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Published: August 2nd 2015
Xingping: The quieter and more quainter version of the commercialised Yangshuo, with less tourists and more of an authentic town feel.
Made up of quaint narrow streets, with brick and wooden shop exteriors all lined together in long terraced rows, it almost looked untouched from a distant past. If that was not enough reason to visit, the small town was beautifully built at the foot of huge karst mountains overlooking the Li River.
On our arrival (via 40min bus from Yangshuo) we walked through the small streets in search of our hostel. Passing under cloth canopies strung between shops and illuminated lanterns, we heard the faint sound of traditional music being played. As we got closer there was a small group of locals; some smoking, some playing instruments whilst others played cards. Then out of nowhere - Firecrackers - A deafening sound echoing through the narrow street. P nearly jumped out of her skin. We were slightly apprehensive about continuing through but passed by without having an induced heart attack. The following morning we were again awoken abruptly by the sound of fire crackers right outside our window too. Seriously!? Chris jumped out of bed to see what was
happening, turns out it was a passing funeral procession!
One of the main attractions in Xingping are the 360 degree views from Laozhai hill. Not ones to turn down a challenge for a good viewpoint we trekked up the hills 1159 steps (steps are everywhere in China!) through a sparse forest to the top of Laozhai. The walk wasn't too bad despite being drenched in sweat, it was late afternoon and the forest provided a bit of shade. The humidity here and the surrounding wet forest made for some very slippery steps, so we had to be exrtra careful to avoid slipping. All in all the hike took us around 40mins to climb to the top. Not bad.
At the top there was a small Chinese style pavilion with a couple of benches underneath and just to the left (a small scramble over some rocks) next to a signal tower was the 360 degree viewpoint. No matter how many hills/mountains we climb we're always blown away by the beauty of nature. Here was no different.
The mountain we were on overlooked the Li River, mountains in the distance and the surrounding towns. Everything seemed so quiet below
as we absorbed the vistas around us. Time up here flew by with us doing nothing but getting lost in nature's beautiful creations.
The viewpoint itself was merely some jagged rocks perched at the top of this mountain (no safety whatsoever). We sat there perched precariously on the end of a rocky edge for nearly 2 hours just taking in the mesmerising views and snapping pictures - just incase the first 50 didn't capture it correctly. Seeing the limestone karsts from ground level was impressive, but up here it took our breath away. Light was restricted by the many clouds and so unfortunately our pictures do this place no justice. Take it from us though, it was impressive. Plus we had the opportunity to watch sunset which in itself was not too spectacular with the clouds obscuring the sun but it was still worth the climb. Even with the clouds the view was still amazing.
As soon as the sun had set however we had to make our way down fairly promptly as it gets dark very quickly and we had no torch with us. Luckily we made it to the bottom before it got completely dark. With
stiff muscles and head to toe in sweat, a shower was much needed.
We stayed in a 4 bed dorm in the YHA guesthouse about 5mins from the foot of Laozai. We shared our room with both a Korean and a Chinese guy who we mainly smiled with. In terms of conversation with 'Tong' (the Chinese guy) we could only really say "hello" "how are you?" "What is you name?" and some other random questions like "how old are you?" "what country are you from?" (All of which we learnt to be able to answer other people's questions). Such questions however proved to be quite useless in this situation - we could only really ask him how he was just the once!
Fortunately the Korean studying in China could speak both Mandarin and English. After a brief conversation and introductions they invited us out for dinner. It was around 8:45pm and most of the restaurants were closing or closed - this really was a quiet town. We managed to find a restaurant open but the menu was completely in Chinese characters (we didn't get this far in our mandarin studies).
Luckily for us we had 2 residents
to assist. We gave them the reigns and let them order the food for us (bearing in mind no meat for P). There's always that nervous wait for 'new food' unsure whether you will like it or not. When the food came however all that anxiety and nervousness was for nothing.
