Mass Tourism At Its Fullest
We were well aware that visiting a main tourist attraction in China during the May 1st holiday week would not be a lonely affair! Nevertheless, what we experienced in the tiny village of Ping’An was beyond our wildest imaginations. The area is famous for its extensive and elaborately sculptured rice terraces, a truly magnificent place. BUT! Since it caters mainly to Chinese tour groups coming up for the day from Guilin or Yangshuo, the place turns into a zoo during the busy holiday season.
Not that Ping’An is a village just off a major highway: it requires quite some traveling to get there, all in all at least 3 hours from Guilin for instance. The last bit is a steep, narrow, windy road that ends at the path that leads to village. For 50 Yuan, you may pass the entrance gate. From there, it is another 15 to 20 minute walk uphill to the village proper.
This path is lined with souvenir stalls, men waiting in their “sedans” offering their services to carry people up the few hundred meters to the village. Every female who could walk was shoving postcards, silver bracelets and embroidery in your face. This madness continued way until we left the village to climb the various viewing points. Women preyed at various scenic outlooks posing in super elegant tribal attire for photos or offering to take their hair and up again.
The Yan women are famous for their super long, pitch-black hair that they whirl around their head like a turban. This ritual is of course part of a folklore show that takes place a few times a day at the foot of the windy road going up to the village. For those interested in taking photos of the “hair ritual”, we would recommend to pay the ladies waiting up on the mountain instead of dishing 50 Yuan for a mediocre show in a brand new wooden barn!
Since it was such a busy weekend, we joined a Chinese tour group going to Ping’An, instead of taking three different buses. There we left the group and stayed overnight in the new addition of the Countryside Café and Inn. This turned out to be an experience in itself. When we came back from dinner around 11:00 pm, the bar downstairs was packed with young Chinese tourists and thumping with loud disco music. Our room also faced the only even stretch in the village and was milling with people shouting. This, plus the horrendous noise from the bar made us ask for another room. When no quiet place in this building was found, we moved down to the older part of this accommodation. The owner was very understanding, but what a commotion! On top of that, at the other place, we could follow every conversation in the restaurant downstairs or the neighboring rooms.
Many western tourists complain about Yangshuo being so terribly touristy, but there we knew what to expect and enjoyed the carnival like atmosphere. Who can blame all these people coming to see this amazing landscape? And yes, there is money to be made! But in Yangshuo, a few streets away from West Street, you have a lively Chinese city and you can easily get away from the masses by cycling out into the countryside, whereas in Ping’an, you are simply trapped! Especially when it rains, you cannot get away and the music from the bars carries all over the tiny village.
In this place, the word mass tourism took on a dimension we did not think was possible. We tried to focus on the positive side and see it an attraction of its own.