Before we had stepped foot in China we had visions of big cities like Shanghai and Beijing, smog, traffic and litter. Of course we knew there was a lot more to this vast nation, but we weren’t exactly sure what. Our first impressions in Shaxi really made us start to realise how beautiful the ancient Chinese villages could be, and the UNESCO hot spot of Lijiang proved exactly how uncontrolled tourism could potentially ruin it. And at the risk of assuming every Chinese ancient village is the same, we decided to wander out to Chengyang anyway – a small town in the Guangxi province, only two hours from Guilin City.
What we found was a quaint, bucolic pearl, complete with awe-inspiring wind and rain bridges, striking drum towers, narrow alleyways filled with the scent of spices and a fascinating Dong ethnic minority culture. Chengyang did not disappoint.
The crown jewel of Chengyang is the Wind and Rain Bridge. Built in 1912 and stretching for over 64 metres, this brick and timber bridge is designed with the traditional Chinese style that can be found throughout the ancient region. At night the Yongji Bridge lights up in spectacular fashion, glowing stunningly in the night.
For those feeling active be sure to climb up the top of the hill on the ticket booth-side of the river for some beautiful views over the valley. The hike only takes about 20 minutes to the top and isn’t strenuous. The vistas are completely worth it.
We also managed to time our trip with a cultural feast that is held every month. On the first Saturday of the month (though we’re not positive on this date as we couldn’t find a definitive answer from locals), the Dong minority families get together to have huge communal dinners in the public squares. For the cost of 60RMB we could sample any of the hundreds of dishes prepared by the women of the households in Chengyang. Fried peppers, barbecued pork, sauteed vegetables and a host of unrecognisable meat were on offer. Afterwards traditional dances take place on the stage and there is plenty of rice wine to consume. If you manage to be in town for this extravaganza, don’t miss it!
Chengyang was more than a pleasant stopover – it helped to make us fall in love with rural China again. The cities and long transport between destinations was quickly grinding us down, but being lost in the meandering alleys of this ancient Dong village replenished our souls.
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How To Get To Chengyang (程阳)
The village of Chengyang is about a one hour drive from the town of Sanjiang (三江). If you are coming via train from Guilin, jump on a local bus from outside the train station to Sanjiang (it should cost about 4RMB) and tell the driver you are planning on going to Chengyang. He will tell you when to get off, which should probably be at the bus station. But in our case he dropped us off on a random street corner where the buses to Chengyang drive past. We ended up having a minivan driver pull over and offer us a ride to Chengyang for 10RMB, but we heard the actual bus is 5-8RMB.
There are two bus stations in Sanjiang – Hexi (河西) and Hedong (河东). You need to go to the Hexi bus station to go to Chengyang.
The road to Chengyang is under construction and quite bumpy. When completed it will probably take about 30 minutes or less, but for now it takes one hour.
How To Get To Sanjiang (三江)
You can get to Sanjiang in a number of ways, and by bus it is linked to Liuzhou, Nanning, Guilin and Longsheng. These will more than likely drop you off at the Hedong bus station in Sanjiang, meaning you need to find your way to Hexi. The other way is to take a train from Guilin or Zhangjiajie. The ridiculously oversized and modern train station is about 10km outside of town (and has been creating a bit of controversy lately, as you can see in this BBC Travel article). From there either take the bus or a taxi into town.
The Entrance Fee To Chengyang
The price for the entrance fee into Chengyang is 60RMB (30RMB for students). This supposedly goes to the upkeep and maintenance of the town, but in all honesty it probably goes straight into the pockets of government officials.
If you ask the bus driver to take you past the Yongji Wind and Rain Bridge you can avoid the entrance fee. Our minivan driver offered to do this for us for 10RMB, and it worked without problem. He drove straight past the ticket booth and dropped us off just on the other side of the bridge. Once inside you will not be asked to show your ticket, and you can walk across the Yongji Wind and Rain Bridge without being checked.
Note that the other bridges inside Chengyang require donations or a small entrance fee to cross. These are supposedly run by the locals and they are in charge of the upkeep.
Where To Stay In Chengyang
We met a friendly Chinese lady, Lusang, on the bus from the train station to Sanjiang and we ended up sticking by her on the way to Chengyang. It was her second time to the village and she supposedly knew of the best accommodation in Chengyang. We put our faith in her and we were so glad we did!
