China Eastern Airlines operates one daily flight aboard a 50-seat Bombardier CRJ200 to Luzhou (泸州), Sichuan, which despite being in a separate province is just two hours away from Chishui by car. A wider and cheaper range of flights serves Chongqing, five hours away, and Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou – an arduous eight to ten hour drive away.
Chishui’s lush forests drink well to stay that way – like the rest of Guizhou province, this region enjoys abundant rainfall. Happily, unlike the rest of Guizhou, where mountainous terrain and generous rain can be a chilly combination, Chishui is relatively warm from April through to the end of October (average temperatures 16-23° C).
The nicest option in Chishui city is Zhongyue Hotel (中悦大酒店, 南正街22号, +852 282 3888/282 5999), a clean and comfortable four-star stalwart. Rooms are spacious if not stylish, and equipped with business desks and broadband; the suites are more finely decorated. Singles 358/RMB 388, doubles RMB 398/458. Suites RMB 588-2,288. Mid-range options are abundant, though quality varies: Try the plain but clean Chishui Yuan (http://csy88.com), where luxury doubles are discounted to RMB 195 from RMB 368. An inexpensive option is the Kaiyue Hotel (赤水凯悦宾馆, 赤水市西内环路工商局大楼, +852 288 9888) with cute, clean rooms for only RMB 80-250. For a rural experience, the Chishui Electric Power Hotel (赤水电力宾馆) is situated near some of the region’s most famous scenic areas, about 30km from town and within walking distance of Swallow’s Rock National Park and Shizhangdong waterfalls. The simple villa-style apartments along the river features comfortable, blue-carpeted rooms, with sitting toilets, enclosed showers and small porches. Its isolation could be a drawback, especially for those relying on public buses, although this should be no problem for those who hire a car. The complex also has a spa, restaurant and a terrace by the river. RMB 488 for a suite; RMB 388 for a standard double, discounted to RMB 180 when we visited (+852 299 5555). ITINERARY
The China Eastern flight to Luzhou arrives at 10pm, so bunk down and rest up for a full day the next morning. Friday
From the Luzhou Xiaoshi bus station (泸州小市汽车站, +852 299 4036), air-conditioned buses leave for Chishui every 15 minutes from 6am to 4pm, costing RMB 15 and covering the 78km in about two hours. The bus station is just off Yingbin Dadao. The snack counter inside the Chishui bus station sells maps of the city and the region. After settling in, start by getting your bearings with a stroll around the city, being sure to take in the riverside along Hebin Lu. Since almost a thousand years ago, when Chishui was a strategic port city involved in the lucrative salt trade, the town has benefited from its eponymous river, which separates it from Sichuan province. Although located in Guizhou, historically, culturally, geographically and economically, this river town is closer to Sichuan province – vast expanses of mountains sequester Chishui from the rest of Guizhou. Walk straight to Sichuan by crossing the river or take the kids to enjoy the rare exhilaration of being in two provinces at the same time, with a foot on either side at the middle of the bridge. The Communists’ legendary Long March also had a notable adventure crossing the river. In an attempt to shake off the pursuing Guomindang, they crossed and re-crossed the Chishui river a total of four times as they battled hither and thither. Those interested can retrace Mao’s footsteps, commemorated at each of the four fording spots, scattered around the region. Saturday
Feeling energetic? Head to nearby Tiantai Mountain (天台山), 7km away from the city, for some hiking. It takes five hours to reach the peak, but panoramic views of the river and the city are possible from even just a short ways up (on a clear day). Sunday-Monday
