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Mountain High in Lianzhou

The Nanling Mountains long sequestered the Cantonese natives of Guangdong province from the Chinese interior. The mountains protected the ancient dialects of the southerners and cultivated the unique cultural character of the sea-facing and seafaring Yue peoples.

To the north of the mountains we find landlocked provinces like Jiangxi and Hunan, where people look, eat and speak quite differently from their neighbors to the south. Which is why the scenic river town of Lianzhou is so intriguing from the onset. Lianzhou, although this county-level town, administered by Qingyuan, is officially on the Guangdong-side of the range, it very much occupies a curious space between Guangdong and Hunan. Before the construction of high-speed rail and highways, the route to and from China's Deep South would pass through Lianzhou, which evolved as a market town catering to imperial traffic. Today, due to its mountainous surrounds, this border town is a real melting pot; a place where Yao and Zhuang minority peoples persist in the surrounding karst hills while the local cuisine fuses Hunanese spice with the kind of dishes one might normally associate with Guangzhou or Hong Kong.

The town is pleasant enough and easily navigable: a few reasonable hotels overlook the central plaza while the Lian River encircles the city-proper. A large mountain park serves as the backdrop to the town and is illuminated at night.

The town's distinguishing architectural features are some beautifully old Nationalist-era arcades. There's a spattering of cultural attractions including the Yanxi Arbour that dates back to the Tang dynasty and a pagoda from the Northern and Southern dynasties, the Huiguang Tower, which is around 1, 500 years old and leans slightly, recalling the Leaning Tower of Pisa and earning itself a similar moniker. Just north of town there’s the Fushan Old Temple, a sacred site for Daoists that occupies a sublime location in a forest park.

As Lianzhou plays host to China's largest and arguably most prestigious annual photography festival, Lianzhou Foto, converted factory spaces can be seen around town, which regularly exhibits creative works from around the world. Should you arrive during the festival period in November, you’ll see the town crowded with shutterbugs from China and beyond, with the media and photography fans arriving in such numbers getting a room can be hard.    

However, while Lianzhou town is worthy of a few days sojourn, its principle attractions exist beyond the city limits.

Lianzhou Underground River

Near Dadong Village, about 26 kilometers northeast of Lianzhou City, is Lianzhou Underground River. The water flows through a mysterious cave system shaped by millions of years of erosion. After purchasing your entrance ticket tourists follow a winding stone pathway, marveling at the illuminated stalactites and stone pillars visible, many of which have been given auspicious names associated with Chinese traditional culture, or relating to an animal or scene the stones resemble.

timg (21).jpgSanpai Yao Village

Nestled at the foot of Sanpai Mountain, Sanpai Village is home to the Yao people, an ethnic minority prevalent in mountainous regions of southern China. The village architecture is quite remarkable – winding stone alleyway zigzag through between dwelling clinging to the hillside including stilt-houses, which support homes over steep ravines. The Yao people’s unique irrigation system still carries water through the village while a shrine venerates the traditional deities of the Yao people’s faith. There are also plenty of local delicacies to sample as well as a somewhat contrived song and dance routine to take in. 

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Huangchuan Three Gorges

Just south of Lianzhou town one finds the most impressive section of the Lian River, namely the three the gorges. The gorges have been named the sheep jump gorge, the fairy gorge, and Leng cangue gorge, and are collectively known as the Huangchuan. They cover an area of 25 kilometers length and can be enjoyed via pleasure boat cruises from the nearby harbor.

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About the author

Thomas grew up beneath heavy clouds in the South Wales suburbs. After reading too many books, he decided to see for himself what this weird world had on offer. Now an itinerant traveler, writer and photographer usually lost somewhere in East Asia, he prints his musings in a number of notable publications and has contributed to several guidebooks including Rough Guides China and Dunhuang: A City on the Silk Road. When he's not wandering, he can sometimes be found practising mandolin in Beijing.

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