Kaili is a cultural hub for China's ethnic minority groups with many minority villages scattered over the nearby mountains. Here you can visit the largest Miao and Dong villages, enjoy performances of local song or dance, join in ceremonies or festivals, or even experience local handicrafts.
If you are interested in Chinese minority customs, or want to visit some villages preserving traditional lifestyles, Kaili will be your top destination in Guizhou.
Now, let's explore Kaili a bit more, for a firsthand experience of ethnic minority culture.
- Name: Kaili (凯里)
- Location: Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture, about 195 kilometers southeast of the provincial capital Guiyang
- Popular activities: visiting ethnic villages, trying out ethnic handicrafts (batik, silversmithing, ancient papermaking), hiking in the countryside
- Suitable for: lovers of minority customs and culture
- Time needed: 2 to 4 days
Things to Do in Kaili
Visit Ethnic Minority Villages
Kaili is at the center of a popular ethnic-culture tour route, stretching from Sanjiang in Guangxi to Dali and Lijiang in Yunnan. It's a convenient stopping-off point for travelers who wish to explore China's ancient ethnic cultures.
The Kaili region has some of the largest, most famous, well-constructed minority villages, like Xijiang Qianhu Miao Village and Langde Miao Village. They are, however, also the most commercialized and crowded. Taking a private tour to visit some less developed villages is perhaps a better option.
Today, with the development of tourism, more villages are being reconstructed and commercialized, but with that development the village cultures and handicrafts are disappearing. We discovered some villages where you can still have close contact with authentic local life and culture.
- Matang Gejia Village: The women in Matang are skilled in embroidery and batik. The beautiful patterns on their costumes are all created by hand. Here, you will have a chance to learn Gejia batik and design your own batik work.
- Kongbai Miao Village: Praised as the home of silversmiths, Kongbai is where some of the best silver ornaments are created. In Kongbai, you can either admire exquisite silver objects, or try your own hand at this ancient craft with a local master.
- Shiqiao Miao Village: Shiqiao people use traditional technology to make paper. The paper is highly durable (said to be capable of surviving for over 1,500 years) and can be used in ancient-book mending. You'll have a chance to make this kind of paper in Shiqiao.
Discover more about the top ethnic minority villages in Guizhou.
Celebrate Local Festivals
Kaili is a city of festivals. Minority people in Guizhou celebrate over 1,000 festivals during the course of a year, with songs, dance and food as major festival components.
Many festivals take place on important dates in the age-old Miao calendar. If you are fond of colorful local pageantry, you should definitely check to see whether your visit coincides with any of the festivals.
Festivals you can participate in around Kaili:
- Sister's Meal Festival (around late April): This is an important festival for young men and women to communicate and talk about love. People prepare the sister's meal, dance and sing, or go to the festival market.
- Lusheng Festival (late February): The lusheng is the favorite instrument of many local people. With our private tour, you may join in a lusheng celebration. There are lots of things to observe, including lusheng dances, antiphonal singing and bullfighting.
- …and more. See Guizhou festival calendar.
Hiking Between Minority Villages
Besides traveling in a car, travelers – if they are in reasonable physical shape – can also hike between villages. Your guide can advise about hiking routes with eye-catching scenery, like between Genggan and Baibi (1.5 hours), or between Kaijue and Kongbai (2 hours).
Before embarking on a hike, it's a good idea to ensure you have a good pair of walking shoes. Some country roads are well constructed but others are not. A good pair of shoes will be helpful when walking on uneven surfaces.
How to Get to and Travel Around Kaili
Kaili has no direct connections with overseas cities, but Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou, connects conveniently with some foreign cities and with other major cities in China. Many travelers choose to set off from Guiyang. It takes only 35 minutes to reach Kaili by bullet train, or 2.5 hours by car.
Kaili has an airport, but only offers flights to and from Chengdu and Hangzhou. This can be a secondary option.
From Kaili, it only takes about 1 or 2 hours to drive around the surrounding attractions. The city itself is at the middle of a beautiful express highway. On most drives, travelers will observe eye-catching rural scenery, as well as some tall river bridges.
You can find a shuttle bus or rent a vehicle in Kaili, but these services may be hard to arrange for lack of English.
One good option is to go on a private tour with a travel agency, like China Highlights. Then you can enjoy your visit in a comfortable private car with an English-speaking guide.
See also Guizhou transportation.
Food – Spicy and Sour
Miao and Dong people are fond of spicy and sour food and they pickle a variety of vegetables and meat all year round. Other local people also like fish, living near rivers as they do. Typical dishes are Sour Soup Fish and Miao King Fish.
- Sour Soup Fish: This is perhaps Kaili's most famous dish. It uses sour rice soup as its basic ingredient, and is cooked with fresh local fish, marinated tomato paste and chili.
- Miao King Fish: Stewed fish, topped with fried green and red pepper.
- Sour Bamboo Shoot Chicken: Fried sliced chicken with pickled local bamboo shoots.
You will have plenty to enjoy if you like spicy and sour dishes. If you don't like the local flavors, your guide can help you to find a restaurant serving western dishes.
Kaili Weather & Best Time to Visit
Kaili has a subtropical monsoon climate, humid throughout the year. Summer temperatures are around 25°C, making it an ideal summer resort. Winter temperatures may drop below 0°C, which can feel very chilly in a humid climate, especially in the countryside.
In Kaili, half the year is rainy season, especially late spring and early summer, when the area experiences almost daily rain. So, umbrellas and other rain gear are required.
Best Travel Times
If you don't mind the weather, the best time to visit Kaili and surrounding villages is the first lunar month (late January to February), as most local festivals take place during this period. Be forewarned, however, that the weather during this time of year is freezing. Travelers are advised to bring good warm clothing, including hat, gloves and boots.
Another period when the region celebrates many festivals is after the fall harvest, from late August to early November. This is a golden period, for the weather will be much better, but it is also peak season. We recommend you be prepared for this, though your guide will do her or his best to help you avoid the crowds.
Some hotels in Kaili provide reasonably comfortable accommodation. Since, however, the city is not well-developed, the hotel equipment and service cannot be compared with similarly-rated hotels in large cities like Beijing or Shanghai. We recommend you lower your expectations.
It is nearly impossible to find a star-rated hotel in some counties and minority villages, but there are usually some boutique hostels and guesthouses. Although not luxurious and only offering relatively simple facilities, some are equipped according to ethnic customs, and this can provide an experience of local lifestyle. Let us know if you'd like such an experience!
If you are in Kaili on a Sunday, it would be a good idea to visit the Kaili Sunday Market in Old Street, an interesting place for catching a glimpse of local minorities' lifestyles, admiring traditional handicrafts, buying souvenirs, or tasting local snacks.
Lack of English could be a challenge, especially when no one in your group can speak Chinese. A better option is to travel with a tour service, like China Highlights.
Credit cards may not work so well here, but mobile-phone payment via Alipay or WeChat is popular. Your guide can help you acquire the relevant apps and set up your account. Carrying some cash is also recommended.
Visit Kaili Minority Villages with Us
You will have an optimized Kaili travel experience with a China Highlights private tour. You will not face any language problems, but will experience some less-commercialized attractions, authentic handicrafts, traditional performances, characteristic diets and decent accommodation.