Chishui’s rich array of parks will deliver more than enough romping exploration for you and your brood. Packing a small picnic of portable, energizing snacks for the day’s hiking will always pay off. The parks mentioned below are free for children under 1.3 meters tall and half-price for students with valid ID. Aside from Shizhangdong, which is open only in the morning, all of these parks are open from dawn to dusk. Among the area’s most unique inhabitants, the noble sala tree (Cyathea spinulosa 桫椤) has shared the earth with the dinosaurs. This ancient tree fern – the only one of its kind surviving today – are particularly numerous in the Shaluo National Preservation Area (赤水桫椤国家级自然保护区, RMB 25). With their mud-spire trunks – reminiscent of palm trees – and distinctive height (ranging between 3-8 meters tall), these ferns thrive along several kilometers of fine paths that weave their way across burbling creeks. Prompt your little ones to imagine dinosaurs roaming these lush streams, mountains and bamboo forests, among mighty ferns just like the ones they see today. Nearby is Chishui’s “Bamboo Ocean” (竹海, RMB 25), a protected forest where mighty stalks of Nanzhu (楠竹), one of the world’s thickest and tallest bamboo species, nod and sway in the breeze as far as the eye can see. Walking along the serene forest’s shaded trails, the little ragamuffins are sure to achieve precocious Zen enlightenment. Either that or they’ll remember that kung fu showdowns are statistically prone to occur in such groves of bowing ‘boo. Chishui restaurants specialize in many delicious bamboo dishes, including fresh bamboo shoots stir-fried with bacon (zhusun chao larou), stewed dried bamboo (tongtong zhu 筒筒竹), and a “Panda Feast” (xiongmao yan 熊猫宴) – a bamboo-themed banquet perfect for larger parties. The Bamboo Ocean and the Tree Fern Shaluo National Preservation Area are located next to each other, 40km west of town. Tuesday-Wednesday
Another full day of creek and waterfall seeking takes the family 15km south of town to Si Dong Gou (四洞沟, “Four Caves Creek”; RMB 30) Park, and nearby Hongshi Yegu (红石野谷, “Red Rock Wild Valley”; RMB 30). Si Dong Gou is designed as a pleasant riverside stroll past four waterfalls. An electric golf cart car (RMB 20) is available for those who are tired or prefer to bypass the trails and fast forward to the waterfalls. More time for lunch! Red Rock Wild Valley aspires to be a smorgasbord of amusement options, but the natural charms are the real reason to visit. The trail climbs past idyllic little waterfalls and a grove of pear trees. The highlight is a mountain hollow whose glorious red rock walls are worn into patterned grooves. Nestling in its shade is a cluster of peculiarly shaped red rocks, some of which have been awarded overly literal names, such as “Golden Turtle.” The park’s arrays of gentle waterfalls, short rafting course, mountain slide, and dinosaur garden are sure to get a rise out of your young rapscallions. Wuzhufeng (五柱峰, RMB 80) is definitely not to be missed and deserves a whole day. The curious red rocks (danxia 丹霞) here are the centerpiece of the township’s UNESCO bid. Are these geological formations world heritage-worthy? Put on your UNESCO hat and decide for yourself. An enormous, breathtaking arc of red rock (佛光岩丹霞绝壁), lightly
tickled by a waterfall, highlights a sublime assortment of mineral formations. These include the “Flying Saucer” (太空船), the “Golden Monkey” (五柱压金猴) and the park’s namesake “Five Pillar Peak,” recalling a legendary five-pillared mountain that once imprisoned the Monkey King. The entrance road (2.5km) is 7km further south from the turnoff for the Bamboo Sea and the Shaluo National Preservation Area. Thursday-Friday
For a change of pace, move the family into the Chishui Electric Power Hotel. Despite its mechanical name, this hotel is actually not lacking in rural charm, with villa-style lodgings and a riverside terrace. It’s also in perfect range of the Shizhangdong waterfalls, Chishui’s premier scenic area (十丈洞; RMB 40, electric car RMB 20). Curiously, however, its star attraction, the area’s largest waterfall, is now, as a result of an upstream hydroelectric dam, completely dependent on the dam for water. During the low season, the waterfall is only “on” in the morning (9-11am), but during the summer and the national holidays in October, the waterfall works until 4pm, with a two-hour break for lunch (11am-1pm). Could the hydroelectric dam have anything to do with Chishui Electric Power Hotel’s prime location? A mystery. Nearby “Swallow’s Rock” National Park (燕子岩, RMB 25), boasts a fine shaded hike along a cheerfully burbling stream, through forests and eventually leading to an enormous red rock face. The route winds past successions of small cascades and several fine specimens of the region’s famous sala fern, ascending to the park’s namesake: a rosy red cliff face opposite a 50-meter waterfall, populated by flitting swallow swifts. Saturday
Head back to Luzhou to catch your flight back to Beijing.