China is a gargantuan nation where even the smallest municipalities can have larger populations than many a European or American city. With so much space to cover and so many stories to tell, it's all too easy to just focus on the next big adventure and trying to discover the "real China," but sometimes the real China is what's right in front of you, down the alley where you might head out to buy water and toilet paper every other day, and not on that 12-hour hard seat trip through the jungles of Guangxi. In City Watch we strive to uncover some of these little-known cities with a lot to offer, if only you know where to look. >>> Travelers who make it to Guiyang are surprised to see a large, modern city with bright sun and happy people. Based on all of the rumors and tales that go around about Guiyang and Guizhou Province in general, the whole region should be under a dark cloud of suffering and populated by fearful hobbits and vicious Ming and Qing dynasty officials thought when they were sent here to oversee the Han migrations that took place back then—but imperial officials have to be the softest, most venal human beings ever, so who cares what they thought, right? The truth is that Guizhou is a beautiful province of green hills and red earth inhabited by the colorful peoples of southwest China: the Miao, Dong, Yi, Bai and other minorities including the Tujia, Yao, Gelao and Qiang. For travelers looking for something off the beaten path, some people who resemble nothing you have ever seen and some scenery that will leave you gawking, then head out to the best kept secret in China, Guizhou Province.
From outpost to hubFor most of the region's history, the only Han living in Guizhou were depressed exiles from the court and some drunken soldiers who kept the secret of Guizhou's good living to themselves for as long as possible. But after the Yuan Mongols stormed through, conquering all in sight, the garrison that would one day become Guiyang was turned into an administrative seat called Shunyuan (Shùnyuán, 順元) or "Obey the Yuan," established to facilitate migration and assimilation. The process of turning Guizhou into China resulted in war, death and famine but over time the fighting ceased and people turned to the more important task of making a living and providing for children. This happened sometime in the 1990s. Since then Guiyang has become an important transportation hub, linking all of the nearby provinces together, a manufacturing base exporting coal and nuclear power and (closer to our interests) a tourism city and a gateway to the hinterlands.
A green cityReports of Guiyang as a coal city covered in perpetual smog are highly suspect. Qianling turns the center of the city into a barely tamed wilderness covering 400 hectares (1,000 acres) and patrolled by a troop of poop-flinging macaques, and just ten minutes outside of town is the Guiyang Forest Park (Guìyáng Sēnlín Gōngyuán, 贵阳森林公园), another 500-plus hectares (1,200 acres) of protected wilderness sprinkled with carvings and steles and patrolled by a flock of raucous wild pheasant. Baihua Lake is another getaway within a 20-minute taxi ride of the city center. The lake is a mix between Hangzhou's Thousand Island Lake and Guilin's picture-postcard scenery: an island-bespeckled lake with karst upthrusts throughout. Just south of Baihua Lake is Hong Feng Lake, home to minority villages, maple trees and Han dynasty tombs among other delights. The list does not end everyone... Xiangzhi Valley is less than a day away as is the Tianhe Scenic Pool area. And a local favorite is Huaxi Park, with teahouses, lakeside BBQ and long, tree-covered strolls.
Gateway to the hinterlandsBut Guiyang is just the start. The modernization of China has brought the hills and valleys of Guizhou Province closer together. Once the stronghold of the Miao and other minorities, it is now a playground for hikers and anthropologists. Trains and buses lead out from Guiyang to Anshun, where you can visit Huangguoshu Falls, the largest falls in China; Kaili, where the Miao people congregate when they're not in the picturesque villages that lay scattered across the hills and even farther, toward southeast Guizhou and the border with Guangxi, home of the Dong people. Don't be fooled by what exiled officials wrote in their memoirs, Guiyang is beautiful and pleasant and Guizhou is a magical trip. Don't take my word for it, check it out for yourself.
Guizhou on the China Travel Blog