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August 7th, 2012

Basketball in Guizhou? “Just Do It.”

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Nike recently released a video on its website describing the story of WildChina guide Xiao and his building of a basketball court in Guizhou. The full story is below:

This month as the world sits and watches the games of the 30th Olympiad, it is reminded how impressive athletic ability is. Whether you are rooting for a rising star like Missy Franklin or a global icon like Usain Bolt, you can see the raw emotions that are released as these competitors finally reach the goal they have–in most cases–been striving for their whole lives. While the accomplishments of these stars are impressive, what is often lost amid the flashbulbs and pomp of an award’s ceremony is the simple impetus that originally drew these people forward:  their love of the game.  In the misty hills of Guizhou, one of WildChina’s guides wanted to provide an opportunity for a town to pursue its love of basketball.

Xiao is a tour guide for WildChina. Three and half years ago, he was hiking through the small villages of Guizhou with an American couple when he encountered a dirt basketball “court” constructed by the Miao villagers of Jiaola. Intrigued, Xiao made it a point to return after the guests had departed to shoot some hoops with the locals. Although the villagers enjoyed playing in the modest arena, Xiao was saddened to notice how primitive it was. Nonetheless, he was unable to contain his own enthusiasm for basketball, and it was not long before Xiao was posting up and draining buckets. In the heat of the game, Xiao unfortunately sprained his knee very badly. Initially, Xiao was concerned that he would be unable to hike out the next day, however a shaman approached him and said he could help. During the night, the shaman used his skills in traditional Chinese medicine to heal Xiao’s knee, and in the morning, the guide was able to depart. To repay the Jiaola villagers for their kindness, Xiao decided let’s “Just Do It,” – let’s raise that money and build this community a proper basketball court.

Under the guidance of the village elders, supplies were carried up to the village, and in only 15 days, the court was finished. Since its completion, the basketball court’s use has increased dramatically with local players reporting that they visit the court every day to work on their game. Festivals are extremely important to the Miao people, and as Xiao mentions in the video, basketball is a type of festival; the fun it provides calls for celebration in and of itself. Beyond the glammer of the paparazzi, Xiao gave the Miao all they needed for a new festival, a space to enjoy their love of the game.


If you have any questions about travel in Guizhou, send us an email at info@wildchina.com.

Photos by WildChina travelers.

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August 6th, 2012

Who are China’s Miao people?

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Unless you are an expert on Asian anthropology, you probably are not aware of the various ethnic communities living in China. Below is a brief introduction to the history, culture, and most importantly, the major festivals of the Miao people, the second-largest population of ethnic communities residing in Guizhou:

Known throughout the rest of Southeast Asia, the Miao people are able to trace their Chinese roots back more than four-thousand years. Though initially, they were located in the western part of Henan province and the eastern edge of Guizhou, both migration and being taken captive have resulted in the scattering of the Miao people to various parts of China’s southwest, including the Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan Provinces.

The formation of distinct “pockets” throughout the mainland has led to subtle variations within the Miao culture itself. The disparities between the Miao people of different provinces is most clearly visible in the variation of traditional dress for both men and women. For example, the woolen cloaks and linen jackets that distinguish the Miao men of one province may not even be donned by those of another. Though the differences in male fashion are quite noticeable, they are unsurprisingly out done by the innumerable variations in the overall style and extravagance found amongst female Miao fashion. Even though a skirt is seemingly simple, within the Miao wardrobe, there is a wide selection in terms of pleating, length, hues, and patterns.

Though major festivals are in essence a time for celebration, the fashionable Miao women see these festivities as  somewhat similar to New York Fashion Week. In order to stand out in the crowd, every woman must pull out all of the stops to look her best. Not only do skirts become even more vividly hued and floral patterns even more captivating, the Miao women keenly add an extra element to finish off their already vogue-worthy attire. Whether one lives on the Upper East Side or in a small Guizhou village, every girl knows that no outfit is complete without the perfect amount of sparkle to catch the attention of every pair of male eyes in the room. With their impeccable accessories, ranging from show-stopping head dresses that shimmer in the sunlight to an uncountable assortment of well-crafted silver jewelry, the Miao women are able to give even the most avid collector of Tiffany and Co. a run for her money.

Even though tastes in fashion may differ depending on province, something that remains consistent regardless of location is the overarching love that the Miao people have for both singing and dancing. At no time is this fondness for celebration more clearly evident than during their major festivals, the two most important being the Lusheng and the Sister’s Meal Festivals.

