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10.25.2011 - 11.26.2011
Everyone raves about Yangshuo. Yes, it's touristy they say, but still it's so beautiful, it's worth it. I will agree on all those points. Prepare for some stunning scenery. But be warned about the crowds (I was almost trampled in a stampede by a sea of tourists arriving off the Li River boats).
The happening part of Yangshuo is West St. and a few off shoot alleys and canal streets. It's nestled along a couple rivers that are lined by big pointy green, rocky mountain peaks called karsts that are actually limestone. It's similar to the scenery I saw in Vang Vieng, Laos and also around Halong Bay, Vietnam. But there are HUNDREDS more karsts in Yangshuo. It's really amazing. It was slightly rainy and foggy most of my time there, but that gave it an ethereal feel.
The best part of Yangshuo was not the "downtown" tourist zone, which is fun for street food and nightlife, but rather the countryside. I rented a bike from the hostel one day and rode along a commonly biked route in and around villages, farms, water buffalo, cows, horses, chickens, fisherman, and people bamboo rafting down the river. I got off the beaten track for a bit which was even more authentic, though when I asked a farmer where I was on my map and he pointed way off my trajectory, I decided I should probably retrace my steps. Some younger Chinese people were all heading past me, into a really remote area. Turns out they were going to rock climb and wanted me to join, but since I generally try to adhere to things like "safety" when it comes to letting my whole body weight be born by a little metal hook in a rock and a rope being controlled by only one other human being...I moved on.
I also biked to a crescent-shaped formation at the top of one of the mountains called "Moon Hill" and got some great views of the surrounds. I met the nicest Australian couples along the way here. The two couples are from Adelaide and after meeting them on Moon Hill, I kept running into them over and over in Yangshuo proper (it's not very big) so we ended up hanging out for the night. They sold me on coming to visit them in Adelaide and getting the grand tour of some great wineries and festivals they have coming up.
My first night, I attended a less-than-spectacular light show out on the water that is choreographed by the guy who did the opening scenes for the beijing olympics. the show had potential in parts where people had flashy lights on their costumes that flickered in strobe patterns, and when they did some cool stuff with big red banners. But then at one point a boat crossed the "stage" in the river for about 3 minutes with no music or anything else in the show to accompany it, so we just watched the boat. For 3 whole minutes. So yeah, some room for improvement there...But craziness of all crazy, at the show whilst waiting in my cattle corral to be herded into the show, I ran into Owen, my tour leader from part of my tour in SE Asia earlier this year. He is done touring in SE Asia and now exploring other parts of Asia, i.e. China. We caught up for a few, then met up later back in town with his friend/tour leader from the group he's tagging along with. Small world!
One of my days in Yangshuo, I booked a tour bus up 3 hours away to the Longji rice terraces. The aussies I met said they went earlier and it was beautiful. Sadly the day I went was pure fog so that we couldn't even see the terraces. We were just sitting in a big cloud and couldn't see anything. Blerrrg. But I met some cool British artist guys on sabbatical in China who introduced me to the new planking, which they have dubbed "wonking" and entails standing on a tilt when posing in front of something and then also turning the camera so the person is straight so that when the shot comes through, it looks like the background is all wonky. The other highlight was eating sticky rice stuff that is steamed inside sticks of bamboo.
On my last day, after catching a bus from yangshuo about an hour up north to Yangdi, I caught a bamboo raft (well it had some pvc piping as well as bamboo and a motor so not so much raft as boat) and sailed down to Xing Ping through some of the most scenic parts of the river. Right near Xing Ping is the snapshot of the karsts that is used on the back of the Chinese 20 yuan note. The boat ride was wonderfully quiet and oh so beautiful. I felt rather surreal. In Xing Ping, got a brief look around (not much going on in this town) and stumbled upon the local hostel. I popped in to find a map and grab a drink and ended up staying a bit cause they were watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall on a big projector screen in the lobby so I stayed and watched. It was nice to just relax and hear spoken english Then I caught a bus back to Yangshuo and then onto Guilin for the night so I could catch my flight to Chengdu the next morning. I didn't get to see much of Guilin, except some dude walking behind me attempted to slash my bag as I was walking to my hostel. He only slashed about 1.5 inches in my purse and then sliced the cinching cord on my backpack, which is just annoying. So I left Guilin with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. But one step closer to the pandas and the tea houses of Chengdu!