An Escape from the Smog: Cuandixia

Looking down into the village
Looking down into the village

Sometimes when I open the curtains of my accommodation in Tianjin ( a city just outside Beijing) this is the view I am met with ( or lack of it):

Chinese Smog
View ( or lack of view) through the Chinese smog

 Smog everywhere! It becomes an unwanted companion at times. 

Hebei province has crazy smog levels that are often classified dangerous by the World Health Organisation. On days like this you cannot spend any time outside without starting with a hacking cough, taxis will refuse to pick up passangers as they can’t actually see to drive and it eventually becomes too overwhelming making the need to find clean air and leave the frenetic city behind  paramount. One weekend, this quest led to a jarring bus ride packed full of locals, chickens and a solitary pig over virtually non-existent roads winding precariously along the side of mountains to a village where clean air is plentiful.

Only two hours outside Beijing is a smog free zone where the pace of life could not be more different from the capital. Eating woodstove cooked sweetcorn I wandered through the cobbled alleys to find faded Mao propaganda on the walls, goats and children cantering around and city dwellers looking lost and confused at country life. For someone from the countryside it felt like home!

Rural Village life

One of village residents sat on a stool holding her grandchild and pointing out the foreigners; waving me over she gave me a toothless smile before handing the very scared child over to me so she could take a photobefore insisting I tour her house showing me her proud and joy-the songbird looking suspiciously over at the stranger standing before it.

The village has been around for over 400 years but there are now only 29 families left in the village all with the surname Han which means cold. While the village means cooking under a hot stove so under fengshui compliments each other. As with other rural villages it is struggling to attract younger generations who all leave to find more exciting possibilities in the big cities so as a result the village has got an ageing generation and there is much concern on what will happen to the village in 30 years time. But until then stepping into the village is like a step back in time.

That night as the sunset over the village it gave way to a sight never seen in the capital: the milky way. With no electricity or heating after sunset, there was nothing else to do but go to sleep very early swaddled in all my clothing in a meagre attempt to keep warm.

Mao propaganda painted onto a house
Mao Propaganda

The next morning, after waking up to the chirping of birds in the courtyard I had an early start out of the village to the nearby valley. Only the occasional car swung past some pausing to check that I was not lost and intrigued that someone did enjoy walking.  Eventually, the path led to a valley covered in trees turning vivid shades of orange and red glistening in the autumn sun. Along the way I met scatterings of city dwellers dressed in their new and expensive walking clothes but reaching the realisation that they did not really like walking. Gradually there was no one around and all I could hear was the singing of the birds and the rustling of the trees while looking at a beautiful valley and not believing how near Beijing I was.

Looking down into the village

Sadly, due to time restraints of the bus back to the city I had to turn around however if I had continued up the path and camped overnight I could have witness a section of the Great Wall undisturbed. Definitely something to come back for!

 

View of a valley in China covered in autumn leaves
Beautiful autumn colours on the way to finding the Great Wall

 

How to get to Cuandixia?

You can either take the subway to Pingguoyuan station and then bus number 892 from just down the road outside the station ( takes at least 2 hours). This will take you to the nearest village to Cuandixia and you can then either can another bus or hire a taxi to get to the final destination. Once in the village it is compact so no need of transport! Or alternatively you can hire a taxi from Beijing to take you the whole way.

What to do at Cuandixia?

There are two small hikes to viewing platforms over the village, wander the streets and take in the ambience and take part in a home stay.

Can I book my accommodation beforehand?

Most people turn up and find accommodation however at peak times they can book up fast so get there early! Unless you know someone with contacts or organise a trip with a company (a lot more expensive) then you cannot book in advance.

Costs ( based on October 2014)

Bus from Pingguoyuan station to the nearest village just outside Cuandixia: ¥16

Taxi for the last 6km: ¥10

Room for 5 per person: ¥40

Dinner per person in the homestay: ¥40

Breakfast: ¥10

Village Entrance Fee: ¥35 adult, ¥18 student

A chinese home stay
Chinese homestay accommodation

 

Written By

Welcome to theTaylormadetravels! I am a travel blogger always looking for the next adventure to discover beautiful places, meet amazing people and eat great food. Currently based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and exploring Asia.

11 Comments

  • Very neat to see posts about China beyond the very very popular destinations. I remember my time in Beijing, the skies, and how it washes out all your photos.

  • Looks like a lovely place! I’m heading to China tomorrow and have 9 days in the Beijing area, I might have to try and go here!

  • What a beautiful oasis! I spent a month in Beijing 5 years ago for a study abroad. The air quality was still decent back then. Sad to see it’s deteriorated so much. I have been eager to go back and visit some of my old stomping grounds, but fear I will be disappointed by the conditions. I’m glad you were able to find some peace and beauty in the midst of chaos and pollution!

    • I can’t imagine such good air quality in Beijing! Hopefully other things will have improved in different ways if you do go back :)

  • That looks utterly stunning. We have often been tempted to live in Beijing with my husband’s work, but with three small children (and one with bad asthma) the smog has put us off in the past. The village looks gorgeous and it’s hard to believe it’s so close!

    • I noticed a big difference in my breathing over the few months I was living there so it may be a city to avoid! I couldn’t believe what a difference there is with the air quality so nearby

  • Seems China is the place to be! Looks great and the photos are gorgeous

  • I’ve never heard of this place before, but thanks for sharing as we are hoping to spend quite a bit of time in China later this year. This place looks great to escape that horrible smog, I never realised it was that bad that it even becomes too difficult to drive in!

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