China Story 4: Rustic Huangyao Ancient Town in Hezhou (贺州黄姚古镇)
Sights: Huangyao Ancient Town (黄姚古镇)
Region: Zhaoping County, Hezhou Prefecture, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region
Huangyao Ancient Town has a history of more than a thousand years and is one of the most well preserved ancient towns in China. It was named as "Huangyao" as majority of its inhabitants are of the surnames "Huang" and "Yao".
Situated in the southeast corner of Guangxi, Huangyao is not commonly known among travellers although it is about 200Km from Guilin City (桂林市). It became popular among Chinese and Hong Kong travellers after two Mandarin dramas — "茶是故乡浓" and "酒是故乡醇" — were filmed here. Huangyao Ancient Town was the "故乡" (meaning "hometown").
I got to know about Huangyao from two Chinese university students when I was in Yangshuo (阳朔) and teamed up with them to visit the ancient town. It was intended to be a one-day trip.
Getting From Yangshuo to Huangyao Ancient Town
Unfortunately, getting to Huangyao Ancient Town from Yangshuo was a little difficult — there was no direct bus from Yangshuo to Huangyao, but there were two buses a day from Guilin City. We had to take a bus out of Yangshuo to a particular intersection just after the Ten-Mile Gallery (阳朔十里画廊) and tried to catch the Guilin-Huangyao bus that left Guilin at 9am. We wasted a lot of time waiting for the bus as it did not keep to its schedule. After we finally boarded the bus, it took 2 hours to reach Huangyao.
Huangyao Ancient Town
The two students led me to alight from the bus one stop before the entrance to Huangyao Ancient Town and walked into the town through an alley without buying tickets. Although that saved us some money, we need to be constantly on the lookout for "patrolmen" who went around checking tourists for tickets. It was my first such experience but CNY100 is really too much for seeing the town without visiting any of its sites of interest.
We reached the town at around 1pm, but the last bus scheduled to return to Guilin City was at 3pm. That left us with inadequate time to explore the ancient town, so we decided to stay one night in the town — without my belongings. After checking into Xingfu Li Inn (幸福里客栈) with an available room, we explored the town.
Walking in Huangyao was like living in the 1900s, as though industrialisation had not taken place in China. There was no out-of-place modern structures. Although old houses would eventually need repairs and upgrades, they were done so by ensuring that the architectural styles of all houses stay intact and consistent with one another.
And an ancient tea "house" under an old tree that was a common scene in ancient Chinese dramas and movies.
While walking through the town, I noted those retro posters on the walls. They were rare sights these days, even in China.
And a painting of Chairman Mao's ideal since China's Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.
Outside the town were more beautiful settings with old trees, rivers and mountains. The scenery were beautiful — as though we had stepped into a Chinese painting.
The photo below shows an elderly lady washing vegetables and another lady washing dirty clothes using water from a clean river. How to ensure that dirtied water from the laundry don't pollute the food?
Simple, the river water was diverted into a washing compound and channeled into a 1st-tier pool (top-right in photo). This pool would be used for washing vegetables. The water in the 1st-tier pool would then flow into three 2nd-tier pools. These pools would be used for washing clothes or other things that could not be washed in the same pool. The water from the 2nd-tier pools would then flow back to the river a little downstream. It was a clever way to wash things without affecting others.
We also tried some of Huangyao's local snacks. This was a kind of steamed cake wrapped in bamboo leave — can't recall the name and the ingredients.
One of Huangyao's specialty was their springy noodle made with water chestnut. The locals usually fried it (黄姚炒马蹄粉) and topped with Huangyao's specialty chilies — a truly Huangyao dish. Other specialties were fermented black soybean (豆鼓) and wines. These four items were sold throughout the whole town, in restaurants and inns .
The "volcanic" sunset seemed to be a characteristic in this part of the world — it was the second time I saw the beautiful sunset in two consecutive days. Some Chinese backpackers pointed out that red sunsets with multi-layers of cloud are something to look forward to in the mountainous regions — they looks like volcano eruptions.
Huangyao Ancient Town was brightly lit at night by the lanterns of every household. This made the town especially charming and cozy in the night despite the cool temperature in autumn. And it was a lot quieter at night after most of the tourists left. Locals usually retired very early. Nightlife here was to gather at the inns and taste the wines.
And the ancient town woke up to welcome a cool, misty morning. The rows of unspoiled old houses made me feel like I had travelled back in time to ancient China. There was not a single modern structure to hint that it was the 21st century.
After Huangyao Ancient Town, my two Chinese companions headed for Guilin City directly, while I dropped at the road intersection for Yangshuo. I took a walk along the Ten-Mile Gallery again (see Story #3), followed by a bus back to Yangshuo. The next day, I headed back to Guilin City, where I would continue my journey to the northwest corner of Guangxi.
Back to Guilin City to check out its sights