The ancient village of Huangyao : a walk in the ‘Garden of Dreams’

Everyone had gotten off in Gongqiao (巩桥) and I was the only passenger going to Huangyao (黄姚), an ancient village in southeast Guangxi province.
The bus outside the village: “Cross the bridge and enter from the East Gate. If you enter by the main gate, they will charge you 100 RMB. If anyone ask you anything, just act like you don’t speak Chinese, OK?” said the driver with a big smile on his face. I could not thank him enough for sharing his knowledge of Huangyao’s entrance fee’s loophole.
A sunny day in the streets of Huangyao

A sunny day in the streets of Huangyao

Entering the dream

Most Chinese cities, towns and villages have a nickname. Huangyao is no exception and is also called the “Garden of Dreams” (黄姚). The surreal landscape of karstic peaks that surrounds the area, two rivers that meander through the ancient village and the multiple stone bridges have contributed to coining this poetic nickname.

Huangyao owes its name to the Huang and Yao family clans who founded the village during the Song dynasty, nine centuries ago.

So, it’s by the East Gate that I entered into a Huangyao (黄姚) imbued in mist and spring fog. Not the ideal weather for photography, but the fog did add a surreal atmosphere to scenery.

One of the many centuries-old stone bridge in Huangyao, Guangxi

One of the many centuries-old stone bridge in Huangyao, Guangxi

A classic ancient Chinese town

Founded during the Song dynasty, Huangyao, like most ancient villages in southwest China developed during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and flourished during the Qing (1644-1911).

The eight main slab-stone streets paved during the reign of Shunzhi (顺治) of the Qing (between ), are lined with all the  the classical architectural features of ancient Chinese towns and villages : a theater built during the Ming dynasty,  ancestral halls which architecture is reminiscent of the Lingnan style that prevails in south China, temples and shrines that harbors elaborated elements carved in stone and well-preserved centuries-old stone houses.

It is said that the structure of the village invokes the bagua (八卦) or eight trigram of the Taoist cosmology. I really had to use my imagination to find the famous octagonal-shaped diagram, because it is not as obvious as in Licha (黎槎) village in nearby Guangdong province.

A shrine dedicated to Pak Tai (or Beidi) in Huangyao, Guangxi

A shrine dedicated to Pak Tai (or Beidi) in Huangyao, Guangxi

Capitalizing on culture and history

Huangyao is on the list of the top 10 China’s historical ancient villages and is a 4A national tourist on the list of Chinese tour operators.

The 100 RMB entrance fee that tourists entering through the main gate by the ancient theater stage have to pay is symptomatic of the enclosure of ancient town that is trending in China. With seven gates giving access to the ancient village of Huangyao and nobody checking whether visitors have paid the entrance fee, it is easy to enter and visit for free (until the relevant authorities decide to do something about it).

Unfortunately, most of the seven family clan ancestral halls located within the old village are closed to the public. Yet, sauntering in the slab-stone streets in the middle of this surreal scenery of karstic peaks that has made the Li River (漓江) between Guilin and Yangshuo famous (Huangyao is just 2 to 3 hours south from the famous scenic area) and crossing the multiple bridge is an experience that has no price.

Seasonal harvest in the streets of Huangyao

Seasonal harvest in the streets of Huangyao

The smell of Huangyao

Of course, Huangyao villagers do not get any financial benefit from the entrance fee sold to tourists.  Locals take it to the streets to sells the village’ specialities :  pickled vegetables and a local firewater sold in fancy bottles. So, there is a rather singular smell floating in the street of the ancient village.
The main streets is filled with makeshift shops, very chic plastic tents and umbrellas which, I have to admit spoil a little bit the unique beauty of Huangyao.
Selling antics and watching TV

Selling antics and watching TV

Staying in Huangyao

Huangyao is definitely on the Chinese tourists map. There are dozens of guesthouses scattered throughout this ancient village that provide cheap (between 80 and 200 RMB with our without bathroom) and basic accommodations.
The nearest town is Hezhou (贺州), around 1h30 away by bus on the old road which has better hotels for the non-backpacker crowd of visitors.
Huangyao in the rain

Huangyao in the rain

How to get there

Huangyao is located near the highway that links Wuzhou (梧州), the town bordering on Guangdong province in southeast Guangxi and Yangshuo / Guilin.

