A glimpse of the ancient town’s entrance. (YANG FEIYUE / CHINA DAILY)
Visitors packed the narrow, cobblestone lanes of ancient Heping town in early February.
Located in East China's Fujian province, Heping turned into a tourism hot spot during the Spring Festival holiday, which took place last week.
Some posed for photos with ancient buildings dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), while others were busy purchasing local specialties and snacking at the food stands on the streets.
People had to be really careful to not step on others' feet while taking in the pastoral charm of the town.
Throughout Heping, lion dances, drum beating and ghost-repelling shows were demanding visitors' attention.
"We have seen daily tourist numbers peak at 20,000," says Ke Jing, an official with the town government.
The town hired roughly 50 locals to give folk custom performances for visitors during the Spring Festival holiday. About six shows were presented each day during the weeklong holiday to enable travelers to better enjoy local traditions, Ke adds.
Moreover, a gourmet food street featuring distinctive local snacks, as well as a children's amusement zone, was established to spice up the visitor experience.
Fu Haiying was busy doling out porridge made of lotus seed and lily bulb powder near the entrance of the ancient town.
Every bowl of the porridge was made on spot to ensure it tasted just right.
"Business is great these days," Fu says.
Travelers walk in a street in Heping town, Fujian province. (YANG FEIYUE / CHINA DAILY)
The woman, in her 50s, started selling the porridge during major holidays about two years ago.
"I saw more people coming to visit and my neighbors have been making money by peddling things to them," Fu says.
She had to raise two daughters by herself a decade ago and used to receive government subsidies to keep her family's head above water.
Now, Fu can make 3,000 yuan during the National Day and Spring Festival holidays.
The government has also helped her with a dried seafood and bamboo shoots business, which has lifted her out of poverty.
Fu wore light makeup and was smiling.
"I wanted to look nice and my customers will be happier seeing me too," she says.
About 200 meters deeper into the town, in a modest wooden structure, Wei Zhihua was making cakes at her shop.
"We have seen daily sales more than double," Wei says. Her husband's family has been making the traditional cake, featuring sesame and peanuts, for seven generations.
The cakes are baked using hot charcoal placed on top of an iron pot cover.
Their business has enjoyed brisk sales over the last two years, thanks to the town's rapid tourism development.
On a good day, the family can easily sell over 1,000 cakes.
"In addition to major holidays, many tourists visit during weekends," Wei says.
The Heping government invested more than 100 million yuan (US$14.8 million) in tourism development last year. It has built green parks, and renovated shops offering souvenirs, beverages and books.
And it appears to have paid off as the better infrastructure has helped to attract an ever-increasing number of travelers from afar to appreciate the town's ancient beauty.
HONG KONG NEWS