The southwestern province of Guizhou might lack the tourism cachet of its better-known neighbors, Sichuan and Yunnan, but for visitors it offers much in the way of historical architecture, natural beauty and cultural diversity.
The province's porous limestone landscape, integrating mountains, rivers, waterfalls, caves, lakes and forests, also features a number of sites relating to the Red Army's long occupation.
Huangguoshu Falls in the southwestern province of Guizhou. Photo Credit: Courtesy of China National Tourist Office
Guiyang, the capital city of Guizhou, lies in the center of the province, making it an excellent base from which to explore the key tourist sites. Guiyang, which has a population of about 3.5 million, is a major and varied industrial city (including a sizable domestic pharmaceuticals presence), producing traditional Chinese medicines as well as Western medicines.
Guiyang straddles the Nanming River, and its attractions are a mix of old and new. Key scenic spots include Red Maple Lake, which contains 192 islands, and Huaxi Park, famous for its mountains and rivers. There is a continual hum of construction and development, and a new exhibition and conference center includes five-star hotels and some architecturally stunning office blocks and towers.
The focal landmark of the city is the Jiaxiu Building, a three-story pavilion that was constructed in 1597 and is located on Turtle Rock, a large base set in the Nanming River. Crossing the Fuyu Bridge brings visitors to the Cuiwei Garden, which integrates a temple and a courtyard. Another important structure is Hongfu Temple, built in 1667 and the largest temple of Zen Buddhism in the province.
The Jiaxiu Building in the capital city, Guiyang. Photo Credit: Courtesy of China National Tourist Office
The ancient town of Qingyan is a popular tourist attraction to the south of Guiyang city center. It was originally Qingyan Castle, built during the Ming Dynasty in the late 14th century. Set within stone walls, the old town preserves one city gate, three stone memorial archways, four streets and many lanes paved with flagstones and lined with wooden houses. Temples and pavilions are also found in the ancient town.
Two museums worth visiting are the Guizhou Provincial Museum and the Guizhou Museum of Marriage Customs of Ethnic Minorities.
About 16 million of Guizhou's population of around 40 million are members of ethnic minorities, including Miao, Buyi, Dong, Tujia and Yi, and for many tourists, the main attraction in visiting provinces such as Guizhou is experiencing these cultures firsthand. Tours are available that take visitors to the areas where minorities such as Miao and Dong are located.
The Miao village in Xijiang, which is a major tourist destination. Photo Credit: Roger Allnutt
East of Guiyang, the Miao ethnic group has lived in the Qiandongnan Autonomous Prefecture for generations. The road to get there passed through hilly country that did not appear to be very good agricultural land. Many of the hillsides were terraced. Hay had just been cut and was arranged on the ground in piles shaped like small tents. In the small villages, residents wore traditional garb: The older women in particular wore headwear that appeared to be draped with scarves or had their hair in a bun on top of their head with a flower pinned to the front.
The village of Xijiang houses over 6,000 Miao and is a major tourist destination for both Chinese and international visitors. The village is set alongside a narrow stream with traditional houses on both sides, many perched on steep hillsides above the river. Most of the houses had corn piled up or hanging under cover from rafters drying out to be used for feeding animals during the colder months. Many of the locals continued to go about their daily activities, such as tilling the soil, while groups of older men watched tourists meandering through the village.
There were small shops selling silver bracelets and other souvenirs, and sticky rice was being pounded in a large vessel. Restaurants had carved signs offering dishes such as offal hot pot and Miao blood sausage. Guizhou cuisine is spicy but to my palate not as hot as Sichuan cuisine; at a banquet held at the nearby city of Kaili to welcome our group, one speciality was a sweet-and-sour soup with catfish.
However, the main attraction was the show held twice daily on a large stage surrounded by seated and standing tourists that showcased traditional activities of the Miao people.
Colorful costumes were worn by all participants, dancing to music played by men playing a variety of instruments; strings, wind instruments and drums of all shapes and sizes. There was even a choir of older members of the community, the women in colorful dresses, the men in black, Miao-style tunics.
A choir of older members of the community in Xijiang village, which is home to over 6,000 Miao. Photo Credit: Roger Allnutt
These shows seemed to involve members of the audience being encouraged to mimic the actions of cast members, much to the amusement of the Chinese crowd.
Guiyang is the perfect base for touring this part of Guizhou province, and like many other areas of China, the number and standard of hotels is high. International chains like Sheraton, Renaissance, Kempinski, Howard Johnson and Ramada are located in Guiyang, while local high-end hotels include the Regal Poly and He House Art Boutique Hotel.