Guiyang is the gateway to one of Southwestern China's most scenic and culturally diverse provinces, Guizhou. This mountainous region is home to centuries-old villages of the Miao (Hmong) and Dong ethnic peoples, who are known for their wooden drum towers and covered bridges, elaborate embroidery and exotic foods. In addition to vast bamboo forests and evocative karst peaks, Guizhou is also home to Asia's largest waterfall (Huangguoshu) and one of China's most impressive limestone cavern systems (Zijin Cave).
Known as the Forest City, Guiyang is embraced by parks, lush hills and idyllic villages. Add to that the people's passion for eating and lighthearted devotion to mah-jongg, energetic streets and deliciously cool summers, and you have the ideal city base for leisurely frolics and culinary delights. After a few days here, you'll wish you lived in Guiyang, too.
A comfortable bed
As a throne of power, Guiyang prides itself on lavish hospitality. Today the gold standard in this area is still the Sheraton Guiyang (00 86 851 588 8888), which boasts river views and the full phalanx of amenities. Deluxe rooms start at CNY1,000 (Dh574) including taxes.
An alternative for visitors preferring to be closer to Qianling Park is the four-star Regal Hotel (00 86 851 652 1888), which features all the basics and includes an outdoor swimming pool. A double room costs from CNY880 (Dh505) including taxes. The imminent opening of the Kempinski Guiyang promises to further bolster the city's hospitality options.
Find your feet
The Nanming River flows from east to west across the city centre. Along the river is Guizhou's landmark, the "First Scholar" Pavilion, a three-story monument in the traditional Chinese style built in 1598. Guiyang's main north-south artery, Zhonghua Road, begins two blocks north-west of the pavilion, and intersects with the main east-west road, Yan'an, at the water fountain roundabout (Penshuichi) - another of the city's most important landmarks.
Taxis are inexpensive (flag falls at CNY10; Dh6), reliable and swift, but the dimensions of the city are such that walking is a quite viable way to combine sightseeing with exploration of the tempting array of street snacks.
Meet the locals
Just a few minutes from the heart of downtown Guiyang, tribes of wild macaques roam the mountains of Qianling Park, bartering photogenic monkey fun for snacks. This park is a sort of spiritual centre of the city, a popular place to roam, exercise and relax. At Chinese New Year and other major holidays, its mountaintop temple becomes a magnet for the devout seeking blessings. The mountain's peak offers impressive panoramic views of Guiyang's office towers rising amid the signature green karsts of southern China.
Another favourite is Huaxi Park, which skirts along a burbling river in the south-west of the city. French plane trees line the path and are especially beautiful when their leaves turn bright gold in autumn. Crowds flock here whenever the chance arises to ride horses and bikes, swim, barbecue, sing karaoke or play mah-jongg. The lazily swaying trees and a crisp breeze off the water add the perfect element to any pursuit.
Book a table
A feast for the eyes as well as the stomach, Zui Miao Xiang (00 86 851 528 8088) woos diners with delicious suantang yu - whole fish simmered in a fragrant, tomato-based broth. Spicy, sour dishes from the Miao minority are well matched by colourful Miao tapestries and silverwork, as well as two immense Guizhou dinosaur fossils. A meal for two is about CNY300 (Dh170).
Another distinctive treat, siwawa, is Guiyang's interactive take on the ordinary spring roll. Roll up any and all of a dozen julienned vegetable fillings, from wild fern to sweet radish, in an impossibly thin crepe, and finish off with a dash of tangy dipping sauce. Twenty wrappers per person for CNY12 (Dh7) are sufficient for a light meal at Yang Yima Siwawa (00 86 851 528 9558).
For a singularly satisfying breakfast, start your day at Pangjie Wu Ji Douhua Noodles (00 86 139 8411 8701). This old favourite has been making Guizhou province's best douhua mian, or soft tofu noodles, for decades. The combination of flavours and textures is incredible: wide, chewy noodles and delicate soft tofu are served in warm soy milk and paired with a rich dipping sauce of peanuts, chillies and fresh mint leaves. But quality, of course, has a price. The relative pittance of CNY8 (Dh4) per bowl makes this the most expensive bowl of tofu noodles in town.
Like any other major city, Guiyang has its fair share of malls and shopping streets selling high-street tat, but it's particularly known for unique and beautiful handicrafts. The ethnic minorities that make up almost 40 per cent of Guizhou's population work wonders with embroidery, silver, batik and more. Their bold, fanciful designs can be found at Qian Cui Hang (http://qch.dcsq.cn; 00 86 851 650 4769), which also features other local specialities such as beef jerky, stones and fossils.
What to avoid
Don't get caught without your umbrella. With mild temperatures year-round, Guiyang is a great escape from the intense winters or summers of more manic climes. But come prepared for frequent rain, especially in late spring and summer.
At night, Cuiwei Ge, a Ming-dynasty (1368-1644) official's mansion in the heart of the city, transforms from a tourist magnet into an oasis of serenity. Relax over a cup of fine tea at Suihanyuan Teahouse (00 86 851 551 8250), at a table tucked into a little pavilions or overlooking the Nanming River, with views of the illuminated "First Scholar" Pavilion.