In the land of the Dong in Guizhou | Xiaohuang village

 

In the Land of the Dong

The Dong ethnic village of Xiaohuang (小黄) is situated at a half-an-hour from Gaozeng (高增), up in the foggy hills of southeastern Guizhou province (贵州省). You will drive on the windy and bumpy road makes that lead to the village will make you feel like Xiaohuang (小黄) is a remote place.

When I visited Xiaohuang and other Gaozeng (高增) near Congjiang (从江) in October 2013, I found hamlets unspoiled by tourism where travelers can get a genuine and authentic experience of rural ethnic life.

Xiaohuang has not yet been transformed into an ethnic theme park for tour groups like the Miao village of Xijiang, the largest Miao village in the world. There are signs of coming change.

In front of the Wind and Rain bridge that marks the entrance of Xiaohuang, a parking lot is being built and behind the village gate, a new drum tower was under construction in the middle of a not-yet paved esplanade.

Driving by the village of Baba (岜扒村)

In the Land of the Dong

From Gaozeng (高增) to Xiaohuang, you will drive pass by the village of Baba (岜扒村). Before entering in the village, you will get an incredible view at the roofs, the paddy fields and the drum tower. It reminded be of quiet villages in Europe where the church’s bell tower is the highest building.

Wind and Rain bridges

In the Land of the Dong

The main reason why I ventured to Xiaohuang was to get a look at the village’s Wind and Rain bridges which will never cease to amaze me.

The most impressive one is located at the entrance of the village. It stretches across the river and the paddy fields. Although the stone piers and the wooden upper structure of the bridge is impressive, there are no decoration in the corridor. Yet, it is an outstanding deployment of carpentry skills.

In the Land of the Dong

There is another outstanding Wind and Rain bridge that links the lower to the upper village as well as small minor bridges in the village. Some of them look in bad shape and in need of repair work, but they are still standing.

Dong drum towers

In the Land of the Dong

On your way to Baba and Xiaohuang, you will drive through Gaozeng and pass by other Dong villages which all have at least one drum tower. The decorations, frescoes and miniatures carved on these pagoda-shaped structure are all different and they all tell a different stories.

If you enjoy ethnic minority architecture, you will probably want to stop in every village to get a closer look at them. Today, drum towers are the gathering places of the elderly. They sit by the fire on wooden bench, chat, smoke, play cards, watch TV or practice singing. They are the best place to spend some time with the locals and practice you sign language skills (most of the elderly do not speak Chinese Mandarin).

How to get there

 

The get to Xiaohuang and the surrounding  villages, you will have to get to Congjiang (从江) first. Congjiang is a small town located in southeastern Guizhou province, on the border with Guangxi province.

There are direct buses from Kaili (凯里), Zhaoxing (肇兴), Rongjiang (榕江), Guiyang (贵阳) and Sanjiang (三江) in Guangxi province – the gateway to the Chengyang Dong hamlets. From Kaili and Guiyang, it is a five to six hours bus journey. There is a motorway all the way from Guiyang and Kaili, but it stops in Luoxiang (洛香) and from Luoxiang it’s a bumpy mountain road through villages.

Congjiang will be directly linked to the highway soon (viaducts and bridges are under construction to link Congjiang to Luoxiang), which will cut travel time and bring more tourists.

There are no direct bus connection to the surrounding villages, you will have to hire a driver to go to tour Baba, Xiaohuang. On your way there, make sure to also stop in Gaozeng.

In the Land of the Dong

Where to stay

At the moment, your best option in Congjiang (从江) is the Aoyue Hotel (奥悦酒店) which was recently renovated. You can get a room for 200 RMB. The best is that the carpet does not stick to you socks and there is an abundance of restaurants nearby.

From the bus station, walk for about ten minutes on the main (and only street), you will pass by a couple of other hotels and guesthouses that look deserted.

The exact address of Aoyue Hotel is : Guangjiang Dongnan Road #9 (关江东南路9号). Call them at this number to book a room : 0855-6411808.

There are 7 comments

  1. pbrasser

    We visit Xiaohuang and Baba end of June 2014, what ever plans there were for tourist development, it has come to an standstill, yes there is an unused parking lot and an kind of entrance both abounded. I can not see real tourist development here, the places are very remote an I have the impression that the local population is not that interested in visitors.
    Well worth to visit, we included Baisha and Geozeng, both well worth the trip, the hotel recommended by Gaetan is not bad at all, we had a suite for 328 rmb, staff is very friendly and helpfully. After the big disappointment of Zhaoxing this villages were a big relief!

  2. Josema

    All Congjiang area is changing fast. I travel in there along 20 years. I live just beside the area in Liuzhou county (Guangxi). Modernity is what all desire, include locals. In fact they are tired to see their poor lifes and just sometimes see some Chinese or foreigners tourist arrive their places with a camera and pretending pay as little as possible for accommodation and free photos. Tourist took many photos and profits from these local poor places but just never think if locals like to be so poor. In fact: they don’t like, and they pretend to be same that the tourist who came to take photos with fashion and expensive clothes and cameras.
    Tourist just see a pity for locals become changing to same tourist life style. But tourist back their warm homes and just want enjoy the photos with friends explaining about those poor places “and how original those are”.