The food was some of the best Chinese food we'd tasted. Ever. Brought out in sharing dishes, we got rice (standard), scrambled egg & tomatoes, small fried fish in veg, thinly grated potatoes, chicken boiled in soy sauce (including head and feet!) and soup. The flavours were so intense. We asked Choii (the Korean guy living in China) what one dish was called but there were way too many syllables for us to remember. Hopefully we'll come across it again. It was a really nice evening as we ate and talked with Choii translating from English to Mandarin and vice versa, discussing cultural differences and must see's in China.
The following day we decided we would hike 4 hours to an old small village called Yinde following the Li River and catch a bamboo raft back.
But first - A few photos at Xingpings other main
Almost got it
At the 20 Yuan spot
attraction by the Li river; the 20 Yuan spot. Immortalised by the image on the 20RMB note, many Chinese people come here in search of the original viewpoint for a picture with the same background. We managed to get one similar enough and so continued our hike to Yinde.
Our walk led us along a well paved road with houses on either side and mountains in the distance. We were hoping for more scenic views of the river but it was always obscured by the trees or houses.
One thing that caught our attention however was this elderly man who walked by us hunched over severely. He humbly replied to our "Ni Hao" walking with his stick, pointy hat and black outfit. We said to ourselves that he fit an image that you would think of when trying to imagine rural China, and there he was walking by us.
Reaching a river crossing, we asked a few of the bamboo boatmen dropping passengers off (in our best Mandarin) whether they could take us across. The short answer was "no". We didn't understand why, they were ferrying passengers up, down and across the river. Slightly stressed we asked
a few more and got the same answer, some pointing to a boat ramp and then to the other side of the river. One helpful English speaking Chinese passenger gave us a phrase in mandarin that would help "Can you take us across the river". Committing it to memory we tried again, until eventually we were able to understand a response. There was a boat specifically for ferrying people across, we just had to wait 5 more minutes for it to come over. Ahh so thats what the others were pointing at!
Reaching the other side we carried on our trek, this time the road was less paved with fewer houses and more greenery. Our destination still a few hours away and our legs still delicate from the previous days trek we marched on using our maps.me app with gps to keep us on track.
Before setting off on our hike we had asked the ladies selling bamboo ride tickets how much a one way ticket would be. Thinking it would cost us maybe 5Yuan each, we were shocked when they quoted us closer to 230Yuan (£23). That was way out of our budget. With this in mind
we decided we would see how far we get trekking, hopefully reaching the intended village at least or returning at a halfway point.
Time passed by fairly quickly and the half way point came and went. We were near the village but not near enough, plus we doubted a boat from the village back would be any cheaper than the price quoted earlier. We were eventually greeted by a vicious looking dog in front of our path in the middle of nowhere that started barking at us. There was no way around it and it was getting late. We decided to throw in the towel. Defeated, hungry and tired we made our way back, this time along the river itself. On our way back we bumped into a young Catalonian traveller, Mark who we got speaking to on Laozhai hill the day before, and continued our trek together back to Xingping for food and rest.
For dinner we didn't really go too crazy with our choices and just ordered plain old egg fried rice. In China however, egg fried rice seems to always come with meat mixed in it. P not wanting to be cause further confusion with
the staff as she hadn't specifically asked for "no meat" (although anywhere else you wouldn't have to) proceeded to pick the tiny pieces of pork out of her rice (with chopsticks), depositing them into Chris's. A valuable lesson learnt early on in our trip. After dinner we took a quick stroll around the quiet streets of town. Only a small number of tourists actually stay here. Hearing music not too far in the distance we followed our ears to a street basketball court/car park. On one side were a small group of young locals playing basketball and on the other side were a group of maybe 50 women all dancing in unison. This is quite a common occurrence in China we've found; sometimes its slow, other times it's uptempo but people of all ages seem to get involved.
Overall we enjoyed the many activities available in Yangshuo and also the quaintness off Xingping. Both stunnning in beauty and both worthwhile destinations in their own right.
Unfortunately due to mass domestic tourism (more so in Yangshou) prices for certain things are inflated massively. As long as Chinese tourists keep coming and paying the prices, its never going to get
any more affordable for international tourists - if and when they do begin to travel to such places more regularly.
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