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Secret Villages Revealed


Tourists can now stay in traditional Chinese villages without even leaving Beijing municipality.
Centuries old villages in Yanqing, about a 90-minute drive from the Beijing City center, are now offering tours for the first time ever. Resting on pristine countryside, the villages are often overlooked by tourists rushing to the overcrowded Badaling Great Wall. Three small villages now offer 15 yuan (US$1.88) meals and accommodation for as little as 15 yuan (US$1.88) a night. However, be warned. You may be sharing a traditional kang brick bed with seven others. But that's all part of the authentic village experience and all the money goes directly into the pockets of the villagers. Chadao Village This village is 2 kilometers from Badaling Great Wall and attracts many visitors, reflected in the number of guesthouses lining the street. As such, it is one of the most developed villages in this area, and offers a more attractive destination to those who like things ancient. The entrance of the village is a restored portion of the old city walls, and you can climb to the top of this three-storey wall to get a bird's eye view of the surrounding old town. If the Great Wall doesn't give enough of a primordial kick, you can talk to the older folks in Chadao to get a feel of what an old town was like in the past, or sip tea in one of the local inns with the wooden tables and benches that always get smashed in a fight in the stereotyped kung fu movie scene. Guesthouses cost about 80 yuan (US$10) a night for standard room. Lipao Village This village is one of the places to go during autumn (September-October) when it's harvest season. Fruit-picking aside, you can also trek up the "hidden" Great Wall with the help of local guides. About 5 kilometers away, trekking up there is a challenge as this part of the unspoiled Great Wall has vegetation draped all over it, and is not yet exploited by commercialism. The guesthouses here cost 20 yuan (US$2.5) a night per person in kang-style bedding. Xiangtun Village If you are a nature freak, or want to recover from an overdose of all things ancient (old tombs, old wall, old temples, old city), head straight to this relatively unknown but beautiful mountain village. The people in this 24-household village were struggling to make ends meet through farming, and Accor, a travel and tourism agent, stepped in to help develop their tourism business. Surprisingly, it was non-existent before this year. Employees from the Accor hotel chain have been visiting Yanqing to teach the villagers hospitality skills and English. Besides enjoying the fresh air and cooler temperatures of this mountainous region, you can walk around the farms of this village. The indigenous people cultivate corn, pepper, apricots, chestnuts, walnuts, persimmons and other seasonal fruits on the terraces. Living in the guesthouses in Xiangtun offers the most authentic countryside experience of these three villages. The humble wooden homes in the courtyards sheltered me from the rain. The pitter-pattering on the rooftop and the sight of misty rain blanketing the crops are rare sensations for a city girl. Just minutes away, nestled between mountains is Longtan Gorge. It looks like a typical landscape painting, and you're walking in it. The clear water in the gentle stream below, juxtaposed against the rocky cliffs in the distance, hardly connects as the culprit responsible for this geological erosion. This idyllic place is great for a picnic, and its inaccessibility makes it worth the visit. Tourists who have recently discovered these special communities enjoy contributing to the local economies. "Too many times when we travel, we visit the place, take some pictures, and then we go, not actually being able to directly contribute to the community," said tourist Yang Xinrong, 22. "But with eco-friendly activities, you know you're helping the community to preserve its uniqueness, the attractions, helping them to get out of the poverty cycle."

(Source:China Daily , 2006-08-04)