We finally left Wuzhou City after spending two weeks there. Started early in the morning, we drove six hours (580 km) to Baise City (白色市). We spent two nights in Baise City then drove another five hours (360 km) before arriving at Puzhehei.
Puzhehei is a turning point in our trip as it marks our entry into the southeastern part of Yunnan and also our first rural destination.
We knew nothing about Puzhehei before we read about it from Lonely Planet. It is renowned for its Karst landscape which we previously only associated with Guilin (桂林). So you can imagine how astounded we were when we climbed the Qinglongshan (青龍山) and saw the breathtaking bird’s-eye view of the big and small limestone hills surrounding the village.
We did not visit any of the touristic caves featuring the LED lit dolomites but preferred hiking around the hills or strolling in the villages away from the main routes. Occasionally, we got lost but Kin always persevered and found the way through, sometimes even by getting down on all fours through wetland.
We chose to stay in a small village of the Yi tribe (彞族) called Xianren Cave Village (仙人洞村). In our opinion, it is way better than the main Puzhehei Village since it is away from the crowd, tidier and livelier with well maintained guesthouses while most of the local life is still preserved. As it was the quiet season, we were able to stay in probably the most comfortable and chic guesthouse (西池上晚) located in a quiet spot right by the lake.
I called the guesthouse and the host Mr. Mao was most accommodating. He said that we did not need to book but just go and choose whichever room we like. At first, he did not believe us that we would stay for a week as most people stay only one or two nights. After talking for over half an hour which by then he already told Akie all the different operating issues he faces and his future plans, he was quite convinced after learning we had stayed in Wuzhou City for two weeks and gave us a really good deal. A few days later, he even offered to move us to the lake view room (which normally should be double the price). But we were already very happy with our spacious room at the back.
Summer is the peak season with tourists pouring in to see the “sea” of water lilies and taking part in the famous water fight festival. But we consider ourselves lucky to be away from the crowds to enjoy the quietness.
According to Lonely Planet, very few people heard of Puzhehei until it suddenly came into the spotlight when the popular Chinese reality TV show “Where did daddy go?” (爸爸去哪兒) aired in 2013 followed by the TV soap opera Sang Sheng San Shi(三生三世) in 2017. It attracted a great deal of tourists but like everything else, the bubble burst quickly.
Sadly, we saw numerous incomplete guesthouses especially in the area where the soap opera was filmed. Not only the Puzhehei main village itself is rather tired looking and messy when we roamed around but the nearby Qiubei Town (丘北县城) is littered with an unfinished tourist centre and empty buildings supposedly constructed to be restaurants and shopping complexes. We saw many on-going construction sites of high rise residential and commercial buildings and we were told that the apartment price is not cheap considering the town only has a small population.
Having said that, we find the small village we stayed and its surrounding area quite enchanting. And we love the guesthouse. The first night we arrived, there was a thunderstorm and we could hear the splitting thunder and rain through the roof. Our room is divided into two parts, one with the traditional terracotta roof, which covers the bathroom side and the other with the concrete roof over the bed. The next morning, we found the bathtub slightly covered with dust and the odd fallen leaves on the toilet floor. So each night, we would briefly clean the bathtub before we enjoyed a super hot bath. We did find this daily ritual rather amusing.
We were particularly drawn to the back garden and the cafe/bar area as it overlooks the lake and the hills. We could easily sit there for hours mesmerized by the tranquil lake with the odd boats passing by and the lyrical chant of the fruit hawker in local language. By the third day, we figured out what the lady was chanting to sell bananas, dragon fruits and apples (which sounded like buttock( 屁股) in Putonghua).
Our cat Daisy was rather shy the first day when we took her to the garden but she quickly adapted to the surroundings. The swallows were attracted to Daisy and stood quite close to her by the flowerbed and they would stare at each other while we were having breakfast.
Lavender also sunbathed in the garden and chirped away as she heard the nearby swallows singing. The locals also love one kind of birds called Thrush (畫眉) and almost each household had a birdcage hanging at the front door.
On Sunday, we went to the Qiubei Town and we came across an open square with many local men gathered around with only one purpose – they all brought their thrush and talked about which birds sing better and fight better. Then we walked around their huge market watching the local women in their colourful traditional minority ethnic costumes busy bargaining for new clothes and food. We also bought some local vegetables and fruits.
We loved strolling in the village and tried to catch a glimpse of the local life. The Yi tribal women are very good at sewing and we always find them sewing lovely colourful patterns while selling their local produce. The elderly women loved dancing in their eye-catching ethic clothes and one time we saw them dancing non-stop for over an hour. One could see how much they enjoyed it by the big grin on their faces.
One day, we saw many households pushing carts with live pigs. Then we learned that a month prior to the Chinese New Year, it is the local custom for the Yi people to slaughter a pig and prepare a feast for their families. Although it was rather painful to hear the squealing pigs from a distance, it was quite a sight to see all the men helping with the killing and cleaning afterwards while the women busy chopping, boiling and cooking away.