Thursday, 16 April 2009

Eco Lives: Chris Barclay

I first started coming to the Yangshuo area when I was living in Guangzhou in the mid 90's. I had a lot of expat friends who liked to get away and we had all heard about great trails & climbing in Yangshuo so we came out to explore. We started making regular pilgrimages and while we were staying in the quaint town each time, I thought it would be great if there were a place closer to the villages and pristine countryside. I also though it would be a great place to bring clients for team-building events, as at the time I was running a corporate training business that served many of the multinationals in China. In 1998, I began talking to local government officials about building a training center on some terraced rice fields by the Yulong River.

The government was extremely supportive and helped arrange a 30-year land lease for the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, which was to become a 30 room eco-lodge, serving as an educational center for corporate and international school clients. We opened in September 2000, and word soon spread throughout the expat community in China. Before long, we were receiving visitors from throughout the region and across the world.

From the beginning my aim was to promote and conserve Yangshuo's natural beauty, while supporting the local community. We hired staff from the surrounding villages as well as a full-time North American coach to teach them English and service skills. We have since grown from 8 to 20 staff and provide housing for them on-site. We sponsor local schools as well as provide scholarships for children of our staff. We also encourage guests to explore our staff's villages, having a meal there or even staying over night with their families.

In October of 2008, together with Yangshuo Mountain Retreat's Resident Manager, Little Fish, I opened the Yangshuo Village Inn, an 8-room boutique hotel in Yangshuo's Moon Hill Village, which has been a big hit with guests so far.

I really enjoy taking guests out on hikes or mountain biking, and showing them places where other tourists don't go. I have been lucky to have the support of the Yangshuo government as we open up tourism to the Yulong River Valley. As part of a trip to visit their sister city in the U.S. last year, I took some of these officials to national parks and historical places around Washington D.C., to help educate them about preservation and sustainable tourism. Since that trip, I've seen the government planning more strategically about protecting the valley from an overgrowth of road and river traffic.

It's also great to work with the local people, and help them share their traditional ways of life with our western guests. The Yangshuo Mountain Retreat began as a weekend project that is now a full-time ongoing business. I feel blessed to be able to work in such an amazing place and share it with people who can really appreciate its beauty.

See the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat here

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