Despite being a popular destination with domestic travelers, Guizhou (贵州, Guìzhōu) remains largely unknown to travelers outside China – and what a travesty of justice. The province has two of the country's largest and most spectacular natural features – a waterfall and a cave – while outside the capital, Guiyang, it's pretty much green hills and valleys, flowing rivers and limestone formations to the horizon.
Guizhou's people are as diverse as its environment. Around 37% of the province’s population consists of more than 18 ethnic minorities. Flitting around the Dong and Miao villages in the east of the province is like an anthropological dream sequence. Nearby is the ancient riverside settlement of Zhenyuan, as striking as Guilin to the south, where Chinese tourists chuckle into their hot-and-spicy sour fish soup that they still have it all to themselves.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Guizhou.
Hugely popular among domestic travellers for good reason, the 77.8m-tall, 81m-wide dàpùbù (大瀑布, great waterfall) is China's largest waterfall and understandably Guizhou’s number-one natural attraction. From June to October in particular, these falls really rock the local landscape with their cacophony, while rainbows from the mist dance about Rhinoceros Pool below. Don’t miss groping your way through the dripping natural corridor in the rock face of the 134m-long Water Curtain Cave (水帘洞, Shuǐlián Dòng), behind Huangguoshu itself.
This monstrously long (10km) cave is the biggest in the country – a visit will satisfy everyone from hardcore spelunkers to wide-eyed tourists with a penchant for subterranean beauty. Pockets open up to 150m high to reveal Zhijin's organic splendour twisting upward like a stone forest.
Across the river from the old town, the epic vertical warren of temples, grottoes, corridors and caves of Qīnglóng Dòng rises up against Zhonghe Mountain (中和山, Zhōnghé Shān). Flooded with lights at night, it forms a sublime backdrop to the town. Put aside a good hour for exploration: it’s a labyrinth and there’s a lot to see, including some choice panoramas.
Four old and well-preserved alleys lead north away from the river: Sifangjing Xiang, Fuxing Xiang, Renshou Xiang and Chongzikou Xiang. Wander along Sifangjing Xiang and peek at its namesake Sìfāngjǐng (Four Directions Well), with its three deities overlooking the water, capped with red cloths. Note the magnificently made stone steps of this alley and the gorgeous old residences – a picture at night, when they're dressed with red lanterns.
One of eight Ming-era fortified villages in the area, Yunshan is a gem. Protected by a wall and a main gate, and overlooked by the Yunjiu Mountain (云鹫山, Yúnjiù Shān), the settlement is a charming portrait of rural Guizhou and a window into the area's military history. After beating the last of the Yuan dynasty leaders in 1368 in Yunnan province, Zhu Yuanzhang, the first Ming emperor, stationed a huge force in Anshun – a strategic military position – to ensure regional peace. Yunshan and other villages sprung up to house the troops and their families, who built them in the architectural styles of their home provinces in eastern China.
The under-visited understudy to the famous Huangguoshu Falls in the south is a 76m-high beauty pummelling into the pools below. Even standing 100m away, you will get drenched if the wind is right.
The karst hills of the Wanfenglin Scenic Area raise up like the knobbly back of a sleeping dragon, surrounded by charming villages, carefully tended rice paddies and winding rivers lined with banana trees. In February and March, golden rape flowers carpet the floor between the peaks, while in summer purple azalea flowers punctuate the endless green. Highlights include the riverside Upper and Lower Nahui villages, inhabited by people of the Buyi ethnic minority, and the spectacular Wanfo Temple built into a karst hillside.
This forested mountain (1138m) has the astonishing Wulong Temple at its summit. A refreshing hike through the trees takes you to the summit, where you can explore the various rooms of the temple.
Sleepy Wudong doesn't get many visitors, due mostly to its remote location in a valley in Leigong Mountain rather than any lack of appeal – it's actually an extraordinarily pretty place. Founded 400 years ago by families fleeing nearby war, the village retains its traditional wooden buildings as well as a 200-year-old water mill, the oldest in the county. The village is at an elevation of 1300m above sea level so you might feel the effects of the altitude here.
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