In Chinese, Xijiang (西江) means simply ‘West of the River’ and since it is one of the largest cluster of Miao hamlets, it is officially called the ‘One Thousand Household Miao Village”西江千户苗寨’. At the entrance of Xijiang, you will even see signs that announce that it is the ‘largest Miao village in the world’ – a pretty interesting claim since we find the Miao ethnic group only in China. Scholars may say that we also find members of a sub-group of the Miao, the Hmong, in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.
The village is located southeast of the town of Kaili (凯里) in southeastern Guizhou, deep in a valley. The drive from Kaili on a narrow windy road at the bottom of steep valley covered with lush green forests is worth the detour. If you are not sure how to get to Kaili, read my post about the high-speed train network in the southwest.
Whether Xijiang is really worth a detour, I will let you tell me, but judging by the road and a classical Guizhou landscape, I thought I had arrived in a paradise lost in a misty valley or another version of the James Hilton’s Shangrila.
Expensive Entrance fee
Xijiang is not some mystical Miao village perched in the foggy mountains of Guizhou. Xjiang is a major tourist attraction for those who want to consume the culture of the Miao and I was one of them.
In a capitalist economy like China, consumption of cultural good is never free, I headed to the ticket office (售票处) which is located on the left-hand side of a brand new square, right above the parking lot and the bus station.
“我有没有听错了啊？门票一百块钱？” (Did I hear you right? The entrance ticket cost 100 RMB?).
The friendly-like-a-prison-door staff did explain to me that yes, entering the world’s largest Miao village comes at a price, 100 RMB (16 US$) exactly.
She forgot to mention that the price of the ticket does not include the bus ride (20 RMB) from the entrance gate to the village, two kilometres away. If you are cheap, it is actually a pretty nice walk along the river (except for all the electric buses).
One thousand households and many tourists
Xijiang is a scenic spot operated by a local company. The “world largest Miao village” does attracts a lot of domestic and foreign tourists. The area located in the immediate surroundings of the Wind and Rain Bridges, you will find a plethora of restaurants, trinket stores, silver jewellery shops and guesthouses. The main street along the river looks like a rural strip mall rather than a Miao village.
For those who want to take their experience of the Miao ‘culture’ in Xijiang a little further, you can also rent a traditional costume and have your picture taken by the river.
There were a lot of construction going on (more guesthouses) and with the crowd, Xijiang was not as quiet and peaceful I thought it might be. After having explored the two quiet villages of Langde (郎德) and Matang (麻塘), I was puzzled by the amount of tourists and commercialisation.
During Chinese national holidays and the Miao traditional festivals, tourists flock to Xijiang by thousands and the atmosphere would be best described by the Chinese word “热闹” (renao) – bustling with noise and excitement!
Looking for a quiet time
There is a stone path that runs on both sides of the river and you can walk from a Wind and Rain bridge to another, a few steps from the main street and all the tourists. If you are looking for some quiet time away from the crowd and want to take a closer look at these impressive structures, it is the perfect spot.
The eight villages of Xijiang are built on both sides of the river on steep slopes. Flights of cobblestone stairs between the wooden houses will take you uphill, the higher you go, the further you get from the crowds.
You can wander endlessly in the narrow streets of the village, get an impressive viewpoint on the village and catch a glimpse at how the Miao people live.
Xijiang did not turn out to be the place I had imagined. The expensive entrance ticket, the commercialisation of the main street and the crowd were definite drawbacks to my liking of the place, yet the view you get from the top of the village (if it’s not foggy and drizzling like it was the day I got there) is still impressive.
When I arrived at the main entrance of Xijiang, there was a performance by Miao women and men in traditional costumes. I assume its main purpose was to welcoming and seeing off the tourists (and possibly making us forget about the price of the ticket).
Slow-pace Miao dance which allows the visitor the get a clear look at the Miao women sumptuous dresses and heavy silver jewelry. Also, I was able to get a closer at the traditional instruments that the men were playing. The xiao and the lusheng.
The xiao is a hybrid of a saxophone and a flute in bamboo, while the lusheng looks like a bamboo oboe.
Spending the night
There are plenty of options for all types budgets from the most basic guesthouse to the 4-star(ish) looking hotel by the river. Spending the night in Xijiang will give you the occasion to (possibly) experience the village with fewer tourists and mingle with the locals.
Xijiang is big. There are guesthouse and hotels on the main streets, but also on both sides of the river, higher up on the hills. Make sure you visit a bunch of them before choosing.
How to get there
There is one bus every 1.5 hour from Kaili main bus station (洗马河客运站) to Xijiang. From Xijiang back to Kaili, it is the same frequency with the last bus leaving at around 5 pm.
Kaili 凯里 is integrated into the high-speed train network and travel time between Guiyang has been dramatically reduced. You can now easily plan to travel to this part of Guizhou and visit a few villages around Kaili 凯里 before going on with your itinerary.