning they are a mixture of ethnic styles. Imagine how much a painting by Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso would be worth, and you get the idea!

Dabaoji Palace was built by the Mu clan in 658 AD and houses 28 of these fresco groups, featuring over 100 religious figures from various tales. They date all the way back to the Ming Dynasty and are so delicate that the flash of a camera could potentially damage them, so it goes without saying that photographs are unfortunately off-limits. The remainder of Baisha’s frescoes can be found in Dading Pavilion. The pavilion itself was built in 1572 but most of its 16 mural paintings date back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).

You won’t be able to take a memento of the frescoes with you but, if you want a beautiful souvenir, you need go no further than the Baisha Naxi Embroidery Institute! This institute was established with the aim of reviving, protecting and passing on the skill of Naxi handmade embroidery. Here Naxi embroidery masters are free to carry on this majestic art and pass their skills on to the next generation. Some Naxi embroidery masters will spend years working on a single project. One of the masters was even commissioned by Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Communist Party, to embroider a portrait of President Obama and his family, which was then presented as a gift. The students sell their work for around 250 yuan each (about £25) but work by the grand masters can go for thousands of pounds!

However, by far the most fascinating resident is Dr Ho. He’s currently 93 years old and has achieved international fame as a practitioner of ancient Chinese medicine. His clinic is plastered with newspaper articles about him, including pieces by the BBC and National Geographic. He’s fluent in English and will happily treat any ailment with his homemade herbal remedies or just talk to curious visitors about his work. His motto is “optimism is the best medicine” and, looking into his sagacious, smiling face, it’s hard to disagree!

If you fancy a longer stay, there are a handful of hotels in the village that vary in quality and price. Around the village, there are a plethora of cycling trails that provide access to temples, natural hotspots, and other charming villages. The streets are littered with stalls selling Tibetan craftworks, Naxi embroidery, and t-shirts hand-painted in either Tibetan script or the rare Dongba script[1]. Some of the best Naxi-style cuisine can be found in Baisha, as it is a paradise of restaurants and small eateries. You’ll even find a few Western-style restaurants and cafés dotted about its ancient streets. A rural paradise where you can still get a good cup of coffee; what more could you ask for?

[1] Dongba Script: The written language of the Naxi ethnic minority. It is the only known hieroglyphic writing system still in existence.

Yunshuiyao

yunshuiyao 01

Located in the south of Fujian province, Yunshuiyao is a peaceful and beautiful village with hundreds of years of history behind it, particularly with reference to the Jian clan. It is reminiscent of the legendary “Shangri-la” in its appearance and atmosphere. Most of the buildings in the village are clay houses that were built during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), including a big Ancestral Hall for the Jian family. There are several banyan trees on the riverside that are hundreds of years old. One of them is the biggest banyan tree in Fujian Province and has branches that are more than 30 meters long.

There are two famous Tulou nearby:

huaiyuan lou 01Huaiyuan lou

Huiyuan lou was built in 1909 and is a typical example of a Tulou that follows the “connected rooms” design. Because of its short history, the whole building is well preserved and thus serves as a good example of what a circular Tulou should look like.

Huaiyuan lou is four storeys high and has a diameter of 38 meters. Each of its floors has 34 rooms. Nowadays there are still 60 people living inside this Tulou.

Hegui lou01Hegui lou

Hegui lou is a very typical rectangular Tulou. It was built in 1732 and follows the “connected rooms” design. Hegui lou was originally four-storeys high. In 1864 it was destroyed by robbers during an attack, and it was subsequently rebuilt as a five-storey Tulou. The main structure of the new compound follows that of a rectangular Tulou and it has 24 rooms on each of its five floors. A hall in the yard is connected to the Ancestral Hall in the main building. There is also now a front yard to provide more space for residents.

