Rural adventures in China’s backcountry
If you have a taste for adventure, however, hiking the old weather-beaten flagstones that link up the remote villages is an intriguing option. Many of these paths have existed for hundreds of years, and a walk along one of these routes will bring you into lush backcountry, where wild wisteria, irises, azaleas and thick groves of bamboo grow along the trail. Some of the longer walks require a guide -- it is definitely possible to get lost -- but there are also some straightforward hikes that are doable on your own.
One of these is the 8km walk from Guankeng to Lingjiao, two tiny villages located further north in the mountains near the Jiangxi-Anhui border. The trail passes over a high ridge before dropping into the next valley, but there are practically no crossroads so you cannot lose your way. There are usually only one or two buses per day from Wuyuan to the villages, so be prepared to spend the night in a local's house once you arrive at your destination.
Just down the road from Lingjiao is the slightly larger hamlet of Hongguan, where there are more regular buses back to Wuyuan and further options for finding a room for the night at a homestay. From Hongguan you can continue on to the riverside village of Big Likeng, though this 15km walk is more complex with numerous side trails -- you will definitely need to hire a guide in the village before leaving.
There are plenty of other possibilities for exploring the area, including the 12km hike between the villages of Shicheng and Changxi which is popular among Chinese hikers for its stunning autumn scenery: imagine red maples shrouded in morning mist with a village nestled at the bottom of a valley. A few kilometres past Changxi is Yuanyang Lake, the world's largest wintering site for mandarin ducks.
Almost no one in these villages will speak English -- in fact, the region was historically so isolated that even the local dialect varies significantly from valley to valley. Make sure you carry a phrasebook or list of important words with you like homestay (住农家), post road (驿道) and bus [汽车].
Buses run to most destinations, though it is often easier to hire a motorcycle driver or taxi. Drivers congregate in Wuyuan on the main street and are easy to find.
Avoid travelling to Wuyuan in April when the rapeseed is in full blossom, and during major holidays -- such as Labour Day (1 May) and Golden Week (beginning 1 October) -- as the crowds can be overwhelming.