Once a centre for tea and opium trading, Ānshùn remains the commercial hub of western Guìzhōu and is now most famous as a producer of batik, kitchen knives and the lethal Ānjiǔ brand of alcohol. Once a marvellous historical city ringed by a town wall, the city’s heritage has largely vanished and it’s the surrounding sights that are the real draws.
A dusty, scrappy but surprisingly busy town, Wēiníng is one of the top spots in the world for that most sedate of hobbies, birdwatching. The jewel-like Cǎohǎi Lake sits close to the city centre and draws twitchers to observe wintering migratory birds, especially the rare black-necked crane.
Tiānlóng & Tiāntáishān
You only need around a couple of hours to explore this delightful village cut with a sparkling stream not far outside Ānshùn. Tiānlóng is a well-preserved Túnpǔ village(屯堡), its settlements erected by Ming-dynasty garrison troops posted here during the reign of Hongwu to help quell local uprisings and consolidate control.
Stranded in splendid isolation amid fields and rice paddies near the Húnán border, Lónglǐ (隆里) is a former garrison town populated by the descendants of Han soldiers sent to protect the empire from the pesky Miao. One of the province’s ‘eco-museums’ (read, real-live village), it’s fascinating for its extant architecture.
Visiting historic Bāshā (岜沙) is like stepping back in time to the Tang or Song eras. The local men wear period clothes with daggers secured to their belts and, when not farming, hunt with antique rifles. Meanwhile, the women parade in full Miao rig with their hair twisted in a curl on top of their heads. Quite why Bāshā is stuck in a timewarp is a mystery, as it’s only 7.
With its winding, stone-flagged streets and restored city walls, Qīngyán (青岩) makes a pleasant diversion from modern Guìyáng. A former Ming-era military outpost dating back to 1378, Qīngyán was once a traffic hub between the southwest provinces, leaving the village with Taoist temples and Buddhist monasteries rubbing up against Christian churches and menacing watchtowers.
Perhaps the quintessential Dong village and packed with traditional wooden structures, several wind and rain bridges and five remarkable drum towers, Zhàoxīng (肇兴) is no longer the little-known paradise it once was. Its sheer uniqueness makes for a powerful draw, and the locals are certainly not complaining about the increase in visitors.
Snugly ensconced in the pretty Léigōng Hills, Xījiāng is thought to be the largest Miao village (its full name in Chinese is 西江千户苗寨; Xījiāng Qiānhù Miáozhài – Xījiāng 1000-Household Miao Village) and is famous for its embroidery and silver ornaments (the Miao believe that silver can dispel evil spirits).