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Guizhou: Miao and Dong culture in the mountains (5 days)

Hike between tiny villages in the mountains of Guizhou Province to get a up-close look at the well-preserved rituals, traditions, and architecture of the Miao and Dong ethnic groups.

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Colourful costumes of the Zhuang ethnic group
Colourful costumes for a performance at a festival in Guizhou.

Trip overview

Day One
Fly to Guiyang, hike in Leishan County and see a 'Long-Dress' Miao performance in a village; overnight in Kaili hotel.
Day Two
Kaili Museum, Huanggang village visit, performance and hike at Basha Village; overnight in Congjiang.
Day Three
Zhuang village visit, hike through Jiabang Rice Terraces; overnight in Zhaoxing guesthouse.
Day Four
4–5 hour hike through countryside between villages, evening performance; overnight in Zhaoxing guesthouse.
Day Five
Explore the old town of Qingyan; fly back to Beijing in the evening.

Guizhou Province

Guizhou is a landlocked, mountainous province in central south China, sharing borders with the provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan, Hunan, and Guangxi.

The capital of Guizhou is Guiyang, a city of around 4 million located roughly in the middle of the province.

Its population is close to 35 million people, with nearly 40% of the inhabitants part of ethnic groups other than Han Chinese. With all the different ethnic minorities, you'll hear a lot of different dialects while in Guizhou. Standard Chinese is most commonly used, but in the mountains it's the local dialects which are most common.

While rich in culture, Guizhou does not do so well economically. Of the 31 administrative divisions of China, Guizhou ranked last in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita in a 2013 survey. Key industries of Guizhou are timber, forestry, and also tobacco, of which it is China's third-largest producer.

Guizhou was made a province of the Ming in 1413, but not willingly. Over the years there were several rebellions led by the Miao and Yao. After the Ming, the Qing took over in Guizhou, and at one point during the Qing Dynasty Guizhou was actually controlled by the Taiping Rebels. The Long March passed through Guizhou in the 1930's, and it was in Guizhou that Mao Zedong was made leader of the Communist Party. Quite a tumultuous history, and that's only going as far back as the Ming Dynasty!

Dressed up for a performance, Guizhou

Dong women dressed up for a performance in the traditional clothing and jewellery.

Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture

We're flying into Guiyang for this trip, but will spend most of our time in the Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture.

An autonomous area is a specific area associated with a particular ethnic group, or groups – either by more than 50% of the area's population being made up of ethnic groups other than Han Chinese, or by a historical connection. Some of the areas are province-sized, and others are only townships, and the head of administration of that area will be a member of the particular ethnic group associated with the area.

Autonomous areas have more control over local decision-making than areas controlled directly by the government, with more independence for decisions of finance, economic planning, and arts, science, language, and culture. The continuation of a tradition of hunting with rifles in Basha Village is an example of this.

The main two ethnic groups in this autonomous prefecture are the Miao and the Dong, together accounting for more than 70% of the total inhabitants. As with much of China, the urban areas are fairly modernised, but by heading out into the countryside we'll get a great look at the more traditional side of southern Chinese ethnic culture – very different to what we see in Beijing.

The Miao

The Miao are the sixth-largest of the 56 different ethnic groups in China, with a total of around nine million people. Around 50% of that total live in Guizhou Province.

There are many sub-groups within the Miao, the most well-known being the Hmong. Some of these sub-groups are not closely linked, and some of the different dialects are not widely understood by those of a different sub-group.

In China, the sub-groups of the Miao are often referred to by the main colour of the women's clothing or some other key characteristic, resulting in names that are either very plain or very descriptive: Red Miao, Black Miao, White Miao; Big Flowery Miao, Small Flowery Miao.

On this trip we'll be seeing a lot of the Black Miao, as well as the 'Short Skirt' Miao of Basha.

A lot of the Chinese words to do with rice appear to have been borrowed from the Miao, who are perhaps the first rice farmers in China. It's not a coincidence that we'll be seeing a lot of rice paddies and terraces on this trip!

As well as special sorts of clothing, the Miao are also fond of festivals and performances, and we'll see several of those on this trip. Performances often depict rituals and traditions of the Miao, including animism (the worship of natural objects like trees and rocks), shamanism, and courtship and marriage rituals.

We'll get an up-close look at the unique customs of the Miao ethnic group at Basha Village, including the stilt-houses that are a signature style of their architecture.

The Dong

The Dong are the eleventh-largest of China's ethnic groups, with a total of some three million people. As with the Miao, around 50% of that total live in Guizhou Province.

