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Xijiang, China’s World’s Largest Miao Village
by Gaetan Reuse - Mar 15, 2015
The impoverished province of Guizhou is known for its ethnic minorities, particularly the Miao people (苗族) which are found in the south-eastern prefecture of Qiandongnan (黔东南). Located south of Kaili (凯里), the village of Xijiang (西江) which simply means ‘West of the River’ in Chinese, is a cluster of eight large natural villages marketed as the ‘world’s largest Miao village’. In Chinese, Xijiang is dubbed the ‘one thousand households Miao village’ (西江千户苗寨).
The one-hour drive from Kaili on a narrow mountain road winding through a steep valley covered in forest enshrouded in fog is worth the detour. At this stage of the journey, travelers might think they are heading towards a quiet and hidden paradise-like village found only in the account of explorers from the past century.
The arrival on Xijiang’s parking lot is a wake-up call. In spite of the mountainous landscape, Xijiang feels like a theme park.
Overview of Xijiang
Near the parking lot, on the left-hand side of a newly built half-moon shaped square dominated by an impressive wooden gate, travelers have to buy their access to the village for 100 RMB.
The entrance fee does not include the 20 RMB bus ride, which visitors have to buy after the gate, unless they are ready to walk three kilometres along the river to get to the actual village.
Therefore, visitors have to pay 120 RMB in total to access Xijiang, which, at this point, feels like the world’s most expensive Miao village.
Xijiang is more than just the “world’s largest Miao village”, it is also a scenic spot exploited and operated by a local company. Even during the low season, the village attracts busloads of domestic and foreign tourists as well as independent travelers on a road trip with their private car.
The eight villages of Xijiang are built on the slopes, on both side of the valley. A series of covered wooden Wind and Rain bridges (beautiful, but slightly less impressive than the bridges built by the Dong people) stretch across the river. It is as the bottom of the valley, on the main streets that visitors will find a plethora of restaurants, trinket stores, silver jewelry shops and guesthouses. To some, the main street along the river looks like a rural strip mall rather than an authentic Miao village.
For those who want to take their experience of the Miao in Xijiang a little further, you can also consume local ethnic culture by renting a traditional costume and have your picture taken by the river.
Xijiang is a successful business model. Judging by the amount of guesthouses under construction, locals are also taking part in this money-making tourism industry. The commercialization and the crowds will doubtlessly puzzle travelers who have visited other quiet and entrance fee-free Miao villages in this part of Guizhou. The atmosphere of Xijiang is best described by the Chinese word renao (热闹) – bustling with noise and excitement.
Wind and Rain Bridge
Looking for the peaceful Xijiang
Although I visited Xijiang during low season on a weekday, there were a lot of tourists. I naturally tried a get away from the crowds and searched for the quiet side of the village.
There are two stone paths that run on both sides of the river and on which you can walk from a bridge to another. Although there are only a few steps from the main street, they were surprisingly quiet and were the perfect spot to get a closer look at the Wind and Rain bridges.
The eight villages of Xijiang are built on both sides of the river on steep slopes. Flights of cobblestone stairs between the wooden houses will take you uphill, the higher you go, the further you get from the crowds.
You can wander endlessly in the narrow streets of the village, get an impressive viewpoint on the village and catch a glimpse at how the locals live.
Up in the village
The performances during which Miao women and men dance and play music dressed in traditional costumes (the women at least) and that are held at the entrance of the village (the main square where the ticket office is located) provide another interesting way to consume the local Miao culture.
A slow-pace Miao dance allows the visitors to get a closer look at the Miao women’ sumptuous dresses and heavy silver jewelry. You will also be able to get a closer at the traditional instruments that the men are playing. The xiao (箫) and the lusheng (芦笙).
The xiao is a hybrid of a saxophone and a flute in bamboo, while the lusheng looks like a bamboo oboe.
Of course, the staff at the ticket entrance was not kind enough to mention where and when this type of performances takes place. I was just lucky.
A Miao woman in traditional costume
Spending the night
There are plenty of options for all types of budgets from the most basic guesthouse to the 4-stars looking hotel by the river. Spending the night in Xijiang will give you the occasion to (possibly) experience the village with fewer tourists and mingle with the locals.
Xijiang is big. There are guesthouses and hotels on the main streets, but also on both sides of the river, higher up on the hills. Make sure you visit a bunch of them before choosing.
How to get there
From Guizhou’s provincial capital of Guiyang (贵阳), take a bus to Qiandongnan’s prefectural capital of Kaili (凯里) – around 2 hours and 50-80 RMB. From Kaili, head over to the town’s main bus station of Ximahe (洗马河客运站). There is a bus every 1.5 hours to Xijiang. From Xijiang back to Kaili, buses leave at the same frequence. Beware : the last bus leaves around 5 pm.
Men playing the xiao and the lusheng
Born in the mountains of Switzerland, Gaetan Reuse has spent 10+ years in China where he studied Mandarin, conducted academic research in ethnic borderland and worked in the manufacture industry. He holds a BA in Chinese Studies from Geneva University and a MA in Geography from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC, Canada. During his extensive travels in China, he has developed a passion for historical villages and how modernization and the travel industry are transforming them. He writes about his travel in China on his blog TravelCathay.com. He is now designing and leading tours in Yunnan Province and China’ southwest as well as developing the high-end Chinese inbound travel market in Europe.