If you plan on hiking the Dragon Backbone Rice Terraces of Longji (Lóngjǐ Tītián; 龙脊梯田) after your visit of the Li River landscape of Guilin / Yangshuo and are interested in China’s ethnic minorities and architecture, Chengyang (程阳) should rank high on your list of places to see.
Chengyang is a cluster of nine Dong ethnic minority hamlets in northern Guangxi Province, 3.5 hours by bus from Guilin, on the border with Guizhou and Hunan, worth including in your tour of China.
Wind and Rain Bridge (Fēngyǔ Qiáo; 风雨桥)
Built in 1912, the three-span Yongji Bridge (Yǒngjì Qiáo; 永济桥) is the most representative Wind and Rain Bridge in the region. Guo Moruo (郭沫若, 1892 – 1978), a famous author and poet fell in love with the bridge at first sight. Chances are that you will too. No nails were used and the entire wood structure and all the beams are carefully dovetailed.
Wind and Rain Bridges are a particular type of covered bridges with reclined eaves. Their overall structure is a combination of wooden corridors lined with benches, verandas and Chinese pavilions that rest on one or several stone or concrete piers. Wind and Rain bridges are architectural features specific to the Miao (苗) and Dong (侗) ethnic minority villages and showcase theses two ethnic groups’ carpentry skills.
Yongji Bridge is the gateway to the hamlets of Chengyang. Although less impressive, there are several other century-old Wind and Rain bridges.
The Yongji Bridge on a misty morning
Drum Towers (Gǔ Lóu; 鼓楼)
Drum towers are impressive pagoda-like wooden structures topped with a diamond-shape roof. Although the shape of the base is always square, the drum tower can be either square or octagonal.
They always have an odd number of stories (a sign of good fortune) and there are miniature scenes painted on each level, like the Wind and Rain bridges, the Dong drum towers are built without any nails. The entire structure is dovetailed and supported by sixteen wooden beams or pillars. The four central pillars are called the "Golden Pillars" and represent the four seasons, while the twelve others represent the twelve months of the year.
Each family clan builds its own drum tower, which embodies power and wealth. The higher, the more elaborated the drum tower is, the richer and more powerful is the clan who built it. This is why you will see one drum tower in each hamlet.
In the past, elder gathered in the drum towers, around a fire, and debated the affairs of the village. If someone had disrespected the customary law, they discussed of punishment. However, today, the drum towers have become the place where the village’s elder men come and watch TV, chat and play card.
Yan Village (Yán Zhài; 岩寨) Drum Tower
There are performances that mix Dong people traditional singing and dancing, which held twice daily in Yan and Ping villages at 10:30 AM and 3:30 PM (respectively). The time and place of the performance may change because they depend on the tour groups who visit the village during daytime.
Singing and dancing performances by local people
Travellers can easily spend an entire afternoon hiking in the rice paddy fields where there is an incredible view on the bridge and the valley (you will see a flight of stairs with a sign in both English and Chinese before crossing the Yongji Bridge, across the road) or from a village to another - the three more remote villages of Pingtan (平坦),Jichang (吉昌) and Pingpu (平铺) are less touristy and more authentic.
Hiking from a village to another in Chengyang
Getting Around in Chengyang
Chengyang is a cluster of nine Dong ethnic minority hamlets. Right across the Yongji bridge, Ma’an Village (Mǎ’ān Zhài; 马安寨) is the most ‘touristy’ and concentrates most of the guesthouses and family-owned restaurants.
Close to Ma’an, you will find the theater stage for Dong performances in Yan Village (Yán Zhài; 岩寨) and Ping Village (Píng Zhài; 平寨). There is small museum (10 RMB) dedicated to explaining Dong ethnic minority folklore and carpentry skills. A lot of interesting artefacts are on display. Explanations are in Chinese only.
Across the Puji Wind and Rain Bridge (Pǔjì Qiáo; 普济桥), the two big villages of Da (Dà Zhài;大寨) and Dong (Dǒng Zhài; 董寨) are the departure point of a hike in the paddy fields to the more remote villages of Jichang (Jíchāng Zhài; 吉昌寨)and Pingpu (Píngpù Zhài; 平铺寨). The third more remote village of Pingtan Village (Píngtǎn Zhài; 平坦寨) is located west of Yan Village.