The Lusheng Festival, which takes place during the Fall, is a time of coming together. Miao groups from all over the mainland converge in Guiyang for a wild celebration consisting of energy-filled horse racing, exhilarating bull fighting, and most importantly, entrancing performances of the Lusheng, a traditional wood wind instrument.

The Sister’s Meal Festival, which takes place in early Spring, highlights the undying passion that the Miao people have for singing, specifically through the lively songs that are sung back and forth between Miao men and women. In addition to these beautiful exchanges of verse, lovebirds may also share tokens of love as acknowledgements of their affection for each other. For the younger Miao people, all you really need is love.

Although they may be hidden in the southwest corner of China, the colorful dress, multifaceted culture, and riveting festivals of the Miao people are hands down, some of the most memorable throughout China and definitely not ones to be missed.


If you have any questions about either the Miao people or travel to Guizhou feel free to send us an email info@wildchina.com

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July 25th, 2012

What is Guizhou?

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

No landscape in China is as timeless as that of Guizhou. The hills, covered in stripes of green created by the tiers of rice paddies, look the same today as they have for over six centuries. Above the valleys, mist slowly rises, obscuring your view of the houses that have settled sentient into the top of the mountains. Unlike the rapid evolution that is presently shaping urban China, much of Guizhou remains unchanged. WildChina’s rustic journey through Guizhou and Guangxi, recognized as one of National Geographic Traveler’sTours of a Lifetime,” will make you feel like you have strolled into an old Chinese watercolor.

A trip to the countryside does not mean sacrificing culture, as Guizhou is the home of the Miao minority people. Plan your visit during the Miao festivals and you are in for a real treat. This year, a trip on either Nov. 9-11th or Nov. 10-12th will land you in the middle of the celebrations. During this time, you will see women in black tunics patterned with bright reds and blues, and atop their brows will rest shimmering silver head-dresses. They will laugh smile and dance, and will even offer you a sip of their powerful rice wine.

Guizhou’s remoteness makes it an ideal location for service trips for those who are interested. Only recently, WildChina led a group of Harvard Business School alumni to Guizhou to help in the in the construction of irrigation channels for rice paddies. Opportunities are also available for students on summer break and anyone looking to lend a hand in China during their next vacation. Thinking back on her student’s experience in Guizhou, Adrian Gan, a teacher at the Hong Kong Discovery College noted “Our students have all consistently described their few days living in the Miao Village as one which has completely changed their ideas of what it means to be in community.”

If you have seen China’s cities, or are simply looking for a trip that is on the road less traveled, Guizhou is the perfect answer. When your trip is over, you won’t feel like you are exiting a foreign museum, but like you are leaving a foreign world.


If you have questions about traveling to Guizhou, feel free to contact us at info@wildchina.com

 Cormorant fisherman photograph by Yam-ki Chan

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July 17th, 2012

Princeton’s Summer Service in Guizhou and Guangxi

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Every year, WildChina arranges a trip for a group of Princeton University students to do a Summer of Service in China through Princeton in Asia. Following their experiences in the field, the students head to Hunan province where they spend the rest of the summer teaching English at the Normal College of Jishou University. WildChina Princeton in Asia fellow and tour leader Max Stein, retells the journey through Southern China.

If the Princeton students had been worried about the level of cultural immersion on their trip, these fears were soon put to rest. No sooner had they arrived in Kaili, then they were thrust into the excitement of China’s Duanwu Jie (Dragon Boat Festival), where the streets were alive with the shimmering celebration of the Miao people. After dinner that evening, we jumped right into the action joining in the hopping and skipping of the traditional Miao dances.


Short Skirt Miao women performing

Following their first evening, the students stepped into true immersion when they hiked to their home stay in Wugao village. While living among the Miao people, the young adventurers helped in the daily chores of the town. They dug potatoes, collected food for livestock, and played with the local children. We even had the opportunity to visit a silversmith to watch him smelt one of the intricate Miao necklaces. One of the finest moments of cultural exchange may have happened on the second night, when students attempted to sing the songs of the villagers. Many of the rolling melodies and high notes require a lifetime of practice and while the notes may not have come through, peals of laughter did from both students and locals alike.


Miao home in Wugao village

The next day, we headed south to the Dong people’s village of Zhaoxing. The Dong minority is the second-largest ethnic group in Guizhou. All Dong villages contain a drum tower which in the past was used to alert the people to attackers, but now functions primarily as a town meeting place.


