Yangshuo at night
Early evening - before the crowds emerge!
At Guilin airport, there was a CITS-operated shuttle bus to the city centre. We explained that we wanted to get a bus to Yangshuo so the shuttle stopped near the train station, where the Yangshuo buses also congregate.
As soon as we approached the station, a tout intercepted us and told us the bus was about to leave and cost 50 Yuan. We knew it sounded too much and had read in the guide book that minibuses cost about 10Y per person. We tried to haggle but she wasn't having any of it. Next thing, a different woman appeared and told us to hurry as the bus was leaving, the driver grabbed our bags and put them on the bus. We asked her how much and she said 40. We agreed, much to the disgust of the woman charging 50. We know we still ended up paying way too much. All the haste was just pretend to put us under pressure to agree to the 40, you're constantly conned when you're travelling. Frustrating when you realise you've been 'had' 30 seconds after you've handed the money over!
We met a young girl called Elizabeth on the bus, who came
Cycling around the Yulong River
A short way into the ride and Steve looking tired already!! Previous day's ickie tummy taking its toll!
from Yangshuo but was studying English in Guilin. She was going home for the weekend. She wanted to practice her English on us and was very sweet, telling us all about Yangshuo and even giving us her phone number saying she would like to be our guide the next day. We smiled and took the number promising to call, but felt a bit bad because we didn't really want to be tied to any arrangements as we hadn't really decided what we wanted to do yet, so had no real intention of calling.
We stayed that night at an Aussie-run hostel called 'Water Buffalo' right in the heart of Yangshuo's pedestrianised touristy streets. Our room was beautiful. There were 2 double beds in the room, the bathroom was immaculate and there was even a separate 'dressing' area. Everything looked new, nicely decorated and fresh.
Yangshuo is very touristy but it's quite small and is a lovely place to stay.
We went to dinner in a place called 'Cloud 9' and tried the local speciality, beer fish. It was carp and we were a bit dubious but it tasted absolutely delicious!
Back at the Buffalo Bar, we
entered the pub quiz, which was a disaster. We came last, although the owner tried to cheer us up by saying we had the best team name he'd heard in a while ('More beered up than a beer fish'). We tried to blame our poor score on tiredness and we're still sticking with that!!
The next day started badly. Steve was ill with a bad tummy and not up to going out. He spent the day in bed. Also, there was no hot water so Orla had to complain. One of the girls who worked in the hostel said it was because many people had used the water and more would heat up in 20 minutes. Fifty minutes later, still no hot water. Getting annoyed now. When Orla complained the second time, the owner was there. He checked then said the girl had been putting cold water into the system, not hot, and that the hot water is instantaneous. Was a little miffed at having wasted an hour but as Steve wasn't well and we weren't doing much, it wasn't a big deal.
One sliver lining about Steve's illness was that we could phone Elizabeth and genuinely
cancel her services, without having to make up excuses or feel guilty. So we had a quiet day. Orla went out to book bus tickets to Shenzhen (the 'border' with Hong Kong) and had a quick look at the river with its limestone karst scenery - lovely. Then she had dinner in a cheap Chinese restaurant called 'Si Chuan'. On leaving the restaurant, she got nabbed by another Chinese English student, wanting to practice her language skills. She walked with Orla around the market/shopping area and even taped some of the conversation! She was studying business English so asked Orla about her job and working in England. Orla said she works very, very hard (don't laugh, Phill!!)
The next day, Steve felt much better, so we hired bikes and cycled for about 3 hours along dirt tracks to Yulong Bridge via beautiful countryside and agricultural land - mainly rice paddy fields, of course. We were followed half the way by a lady whose aim was to sell us a bamboo rafting trip once we got to the bridge. It was a bit annoying at first as she shadowed our journey, stopping when we stopped etc, but she was actually
Another raft overtaking us on the Yulong River
very useful as there were many tracks and she kept pointing us in the right direction. At the bridge she started her sales pitch and wanted 170Y for the boat trip, but we managed to haggle her down to 100Y. A man paddled us down the Yulong River, whilst our bikes were taken in a truck to meet us at the end of the trip. The karst scenery was gorgeous and it was nice to watch village life as we sailed by. Our bamboo rafting man was not a very good boatman though. Two other rafts overtook us whilst he got us stuck on rocks on 3 different occassions. We decided he must still be in training! Maybe that's what you get when you don't pay the asking price!
