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Why did I choose Xijiang? Even now I still don’t really know the answer to that question. Guests at my guesthouse, Little Inn (Xiao Lou 小楼) will sometimes ask, you traveled around the whole of China, and yet you chose Xijiang, why?
In 4 months, I traveled on my own through Shaanxi, Xinjiang, Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, Tibet, Yunnan and finally Guizhou. By the time I got to Guizhou I had already had my fill of amazing sites, yet deep down I was still lacking something, and it was Guizhou that gave me that inner peace I longed for.
Maybe it was because I knew that after my two weeks there I would have to return to the big city and my 9 to 5 day job. Another reason was that Guizhou is my home province and in the over 20 years that I’d lived there I had always been trying to find ways to escape. I’d never taken the time to really appreciate it, and as a Dong minority girl I didn’t really understand my roots properly.
Xijiang is China’s largest Miao minority village and it was only by chance that I came across it. When I got to south east Guizhou I had originally planned to travel to Langde Miao village, and knew nothing about Xijiang. However, when I got to Kaili bus station to buy my ticket the bus to Langde had just left. I had my money in my hand and a girl in the queue next to me chipped in, “There’s still a seat on the bus to Xijiang, why don’t you go there, once you’ve seen the biggest Miao village you won’t need to visit Langde.”
So I found myself on the bus to Xijiang. To be honest, it was the right decision. The bus bumped and shook along the twisting mountain roads, but after a 100 days on the road and sleeping in all sorts of conditions day and night on buses in Tibet and Yunnan it was nothing.
What I was not ready for was the shock as the bus rounded the corner and I got my first glimpse of Xijiang. The two sides of the steep valley were teeming with Miao houses, proud and still in the afternoon glow. It was love at first sight and knew that what I’d stumbled across in south east Guizhou was special.
The first day I spent exploring the village, strolling the narrow lanes and taking it all in. Day 2 I happened to bump into a Miao girl who invited me to her friend’s traditional Miao wedding. The whole thing was a huge party full of singing and dancing, things that the Miao pride themselves on. On day 3, I took a hike out of the village and up the mountain path to get a different view of Xijiang. Sitting there overlooking the place, I knew I didn’t really want to leave.
The next morning, I packed up my things and headed to the small bus station on the edge of the village by the paddy fields. I had already stayed longer than I had originally intended, but still, leaving now felt like way too soon. As the bus driver leaned on the side of the bus having one last cigarette and I gazed out over the ripe yellowing blades of rice shoots, it was then that I decided I wasn’t going to leave Xijiang.
“I’m not going” I called to the driver as I turned away and headed back to the village. It has been a year now and since I made that decision to open up the Little Inn Youth Hostel and stay in Xijiang. To this day I sometimes joke with the bus driver, who is now a friend of mine, about the day I didn’t get on that bus.
It took several months of hard work to get the Little Inn Youth Hostel up and running, but with every day of hard graft I got closer to my dream, and for that I have nothing to complain about.
But what really makes life in Xijiang perfect is not the slow pace of the old town, or the clean air and water of the Guizhou mountains, but it’s the genuine friendliness of the Miao people around me every day. Whether it is frolicking with the children in the hills or listening to the old folk sing there traditional songs of past myths and legends, it is their energy that keeps me going and puts a smile on my face.
Getting there: Take a flight or train to Guiyang (贵阳), capital of Guizhou province. From there take a coach to Kaili (凯里) and from the bus station at Kaili there are buses every hour that make the 40 minute journey to Xijiang (西江) for RMB 25.
Accommodation: Little Inn Youth Hostel (小楼青年旅馆) offers beds for around RMB 30 per night. Follow signs from where the bus drops you. Other inn accommodation is also available dotted around the village.
Attractions: As well as being home to over 1700 Miao households, the village also boasts a Miao culture museum.