China‘s Greater Pearl River Delta is an economic powerhouse. Consisting of Hong Kong, Macao, and the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone of Guangdong Province, the region is– according to Michael J. Enright, Edith E. Scott, and Ka-mun Chang, the authors of Regional Powerhouse: The Greater Pearl River Delta and the Rise of China [PDF] — the most export-oriented in China. Which is why it’s somewhat amazing that just 90 minutes northeast of Guangzhou (the bustling capital of Guangdong province, as well as its economic and cultural center), there exists a quiet little piece of rural, low-tech, low-carbon China.
According to CNN Go, the Hakka village of Changliu brings back memories of simpler times in China. Sustainable farming is practiced by multiple generations living in close proximity to one another, and the region’s traditional and religious customs are alive and well. The village is also part of an eco-tourism project that is, uniquely, all but entirely lacking in features made especially for tourists.
This eco-tourism project is jointly funded and run by social workers from Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Guangzhou’s Sun Yat-Sen University. It was conceived of as a way to help supplement the incomes for farmers in this poor village while educating those hailing from cities about China’s traditional agrarian lifestyle. It’s a project offering real value not just to international tourists seeking a glimpse of traditional China in an increasingly urbanized country, but young Chinese from those very cities themselves, as elements of traditional culture that have long disappeared from the the metropolises of Guangzhou and Hong Kong live on in Changliu Village.
Visitors to the village are housed in a converted Wu Wei longhouse in rooms equipped with fans and mosquito nets. Chickens and ducks wander freely about the village, while groups of mothers make bamboo wicker baskets in the mornings and harvest produce from the family vegetable patch for lunch and dinner. Villagers commute by bike to the next town over for whatever they can’t grow at home. Your meals are included as part of the package, with much of the rice, vegetables and meat grown in Changliu. You can take a hike led by village children through the surrounding hillside to take in the area’s forest, waterfalls and caves. Nothing is staged for tourists.
One of the most striking elements of the area is its traditional arts and culture. The “Wu Wei” (roughly, “spiritual action”) building design of long row houses behind a gate and doorway, traditional to the Hakka people, can be found throughout the villages in the area, and simple family temples mark the village centers. Traditional housewarming parties in Changliu are attended by all 400 members of the village, who come bearing gifts of vegetables, rice and live chickens they raised themselves.
You can set up your trip to Changliu by contacting social worker Cindy Yan (firstname.lastname@example.org). A night’s accommodation, including three home-cooked meals, will set you back a mere 100 yuan (around $16 USD).