This week, WEF’s Jeff Beresford-Howe bypasses his usual haunt, Shanghai Stadium, for a trip to Guiyang, one of the more interesting places the CSL has established a beachhead.
Parks! Hills! Clean water!
With the concentration of teams on the eastern seaboard, the CSL isn’t noted for picturesque or exotic road trips to see your boys have at it. (When, when will Chengdu join the CSL?)
The rather unlikely rise of Guizhou Hengfeng — they twice bought rather than earned promotion — has provided a charming exception. Guizhou is the second western-most team in the CSL, after Chongqing, and is located in Guiyang at a relatively high altitude in a lovely, hilly countryside.
It’s a city loaded with gorgeous, well-curated (by Chinese standards) provincial and national parks and has a laid back, spread-out vibe that makes it seem more like a village than a city of four million people.
Top choices for visitors: Huaxi Park, which is a lovely, massive urban park with a river running through it that has water so clean — this part is not going to believable for residents of eastern China — that people fish and swim in it. And of course there’s Huang Guo Shu National Park, one of the most famous parks in China because of the eponymous, spectacular waterfall, but also possessed of a vastly less touristy hike through a separate valley, ending in a smaller, but equally great waterfall and a lovely gondola ride back to the top of the mountain.
The waterfall at the end of the long hike through Huang Guo Shu National Park; this isn’t the famous one, though the experience of getting to it is a first-rate little hike.
Alas, the opportunities for CSL road trips to Guiyang are numbered. Sunday night, Guizhou took a 1-0 lead in the first half against Beijing Renhe after a slightly dodgy, quick restart led to a goal from distance from Bubacarr Trawally, a.k.a. “Steve,” but the team reverted to form thereafter, getting dominated while allowing Beijing to equalize. With twenty minutes to go, they fell victim to a red card after Fan Yunlong’s second awful tackle of the match. Guizhou finished with a noticeable lack of initiative that left them seven points deep in the drop zone with nine matches remaining.
They are not toast yet, but the cinnamon and the butter are out
The Guiyang Olympic Sports Center is a standard-issue, Chinese multi-purpose oval, maybe a little nicer than most, with a running track, located in the far north of the Guiyang area. If you go, plan for a few extra minutes to find your seat: apparently, numbering the entrances to the sections was just a little too much work for the stadium’s designers.
It’s in a newly developing area that is supposed to be a center for the Guizhou provincial government when it’s finished, similar to what the powers that be are doing in Beijing with Tongzhou. It is nowhere near completion now, though, so the stadium might as well be in the middle of the desert. There is no atmosphere around the stadium at all.
The Hukun Expressway and Guihuang Expressway, jointly featured on one of the two major routes to the stadium, are both undergoing construction and are subject to massive delays. Make sure your driver takes the West Second Ring Road instead. And yes, you’ll need a driver, and it’ll cost you around 100 RMB from anywhere near the center of town to the stadium, and it takes from 45 to 90 minutes.
The Guizhou Hengfeng schedule is backloaded with home fixtures, so even at this late date, six groups of CSL fans have a chance to make the trip to Guiyang before the drop: Beijing Guo’an, Tianjin TEDA, Dalian Yifang, Guangzhou Evergrande, Guangzhou R&F and Chongqing are all visiting.
Whining and dining
Guiyang is a second-tier city. Don’t expect to easily find western conveniences like, for example, coffee. Do expect traffic, tons of it, especially in the Huaxi area on weekends. Gridlock doesn’t even begin to describe it.
A restaurant recommendation: Yang Guang Shui Xiang. Alas, like Guizhou Hengfeng, it’s doomed, set for closure sometime around the end of the year, to be replaced by a wetlands park. For now, though, it’s got to be one of the biggest restaurants on earth, and while the food is average-to-good — much of it grown in the restaurant — the experience is mind-blowing. (Don’t go if no one in your party can speak or read Chinese.)
With nondescript Wuhan likely to earn CSL promotion, joined by one of an eastern seaboard trio of Shenzhen, Zhejiang Greentown and Meizhou Hakka, and with Guizhou and Chongqing both on pace to depart the CSL, the league is about to get a whole lot less interesting for road-trippers. Take advantage of this one while you can.