Getting away from it all in Southwest China

Published:  18 May at 6 PM
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When getting away from it all truly means getting away from it all, the South China Karst region is heaven on earth.

The three provinces of Yunnan, Guangxi and Guizhou together make up one of the most spectacular spots on the entire planet. This unique topography features massive limestone crags, rich jungle foliage, rushing waterways and remote, peaceful villages known for their positive effect on health and longevity. Although the region is becoming known to Chinese tourists, it’s virtually unheard of on the expat circuit, with only the most adventurous taking time to explore its wonders. Very few Westerners arrive and even fewer stay.

Australian Stephen Cramb and his Hong Kong born Cantonese wife Jessica are the exceptions which prove the rule, and are the only foreign hoteliers in the entire region. Cramb first arrived in Hong Kong in 1983, prompted by a fascination with Chinese martial arts, and went on to study at the famous Shaolin Monastery. He became an expert, and married Jessica in 1987.

After returning to Australia, they bought a farm and were content until the 2010 ‘storms of the century’ hit New South Wales and Queensland, flooding them out. With everything they’d worked for gone, the couple returned to China, where they built their guesthouse in the village of Bama, overlooking a picturesque faming valley and surrounded by soaring limestone peaks.

Cramb admits to being an ‘old hippie’, loving every minute he spends tending his garden and growing vegetables for the family and his guests’ meals. Visitors will get to see isolated tribal villages, caves with underground rivers and, if they’re into activity sports, they can go caving, hiking, canoeing on the Panyang River or climbing the great, grey limestone peaks.

Hopefully, this glorious, remote region won’t go the way of other such Asian treasures but, for expats who really do want to get away from it all, this region must be the ultimate answer to their dreams.The nearest accessible relatively unspoiled karst town is Xingping, several hours away and home to intrepid expat photographer Gregory Michiels. He guides visiting photographers to the most spectacular sites in the area and introduces them to the famed Li River cormorant fishermen.
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