Friday, February 25, 2011

Guizhou - The road less traveled in China - Chapter 2 of 9

We checked into Shiyou Binguan in Yingpan DongLu which was nearby to the CITS office. The hotel was old and musty. We had a room with twin beds and an attached shower room for 80RMB. There was no hot shower but we could ask for hot water to pour into the little bucket in the shower room. The dirty bathroom had a broken vent glass, hence it was really nasty and cold during shower time. The dim light in the cold night made me a little uncomfortable. Our beds were equipped with electric blankets. But since I never tried one in my life, I feared I would be electrocuted! Considering the fact that we were sleeping for the night , we did not want to spend time searching for a better hotel. We dropped our luggages and turned on the electric blankets before rushing to meet a Miao lady who was awaiting us at the lobby.

I have forgotten the lady's name. She and her husband had a vast collection of old minorities’ textiles, needle works and handicrafts stored in their 4-storey home in Kaili. It is not unusual in many parts of China for business to be operated from home. They typically have contacts with many freelance agents who bring customers to them. Take note of ladies around town, bus and train stations with business card. They will try to coax you for a visit to see the minorities’ crafts in Guizhou.

Her house was only 15 minutes' walk from our hotel. But we decided to stop at a restaurant for dinner before heading to her place. I still remember the tomato egg soup we had in the cold night. It was a delicious meal in the cold winter.

The 4-storey house was narrow and sandwiched in between other similar buildings. Her husband was out sourcing in the far villages. She led us upstairs to a big room full of the minorities’ handicrafts. Most of her collection are from Guizhou and nearby provinces. We were mesmerized! Suddenly excitement overtook exhaustion! So many precious woven textiles, embroideries, minorities costumes, silverwares and baskets scattered around the room - on the shelves, cabinets, tables, hanging on the walls and in boxes on the floor. We could not take our gaze off  the beauty before us, as our hands were busy feeling the texture of the materials.  I recognized some of the fabrics, but many of the items looked fresh to me. We asked for a look of the minorities’ shoes and she led us to a different room. Gosh, it was another room full of collection! We were interested to buy but were drawn back by her steep prices. We felt like the fat meat on the chopping board!  While I don't claim to be an expert, I know what I was doing. But since we had taken so much of her time, we bought two pieces of old embroideries as a gesture of good will. It was expensive but I guess it was the price worth paying for a fruitful and educational experience.

We jumped straight onto our warmed bed as soon as we were back in the hotel room. It is unusual for people who come from tropical countries to take shower once a day. However, we were too tired to take a shower before bed and the cold water was not very inviting...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Guizhou -The road less traveled in China (chapter 1 of 9)

Guizhou Province ( marked in blue ) located in South of China
After many trips to Thailand, Vietnam and Yunan, China, in search of the people of the Golden Triangle, my sister and I decided to take a trip to the off beaten track in Southeast of Guizhou Province in China - the hub of Miao and Dong people. In Vietnam and Thailand the Miao is regarded as Hmong. The diversity of Miao in China is far greater than in Vietnam and are so as the many minority festivals.

We did our homework online and through traveling guidebooks before we took on this less traveled route in China. I love to prepare well for my trip. Having some background knowledge of the destination helps to make me more observant and learn to appreciate simple discoveries along the trip. Guizhou is unlike other popular travel destinations in China, where anyone could easily book and join a local tour. Organized private tours or wonder around on your own are your only options. For those who don't speak Chinese, an adventurous spirit is required to travel on your own!

There are six airports in Guizhou . Longdongbao International Airport in Guiyang is the only international airport in this province. But very few international flights land in this airport. For international travelers who intended to travel by air to Guizhou, an interchange of domestic airline is required. It has fewer foreign tourists and is unpopular for domestic tourists. Thus, a proper plan is advisable if those who have a big objective to achieve in limited time of for traveling - just like us.