Drum tower in Zhaoxing

From there our journey continued when we moved to Dali village, where the students were welcomed with the warm smiles of inquisitive locals. Dinner here was a real treat, spicy pickled fish. While this specialty was too hot for some, those who enjoyed spice found it fantastic. Afterwards as the sun set, students had a chance to explore the village along the stone paths that wound up and around the terraced rice fields.


Generous Dong women offering fresh bayberries

In Guangxi, students learned how essential rice is to life in this part of China. Not only are the white grains a crucial staple for the locals but they are also an important commodity for sale to the cities. Much of the rice that is consumed across China’s urban centers is produced in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.


Rice, always vital and valued

As we walked along the stepped edges of the muddy Longsheng Rice Terraces, our guides explained that the Longji Titian (Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces) have been around for almost 700 years. Rising more than 800 meters from the valley floor the scale of agricultural production was truly staggering.


Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces

Sadly, too soon it was time for us all to leave the countryside. As we drove away students looked over their shoulders at the Karst cliffs, awed by the landscape they were leaving behind. Although the scenery had been beautiful, one student confided in me that it was the interactions with the locals that would stay with him forever.



Princeton Summer of Service students, with tour leader/Princeton in Asia fellow Max Stein and local guide Ted Lu on the left


Are you interested in learning more about the Miao minorities? Or maybe seeing the Miao people’s fall festivals? Send as an email at info@wildchina.com and we will be happy to help you begin planning your next trip.


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January 13th, 2012

Zhang Mei featured in China Daily: A walk on the wild side

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Earlier this month, Zhang Mei was featured in China Daily in “A walk on the wild side.”

The article tracks Mei’s “Cinderella” story of growing up in Yunnan province, her transformative experience at Harvard Business School and working at McKinsey & Company. Journalist Mark Graham also discussed Mei’s pivotal moment when she began thinking about starting WildChina in the late 1990s. After several years in the corporate world, Graham reports, “Zhang began to formulate a plan to turn her favorite hobby, exploring the wilderness regions of China, into a viable business.”

Zhang Mei and her son in Argentina

Graham not only followed Mei’s professional life, but about how she spends her time when she is not in the office. “I love going back to Yunnan; I find living, breathing real villages more interesting. I take these amazing hikes; I still feel an adrenaline rush on every trip I go on,” Zhang says.

Outside of Mei's hometown, Dali, Yunnan

Mei also hinted at her favorite hidden treasure in China– Guizhou Province. The upcoming Sisters’ Meal Festivalis not to be missed (early April 2012) and the rich minority culture, warm people and colorful Miao villages are unlike anywhere else in China.


Did Yunnan or Guizhou perk up your ears? Interested in having Mei as your travel consultant? Send an email to info@wildchina.com to learn more.

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December 10th, 2010

A Simple Song in Baibi Village

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Sometimes all it takes is an unexpected moment – a snapshot of daily life – that brings a trip into focus.

I witnessed such a moment during recent travels in Baibi village, an isolated Miao community outside of Kaili in Guizhou province. The largest ethnic minority in this rugged southwestern province, the colorfully clad Miao people have a reputation for kindness, hospitality, and gregariousness.

I spent three days in Baibi working on a community service project with a spirited and driven group of high school students from Hong Kong. We built a retaining wall out of concrete around the edge of a rice paddy, paving the way for the creation of a new fishpond – a crucial food source in a place where protein is in short supply.

After the students put the finishing touches on their project and we gathered on the road to depart, an elderly Miao woman approached our group with a giant smile on her face. Using a mixture of Mandarin and her local Miao dialect, she explained to our local guide, Jacky, why she was so content.

Jacky told us that she was happy about the sunny weather and our presence in the village. Jacky, who is half-Miao, then explained that she was about to start singing: “Miao people have to sing to show they are happy!”

Right on cue, she closed her eyes, tilted her head back and broke into a slow croon that might have seemed mournful if not for the smile still spread across her weathered face. Students, teachers, and villagers alike stood motionless as she sang, and when she finished she distributed bags of sunflower seeds as gifts. For all we had heard – and experienced – of the famously friendly Miao culture, nothing brought it home like the infectious elation of this village elder.

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November 12th, 2010

Once every 13 years: The Miao Guzang festival

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Among the Miao people of Guizhou, there is a festival that only takes place once every thirteen years. The Guzang festival is a two-plus week celebration honoring Li Rong, the ancient leader of the Miao people.