The Dong do not have as many sub-groups as the Miao, and the language has two main dialects: North, and South.

They are famous for a rich tradition of song, and their 'polyphonic choral singing' is listed by UNESCO as 'World-Class Intangible Cultural Heritage'. Common topics of the songs include love songs, drinking songs, bride's songs, and morning songs, and you'll definitely hear some of this special singing during the trip.

The Dong also hold to old traditions and superstitions, with elaborate rituals for courtship, weddings, and funerals. Some are animists and/or polytheists, and their folk religion includes divination from rice grains, bamboo shoots, and the entrails of chickens.

A typical Dong village has 200-300 homes, and in the village you'll usually find stilt-houses, covered "Wind and Rain" bridges, communal fishing pond, grain stores, and shrines for Sa Shui, the female deity who is the most important of the Dong gods.

Welcoming ceremony in Langde Village, Guizhou

Arriving to a warm welcome at Langde Village.

Langde Village and the 'Long Dress' Miao

On the first day of the trip we're going to do a two-hour hike through the countryside of Leishan County, finishing at Langde Village.

In Leishan County there are a lot of small villages scattered throughout the hills. We're going to follow dirt trails through the hills, passing fields and rice paddies on the way to Langde Village. The hiking isn't too tough, crossing over slightly hilly terrain, but it will be fairly slippery if it rains.

Arriving at Langde Village, a hamlet with a population of around 500, you'll be met with the 'blocking the way' ritual of the 'Long Dress' Miao. If you can figure out how to get by them, you'll be rewarded with a special song and dance performance, as well as a delicious country-style dinner!

The terraces and fields below Basha Village

The terraces and fields below Basha Village. We'll hike down through the terraces to another small village.

Basha Village and the 'Black' Miao

On the second day of the trip, after we take a look around the Dong village of Huanggang, we'll head over to Congjiang County, an area populated almost exclusively by the Miao, Dong, Yao, and Zhuang groups.

In Congjiang County we're going to explore Basha Village, which contains five communities of the Miao, with an estimated population of 2,000. The village is sited amongst forest and bamboo groves, and the hills below the village are terraced for agriculture.

They'll put on a performance for us here in the village, and we'll be able to use what we see in the performance to identify which of the sub-groups of the Miao we're seeing here. As we explore the village after the performance, we'll note the style and colour of the clothing, the special top-knot hairstyle of the men, and some of the features of the local architecture.

In an autonomous area, historical and cultural traditions are afforded extra protection. Basha is one of the few places in China where regular folk can have rifles – licensed of course, and not commonly seen – as hunting is an important part of the historical traditions of the local people.

A small segment of the rice terraces at Jiabang

A small segment of the rice terraces on the steep hills of Jiabang, seen on one of the rare days where it's not all misty and rainy.

Jiabang Rice terraces

In a mountainous area rain runs off the mountain quickly, meaning topsoil is washed away and water doesn't really soak in - not so good for farming. So terraces are constructed, flat steps in the hill that catch the rain, and that can be also flooded by irrigation. One of the main crops in this area is rice, and near Jiabang Village we'll find the beautiful Jiabang Rice Terraces covering one side of a big valley.

We're going to hike through the rice terraces to get a close look at how rice is planted and grown. At this time of year the terraces will be flooded with water, making the mountainside into a maze of mirror-like pools. Be careful to not fall in!

We'll be visiting the Jiabang Rice Terraces on the third day of the trip, and on the way to the terraces we'll stop for a look about the Zhuang village of Yinping. Have you ever looked closely at a Chinese banknote and wondered about those other languages on it? One of those is the Zhuang language.

A common sight on the trails around the villages

A common sight on the trails around the villages – super-heavy loads being carried on poles.

Hiking from Jitang Village to Tang'an Village

It's not a Beijing Hikers trip without at least a little bit of hiking. On the fourth day of the trip, we're going to do a big walk through the countryside, starting at the Dong village of Jitang and hiking through the hills and fields to get to Tang'an Village, another settlement where we'll see mainly people of the Dong ethnic group.

The hike is some 12-15km, and it will take us 4-5 hours. We'll include a packed lunch to eat on the way, and we will offer an shorter version if you'd like to take it a little easier.

As with the hikes we do in Beijing, a long walk between villages in the countryside is an excellent way to get a close look at the real lifestyle of the people of China.

After the hike we'll drive back to the Miao settlement of Zhaoxing, with plenty of free time to take in a song-and-dance performance and to explore the village before dinner.