We decided to focus on the Southeast of Guizhou Province for the trip we took in February 28 -March 6 2008. I contacted the CITS of Southeast Guizhou via email after viewing its’ website. CITS is China large state owned key enterprises group integrating all inclusive service in travel industry. The highly acclaimed tour operator, Mr. Billy Zhang, a Miao himself was attentive and efficient in responding to my enquiries. We found him a very helpful person because he provides information even to people who do not book tours with him. He is knowledgeable and had served as guide to VIP and academic visitors to Southeast of Guizhou Province for many times. Communication with him was a breeze as he is well versed in English, both in written and spoken. As I do not know how to typeset in Chinese, all our correspondence emails were in English. He drafted a travel plan for us based on our interest and days available for travel. Our objective was to meet the ethnic minorities at their villages, to purchase the traditional textiles and to track around the region.

We flew into Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport with AirAsia (Malaysian budget airline), as it is a key airport in China with many domestic flights connections. It is the shortest distance to travel from Kuala Lumpur to China's major airports. Upon arrival (very early in the morning) , we immediately went around to scout for the best deal for flights to  Guiyang - the provincial capital city of Guizhou. In China, generally air tickets are being sold at a cheaper price when the flying dates are closer. It is totally opposite comparing the ticketing systems in Malaysian airlines and airlines of other countries. As long as you do not travel during peak season, it is not difficult to obtain the same day or next day tickets. You can even bargain for a better price. We found a great deal of 60% off the regular air ticket price for a next day flight to Guiyang, but we topped the deal with an extra 5% off because we purchased two tickets. 65% off the regular ticket price! I love the bargain culture in China! I couldn't remember which airline we took but it was not a budget airline and the service was not bad.

My sister and I checked into the Guangzhou International Youth Hostel for a night stay in Guangzhou city. We had a day of leisure in Guangzhou before our trip to Guiyang the next day.

Guiyang is only a stop over because it is closest to Kaili, where we will meet Mr. Billy Zhang and where we will begin our exploration.  Kaili is located in southeast of Guizhou - the Qiandongnan Miao & Dong Autonomous Prefecture. Upon arrival in Guiyang, we took a cab to Tiyu Bus Station on JiefangLu which has more frequent bus services to  Kaili. We were in a rush for our meeting with the tour operator, Billy before his office closes by 5pm. We estimated our arrival at 6pm, so we called to ask him to wait for us and he did. The two and a half hours bus ride was pleasant but we were worried about our delay. The moment we arrived, we jumped out from the bus and immediately asked for direction to the CITS office. We were told that it was not too far from where we were, so we started to walk and at times, ran with our backpacks for 20 minutes. The sky was almost dark when we finally arrived at the CITS office. However, Billy waited for us patiently. It was a relief to let go of our lugages and cleared our bladders after the long ride and walk. :-)

We finalized the tour details and price with Billy. We had a private car (locally made car as classy as Toyota Camry) and a personal driver but not a guide. There was additional charge for having a guide and since both of are well versed with Mandarin, we headed on without guide. Our four days three nights trip cost us 2,600 RMB excluding meals and accommadations. It was a great deal comparing with the private tours packages on other travel agencies we found the web.

Our itinerary was as follows :

Day 1 - Depart Kaili , a short visit to a Gejia batik making showroom
           - Visit Langde Miao village -Visit Ta Dang Miao village
           - Stopped over Yong Le town for lunch - Visit Danjiang town market &
              Tashi town market - Explored to Zairong Miao Village
           - Dinner & overnight in Rongjiang Town

Day 2 - Visit Rongjiang morning market -Visit Congjiang county Yin Than Dong village
           - Conjiang county Basha Village - Overnight in Zhaoxing Dong village

Day 3 - An hour hiking nearby village of Zhaoxing village and explored to town
           -Lunch in Rongjiang Town- Visit Yong Ping Market - Visit Shandu Shui Village
           - Overnight in Shandu town

Day 4 - Depart Shandu, passing Danzhai - Visit Shiqiao paper making village
           - Visit Qingman Shortskirt Miao Village - Back to Kaili

As a scholar himself, Mr. Billy Zhang not only provided us the trip plan but also shared with us a little about the Miao culture in the region. It was a pleasant meeting. He further introduced a local trader to us when we expressed our interest in purchasing some needle works of the ethnic minority people. I could tell that he was sincere in helping us and his people, the ethnic minority, rather than for the sake of earning commission. We are more than agreeable to the quote of CITS Kailli
" Travel with CITS in Kaili, we offer you the best service".