On Wednesday I visited Kaiping Diaolou (Watchtower) with my friend. The Kaiping Diaolou is a fortified area with multi-storied towers, generally made of reinforced concrete. These towers are located mainly in Kaiping County, Guangdong province, China. Kaiping together with its neighbouring counties of Enping, Taishan and Xinhui are collectively known as the “Four counties” (It was from the four counties that many of the Chinese labourers to North America, Australia, and Southeast Asia originated from).
The distance between Kaiping City and Guangzhou is 140 kilometers; it is a bit far from Guangzhou. We traveled by bus from the Fancun Bus Station that is one of busy bus station in Guangzhou. Maybe it IS faster than other bus station when you go to Kaiping City. You can go there by the Guangzhou Metro Line 1, get off at Kenkou Metro Station, Exit B, after the overbridged, walking until you arrive at the Fancun Bus station. The ticket price is 57 Yuan for one person; remember your trip is from Guangzhou to Kaiping Yichi Bus Station. We waited for the bus just 10 minutes after buying our tickets, when we got on the bus, We found only 5 people on the bus, so we could sit any seat we want. I think it was not a busy day (Saturday and Sunday) or the busy season (October).
After 2 hours, we arrived at the Kaiping Yici Bus Station. The Station is not as big as Guangzhou Fancun Station, but it is the biggest bus station in Kaiping City. (There is a bus to HK THAT takes about 4 hours; single HK$130, round trip HK$240.) We didn’t go directory to the Kaiping diaolou because we needed to check in at the Helen Bergh Hotel. The hotel is luxurious but not expensive and not far from the bus station—about 5 minutes by taxi. I found the hotel is very nice and reasonably priced: Deluxe Room 288 Yuan; Deluxe Business Room 308 Yuan; Deluxe Suite 488 Yuan. All include free breakfast. There are not too many hotels in Kaiping City and the Helen Bergh Hotel one of city’s best hotels. Transportation is not so convenient as Guangzhou, no metro and not many buses. You may need to wait a long time if you want to travel by bus. I suggest you go by taxi if you want to go somewhere in Kaiping City, or you will waste a lot of time to waiting!
After check-in and with the help of a hotel waiter, we waited just2 minutes to get a taxi at the hotel. We asked the price to go from the hotel to the Li Garden Diaolou, which was 60 Yuan. I thought it was okay because we didn’t know the city so we willing to pay 60 Yuan to go there. ; You need to be careful, because some drivers drive very fast, so you will find that suddenly another car will pass you. After 15 minutes, we arrived at Li Garden Diaolou. I found that it was a bit expensive after we arrive at Li Garden Diaolou, even though it is not very far from the hotel.
The enterance Price for Li Garden Diaolou is 90 Yuan, and one-set of tickets is 150 Yuan (Includes LiYuan or Li Garden, Zili Village, Majianglong , Jinjiang Village, Chikan ). We chose the one-set, because it was cheaper. If you are over 65 years old, you are eligible for the half-price ticket (75 Yuan).
Li Garden was a built by an overseas Chinese-American, Mr. Xie Wei Li, around 1926 and finished in 1936. The garden blends harmoniously the elements of Chinese traditional gardening, Southern China water-town style landscaping and Western architecture. The garden is arranged in three main areas: grand garden, mansions and small gardens. Each area is carefully separated by man-made canals while connected elegantly by footbridges and pathways. The design of the garden reflects the idea of isolation and integration.
The entrance of the grand garden has a stone arched-gate which declares the residency of the Xie family in two large, handwritten characters, “Li Garden”. The grand garden incorporates a walk-in size birdcage, a small pond and a flower pavilion along with various trees and plants. Standing in the grand garden are two steel poles called the “tiger whip,” which was built to scare away evil spirits.
（1） Aeroview of Li Garden
The mansion area consists of six estates and two Diaolou. The interior design of the estates is decorated with Western fixtures and Chinese red-wood furniture. At the northwest corner of the mansion area is the Yupei estate which was built as a memorial to Mr. Xie’s beloved second wife, Tan Yu-ying, who passed away at a young age while he was away.
（2） Vine Pavilion
The small garden is a naturalistic garden built at the foot of Tiger Hill and filled with the rich foliage of trees and plants. The small garden is used for relaxation and as a family playground for children.
（3） Tiger Mountain
The State council placed Li Garden on the list of the National Cultural Relics. Li Garden was rated an AAAA grade tourist site by the National Tourist Bureau.
