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Published: November 29th 2007
Nice view from our room.
The red lanterns looked great at night.
Our 'express' bus to Yangshuo only took 8 hours and evidently included a meal for free, so we were told by a Chinese woman who spoke a little English. At some point between peeing into a trough and comparing buses in the car park to see which was best (ours was of course) we both must have missed out on the no doubt delicious (ahem!) meal.
Before we tell you about Yangshuo please do check out our videos. They include, Neil trying an outdoor Chinese gym to an audience of Chinese, holding the camera whilst filming on a bike whilst being lost in Yangshuo countryside and a tranquil moment by the river when 6 boats of tourists arrive with horns blaring! Okay, so we arrived into Yangshuo at 8pm, which is probably not the best time to be walking down the town's main street, Xi Jie or West Street. At night this street is aglow with neon, lasers, strobe lights and bar touts, souvenir sellers and blaring disco/karaoke joints. The street was also jam packed with tourists (mostly Chinese it has to be said) and we were told that this was low season for China...if this is the case we
would hate to see how busy it is in high season!
We had pre booked a nice room just off West Street with private bathroom and wi-fi for 110RMB (about £7). Yangshuo has a very high number of good quality guest houses, so booking ahead wasn't really all that necessary at this time of year, but to be honest it was to save us trailing around at 8pm at night when we'd just arrived! We did feel a little scammed as there were some nicer rooms here for around 80RMB. When we finally arrived at the guest house we were quite tired but also excited to see what Yangshuo had to offer. Something to note is that any guest house around West Street are super noisy...we had very disturbed sleep with music thumping until around 2am and noise starting in the morning at around 7am!
If you don't already know, Yangshuo and the nearby city of Guilin, have some unique scenery that only exists in a handful of places in the world. The scenery being dramatic limestone karst formations and the other places being Halong Bay in Vietnam, Krabi/Phang Nga in Thailand and Vang Vieng in Laos etc.
So our first impression of Yangshuo was at night time and it wasn't what we were expecting at all. We had expected an authentic Chinese village with a few curiosity shops and authentic Chinese life happening all around. Our opinion though is that Yangshuo has been staged for tourists (like so many other places in China). What we mean by this is that the whole place kind of resembles a Hollywood film set for what the West imagines China to be like with a shed load of discos and what we now fondly term 'tat shops'. Tat shops are shops that sell nothing useful for travellers like ourselves or even to other package tourists on holidays. They sell things like crappy copper bracelets, plastic dolls, tacky plastic replicas of Yangshuo, snow globes, unrecognisable bronze idols and the like. Our other pet hate in tourist towns is supermarkets which aren't supermarkets...Yangshuo has it's fair share of these, it's as if tourists don't need to eat snacks or buy toiletries! These 'fake' supermarkets sell tea (70 different varieties you know), vacuum packed unrecognisable food and sunflower seeds. Grrrrr, where is the proper snacks?!
Waking up the morning after we had arrived,
Yangshuo immediately looked better in the day. The streets were quieter, the music discos had closed and we even found a supermarket that sold things you would expect to find in a supermarket. Donna was also excited because she found cheap delicious fruit on nearly every street corner, unlike the Philippines where we struggled to find decent quality, reasonably priced fruit. After so long of enduring really awful quality food in the Philippines and almost having to turn vegetarian (yes, really!) it was great to be in a country which had great food and Yangshuo did not disappoint us in that area. We have also been impressed with Chinese snacks which don't taste like plastic (like many of the South East Asian snacks we have tried before). Maybe the Chinese have similar palates and taste buds to us Westerners.
Our main plan in Yangshuo was to walk the streets which we did thoroughly (with jumpers on for the first time in ages might we add!) and to cycle around the surrounding countryside. We hired 2 mountain bikes for a bargain 10RMB each and set off with no map, just Neil's heightened super sense of direction (you just know things
The food stop on our bus journey...
...it was free but the food looked a bit dodgy!
will go wrong, don't you?!). 10 minutes into the ride and there's Neil asking a toothless old woman, who didn't speak English for directions while we cycled on a busy motorway. This was a bad idea for 2 reasons: the obvious first reason was that we couldn't understand a word she said; the second reason was that she decided to follow - actually stalk - us though the Yangshuo countryside. Maybe the elderly here have a lot of time on their hands or they like to freak out a couple of dozy foreigners who are silly enough to ask directions?!
Two hours later of cycling around the countryside and getting lost, Donna decides to go all moody and lose her patience. So quick thinking Neil consulted his photogenic memory of the map he had briefly glanced at 2 days ago of the cycle trails and took us along a 'short cut' back to the town. An hour of cycling later we met Bob, a retired American tour guide for the Yangshuo area who had also tried to find a shortcut, greeted us with the words...'I never thought I'd meet people as crazy as me'! The 'cycle path' turned into
a really deep gravel road which Donna continually whinged kept throwing her off her bike, it then turned into a wet cement road, followed by a barely dry cement road covered in hay and finally came to an abrupt halt at the river. Of course there were some locals with bamboo rafts willing to take us across the river but only if we were up for being exhorted first. To cut a long and ruthless (on our part of course) haggling session short, we got the raft people down in price and crossed the river to find a nice Dutch run restaurant and got our bearings. We had been heading for a place called Moon Hill which is a limestone karst with a moon shaped hole in it, but as soon as we approached this area it was clear that this site was too much on the tourist trail with hoards of tour buses and the matching cap, flag waving tour groups!
Getting back to Yangshuo, our arses and legs were so sore from the 50km we had cycled...we decided to treat ourselves to an hours foot massage for 30RMB. It wasn't really that relaxing with the TV blaring
another wet room ensuite...
...and pretty nice again too!
away with an awful Chinese version of the Generation Game, but it made our legs and feet feel a little better, just what we needed before our next stop off in the city of Guilin, a short 34km hop away by bus.
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