The first day of the Guzang festival is a fairly laid back affair along the lines of an opening ceremony. It is followed by the local shaman circling a mountain with a male duck on the second day and the slaughtering of many pigs and a massive feast on the third day.

We were lucky enough to be in Kaili on the first day of the festival, and we decided to head to Beigao Village, where the local shaman is a friend of our Guizhou guide Billy Li.

Before arriving in Beigao we had to pick up some party favors, which included three large rolls of firecrackers to be set off in announcement of our arrival. We also purchased a male duck, which we would give the shaman.

Once we had prepared everything, we hit a trailhead about one hour’s drive outside of Kaili and started hiking toward Beigao.

During the three-hour hike we followed a clear stream uphill for the first couple of hours, using stepping stones to cross it several times.

The last leg of the hike was a steep ascent consisting primarily of narrow switchbacks. As we gained altitude, the vistas became increasingly spectacular. A village at the top of a mountain across the valley became visible, and Billy told us that every morning children from Beigao would descend their mountain and walk up the other mountain to go to school.

After a few stops to enjoy the stunning scenery we eventually made it to the entrance of Beigao Village. Billy lit a roll of firecrackers to announce our arrival. The nearly two-minute series of explosions created plenty of noise and smoke and also drew a large crowd of children who were curious to see who we were.

The village shaman, Mr. Li, came down to greet us. He thanked us for the duck and led us up into the village, where young Miao women were waiting for us with small bowls of rice wine, the traditional Miao greeting for guests.

After a quick three bowls of rice wine, we were buzzing in the warm sun. We were welcomed by the rest of the villagers at the village basketball court, where we were treated to traditional singing and dancing – and another round of rice wine.

The village’s women were all dressed in traditional Miao costume, with silver adornments a major feature. On the side of the court, young local boys waited for the festivities to move elsewhere so they could get back to playing basketball.

We were invited into the home of Mr. Li the shaman, where we sat around a long table and chatted with the young women who had given us rice wine. We discovered that despite Beigao’s remoteness, several of the girls no longer lived in the village – they had moved to coastal cities to make money, much of which they sent home.

During a delicious home-cooked meal of stir-fried pork and cabbage and spicy and sour fish soup, the shaman encouraged us to drink more rice wine, which we drank in increasingly small sips. The young women burst into song once more, captivating all of us with their beautiful voices.

After the meal, one of the women who had cooked for us exonerated us to stay an extra couple of days for the upcoming feast. Unfortunately, we were not going to be able to catch the height of the Guzang festivities this time around.

It was time for us to make our way back to Kaili via a bus that was waiting for us outside the village. Nearly the entire village walked with us to our ride. We were given hearty handshakes by the men and – you guessed it – rice wine by the women.

Driving away from Beigao we were once again struck by the friendliness and generosity of the rural people of Guizhou – and the potency of their rice wine.

The next morning we discovered one of the members of our group had left his hat at the shaman’s home. We wouldn’t have time to go back and get it this time, but we now had the perfect excuse to hike back to the village next time we were in Guizhou.

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September 13th, 2010

Autumn destinations: Guizhou

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Every corner of China is home to amazing people, nature and geography, but it’s hard to match the diversity found in the country’s southwest. Destinations such as Yunnan, Sichuan and Guangxi are already known far beyond China’s borders for their stunning scenery and rich cultures.


Miao Minority Women

But not everyone knows about the breathtaking scenery and fascinating minorities found in Guizhou. At least, not yet.

From its dynamic capital of Guiyang to the colorful ethnic villages dotting the countryside around Kaili, Guizhou is one of China’s best-kept travel secrets. WildChina has been taking clients who want something different to Guizhou for the last decade, during which time we’ve become even more familiar with this area that is still relatively unknown, even for Chinese.

Karst hills, terraced mountains and scenic waterfalls are reason enough to make the trip to Guizhou, but it is Guizhou’s people that make the journey memorable. On our Hidden Minorities of Guizhou trip, you can take in Han opera in Guiyang before heading to the countryside, where you will learn traditional art forms and crafts of the colorful Miao and Gejia people. The highlight for most of our clients is the village homestay in Paika on the fourth night.

Guizhou has a generally mild climate, which at its most comfortable in the autumn.


To learn more about how you can experience Guizhou this fall, please contact us today.

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July 28th, 2010

Living like the Miao: Guizhou Homestays

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

It is one thing to visit a remote Chinese village – but have you ever wondered what it would be like to live and participate in one?