I reached Huangyao via Hezhou (2-3 hours south of Guilin and 3-4 hours from Guangzhou). There are buses leaving Hezhou west bus station (西站) at 7:20 AM, 9:30 AM, 10:25 AM and 12:30 PM. From Huangyao to Hezhou, there are buses leaving at 6:25 AM, 12:40 PM, 1:40 PM, 3 PM, 4 PM and 6:50 PM.

It seems that most visitors drive or are part of a tour group departing from Guilin or Yangshuo.

Inside one of the many ancestral temples

Inside one of the many ancestral temples

There are 14 comments

  1. Christine

    I have enjoyed reading your articles. In your opinon, if I had to choose between the two, should I visit Huangyao or Pingyao?

  2. Thomas Gierth

    From Huangyao to Hezhou there´s also a bus at 9.40 a.m.
    Just used this one 2 weeks ago.
    We arrived at a heavy thunderstorm and no guards there to ask for a fee.
    And the other day(the weather was fine) none of the guards asked for a fee as we went in and out of the old town (although I was with my chinese gf).
    For people who wanna go to Hezhou and use the new fast train.
    Just go outside of the long distance busstation in Hezhou. There, in the front, you´ll find bus 1, who goes directly to the railway station (it´s the last stop but you can´t overlook the station).

  3. James Smith

    I was having trouble finding decent English language information about south Hunan for a bicycle trip I am planning, until now. Thank you

  4. Chatryn Koppe

    hii Gaetan.. Thanks a lot for the answer.. as we plan to get off from Yangshuo with the earliest bus, (mention in tripadvisor is 10 am from yangshuo station) then to huangyao – probably 2 or 3 hours there and around 4 pm go to Hezhou and over night in Hezhou.. My only doubt is when the bus from Huangyao to Hezhou only till 2 or 3 pm 😦 Then the next day go to Guangzhou. We have 38 long days in China.. from Shanghai till Hongkong.. the only hard core for transport information is Huangyao – Hezhou – Guilin. Thanks for the tips for the new station in Hezhou.. Will take a look for it.. 谢谢您的帮忙

    1. Gaetan

      Hi Chatryn,
      You, the key when travelling in China is flexibility and being able to do last-minute change in travel plans. Bus schedules change without notice.
      If you are not on a budget, you can also consider renting a car to drive you to Huangyao (so that you can leave early and get there faster) and check the bus schedule on the way back.
      Wish you all the best on your trip.

  5. Chatryn Koppe

    Hi .. we are planning a long trip in China, one of it is from Guilin – Yangshuo – HuangYao (only few hours) – Hezhou – Guangzhou.. My question is (as i do search overall for the bus from Huang Yao to Hezhou).. is the time table u give is accurate? and where we can take the bus to Hezhou from Huangyao? from the info i got there was a bus from Yangshuo every 10 am to Huang Yao which took around 1 hours.. said if we spend 2 or 3 hours in the village and then continue to Hezhou, is it possible?? Thanks before.. 🙂

    1. Gaetan

      Hi Chatryn! Well, your itinerary (Yangshuo – Huangyao – Hezhou – Guangzhou) looks good and possible.
      The question should be : is my timetable still accurate? My guess is yes, but things change fast in China.
      Your bus from Yangshuo will drop you off at the main entrance of the village, where all the buses departs. There are small billboards in Chinese with bus schedules. Make sure to check them out and double ask drivers.
      Buses from Huangyao arrive at Hezhou West Station (西站) and from Hezhou to Guangzhou, you have to go to the new bus terminal outside of town. I’m not sure about the bus frequency between Hezhou and Guangzhou, but there should be plenty of buses (it’s 3.5 to 4 hours to get to Guangzhou from Huangyao).
      Hope this answer your question.

  6. buntymcc

    These are stunning, atmospheric photos. Rain often enhances colours and textures. I like that you didn’t brighten or enhance the photos to make them more lively. And the shrouded Karst hills in the background in the first two and last pictures add depth.

    1. Gaetan

      Thank you very much. When I was waiting for the bus back, the driver was looking at these peaks and he was mystified by their beauty also.
      I did enhance a few pictures digitally, but just a little bit.

  7. pbrasser

    The pictures are beautifull love the fog and the “silence” in the pictures, the wetness brings out the colors from the houses and scenery, well done! And again a great article!

    1. Gaetan

      Thank you for your comment Peter. The rain made it difficult to take pictures, but the fog did enhance the beauty of mountains for sure.

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