Strolling in Ping Village
Sleeping and Eating
Even though it is a must-go scenic spot for Chinese tourist groups, Chengyang is still pretty quiet. There are a few relatively comfortable options if you want to stay overnight. Do not expect anything fancy. Accommodations in the village are clean, but very simple and basic in wooden two- or three-stories buildings.
Right after the bridge, you will see Yang's Guesthouse (Chéngyáng Kèzhàn; 程阳客栈; Tel: 0772 858 3126; QQ: 360798492; Email:firstname.lastname@example.org). You can't miss it because Mr. Yang wrote in blue on the wall of his three-story guesthouse: "Recommended by Lonely Planet".
If you walk left, behind Yang's Guesthouse, still in Ma'an Village, there are a couple of options. One of them is the Longfeng Hostel (Lóngfèng Lǚguǎn; 龙凤旅馆; Tel: 134 8199 9941; 0772 858 2619), which has basic rooms for 60 and 80 RMB. The Shanjian Guesthouse (Shānjiān Kèzhàn; 山间客栈) is situated on top of a hill (keep walking and you'll find a flight of stairs and sign near the Helong Bridge - Hélóng Qiáo; 合龙桥), and is very popular amongst Chinese art student who come for inspiration (can call these numbers to book : 134 8199 6420; 153 4776 2620).
There is another recently renovated guesthouse in Yan Village: Sanjiang Fields and Garden Inn (Sānjiāng Xiàn Tiányuán Kèzhàn; 三江县田园客栈). Pass by the Helong Bridge (do not cross) and keep walking straight ahead and take the first street on your right. You'll find Mr. Yang's guesthouse just after the drum tower, before the Wanshou Bridge (Wànshòu Qiáo; 万寿桥). You can call Mr. Yan to book a room with bathroom for 80 RMB (Tel: 150 7728 2836).
Sanjiang Fields and Garden Inn
All the guesthouses are family-owned and there is always someone who will be ready to cook you a simple meal.
The Helong Wind and Rain Bridge
There is a 60 RMB entrance fee per person (the price is valid at time of writing in March 2015. Price may go up without notice) that visitors have to pay before entering the site. It is a one-time fee and your ticket will not be checked in the village.
Some locals are waiting 500 meters before the ticket office. They say they can have you enter via a back road for half the price per person (30 RMB) as a ‘friend of the family’. The author of this article chose to pay full price and enter legally. Choose the other option at your own risk.
How to get there
Visitors access the cluster of Dong hamlets of Chengyang via a 30 to 45 minutes mini-van ride from Sanjiang (三江).
There are two main bus station in Sanjiang, Hedong (河东) and Hexi (河西) which are both connected to all major cities and towns in Guangxi Province, including Nanning, Liuzhou, Guilin, Longsheng (near the Longji rice terraces). If you come from Guilin, you have to take your bus to Qintan Bus Station (Qíntán Kèyùn Zhàn; 琴潭客运站), one bus every hour between 6:30 AM and 6:00 PM.
Once in Sanjiang, you’ll have to take a mini-van (10 RMB per person) heading to Chengyang (程阳) or rent the mini-van for yourself (60 RMB one way). White mini-vans usually wait in front of both bus stations. If you are in Hexi and need to go to Hedong bus station (or vice-versa), tuk-tuk will take you there for 5 RMB.
Detail of the Yongji bridge’ structure
Leaving Chengyang and continuing your trip
In the morning, until 12, villagers head over Sanjiang. There are plenty of local buses, mini-van and other four-wheeled vehicle who will be happy to drive you back to one of Sanjiang’s bus station (10 RMB).
From Sanjiang you can either go to Nanning, Liuzhou, Guilin, Longhseng (where you can change to Longji rice terraces). The town is also connected to Congjiang (从江) in Guizhou (1 bus every hour, 2 hours) or Tongdao (通道) in Hunan (departs 7:35 AM and 12:35 PM from Hedong or 8:30 AM and 1:35 PM from Hexi, 2 hours) from which you can take a bus towards Fenghuang (凤凰).
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.