a village man

Guilin to Guiyang: Southern China of the Minorities

At the end of 1999 we traveled through the Chinese province of Guizhou. We started in neighbouring Guilin, famous for its karst landscape, and moved by bus, truck, motorcycle and occasionally rented car through the then underdeveloped minority areas, ultimately ending up in Guiyang, capital of Guizhou. A fascinating journey, from one of the major tourist spots in China to some of the remotest villages, not yet discovered by the outside world. Rice terraces, wooden villages, traditional dress of Dong and Miao people, and many other  minorities of which I don’t know the name. Unfortunately, this was the time from before digital photography, so the pictures are from scanned slides, and the occasional printed photo, some of which have been deteriorating over time. I also recall that I ran out of film, so that not everything is equally well documented. Still, enough material to put together this travelogue, especially because I suspect that much of what is in the pictures won’t exist anymore, in rapidly developing China of today.


karst mountains near Guilin

Guilin:  One of China’s premier tourist spots, on account of the beautiful karst landscape along the Li River.

It is a good three hours flight from Beijing to the Chinese tourist Mecca of Guilin. Yet, strangely enough, Guilin does not have this air of a modern Chinese town that so often accompanies the development related to tourist wealth. On the contrary, it has, at least for the time being, this feel of 60’s-70’s communism; relatively low, square buildings, non-committal, the architects were definitely not inspired by the river and karst landscape that makes Guilin so famous. However, as everywhere else, development is around the corner. The entire road network in town, every street and junction, was broken up at the same time, for a new sewerage system or whatever, resulting in a complete chaos. The centre of town was one big hole. Walking on the uneven sandy stretches was difficult, but this did not stop any of the vendors from getting on with their business, and in the middle of the chaos you could still find plenty of people selling shish kebab, saté, shoes and children’s toys.

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village woman near Longsheng

Longsheng: A rather Spartan hotel, wooden minority villages and spectacular rice terraces in the area around Longsheng.

After our last comfortable night in Guilin, and a decent meal in the local top restaurant, we were ready for the rest of our trip, no doubt a lot rougher, through the remote territory to Guiyang. Next day we left early, by bus to Longsheng. As the only available bus was a sleeper bus, we were transported horizontally for four hours, not at all uncomfortable apart from the collective smell of feet from all other passengers, who had taken off their shoes. It was either this, or the icy early morning wind through the open window: we opted for the latter.

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outhouse over a pond near Sanjiang

Sanjiang: The pleasant market town of Sanjiang contrasts somewhat with the model Dong-village of Chengyang and its bridges.

The following day we took the bus to Sanjiang, our next target. Although the bus left at 8 in the morning, it took another 20 minutes of driving around to fill up with sufficient passengers to make the trip worthwhile for the driver. At one point some 10 passengers got off again, leaving all their belongings on the bus. Two minutes later the bus stopped at what looked like a checkpoint, where passenger lists were reviewed and checked against people on board, all duly found in order. And the bus drove on, only to stop another 200 m further, where the 10 who left earlier got back on board. Make of this whatever you like.

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two women outside Tongle

Tongle: A journey full of problems, and full of spectacular views, to the surprisingly unhelpful village of Tongle.

We were supposed to meet Mr. Li, the director of the local travel agency, at six pm, but he was not in his office, so we left again, telling his secretary that we would be in the hotel. Typical, yet another one of those Chinese who felt so powerful as director, that he could ignore appointments. That, however, proved to be wrong. Mr. Li turned up half an hour later in our hotel, stumbling into our room, obviously drunk, and all apologetic, because he had been drinking with friends, you see, and that was why he was late. We could smell that, too. We were so taken by his honesty, that we arranged our tour for the next morning with him, anyhow.

Mistake again. Read more

a woman in Zhaoxing

Zhaoxing: Another long travel day brought us via the village of Diping and more beautifull scenery to basket weaving Zhaoxing.

The target for the next day was Zhaoxing. First we had to backtrack to the ‘main’ road, where we were dumped at the junction, as our bus went back to Sanjiang. However, we were lucky enough to pick up a bus in the other direction within 20 minutes. This one was, despite the high turnover of passengers, continuously overcrowded, and the driver frequently refused passengers who tried to flag down the bus, only to let in again if others got off. Looks like there is a lucrative business opportunity, here. A full bus is especially funny if the driver breaks in an emergency – other breaking is considered waste of petrol -, with the predictable effect of all standing passengers falling forward onto those sitting, including the chicken and the goats. In Gao’an, where the turn off to Zhaoxing is, the Dong taxi was waiting, and together with six other passengers packed in the back, we set off for a slow and uncomfortably, bumpy 1.5 hrs ride to Diping, where we were supposed to pick up a connection.

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old man on the way to Kali

Kali: The road to Kali passes through several villages and towns with attractive markets, but even more spectacular are the various Miao and Dong minorities along the way.

We left early from Zhaoxing, by truck this time. The truck was full of people, and full of all sorts of ware, but only upon arriving in Luoxing we realized that it was market day here. People travel from all over the area to this village, which for one day per week becomes the centre of the universe, a bustling metropolis of vendors and buyers, and countless lookers-on. There is no through traffic on market day, so to catch the bus to Congjiang, the next sizable village, we had to traverse the main street, in between the market stalls, all the colorful people, who were just as curious about us as we were about them. And we had to traverse the pig market, a pandemonium at one end of town, where hundreds of pigs and piglets of all sizes were transferred from trucks into cages, and when sold, put into purpose-made baskets for the new owner to take home. Pigs are not normally noisy, but they do scream when moved from truck to cage, or, worse, from cage to basket.

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old woman on the way to Guiyang

Guiyang: The last stretch, to Guiyang, goes past Anshun and its tourist attractions, and once more many different minority people.

Guiyang could be reached by train, so we treasured the change, initially. But the line was single track, and we were confronted with long waits at stations, for trains from the opposite direction. It was now snowing, which did not help the train traffic, nor the temperature development in the unheated carriage. So for the next leg, to Anshun, our last target, we changed back to bus again.

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