I often think back to my study abroad experiences in China. While studying at Hangzhou’s Zhejiang University of Technology (through the C.V. Starr – Middlebury program), I loved taking trips with my Chinese roommate, both with school and on our own, meeting local people in various provinces and sampling all things cultural that my semester in China could offer me. (After such a great experience, it’s no surprise that I moved back.)

So, when my colleague Summer, who works in WildChina’s Educational Travel department, recently shared with me a few stories of student homestays in Miao minority villages in Guizhou province, my interest was immediately piqued. The trips’ unique combination of cultural interaction, adventure and service made me wish I were still that student on her abroad program trips.

The coolest part about these trips is that they were both centered rural village homestays – an integral part, in my opinion, of academic travel in China for both high school and college students alike. Doing so offers students a chance to personally encounter and understand daily life for rural minority peoples in China.

The beginning of the students’ homestay was one I didn’t expect: to arrive at these communities, Summer told me, students hiked 1-2 hours from Kaili, a larger town in Guizhou.  With a larger group of students, it’s not always easy to motivate everyone to trek on foot to a new destination. But, the old adage “when in Rome” applies here – it’s all part of the rural experience. I think it is a special, and important, part of the program.

Other highlights I found from my conversation with Summer were Miao fish hotpot, service activities at local schools, and learning to play the lusheng.

But, what really impressed me was the inclusion of household chores in these homestays. This may seem incredibly mundane, but to explain myself, a quick anecdote about my horse-crazed sister. Growing up, she rode at a barn that required riders to do everything from tacking up, feeding the horses, and cleaning stalls to tidying up the barn, fundraising at events, and running a rider-created committee to work on barn improvement. She has always had a closer relationship to and greater understanding of horses and riding than anyone I have ever known.

It’s the same with chores in these Miao villages: there is so much value to being a part of a daily system that sustains a traditional Chinese community. It makes a student’s experience in the community that much more integrated and personal. In the spirit of my own positive personal experience with Chinese community members during study abroad, I think Summer was right to make this a core part of the academic homestay experience.


Make your school trip experience in China memorable, too – take a look at our customizable educational travel programs.

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August 5th, 2008

Guizhou: Preserving Cultural Traditions

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Did you know that kung pao chicken originated in Guizhou province, not in Sichuan?

Yes, food is on my mind, as I’ve been eating way too much. And, no, the title of my post isn’t referring to preserving food. It’s about preserving ancient cultural traditions, ones that have been passed down from one generation to the next for years on end.

In Guizhou (southwestern China), I joined a family of four from North Carolina, on a trip entitled “Hidden Tribes of China.” We were led by our highly energetic guide, Xiao, a lifelong Guizhou native whose deep passion for his province was truly infectious. The trip was eye-opening for all of us—a chance to see how China’s ethnic groups have maintained their vibrancy in the midst of the modernization sweeping across the country.

In Jichang Village, about 1-1.5 hours drive from the capital city, Guiyang, we were treated to an opera performance by “old Han” villagers. The Han are China’s main ethnic group, and the “old” Han make up a sub-group that still adheres to the clothing, architecture and customs of 14th century China.

The opera, which featured brightly colored costumes and elaborately painted wooden masks, was held just for us in an open area, with villagers encircling us and the performers. While I expected to stand out, some of the villagers seemed equally fascinated by the performers as they were by the strangers in their midst. It was like community theater, in the round…except that you also had children running back and forth, men smoking their long pipes and women in Ming dynasty clothes working on their embroidery. A feast for the eyes!

During our time in Guizhou, we also drove even further away from Guiyang to Leishan County, known for its numerous ethnic Miao villages. The Miao, or Hmong as they are called in Southeast Asia, are a minority group with many different sub-groups, each with its own customs. We had the opportunity to view performances by “Short-Skirt Miao,” who presented us with rice wine in ox horns and danced several numbers—and even pulled us in twice. (I was reminded, yet again, that I have no rhythm.)

The preservation of tradition was also clear in everything else we saw in the province—from water buffalos plowing vast green fields and artisans making pottery on hand-built, wooden kick wheels to villagers engaging in traditional paper making. One craftsman, who graciously allowed us into his mountain-top home for dinner, spends much of his time repairing lusheng, traditional musical instruments made from bamboo pipes.

When viewed within the context of all the rapid changes China is undergoing, the endurance of these traditions in Guizhou is truly remarkable. The best part? The fact that the people we met were all smiling and seemed genuinely happy to be carrying on the traditions of their ancestors.

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