Airbnb has let me explore cities in new and magical ways, even in my own country. I am in constant search of renovated Chinese heritage houses that preserve the old yet add a new touch of life.
Staying at the 6 artist and architect’s homes below in Guilin, Yangshuo, Dali, Mt Emei will show you a totally different China, with authenticity and transformation. I hope you make to China before the old buildings disappear.
1. Guilin | Artist’s Studio in a deserted 1970s Soviet Union factory
Mr. Hua XI is a Guilin local artist who has exhibited in Beijing’s 798 Art District (a top honor for artists）. He has been dedicated to art for last 20 years. I stayed in his art room in downtown Guilin, but what put me in awe was his art studio (a fort) in the outskirt of Guilin. Even locals don’t know about this old factory.
2. Yangshuo| Qing dynasty home in a remote water village with travelers from 140+ countries
Southwest China has been a treasure land for the curious and adventurous souls. Yangshuo attracts rock climbers and backpackers, while the Li River welcomes worldwide travelers with its natural beauty and the view printed on China’s 20 RMB currency.
Laojia, on one side of the Li River, is a tranquil and pristine getaway from the busy tourists. Located in Langshi Village, Laojia is ideal for meditation and outdoor activities. Laojia means “old home” in Chinese — a Qing dynasty house renovated by a Dutch American who has lived in China since 2009. He is fluent in the local dialect that few Chinese even understand.
In the welcome packet, it says if you crave for a cup of coffee, you may find it from the little store across the street. Since it’s listed in the brochure, I was expecting some delightful tiny coffee stand, but instead it was a mom-and-pop store that had Nestle instant coffee with dust under a collapsing shack. This is the level of un-touchedness of this water village.
Haibo is a Langshi Village local. He has never been to big cities but yet he can speak good English. Guess how he learned it?
He saved all the voice messages from Maarten, who is living in Shanghai and communicates with Haibo on WeChat. Haibo listens to the recordings again and again to learn English.
What’s amazing about this local-expat pairing is that Maarten taught Haibo western hospitality — a cross culture exchange. Hospitality in China means differently from the US or Europe. In China, we warmly welcome you home with a large dinner and the host may put food on your plate that you are embarrassed not to eat. or we try to plan itinerary for you that you’d rather take care on your own.
Maarten taught Haibo to give guests privacy and space yet be available as needed.
I said to Haibo： “you are the most international man in China, in this remote water village, having greeted guests from over 140 countries.”
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Haibo smiled with his humble eye contacts, “ Tonight, this is your home”
3. Szechuan| Architect’s dream in a 1000+ year old town at Mt. Emei
During a trip to the buzzling Chengdu (hometown of pandas), I was tired of the traffic jam and pollution. I opened up Airbnb to search for a weekend getaway for the peace of mind. The “forgotten corner” came up in search, Luo Mu 罗目古镇, a little village with 1000+ years of history and 10 min drive from the Buddhist destination: Mt. Emei.
The owner Wo Zhu 窝主 turned out to be the most renowned architect in Le Shan area and every morning, I hiked with the co-host to Mt. Emei, on a slippery path less travelled. We chatted about our shared passion for revitalizing and preserving China’s old houses. He was like a long lost old friend.
My vintage bed (every room has a different bed)
“The Corner” is the name of the BNB
A rocking chair
Lunch on benches
Low sodium diet
The device on the table brings back memory from childhood
A Chinese siesta: drip coffee paired with peanuts & sunflower seeds
Nice sink and mirror
This town reminded me of Havana, Cuba — the same pure eye contacts and the collapsing yet functional homes
Buns and soy milk = simple breakfast
Brown sugar rice cakes
At a farmer’s market, locals use basket to carry food and fruits
4. Xiamen| Hotel Wind: see the color of wind near the ocean
Note: this listing is more modern and designer, but it blends in local elements like the printed fabric from nearby villages.
Xiamen in Fujian province is the most kinfolk-style harbor city in China.Hotel Wind is a boutique hotel that embraces Japanese minimalist design and incorporates local elements. Xiamen is a windy city and staying here I found a sense of solitude portrayed in Edward Hopper’s paintings and saw the color of wind when it blows.
Conversations with Liyang, the mastermind behind this delightful space was a highlight of my stay. Airbnb connects me with the people behind the space — that is the magical part.
Note: You may wonder this is not a typical “airbnb” nor historic. I included as it is celebrating local print fabric culture. In China, “airbnb” and “bnb” are best exemplified by boutique designer hotels as the standard home-converted-airbnbs sometimes do not meet hospitality expectation from the guests.
5. Dali | a renovated Bai ethnicity house where you are welcomed with community meals
When traveling to a new city, sometimes solo, it’s hard to find a sense of belonging. But when you stay at a shared space with warm hearts, your first night can make you feel at home. That was my experience in Dali — the hosts worked at WeChat and AdTech startup. They chose the seclusive Dali in Yunnan province for a change pace of life.
The host Yi took me out for a walk and she did research on hidden coffee shops after learning my love for cafes. At night, Yi invited me for a birthday dinner for a fellow guest and after the rain, she dragged me from the couch, “come to see the rainbow with me”.
I was supposed to be a stranger in a new city, but that night I felt at home.
6. Shanghai | Boutique Lane House near legendary writer Lu Xun’s Old Residence
The study room where you can enjoy zen music and a cup of tea with the host
1930s Old Shanghai often piques the wanderlust from travelers. Designer Amadeus studied in England and came back home with a mission to create an authentic and holistic brand. After a 12 hour flight from SFO to PVG, I was disoriented upon arrival of this boutique lane house , yet instantly welcomed by Amadeus with a bowl of warm soup noodle in his neighborhood.
Amadeus and I share a vision to promote healthy and authentic living in China and to preserve Chinese heritage with a spin of new life. It felt like we were old friends who haven’t seen each other.
Amandeus wrote in my notebook: “ The world is big and the world is small. People with similar wavelengths are destined to meet, but Airbnb made our connection faster.”
I hope you get to see the authentic and historic China by artists and craftsmen and experience China in a different way.
About the author: Chenyu Zheng is a blogger from China who currently works as Product Marketing at Uber. This post was originally published on Medium.