When we got off the raft and went to retrieve our bicycles, Steve noticed a peddle was missing from his bike. We kicked up a fuss because we had to leave a deposit for the bikes at the hiring point and thought they wouldn't refund it. The rafters were disinterested and said it was cheap to fix - maybe 2 yuan. We said we shouldn't have to pay and how
could Steve cycle back to Yangshuo. We hung around, still complaining until they got sick of us, then our YTS bamboo rafting man was nominated by the others to take us to the nearest cycle repair shop. We went to 2 villages and there was no cycle shop. At the next village, the cycle shop was closed. We found another cycle shop but they didn't have any peddles. It was looking bleak until we chanced upon a cycle repairer with his box of tricks on the side of the road at another village. He had a peddle, then asked Steve for 5 yuan. Steve told our rafter there was no way he was paying and waved his boat rafting ticket at him, which also included a insurance premium. It's amazing how much we can communicate without being able to speak or understand the language. The rafting man understood Steve wasn't going to pay and he coughed up the cash. It helped that Steve was twice the size of him! The cycle repairer laughed as he watched the spectacle, he appeared to be very amused that Steve was making the boatman pay.
We then cycled back to Yangshuo. About 5
minutes from the bicycle hire shop, just as we were crossing a busy road, Steve's new peddle fell off!! We tried to put it back on but it wouldn't work. We went back to the hire place and told the owner the peddle dropped off and he just said, "Sorry", returning our deposit. All that fuss for nothing!
The next morning, Orla had to complain at Water Buffalo as there was no hot water again. They'd switched it off. The owner tried to blame his staff again but we suspect they only do as they are told. We wouldn't mind if they told you the hot water times but they claim it's 24 hour. Hmmmm.
We were catching our bus to Shenzhen that evening but had the day spare for sight-seeing. We caught a bus to Xingping from where you can catch Li rivertrips towards Yangdi, claimed to be the most spectacular section of the river. When we got to Xingping, the boat touts told us that they weren't running trips until after 4pm because the police were on the river! It seems you have to be registered to take tourists. However, we checked at the official
agency too and they also said they had no trips upstream until after 4 o'clock so they sounded a bit dodgy! They charge more money but you end up on the same boats. Everyone tried to sell us a trip downstream instead. We told one woman that the scenery wasn't so good downstream and she just said, "I know". We laughed at her marketing skills!
We had to wait about an hour and a half but finally got our trip at about 3:30, on a motorised bamboo raft this time, and it was worth the wait. Yet again, the scenery was stunning and the captain of our 'ship' stopped outside Yangdi for us to take in the view and get harrassed by pomelo fruit sellers! We decided to try one. It tasted nice and looked a bit like giant grapefruit but tasted sweet. The skin is really thick though and our sales woman had to hack it off with a knife for us. Even then, it was tough going getting through the pith and we had to squeeze the soft fruit out of the fleshy bits.
Back at Xingping, the minibus was just leaving as we approached but
we managed to flag it down. There was standing room only. As we continued the journey, we picked up more and more people until there were 36 passengers in our 18 seater bus! We were literally standing on each other. The journey was only about an hour which was a relief!!
We had a hasty dinner at 'Cafe del Moon' before rushing to the river to join a trip to watch cormorant fishing. It was very much laid on for the tourists (not many people fish this way anymore) but it was fascinating. In the dark, with a couple of bright lights, the fisherman took 9 birds out on his bamboo raft, then threw them in the river and then smacking the surface of the water to make the cormorants dive. They were very agile swimmers, gliding through the water and quickly caught some fish. The fisherman ties a ring around their throats to stop them swallowing the fish. As he spotted one catching a fish, he used a hoop to hook it out of the river and squeezed its neck to make it spit out the fish into a basket. Rumour has it that if he doesn't let
the cormorants eat every 7th fish, they refuse to work! We didn't see them catch this many though, so can't verify that one. At the end of the trip, there was a photo opportunity with a cormorant and the birds were allowed to guzzle the fish.
We caught the bus at 10 o'clock bound for Shenzhen. We had the luxury sleeper bus which the touts described as a "safe Volvo bus" and would take 10 hours. Hong Kong here we come!
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