We ended up staying at the Shanjian Guesthouse (山间客栈) which was up on a hill overlooking the town. This place was top notch! It had the best view of any accommodation in all of Chengyang, comfortable beds, clean bathrooms and timber rooms full of character. The staff were lovely, however they didn’t speak any English. There is also a restaurant on site and they serve delicious tea and cheap wine.
Shanjian Guesthouse (山间客栈)
- Phone – 13481996420 / 15347762620
- Price – 60RMB for a double room with a view and private bathroom.
- Directions – When you go over the Yongji Bridge turn right and follow the road for about 50m. Follow the left road when it forks at Yang’s Guesthouse and walk another 20m or so. There will be a sign on your left and some stairs running up. Follow those all the way to the top and you will reach the Shanjian Guesthouse.
16 thoughts on “The ‘Real’ China – The Ancient Village Of Chengyang”
We are glad you had a great time there. It is a beautiful place. Nice info! It is really informative blog. I have learned a lot and it is actually very surprising that something like this is happening. I would really like to see some more good information regarding this.
Hi Melanie, thank you so much for reading. We really appreciate it. It was a very beautiful and interesting place.
Great article. I’ll visit Guiyang and Sanjiang/Chengyang over a few days next month. Look foward to exploring the places you talk about it! Keep up the good work!
Thanks Stephen. It is a gorgeous place. Please do let us know how you go. 🙂
This place looks amazing!!! I’ll have to check it out the next time I’m in Guilin. How much time would you recommend staying there for?
Definitely do. It was a special place. We would recommend a could of days. There is some hiking in the area or you can relax and drink lots of tea. It is a lovely town to walk around. Happy travels
Ahhh, one of the highlights of my 1st trip to china.. I was in love with this little village. It’s interesting to see how it’s changed.. more hostels /hotels it looks like.. slightly more built up, but still with all it’s charm. The bridge wasn’t lit up at night when we were there, at least not with those lights, lol. I loved how it was like walking back in time 600 years or something, it was so amazing. I’m glad you made it here! China gets a bad rap for big smoggy polluted cities, but it has some of the most beautiful national parks, stunning surreal little villages and amazing food. One of my top 3 countries ( along with Nepal and Indonesia ).
We are glad you had a great time there. It is a beautiful place. It indeed gets a bad rap for the smog. We got clear skies in Shanghai so we were lucky and shocked. Thanks for reading and commenting. Sorry about the late reply.
Hi there, we have travelled a lot through SEAsia, but never to China. We are hoping to go there in 2016. Our hope is to travel independently and backpack around rural areas on our own. Is this possible? From your blog it looks like that is exactly what you have done, but we are told it is impossible as the Chinese gov does not allow independent travel nor allow people visas into the country without an invitation letter from someone from the country willing to host you and an itinerary with hotels included. How do you get past this. We would like to couchsurf and find small guesthouses as we go along as we have done in many other parts of Asia, but till now how not gotten much info on how we can do this. Can you give us advice?
Hi Wendy, We apologies about the late reply. Since moving continuously for a long time with bad internet we lost track of comments and are now trying to catch up. We hope you had a great trip to China. I know you may have been already but I will reply for others if they are after the same information.
It is indeed easy to travel independently but a little difficult with the language barrier. We did not have an invitation letter to enter the country. We showed our itinerary (booked on booking.com and then cancelled), exit flights (cancelled once got visa) and insurance. We had our bank details just incase but they never asked for them. We couchsurfed in Beijing and Shanghai and had no problems. We travelled from the west to the east over 4 months and had no issues with travelling independently or issues when exiting or extending our visa.
Again I am so sorry about the late reply and we’d love to hear how you went along and what your favourite bit of the trip was. 🙂
Hi, your blog is really nice and interesting for us as we would like to visit China for the first time. As I do not like big modern city, we are thinking to go to visit the ethnic village between Guiyang and Guilin. I am trying to find some information about this region. We are looking for authenticity. We want also to see the traditional architecture , that s what motivates us to go in that area. Is it still the case in the ethnic village or is more like fake village scenery for tourists? Thank you in advance for your advice and “Bonne route” ( as we say in French …you could guess with my bad english ; )
Hi Sophie, I am so sorry for the late reply. How did you get along with your trip? Where did you visit? We thought the village of Chengyang was fine. We were there in the not so busy time so maybe it will be different in the busy time. 🙂
Wow! That seems like a fun expire to have. Thanks for sharing the tip of how to get a better deal to enter the city 🙂
You’re welcome, Angel 🙂
Ah, I should boycott your blog as I am in China right now and you are posting beautiful places I wish I could go to but do not have time to 🙂
Haha, sorry Jennifer!