Zili Village Diaolou
The village consists of three separate sub-village areas. There are 82 village houses, occupying (with their intervening areas of open space, lanes, etc.) 83,224 square metres. Of these, the first Heanli has 19 houses, occupying 17,550 square metres, the second Heanli has 50 houses occupying 56,730 square metres, and Yong’anli has 13 houses occupying 8,944 square metres. The present resident population is 179, in 63 households, with 248 villagers currently living overseas, mostly in the U.S.A, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Most of today’s farming households in Zili Village have relatives living overseas. Remittances from abroad are an important economic element in the life of the residential household. The life-style of the villagers is simple, honest, dignified, optimistic, open-minded, and unsophisticated.
The buildings of the three sub-villages respecting this entirely admirable natural environment are
not particularly large or dominant. The village houses are of blue-brick with tiled roofs, mostly of the three-sessions-two-gates single-storey plan. The most outstanding feature of Zili Village is the cluster of Diaolou built behind the village in among the fields, together with a group of western-style villas (Note: in the local dialect, these western-style villas are called “Lu”, or “Cottage”).
These buildings, the low village houses and the lofty Diaolou and western-style villas, are the high respecting the low. Both are built in even rows among the paddy-fields, ponds, rivers, and woods, representing the human set in the midst of this entirely natural rural environment: these are the source of Zili Village’s harmonious life.
In the Zili Village, you would discover the people who live in there are simple, and the people are kind. Maybe they live on the field so they can grow vegetable, rice and keep ducks or chickens for themselves. The Zili village is very quiet with a beautiful view. You can buy the local products. You can bargain also. There is also A “Local Restaurant”, but the cook is a local farmer. You can’t miss it! Price is reasonable!
After visting Zili Vilalge, we went to the city center and walk around the city. , I found that the city is an old city and not much to see. So we decided to find a restaurant to have dinner. Food is nice and reasonable, cheaper than Guangzhou.
After dinner, we walked for a while and went back to the hotel. We went swimming at the hotel.
The next morning, after breakfast at the hotel, we continued to another Diaolou Majianglong Diaolou Cluster.
Majianglong Village Cluster
The Majianglong Village cluster is the perfect example of a Kaiping Village in its natural setting. It is a village where the natural resources of the area are used every day, and where man and nature live together in most harmoniously. In all directions the mountains make their presence felt with their dense cover of vegetation. The mountains are always there in the background, a great green screen to the villages. All five villages, from the northernmost to the southernmost, are surrounded by bamboo woods, with the broad, clear, sparkling Tanjiang River in front. All together these form part of the landscape — the myriad mountains, reflected back from the many clear streams, like a poem or a painting, an absolutely enchanting environment.
Between Hedong and Qinglin villages there is an orchard of ancient fruit trees of some 70 MU This orchard was originally planted by the villagers to improve their livelihood, and it reflects their desire to preserve their surroundings, and the beauty of the area in which their village was set.
After 2 hours of sightseeing, we went to the Jinjiangli Village. It is not far from the Majianglong Village; we arrived by taxi at the Majianglong village in about 10 minutes.
The village occupies 4,645 square meters, and comprises 66 village houses with gabled roofs arranged along ten lanes. There are 48 households in Jinjiangli, with a total of 147 resident villagers. The villagers living abroad are more in number than those living in the village. Most live in the U.S.A. or Canada. Most village families receive substantial sums each year in remittances.
The Ruishi Lou stands in the middle of the bamboo woods, as do the Shengfenglou and the Jinjiang Lou, the three Diaolou of Jinjiangli. These three towers stand in a line behind the village, protecting the village area. With their roof-terraces rising high above the crest of the woods, they form a bewitching background to the village. Climbing the towers and looking out you can see the village below you, the hills in front of you and the fields surrounding you. The image is truly a glorious panorama.
It was built close to the east side of the Jinjiang Lou and is close to the main access path to the village. It was built by Huang Bixiu, a villager of Jinjiang Lou, in the 12th Year of the Republic (1923). He returned from Hong Kong to build it. The tower is nine storeys (28.37 metres) high. With the courtyard in which it stands it occupies 232.36 square metres, and its built floor area is 552.21 square metres.
Time was a bit short for us, so we just visited this place fast because we needed to go to the last diaolou–The Historic Town of Chikan. Lot of old building in there because Chikan is an ancient town established during the Qing Dynasty under the governance of Emperor Shunzhi.
