Among all the Dong, Miao, Zhuang and Yao villages we visited along the route from Yangshuo to Kaili, the most beautiful one is surprisingly crowned to the unknown Dong village - Zengchong, which has never been highlighted by any guidebooks yet.
Things to See:
Edged by an enchanting stream almost on all sides, Zengchong looks like a marvellous oval gem, embedded exquisitely among pretty hillsides with greeneries of all sorts- banyan trees, bamboo patches, terrace fields, etc.
Old wooden Wind and Rain Bridges connect the village to the surrounding area. Simple and sturdy, they are not as sumptuous as those Dong bridges appearing on the magazines.
The stream provides ample water source for the village. Like the old town of Lijiang (in Yunnan), cobbled lanes, enveloped by beautiful houses, winds along water channels that run through all parts of the village. Limited open space in this small village is filled with ponds that are essential for fire protection as most of the houses are old and wooden. Unusually there are also a couple of very old stone houses.
The remarkable drum tower, the symbol of Dong minority, stands in the village centre square, beside a big, rectangle pond. This elegant tower is the oldest Dong drum tower in China, dated 300 years ago. The village head disclosed the secret of its longevity. Every year after the humid and rainy season, some experienced old men set fire under the tower for several days to dry the tower and prevent it from damage by moths. Such practice already used for centuries was recently forbidden by some high but blind officials from the city with 'nice' intention to protect the tower. But the village head wondered if such measure might eventually kill the tower.
There are abundant activities in Zengchong: women weaving clothes, feeding babies, men walking through the narrow lanes with their horse carts carrying farming materials or firewood, and along the stream people bathing, washing of laundry and vegetables.
Any part of Zengchong is pretty. The people are extremely friendly. They still go about their lives in traditional ways. The women's costume is especially attractive. Unlike some touristy Dong villages, the women and girls in the village wears their Dong costume in all sorts of bright colours- green, purple, red and so on. Their blouse is worn in such a way like the Chinese women of the ancient era wearing their top undergarments.
The sunrise view of the village is best from the primary school at the northeast near the entrance of the village.
To admire the unique layout of the village surrounded by the stream, we exited the village at the southwest end by crossing the Wind and Rain Bridge, and then carried on a tractor path up the hill. The view was fabulous. We overlooked the village bathed under the soft sunset light, and wondered how long this peaceful village can maintain untouched by hordes of tourists.
Future - Another Lijiang?
We happened to see Zengchong's development plan drafted by a professional tourist research company. According to the plan, the majority of local people have to move out in order to 'protect' the village and build souvenir shops, hotels and restaurants. We were puzzled why they did not propose to build a tourist centre outside of the village, hence keeping this unique village intact. Furthermore the plan did not state any benefits or profit whatsoever accruing to the local population as a result of the development.
The tragedy is that in China tourist development in a poor region is often carried out by rich outsiders. They invest money first to build the road, improve the infrastructure, and open a ticket office. Eventually all the profit goes into their pocket. Poor local people can only serve as cheap manpower during the phase of development.
Like Lijiang, Zengchong is too beautiful to remain undiscovered. Will it survive from blind tourist development? In three years or maybe less, will Zengchong inevitably become another uncharacteristic hotspot for Chinese tourists?
Getting there and away:
Zengchong is not a travel destination recommended by any English language guidebooks yet. Nor is it well known among Chinese travellers. This is what makes it such a great place. When we visited Zengchong in April 2005, there were no direct transport to the village and getting there was rather convoluted. It will not be easy for any non-Chinese speaking travellers.
The best base to get to the village is from Rongjiang 榕江. The first part of the journey is only achievable by catching a ride on a converted goods truck from the outside of Rongjiang to WangDong 往洞 . The ride takes about one and a half hours (Y7.-) over some winding mountain tractor roads.
From WangDong, it is about 6 km to Zengchong. One can either trek for about two hours for this section of the journey, catch a ride on a motorbike or a horse cart (we trekked to the village but managed to catch a horse ride out costing 25Y). The road from here to Zengchong is mainly flat. It is a pleasant walk, following a little stream, passing mainly rice terraces. A smaller village is reached first on the half way.
Zengchong has its own truck leaving for Rongjiang every morning.
Where to stay : During the time of our visit, there were no guesthouses or any established accommodation in the village. One's best option is to ask the village head for assistance to be accommodated in one of the villagers' home. The accommodation available is normally quite basic. We stayed at the Shuji's home near the entrance of the village for Y10. (Shuji 书记 means the chef of communist party in the village).
Where to eat : One can bring their own food or buy stuff from a couple of provision shops in the village. The better and recommended option is to ask the family you are staying with to cook dinner for you. This is both an opportunity for you to interact with the family as well as for them to make some extra money.
NB: Dong's tradition is that womenfolk will not dine with guests at the dinner table- they will eat after the guests had finished their meals.
Written by CBP in July 2005
Other Destinations in the region: Itinerary: Yangshuo-Kaili, Xijiang, Sister's Meal Festival.
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