Where: Kaili, Guizhou Province, China
Where we stayed: Heaven sent Dragon Hotel ($30-$35/night with breakfast, wifi, immaculate rooms & unlimited hot water) – after all our squat toilets and run down places, it was time for a little ‘luxury’…trust us, it was “heaven sent”! This was also the first place in China where we were actually turned away for being foreigners. Apparently there’s a lot of paperwork involved and an extra license so some hotels don’t want to bother with the hassle. After checking out the Petroleum Hotel (not recommended at all!) and being denied by many of the rest, we ended up at one of the nicest places in town.
Good Eats: Why did we not buy more! Rule of thumb – when you see lines it must be good. One of Kaili’s specialties are little rice cakes with peanuts held together with a touch of honey. While there are many imitations in town, the one down the alley in front of the hotel was always the busiest. We also had a delicious pizza like street snack from a vendor that sets up near the southeast corner of Yingpan Donglu and Shaoshan Beilu down a little ways on Yingpan. We also enjoyed a traditional Chinese hotpot meal at a fellow couchsurfer’s house, Min. Thank you Min for your hospitality and showing us around town a bit!
Best of: Best taste of ‘real’ China on our trip, cheap massages, street eats (a dying art thanks to crackdowns on food safety issues.)
Worst of: Hotels denying us a place to stay when we arrived, a couple of rainy days.
Most Memorable: One of the many memorable moments was compliments of Min by showing us where the $3 blind massage place was. It’s located on the second floor above the food court of the ‘mall’ and an excellent value, but be prepared for a strong massage that hurts in a good way the next day! Photo of the area is below:
Arguably the poorest part of the poorest province, Eastern Guizhou sees fewer tourists compared to the rest of the nation, but there are signs that that too is changing. All around this unassuming city lies some of the most unique and traditional Miao villages making it the ideal hub for travel around the region. As somewhat of a ‘last frontier’ the area is becoming increasingly popular with travelers that want to get off the beaten path. For those willing to go off schedule of the market days and tour group times, these villages can still be a unique experience with no other foreigners around for miles.
The Miao villages may be the main attraction, but Kaili has a few nuggets to offer the intrepid traveler if given enough time to work its charm. It’s own market attracts all the villagers from all over the region making it possible to see all the different minorities in the region in one spot. The downtown area has plenty of eateries and hotels giving you far more options than you would get in the villages and lets not forget about that $3 massage!
Kaili’s market plays host to a variety of vendors. From tofu to dog, dental services to haircuts – anything and everything can be had on market days.
Another aspect of market day that plays a vital role for the community is it’s social aspects. Something akin to what we would consider a lazy Sunday afternoon coffee, the Chinese men enjoy games.
Occasionally, a small group of men, such as this one, will get together and play their musical instruments. Despite breaking a few flimsy strings on his banjo, the musician, ever resourceful, found a way to continue the show.
Chinese chess and Mahjong are the two most popular games in China and one does not have to go far to catch a game in action. On market days, the number of people playing increases as squares fill and makeshift tables are set up all over.
Social aspects not only apply to the men and their games, but the women as well. Many women spend days making a couple of pieces of textiles to bring to market. Some are made with new threads while others are made with recycled materials, like old blue jeans. The combinations create a kaleidoscope of color and patterns that are distinct from one ethnic minority to the next.
Even locks of hair are sold in the market. The long hair tribes (discussed in a previous posting on the Dragon’s Backbone) prize these ‘extensions’.
And what’s a market without its exotic food options? Dried chilies and, yes, dog are still available served alongside Pao (steamed buns) and various soups and stews.
While we could have spent months exploring the various villages and tribes, we felt it was time to move on after a week. Packing up, we boarded a train heading further into the Chinese interior. Passing through the Southwest China transport hub of Kunming, our next stop is the magnificently stunning rice terraces of Yuanyang!