A Study in Contrasts in Guizhou

In China’s Guizhou province, a tech-forward culture rubs shoulders with ancient traditions.

Sep 13, 2019

By Ross Kenneth Urken.

Guizhou, in rugged southwestern China, has long been one of the nation’s least developed provinces. That has allowed minority groups such as the Miao, the Dong and the Yi to live much as they have for centuries. But more recently, the government has been promoting Guizhou’s capital, Guiyang, as a tech hub, and companies such as Alibaba, Microsoft and Huawei are opening offices in town. That’s led to better infrastructure, more flights and even an expanded high-speed rail service from Guangzhou and Chongqing.

Picking mountain tea in Guizhou.

For travelers, Guizhou has become an ideal weekend detour to combine with popular destinations such as Hong Kong or Chengdu, both an easy flight from Guiyang. Even as the region modernizes, it remains a showcase of southern China’s centuries-old culture and cuisine. Make the Hyatt Regency Guiyang (hyatt.com; doubles from RMB900) your base in the capital; in the mountainous countryside, bed down at the humble but comfortable—and, most importantly, English- speaking—Perenc Hotel (Huangguoshu Avenue; 86-851/3351- 7777; doubles from RMB515) in Anshun. T+L A-List travel advisor Stan Godwyn (stan.g@travelstore.com; 1-916/830-5511) specializes in China and can book a customized Guizhou itinerary.

Miao women celebrating a festival.

My first stop was the village of Upper Langde, home to the Miao (known elsewhere as the Hmong), one of Guizhou’s most prominent ethnic minorities. Bearded men played folk songs on bamboo lusheng as women wearing horn-shaped silver headpieces offered me pungent rice wine. In Guizhou, groups like these give visitors a glimpse of traditions that can’t be found in China’s urban centers.

The Huangguoshu Waterfall.

One misty morning, I visited the Meitan Tea Ocean (519 Chahai Rd.; 86-180/8966-6064), the largest expanse of contiguous tea plantations in China, with bushes that extend to the horizon in a patchwork of green velvet. After a tea ceremony, I took in the landscape from my perch high in a pagoda and sipped an earthy brew made with deep red leaves. Later, I drove past rice terraces and limestone karst formations to Huangguoshu Waterfall, the biggest in China, and walked along a winding corridor behind the cascade that’s known as the Water-Curtain Cave.

An hour and a half’s drive southwest, close to the town of Qinglong, is the 24-Zig Road, China’s winding answer to San Francisco’s Lombard Street. True to its name, the road slaloms in 24 dramatic bends cut into a mountainside. At the top, I stopped to watch a traveling chorus of singers from a local Yi village, clad in richly embroidered clothing, as they serenaded a small crowd that had gathered.

Back in Guiyang, a notoriously late-night town, I went to karaoke at Happy World (7 Dushi Rd.; 86-851/8588-0598) with a Guizhou-born, California-raised friend, whose cousins belted out Mandarin hits as we downed shots of local baijiu. Having worked up an appetite, we hit Shaanxi Road, a lively drag where food carts sold regional specialties like skewers of fried chicken dipped in sesame oil. As we slurped suan tang yu, Guizhou’s famous sour fish soup, the tables filled with other revelers. They’d all make it to work by morning, they assured us, and raised their glasses with an enthusiastic “Gan!” If this was China’s true soul, I wanted to be a part of it.

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