Located north of the rice terraces of Longji (龙脊梯田) near Longsheng (龙胜) and the Guilin (桂林) / Yangshuo (阳朔) region in Guangxi province, Chengyang (程阳) is an ethnic villages of China that is worth a detour. The main attraction of the area : this Wind and Rain bridge (风雨桥), the Yongji Bridge (永济桥).
If you are traveling in the region of Guilin/Yangshuo and are also planning to pay the Longsheng rice terrace a visit, I recommend you allow yourself an extra few days on your trip and head north. I promise that the sight of this Wind and Rain bridge and the Dong villages behind it will not let you down.
Chengyang (程阳) is a Dong village located just four hours by bus north of Guilin. Chengyang region is cluster of eight villages of the Dong ethnic minority (侗族), on the northern tip of Guangxi province, within hours from the Dong villages of southeastern Guizhou and the Dong Cultural Corridor of Tongdao (通道) in southwestern Hunan province.
Wind and Rain Bridges (风雨桥)
Most of the Dong ethnic minority people live between Guizhou, Guangxi and Hunan. They are famous for their carpentry skills embodied by their Wind and Rain Bridges and drum towers.
The most picturesque and most famous of Chengyang’s Wind and Rain bridges is the Yongji bridge (永济桥).
Built in 1912, it is 65 meters long and has two platform on each side. It is a three-span bridge that rests on stone piers. The upper structure of the bridge and the five pavilions are entirely made of wood while the roof is made of tiles.
Guo Moruo (1892 – 1978), a Chinese author and poet, fell in love with the bridge at first sight. Chances are that you will too. Like I did.
Yongji bridge is the main gateway to Ma’an (马安寨) and the other villages. Around 10 AM and until late afternoon, it is the territory of women who come and sell embroidery and batik to tourists.
Beyond the village of Ma’an, there are two other Wind and Rain bridges: Helong (合龙桥) and Puji (普济桥). They are not as impressive as Yongji bridge, but they are nonetheless worth a hike through the villages.
When you cross Helong bridge, an old man with glasses and a few teeth will point at an English sign with his cane. The sign explains that the bridge is very old and need to be repaired. Of course, you are kindly asked to contribute financially. No matter how generous you are, your name and contribution will be carved in stone forever.
Drum towers (鼓楼)
Southeast Guizhou, north Guangxi and southwest Hunan concentrate two main ethnic groups, the Miao (苗族) and the Dong (侗族). Miao and Dong share two architectural features : the two to three-story wooden houses and the Wind and Rain bridges.
Dong people have added drum towers (鼓楼) that differentiate them from the Miao. Each village has its own drum tower.
Drum towers (鼓楼) used to be places where village elders gathered and discussed the affairs of the village and where customary law was implemented. Today, Dong drum towers remains places of gathering for old people, mostly men.
There are daily performances in Yan and Ping villages at 10:30 AM and 3:30 PM. Just follow the signs in the village. It seems that these shows that feature traditional Dong singing and dancing are designed for the groups of Chinese tourists who tour the villages during daytime and head back to Sanjiang at the end of the afternoon.
Hiking in the paddy fields
Chengyang is quite big and there are many opportunities to get out of the village and hike in the paddy fields. You can even try and hike up the hills to get a view on the valley and the bridges.
Where to stay
Even though it is a must-go scenic spot for Chinese tourist groups, Chengyang is still pretty quiet at night. There are a few comfortable options for you if you want to stay overnight.
Right after the bridge, you will see Yang’s guesthouse. You can’t miss it because Mr Yang wrote in blue on the wall of his three-story guesthouse : “Recommended by Lonely Planet”.
If you walk left, behind Yang’s guesthouse, still in Ma’an village, there are a couple of options. One of them is the Longfeng Hostel, which has rooms for 60 and 80 RMB. I wanted to go to the Shanjian Guesthouse (山间客栈) which is situated on top of a hill (keep walking and you’ll find a flight of stairs and sign near the Helong Bridge), but they were fully booked (you can call these numbers to book : 13481996420 / 15347762620).
There is another recently renovated guesthouse in Yan Village: Dong Fields and Garden Inn (侗家田园客栈). Pass by the Helong bridge (do not cross) and keep walking straight ahead and take the first street on your right. You’ll find Mr. Yang’s guesthouse just after the drum tower, before the Wanshou bridge (万寿桥). You can call Mr Yan to book a room with bathroom for 80 RMB (15077282836).
How to get there
There are no direct buses to Chengyang. You will have to change in Sanjiang (三江). In Guangxi, Sanjiang is connected to Liuzhou, Nanning, Guilin, Longsheng; in Guizhou, to Liping, Congjiang (there is a bus every hour to Congjiang and the trip last 3 hours). If you are headed or coming from Hunan, Tongdao will be your best option (2 hours).
Sanjiang is connected to the expanding high-speed train system. This remote town of Guangxi province is now easily accessible from Guangzhou, Guilin or Guiyang. Read my article about the high-speed train itinerary across the four provinces of Hunan, Guizhou, Guangxi and Guangdong.
Sanjiang has two bus stations : Hexi (河西) and Hedong (河东). To get to Chengyang, you have to take a bus from Hexi bus station. Buses leave in the morning only, but don’t worry, there are mini-vans going to Chengyang by the bus station. They leave when there are full and it will cost you 8 RMB/person.
From Sanjiang, it takes 30 to 45 minutes to the gate, where you will have to pay the entrance fee of 60 RMB.