Where a River Runs Red

Written by Jun 15, 2008 06:25
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A river splits what might have been just one city into two small and equally uninspiring country towns. The Chishui River forms a natural border between Guizhou and Sichuan with Chishui 赤水 in Guizhou on one bank and on the other, Jiuzhi 九支a short distance away in Sichuan. Chishui is an isolated outpost in north western Guizhou. It's a long march from anywhere but Mao as always was unfazed. Following an historic meeting in nearby Zunyi 遵义in January 1935 in which Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai were entrusted with the leadership of the Communist forces, Mao made his momentous decision to march his army west through Chishui and eventually north into Shanxi and relative safety.

What makes Chishui of interest these days is a pleasant mixture of Mao memories and the natural beauty of an area which lies on the southeast perimeter of the vast red sandstone basin of Sichuan. Chishui means 'red water' and derives from the colour of the river as it flows through its red rock valley. Between January and March 1935, Red Army units made four separate crossings of the Chishui River near Maotai, the birthplace of China's iconic rice wine. The county is almost completely enveloped by southern Sichuan and borders the southwest tip of Chongqing. As the home of many of China's most famous Baijiu distilleries it may well be dubbed the Baijiu Triangle.

This marriage of mountains and rivers creates another wonderful drawcard for visitors. The Fengxi River, a tributary of the Chishui gives rise to one of China’s largest waterfalls, the Shizhangdong 十丈洞 with an initial drop of 72 meters and an upper lip 68 meters wide. These days the flow is controlled by an upstream dam but its waters still drop with a deafening roar and a massive self-induced wind swept spray into a semi-circular pool before rushing away through a multitude of smaller falls and rapids.

The surrounding red cliffs and mountains are home to the rare and giant, Jurassic era Spinulosa or ‘tree fern’ as it is more commonly known. Bamboo is another obvious evergreen cover and a lush backdrop to the spring flowering native camellia and azaleas, adding a colourful dimension to the seasonal beauty. These sub-tropical forests are also home to some rare and endangered plants, insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and other larger animals.

Tourism in remote Chishui and Shizhangdong is booming, helped along by an unlikely and distant benefactor. The new and modern village of Shizhangdong was built by the Government less than ten years ago to house displaced Yangzte River residents. When they refused to come, enterprising locals, many living in very poor conditions in the surrounding mountains took advantage of this new and empty village. With cheap rents, low property purchase prices and an influx of tourists the local community is now doing very well.

Summer in these mountains is much cooler than the lowlands giving places like Chishui and especially Shizhangdong another advantage. Residents from big cities just a few hours away like Chongqing and Guiyang have discovered this cool clean county retreat, buying or renting a home here to escape from the sweltering summer heat. Apart from the 'Golden' holiday peaks, the cost of living is cheap, the pace of life is slow and relaxed and the welcome is open and friendly.

A variety of similar scenic spots can be found within a fifty kilometre radius of Chishui including the Jinshagou 金沙沟 自然 保护区 or Golden Sand Valley which is home to the Chishui National Nature Reserve of Spinulosa Tree Ferns and an equally large Bamboo Forest. Closer to town is the beautiful Sidonggou 四洞沟 or Four Cave Valley and Hong Shi Ye Gu 红石野谷or Red Rock Valley which both showcase streams, waterfalls, and caves in their red rock valleys. Sidonggou also offers hiking along the some ancient trails in the valley.

The number of waterfalls cascading down the mountainsides is staggering. Some of the falls drop right onto the road from overhanging rocks and around every turn you’ll likely see another across the valley. Just travelling through the county is a pleasant experience and one could almost avoid the main attractions with their entrance fees and simply enjoy visiting with the locals. Good quality roads wind comfortably up the valleys, passing through small villages and clusters of farmhouses perched on steep slopes. Freshly flooded rice terraces - their earth walls punctuated by large granite boulders - glisten in the mid morning sun as we take a leisurely drive up this picturesque valley in search of waterfalls.

Chishui city is small, dusty and offers little in the way of attractions. While there are plenty of hotels to cater for all budgets it's not necessary to stay in town if you can avoid it. There are hotels and guesthouses in Shizhangdong which is serviced by a local bus. In fact all scenic spots can be reached by public transport but keep in mind that traffic is light to and from most of them so time your arrivals and departures to suit.

白酒 Bai Jiu - Chinese Rice Wine

Getting there: Bus from closest large cities
遵义 Zunyi in Guizhou
Luzhou and 合江 Hejiang in Sichuan
Jiangjin in Chongqing

赤水 Chishui -several small hotels near the intersection of the road to 十丈洞 Shizhangdong and 四洞沟 Sidonggou
十丈洞 Shizhangdong - small guesthouse just outside the gate. Y50 per bed (should have English sign by now)
More hotels in the village back across the river

Entrance Fee:
Shizhangdong Y60 per person and includes bus to the falls - a long walk up and back otherwise

 More Guizhou Travel Reviews
1. <a>Guizhou: The Shui Cultural Center ICTHUS17 from US Jan 31, 2007 23:01
2. <A> The Wonders of Guizhou KYLE from CA Jul 14, 2006 08:07
3. In Search of Dong Towers JABAROOTOO from CN Apr 5, 2006 06:04
Comments (4)


Nov 23, 2010 10:02 Reply


sorry for the late reply but I don;t check in so often these days and i'm sorry I can;t help much with the bus info

staying in town is most likely the easiest. there is a nice hotel on the way out of town but can't give you any details on that and of course would recommend staying in Bing An if you get the chance.
enjoy you trip


Nov 14, 2010 21:19 Reply


Thank you for this review! I am curious as to whether the local bus from Shizhangdong runs only to and from Chishui city, or to the other main attractions (Red Rock Valley, etc.). I'm trying to decide where to stay -- the guesthouse you mentioned seems attractive, but convenience would be a main factor. Please let me know if you have any thoughts.


Nov 10, 2008 08:37 Reply


Thanks for bringing this to mine and other readers attention.

I have been plagiarized before and I'm sure it will happen again.

Personally, I'm not bothered by it.
My conscience is clear.


Nov 9, 2008 04:35 Reply


its really incredible how this article mat
ches other aticles read,almost word for
word,in a magazine.The information is
detailed exactly the same,word for word
Not to hint at anything ,but anyway for
what its worth.

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