Chengyang refers, in fact, to the famous wooden wind-and-rain bridge built about 100 years ago. Although there are many in this area, this is the most renowned and visited. The area is peaceful and quiet, but is also increasinglz touristic. The local people are nice and hospitable, but the tourist industry is unfrotunatly growing not only in infrastructure but also in scams and overcharging. It's a great place to relax for a few days, take in Dong culture and simply enjoy the scenery.
A river flows through the villages, and to either side are paddy fields. The slopes in this area are not as steep as Longji, for example, and a wander off the track will reveal all sorts of agriculture, such as aquaculture in ponds in between the valley sides, and small tea and timber plantations. It is very green and lush.
Flora and fauna
The best time to come here is early Autumn, when the fields are covered with yellow and the weather is extremely friendly.
Frequent buses depart from the Sanjiang West (He Xi) bus terminal and cost ¥5 (anything more is considered 'tourist' prices, July 2013). If you arrive in Sanjiang from Guilin, you will arrive at HeDong bus terminal, and you will need to walk 10 minutes or so to He Xi bus terminal across the river. From the vicinity of the same terminal you can catch frequent minivans that cost ¥10 and departure when full (useful after 5pm, when the last public bus leaves). The journey will be much faster but, being so, it is a bit risky since the road is narrow and the drivers have very bad driving habits.
To get to He Xi bus station walk out of HeDong bus station, turn right and then turn right onto the bridge, when you come off the bridge, keep walking straight across the intersection and the bus station is a little way up the hill on the right.
The entrance fee is ¥60, (¥30 for students). Note that until recently the local villagers hadn't seen a penny from this money, which, officially "used for maintaining the bridge", in fact went to the pockets of the local officials. After endless petitions from the locals, the authorities guaranteed that they will get 30% of the income gained buy the entrance fees collection. In fact, no-one checks the books, so the actual part might easily be 10%, or even 1%. Therefore, if you manage to avoid paying the entrance fee the only ones you'll be cheating are the corrupted communists, and this is a blessing.
You can sometimes avoid the fee when travelling form Sanjiang by staying on the bus about a kilometer further into the village. Tell the bus driver to drive you past the main ticket office (where you'll normally be dropped when arriving by bus or taxi) and into the village. Also, if you arrive in the village before 0730 in the morning, the guards will not be there, and one can enter free. However, the "policeman" do patrol the small community and may require the fee.
In July 2013, it appears almost impossible to avoid the entrance fee, with officials patrolling every road into town. It may be worth arranging accommodation before arriving, since hostel managers may be able to help you into the village.
The best, if not the only, way to get around is simply walking between the villages, which are all very close to each other. Some hotels offer bikes for rent, but unless you're planning some really of-the-track bike trips, these are not necessary. The community is quite small, no larger than a large city park.
Walk around the villages, see the nature, the houses, the children, the people at work, in general - just relax! Chengyang is an extremely quiet place and is also very dark, so it is good advice to take something with you to use as a light (or torch) if you are eating in the village and walking to the guesthouse.
The drum towers are places for social and religious gatherings, and resemble a pagoda of some kind. See this together with stages, bridges and Dong houses in each village and hamlet. They all tend to have unique details. The stage is in the middle of the community near the bridges. The drum tower is in the community east of the enterence. The drum tower is interesting somewhat on the outside, but is very plain inside. If a foreigner goes in there, they should throw in a few coins. This does go to the village.
From the ticket office, take a walk up to the two pavilions on the crest of the large hill overlooking the village, and take in the views over the valley of settlements.
If you travel with somebody who speak Chinese (or even better, someone who speaks the local language - not many villagers speak Mandarin), take some time to talk to the locals. Most of the residents belong to Dong minority, and though officially not discriminated, they live in an extreme poverty and undergo endless humiliations by the government. Just listen to their stories and understand, what is the real China of the 21st century, in contrast to what the government is trying to show. The locals are very friendly and peaceful. Daily local dance shows are now performed (as of July 2013) in a small building in the village north of Ma'an at 10:30am and 4:20pm. The show was moved from the drum tower in the center of Ma'an village to the new location in June 2013 since the local government had started demanding 'fees' from the villagers to use their traditional festival place for dance shows (which the locals must perform under orders of the national government).
All the usual souvenirs are available to buy in many places. During the performances in Ma An (马安) village there is a group of around 10 elderly women who will try to sell you stuff. If you're not interested just make it clear and they should leave you alone after a while.
There are different restaurants, almost all of which are intended for tourists and seem to practice overcharging of foreigners - be careful. Some claim to have Western food, but don't count on it. The recommendation is not to eat "western food", but try to find something that the locals eat or can prepare. But food is limited here, so if someone is on a special diet or just dislikes Chinese like food, it might be prudent to bring your own foodstuffs.
The local rice wine is on sale. You will also have a mug of oil tea included in your entrance ticket, or you can buy it separately. Local beer, and western liquor is available in Yang's and "the other place" left of Yang's up the hill.
The area of 'Chengyang' is a actually a collection of 8 villages, which is now full of hostels and guesthouses, with many more on the way judging by the current amount of construction. They are all likely to charge the same price (¥60 per room) and provide the same kind of accommodation. Don't expect the people working at any of these places to speak English though.
If you really want, you can ask for local advice. But what for?
From Chengyang, there are many smaller villages to travel to, further up the road and in the vicinity. Some of them have market days, check Yang's Guesthouse for more information or ask the locals. There is an information board at the entrance gate with a brief description on the noteworthy villages in Sanjiang county.
Chengyang is generally very safe in any time. Drink only bottled water and wash carefully everything you intend to eat fresh, and that's about it.
A bus back to Sanjiang is necessary for most onward transport. Make certain to check the times the day before, as departures to more obscure places may be infrequent. 2 daily buses leave to Liping, one at 6:30 am and the next at 11:30am, and this bus can drop you at Zhaoxing.