Weather warning!

Guizhou has more overcast days and rainfall than any other part of the country.

There's a relatively large temperature difference between day and night, caused by all the hills and mountains.

In April, the average temperature during the day is usually around 21°C, and around 13°C during the night.

The real rainy season here starts late April, but definitely bring your waterproofs in case the rain comes early!

The town of Zhaoxing

The town of Zhaoxing, where we'll spend two nights.

Accommodation

We will be staying in 4-star and 3-star hotels for this trip, the best places we've been able to find.

You’ll be sharing a room with another hiker. If you'd like a room to yourself, it can be arranged at an extra cost of 480 RMB for the whole four nights, if a room is available—usually not a problem!

Further details about room shares and single supplement can be found in the documents we send you as part of the registration.

Flights and transport

We fly to and from Guiyang for this trip. Transportation between the various scenic locations will be by private bus.

Frequent flyers: Please let us know if you would like to use your frequent flyer miles or if you are a frequent flyer member. If you would like to organise your own flights, we can provide further details.

Food

We will take most of our meals at restaurants in the areas we visit, and/or at the hotels or guesthouses. On one of the days we include a packed lunch for a hike. Bring some spending money for snacks during the trip. Please let us know if you have any special dietary requirements or food allergies.

Rice is one of the main staples in this area, and some say that Guizhou is one of the places where rice was first farmed in China. We'll be eating a lot of rice on this trip!

Things to bring

  • Passport/ID card.
  • Comfortable, sturdy shoes (hiking boots are strongly suggested), and a spare pair of shoes to change into at the end of the day. We have long and short hikes almost every day, and most of the trails we'll walk are dirt trails, and they can be muddy and slippery after rain.
  • Bring a few changes of clothes, including something warm for night time.
  • It's highly recommended you bring a waterproof outer layer and rain jacket.
  • Bring a book or pack of cards in case you get bored during the driving between the villages. (We don't think you'll get bored!)
  • Bring you camera and chargers for all your electronics.
  • Bring a backpack to hold water and food for the hiking. Bring a duffle bag or suitcase for the rest of your things – we can leave that at the hotel or on the bus.
  • Meals, water and snacks are provided; bring extra snacks if you like!
  • Bring personal toiletries (shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste etc) and small towel.
  • Bring any personal medicine you might need. Your guide will have a basic first aid kit.

Full itinerary

  1. Day One: Beijing – Guiyang – Kaili
    08:40 – Take off from Beijing Capital Airport
    12:00 – Arrive in Guiyang, private bus to Leishan County
    15:00 – Hike to Langde Village (7km)
    17:00 – Arrive at Langde Village
    17:10 – See a 'Long Dress' Miao performance at the village
    18:00 – Dinner
    19:30 – Check in at hotel in Kaili City, free time

  2. Day Two: Kaili – Basha - Congjiang
    07:30 – Breakfast at the hotel
    08:30 – Check out
    09:00 – Walk to Kaili Museum to see exhibits that focus on local ethnic culture
    10:00 – Drive to Huanggang Village
    13:30 – Lunch at the village
    14:40 – Short drive to Basha Village
    15:00 – See a performance at the gates of the village
    15:40 – Explore Basha Village
    18:30 – Check in at hotel in Congjiang, dinner and free time

  3. Day Three: Congjiang - Jiabang - Zhaoxing
    07:00 – Breakfast and check out
    08:00 – Drive to Jiabang Village, stopping along the way to visit a Zhuang Village
    12:00 – Lunch at Jiabang Village
    12:40 – Hike around the Jiabang Rice Terraces
    15:30 – Finish the hike, drive to Zhaoxing Village
    19:30 – Check in at hotel in Zhaoxing, dinner and free time

  4. Day Four: Zhaoxing and surrounding area
    07:30 – Breakfast
    08:00 – Start the hike from Jitang to Tang'an (packed lunch included, hike has a shorter option)
    13:30 – Finish the hike
    13:50 – Drive back to Zhaoxing
    14:00 – Free time to explore
    17:00 – Performance at village
    17:40 – Dinner, free time

  5. Day Five: Zhaoxing – Guiyang
    08:00 – Breakfast
    09:00 – Check out, drive to Guiyang
    13:00 – Lunch at Guiyang
    14:00 – Explore the 600-year-old town of Qingyan
    17:30 – Arrive at the airport
    19:30 – Flight departs for to Beijing
    22:20 – Land at Beijing Capital Airport
    All times approximate!

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