    Let Xiaohuang people made some money now and let their youth people back home and no need to migrate to Guangdong factories (maybe the tourist never have see in Xiaohuang there are not middle young people, all are in other provinces working very hard because extra money) … Let them back home and open small hotel to let massive industrial city tourist come and pay for their photos.
    The dream of the tourist is not the dream of the local people.
    I travel 20 years in Guizhou, I live a poor live long time to survive in China … so I want to be like the tourist with the camera and not the hard worker I have bee and I am (just for the tourist photo)
    Chinese tourist will bring more comfortable life to local Chinese … that’s a thing the foreigner tourist never do and just want to see the most poor places and keep that places very poor for their photos … and that is what the Chinese city people want to change about their poor village families.

    1. Gaetan

      Thank you very much for your comment. With the train and high speed train, Congjiang area and other remote areas in China are changing very vast.
      You’re right. China’s development is not harmonious and many places are still very poor. Nobody likes to be poor. I disagree with you when you say that ‘foreign tourists just want to see the most poor places and keep the places very poor for their photos’. This is not true and it does not make sense.
      When I arrived to Xiaohuang, I did not know the village was very poor. I did not go there because I wanted to see poor people. I went there because I wanted to see a new place. You cannot say something like: “Chinese tourist will bring more comfortable life to local Chinese … that’s a thing the foreign tourists never do … and keep the places very poor for their photos”. This is simply not true.
      Fencing off a village and charging an entrance fee, letting people open hotels and sell souvenir does not always work. In Chengyang, most tourists come for the day only and do not stay or eat in the village, they pay the 60 RMB entrance fee (which by the way is not redistributed to local families), walk through the village with a guide, watch a performance by local people and then leave. They don’t spend money in the village and local people are still poor. In Shangrila in Yunnan, most of the people who opened shops and guesthouse are Han Chinese and most local ethnic minorities are left out of the development of tourism in the region and are still very poor.
      I am glad that China wants to improve rural people’s living condition, but when you say that foreign tourists want to keep a place poor to take pictures, it simply does not make sense.

    2. pbrasser

      Dear Josema, my wife and I are foreign tourist and share the same passion for off the beaten track villages, yes we take pictures, but that is not the only thing we do, we spend money on local markets, restaurants and hostels, hotels taxi and cars.
      In fact what we observe many times that probably the backpackers and solo tourist like often foreign but not always spend a lot more in the local community than the tourist groups they pay the tour organisation and you can image how little ends up in the pockets of the local community. When we travel ourselves we are price conscious that is correct but very often we choose the service from an elderly person and pay double if we feel that person is struggling to make ends meet, we sometimes buy small items and give it away in the next place in order to help local communities. I am convinced that there are many other travellers doing the same. It can not be easy as you write how poor you was for a long time, but try not to be black and white In your thoughts, there are many colours between black and white.
      We love China and have been there many times and yes every time we tell back home what a wonderful country China and how nice Chinese people are in general!
      Obviously we had bad experience also some times, but we do not allow that to make as bitter and condemn the whole country. China has archived so much in such a short period and yes not all is perfect, we have travelled in many countries and believe me, there is no perfect country, all have pluses and minusses!
      We will arrive beginning of June in China and will visit many places Gaetan has mentioned in this blog and other in the month of June and the first week of July, if you want we maybe can meet and have a drink or so in the place you live, if it is in the area we will visit

  3. Grey Fox

    I passed briefly through Xiaohuang village last Saturday, March 19, 2014 on the way to another Dong village. My impression is that the transformation to “ethnic theme park” is ongoing rapidly, and the focus appears to be on making piles of money for whomever is financing development surely not the original residents of Xiaohuang. Villagers are employed at construction and hopefully will remain employed after the high speed rail station is opened, but much of the traditional way of life will be lost. The anticipated hordes of mostly Chinese tourists from urban centres will undoubtedly come and go with a belief that they have tuned in to and linked with an ancient and authentic way of life. Perhaps the Dong will maintain and find ways to keep vital some elements of their community identity, but the effort will be challenged at every turn by modernity.

    1. Gaetan

      Thank you very much for reporting on the ongoing change in Xiaohuang. You’re right. The focus is always to making pile of money while locals’ standards of living does not change. Some traditions will be maintained and showed to tourists so they can take pictures. The way China is developing its domestic mass-tourism is sometimes disturbing and always lead to the commodification and commercialization of a place. Money is always the key.
      Development of tourism focuses only on a certain area and what is outside this area usually remains untouched, I bet the situation in the other Dong village was quite different, wasn’t it?

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