 

Yunshuiyao is one of the many wonderful stops on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)

 

Dong Agriculture and Craftwork

dong rice

Dong people are well-known for cultivating dozens of varieties of glutinous rice, which are called “Kam rice” or “good rice”. They also typically grow maize, millet and mushrooms, and a variety of fruit, such as plums, peaches, pears, and watermelons, to supplement their diet. Dong people raise pigs, chickens, ducks, geese and fish for food, water buffalo for ploughing and for food, and dogs for protection and companionship. The “four pillars” of Dong cuisine are glutinous rice, pickled vegetables, red chillies and rice wine. Other popular local food includes barbecued fish, oil tea, and glutinous rice snacks. The Dong people also occasionally eat giant salamander, which is considered a rare local specialty. They will normally have two hot meals (breakfast and dinner) and one cold meal (lunch) every day.

dong life02Cotton is locally grown and weaved into cloth that is used to make clothes. Silks and finer cloths are exclusively used to make festival clothing. Dong men will normally wear short jackets with buttons down the middle, although in the south they wear collarless shirts and turbans. Dong women wear skirts or trousers that have beautifully embroidered hems. They wear their hair in a coil and wrap their legs and heads in decorative scarves.

Most regions where Dong villages are found are also famous for their fir trees. Dong people use the wood from these trees to build their houses and other structures in the village. They are skilful carpenters, and are also accomplished at silverwork and wickerwork. Wickerwork is usually done by the men, who use materials such as glutinous rice straw and bamboo to make baskets and other wicker furnishings.

 

 

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Langdeshang Village

Langdeshang Village, or Langde Upper Village, is an archetypal Miao village in Leishan County, Guizhou, located about 30 kilometres outside of Kaili City. It has become famous throughout China for its peaceful natural atmosphere, friendly locals and rich cultural heritage. There are only 500 villagers living in Langdeshang and all of them come from only ten different family lines. Although it is generally considered a small village, in many ways it is as impressive as the mega-cities of Beijing and Shanghai. The village has become like a museum, preserving ancient buildings and local customs that have been practised by the Miao for hundreds of years. Langdeshang’s popularity stems from the fact that the locals, with their bright smiles and kind eyes, are eager to share this cultural heritage with anyone who visits their village.

As Langdeshang is located at the foot of a mountain, the village is made up of Diaojiaolou, which are typical Miao buildings that are held up by wooden stilts and are between two to three storeys high. The front of the building is supported by pillars whilst the rear of the building is suspended on stilts that keep it level with the mountainside. These buildings are an architectural wonder, as oftentimes they have been built without the use of any nails or rivets. They are held together by means of a system of wooden joints, which lock together perfectly and give the structure stability. All of these Diaojiaolou will have been built by local carpenters and made from wood cut from the surrounding fir trees. The women in Langdeshang wear long skirts and so are often referred to as “long skirt Miao”.

The village rests by a stream and is nestled deep within the mountains. The rich green grass, the gentle chirping of the birds and the soft rays of the sun setting over the hills come together to create a wonderfully soothing atmosphere. 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 cobbles that, alongside the looming stilted houses, look incredibly picturesque.

On arrival at Langdeshang, visitors will be greeted with a traditional welcoming ceremony. Beautiful young local girls will arrive, adorned in their traditional dress, and “block the way” of the village gate. Twelve tables will be set up in the middle of the path that leads into the village. At each table, the visitors will be met with two young locals in their traditional dress. These two locals will propose a toast and the visitors must drink two bowls of “block-the-way” wine. Once they’ve reached the final table, the toast will be made with a huge bull horn that has been filled with “block-the-way” wine. However, if you plan on visiting Langdeshang but don’t want to drink too much of this wine, there’s no need to worry! All you need to do is put your hands behind your back, bend forward a little, touch the cup with your lip, and say “dousemo”, which is the Miao word for “thank you”. That way you can pass the table and move on to the next one without having to drink any wine and without causing offence. The villagers are very friendly and will not make any visitors drink if they don’t want to.

Once the toasts are complete, the villagers will set off firecrackers, play the mangtong[1], and sing the song called “Toasting the Guests”. The guests are then led to the lusheng[2] ground, where the men will play the lusheng and the young villagers will perform traditional dances. Eventually, all of the villagers will participate in the dance and the guests will be invited to join in! Imagine drinking the smooth wine, revelling in the traditional dance and then settling down at dusk, strolling around the quiet village and taking in the sultry air. We’re sure you’ll agree that Langdeshang is a truly magical place and definitely worth a visit.

[1] Mangtong: A Chinese wind instrument. It is composed of a bamboo pipe without finger holes that is fitted with a metal free reed and then placed in a larger bamboo resonator. They come in varying sizes, with the largest being up to 2 metres in length. One mangtong can only produce a single pitch, so normally several are played together.

[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.

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