Getting to Kaiping:
We took a bus from Sheung Wan to Shenzhen Bay border crossing. After passing through Hong Kong and China immigration, we boarded another bus for the long journey (4 hours) to Kaiping. At the Kaiping bus station, we transferred to hired vans for our trip.
Diaolous are multi-story residences built by returning wealthy merchants at the turn of the 20th Century that rise high above the traditional low-rise Chinese landscape. They were built to protect the wealthy owners from attacks by bandits. The exterior design of the homes reflect a distinctly western influence while (almost) everything on the inside is traditional Chinese.
We visited three diaolou clusters (or villages), each one becoming more upscale than the last. The diaolous themselves are all very similar: multi-storied so that multiple family members could live there, each floor basically set up for each family (parents on the main floor, first wife and children on the second floor, etc...), rooftops served as lookouts.
Majianglong Diaolou Cluster:
We learned about watch towers here - built to protect the village from approaching bandits with holes for guns, pouring hot water or stabbing with large knives. Residents shared the duty of looking out for the village.
|Our tour guide, Stanley|
We saw many low rise buildings before actually seeing the first Diaolou. Many of these are still lived in and a couple have been converted into small restaurants.
Each Diaolou that we visited was uniquely different both outside and inside. The wealthier the owner the more levels and more elaborate the architecture.
We were able to walk through some of the diaolous (some are still owned by the descendants of the original owners). Most of the furniture we saw in this cluster was pretty simple and very typical Chinese.
Pictures of owners and descendants filled the walls. It is very hard to tell, but the images below are hand drawn.
The diaolous in this cluster were separated by bamboo forest which was absolutely stunning to walk through.
Mountains and rice fields made a beautiful backdrop to the Majianlong Diaolou cluster.
Accommodations: Country Garden Jade Bay Phoenix Hotel, Kaiping
We arrived in the night (and I was suffering from major motion sickness after traveling in the van), so to wake up to this view was quite surprising after spending the previous day in very rural areas. This hotel felt straight out of Las Vegas - everything was large, splendid, and over-the-top. The breakfast buffet was typical Chinese spread and the coffee was very good.
*Our original accommodations were changed because the government effectively closed old town Chikan where we were supposed to stay (this is common in China - when the government decides to do an overhaul, the local residents are offered a relocation deal with the opportunity to return when the renovation of the town is compete).
Zili Village Diaolou Cluster:
There was an instant notable difference to the diaolous we had seen at Majianglong. After crossing some wooden bridges and stopping for a quick coffee at a little cafe, we reached the towers.
The furniture inside was more ornate with grandiose details.
The rooftop terraces were also grand with large pavilions on the top and plenty of space to enjoy the 360 degree views.
The village and diaolou properties felt like a park. There were ponds with geese and many places to sit and enjoy the beauty of the countryside.
There were many locals working on the rice harvest.
Jinjangli Diaolou Cluster:
The entrance to this village felt like we were entering a walled fortress.
After browsing a small museum, we walked through the tight alleys of the village to reach the featured diaolou: Ruishilou. At nine-stories, this was the tallest diaolou that we visited.
Inside, the furniture was yet another bar above the previous houses. It wasn't flashy, but definitely more substantial.
We saw windows with glass panes for the first time, although there were still bars on the windows. To open, the glass panes slid left or right like a barn door.
The top of this tower was very ornamental, but not open like the towers with pavilions. The top floors had more covered common areas with watchtower features on the outside.
We stopped quickly to view Zhongjianlou and Bianchouzhulou, China's leaning tower of Pisa!
A special treat was having lunch in a diaolou turned into a restaurant, AMO's ---> and it was the best Chinese food I've had. After lunch the owner gave a grand tour. I highly recommend this spot for a meal if you are touring the Diaolous in Kaiping.
Our last stop was to Chikan Old Town, built on a river. This is where we were supposed to have accommodations before the government closed it down.
Normally Chikan would be bustling with markets, but we only saw buildings deserted and barricaded with bamboo scaffolding. Even the pedestrian bridge was closed.
Despite being closed, we were still able to meet some of the locals who still come and set up tables to sell their homemade food. I bought some peanut brittle that was so delicious.
Chikan Old Town is so historically picturesque that it has often been the set of many movies. Part of the town was officially turned into Chikan Studio City and it's nickname became Chikan Movie Town.
My visit to Kaiping was just what I expected: historical, authentic and educational, but most of all fun (well, minus the van sick part). Now that I'm getting the hang of the AWA website, I'm looking forward to signing up for more trips.
Have you ever been to a UNESCO site?