The Historic Town of Chikan
The streets and buildings in chikan, as they currently exist, were mostly built during the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century and by overseas Chinese returning to their villages. The overseas Chinese incorporated elements of Western architecture into their new homes. The buildings were three-story structures with a store front on the street level and two residential upper floors. Although the buildings did not have much decorative details, each building was built with a balcony facing the Tanjiang River which flowed along and divided the town. The balcony called Qilou in local dialect became a prominent architectural feature in Chikan .
We just walked around not more than one hour then we had to go back to hotel and check out. , Even if we checked out at 3 PM, we still found the time is not enough for us.I think we enjoyed seeing the Diaolou. We learned about the history of the diaolou and the local culture.
Nowadays, most Chinese people immigrate to other countries who from Kaiping City. Jiangmen City is very a famous Overseas Chinese City. The United States Ambassador to China–Gary Locke, his grandfather was from Jiangmen City. Gary Locke always visits the city once he is back to Guangdong province.
After our travel to Kaiping Diaolou , we learned a lot and we enjoyed the travel even if we were both tired. It is worth to see!
About Kaiping Diaolou
The upper floors were used as residences, with the lower floors designed with defence in mind. The walls were much thicker and stronger than the walls of ordinary residences, making it impossible for bandits to break through, or set them on fire. The windows of Diaolou are, for similar reasons, smaller than those of ordinary residences, and are protected by grills of iron bars or by iron shutters. The main entrance is protected on the outside by an iron gate and on the inside by an iron door. The doors and windows could, at any moment, be shut, to make the entire Diaolou an enclosed and shut-in defensible space, able to resist any attack from the outside, even an attack with firearms. Diaolou tend to have, on the four corners of the roof terrace, constructions which jut out from the building, forming totally or partially enclosed corner turrets (note: these are called locally “Swallows’ Nests”). The turrets have loop-holes facing outwards and firing ports facing downwards, that could be used to fire-on enemies entering the village. In addition, further loop-holes were provided on each floor of the Diaolou, to increase the places from which those inside could attack those outside.
Some rich families, to avoid problems of bandits hiding out and waiting for the cover of darkness to attack, would go into the towers every evening. These families would improve the defense capability of the Diaolou, while at the same time, ensure that everything necessary for a convenient and comfortable life was for inside the tower. It made it suitable for everyday use.
In 2007, UNESCO named the Kaiping Diaolou and Villages (开平碉楼与村落) in China as a World Heritage Site. UNESCO wrote, “…the Diaolou … display a complex and flamboyant fusion of Chinese and Western structural and decorative forms. They reflect the significant role of Kaiping people in the development of several countries in South Asia, Australasia, and North America, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the close links between overseas Kaiping and their ancestral homes. The property inscribed here consists of four groups of Diaolou, totaling some 1,800 tower houses in their village settings.”
One day tour in Kaiping
You need to go by bus from Guanghzou early, because you need to wait and take 2 hours bus to Kaiping Diaolou: Price is 57 Yuan. You can go by bus to the LiYuan(Li Garden) at the Yici Bus Station in about 30 minutes. The line goes from Yici station (义祠) to Magang(马岗) Stop, but the bus does not go into the Li Garden. You need to walk about 10 minutes to the Li Garden. I suggest by taxi from the Yici Bus station if you don’t’ have much time to visit, Price is about 65-70 RMB.
After visiting Li Garden you can take a van to the Zili Village for about 30-35 Yuan. It would be more convenient for you because you don’t need to wait for long time.
After you visit Zili village, you can take a van in front of the gate for about 50 Yuan to go to the Yici Bus station in about 20-25 minutes. The last bus to Guangzhou is at 7:00 pm, but you need to arrive at Yici Bus station before 6:30 pm, in case there are no tickets to buy.
Perhaps you can visit the Historic Town of Chikan if you have enough time. Another tour line goes to Jinjiangli Village and The Majianglong Village Cluster because they are close to each other, about 10 minutes by taxi.
About the Hotel:
I think the Helen Bergh Hotel is in a good location; it is not far from the diaolou compared with other hotels in Kaiping. It is about 8-10 minutes by taxi if you want go to the city center of Kaiping. The price of the hotel is reasonable, about 45 US$ including breakfast. , But don’t expect too much from the hotel staff because most of the staffs don’t know much English, except 1 or 2.
It is good experience for you if you can visit the Kaiping Diaolou at least one day.