Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Guangxi Province - The Dragons Backbone

This was not our first visit to Guangxi province, this we did on our second visit to China 7 years ago. Unlike some of the other provinces we had visited on this trip,  Guangxi is one of the most touristy areas, but even though it gets far too many tourists for its own good, there are still some stunning areas of natural beauty that have not been spoilt.

The small village of Chengyang has changed a bit since our first visit there during that cold winter, we came here to visit the famous Wind and Rain Bridge.
The bridge is an amazing piece of craftsmanship, completed in 1916, 65 metres in length, it is still used as much today by the locals as it was a century ago. Although now, it is also used as a shop for the hoards of tourists who visit the bridge from Guilin everyday.
The Dong Minority village is largely kind of how we remembered it, but it has grown in the prevailing  years, but it still has managed to keep its small village feel.
The old men still hang out at the large Drum Tower, chatting, drinking tea, smoking and trying to get tourists to make donations for the preservation of the tower. With the plaques outside I think they are doing a good job.

On that winters day, we sat around a fire, drinking cups of green tea with the old men, trying to be understood and understand them. None of us could but it was fun.
Chengyang was also the place where I was introduced to one of my all time favourite breakfast dishes of egg and tomato, by a super fun couple from Guangzhou.
At the time I thought they were a tad extreme, the way they went into precise detail on how to cook this simple dish. But I have to admit they did a fantastic job.
We met them again in Guilin by chance a week or so later, where they knew a friend who had opened a small café, and trying to impress us he cooked up some western food that was so salty it was pretty sickening to eat.
Not far away the Longji Rice Terraces, otherwise known as the Dragons Back Bone, are a must for anyone visiting this part of China.
The amount of people I literally had to force to come to this area was unbelievable in my old job, but all of them said it was a magnificent place to visit. Well as long as it isn’t raining, then its crap.
There are several villages to visit in the area, the most popular being Ping’An, and the lesser known one of Dazhai.
The terraced rice fields are an amazing piece of human engineering, built mainly during the Ming Dynasty over 500 years ago. This really is the rice bowl of China.

The best time to visit is May or June when the terraces are flooded and the rice plants are being planted. The pools of water glisten in the early morning and evening sun. This is also the peak time, and hotels are booked out and the vantage points are crammed to bursting. But really anytime is good to come, as the walks and vistas are just beautiful. There are several strolls, all uphill I’m afraid, but when you reach the top, you are presented with views that will remain with you forever. Truly wonderful. From here you can see the spine of the dragon snaking off in to the distance.

As with most major tourist sights and small villages in China, sometimes the food is bog standard and nothing special. Here it is pretty much like that, although on one walk we came across a man selling natural crystallised honey. He was selling it by the block and as a few Chinese couples were bargaining with him, we managed to sample some of the off cuts, 
I'd never tasted anything as pure as that before. The taste was amazing and it melted in your mouth with bursts of honey dancing on my senses. 
If memory serves me right he was selling around 2 or 3 kilos for around £10. A very cheap price for something so amazing. Sadly the Chinese couples he was trying to barter with were much better at it than he was and they go him down by half. but everyone seemed happy when they went their separate ways.
In Ping’an though they do have something different that I cannot remember seeing anywhere but there, although I have encountered something similar in both Laos and Cambodia. Bamboo Rice.

It’s basically rice with meat, vegetables and spices stuffed into the hollow of a bamboo tube, soaked in water and then roasted over open flames. In Laos it’s more of a sweet steamed dish sold at bus stations as a snack. In Ping’an it’s roasted over a fire and sold mainly in restaurants.

Walking down the lanes you come across small fires with these bamboo sticks being roasted over open flames, with very brave ladies moving the sticks around and somehow not burning themselves too much.

We ate several at a few places and the chicken rice was our favorite, although the pork belly came in a close second. The flavour is very subtle, but the smokiness from the fire really does make this dish a joy to eat.

We also revisited Guilin for a few days, mainly because my supplier at my last company is based there, and they got us some freebies on the trip, so I felt obliged to visit them. Plus they stuck us in a 5 star hotel in Guilin for free, and gave us use of a car and driver for the day. Which we used to visit Yangshuo (very touristy, but with an awesome live food market) and Xingping (not so touristy).
The market in Yangshuo is pretty incredible, and is the same as I remembered it from all those years ago. It's the only place in China I ever say dog for sale. The dog sellers do not like to be photographed as Lina found out by having dog meat thrown at her. It's also the only place I've seen half a fish with its organs attached and still alive. Amazing.

There are lots of tourist sights to see around Guilin and Yangshuo, but one of the nicest is Xingping. It's a small village on the Li River. Tourist come here to take a boat and to marvel at the scenery. It's better illustrated here, but if you have a 20 yuan note handy, then it's the scene on the back.

Mark and Agnes took us out and fed us well. Can’t really remember what we had, as they ordered a lot, but I did gorge on some Guilin noodles (damn spicy) and some very good fish. It was fun to meet them both, especially as we’d been chatting on skype and emailing each other for nearly 2 years, tryingyo sort out other peoples holidays. So it was good to spend some time to get to know one another.

Shame though, as I quit that company a few months later, but it was good to meet them nonetheless. It's unlikely we'll be visiting this towns again anytime soon, as there are many more places in China we want to visit and revisit. 


Hungry said...

I do love your china 'series'. I've only ever been to Beijing and Xian, (and HK if that counts) but this has really made me want to explore further! thank you!

mike@the culinary lens said...

THank you very another great travelogue.. I love the idea of that bamboo rice

cara waters said...

Amazing photos - would love to visit China, although not sure I would like to have dog meat thrown at me!

Mzungu said...

Hungry - Thanks, I hope you head off to China as soon as .....

Mike - It was really good, although I prefer a sweet version found in Laos.

Cara - Thankfully it was only dog meat, they were really miffed about having their fotos taken....

Paula/Tim said...

More happy memories!!
We also thought the Guilin Market was great, and found the dog stall a bit challenging (they were dispatching dogs at the time).
Bamboo rice was much more appetising!

Mzungu said...

Paula/Tim - The 1st time we were there we also saw a dog going from one terrified mutt to dinner in minutes. Not a pretty sight.

stenote said...

Good article and photos! Sharing with you an article about the Singing Dong Tribe in
Watch also video in Youtube at :