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Published: April 18th 2013
At the start of our cycle ride
A cycle ride into the countryside outside the town of Yangsuo amongst the beautiful limestone karst scenery.
We set off from central Yangsuo on a mixture of hire bikes - from mountain bikes with 18 gears to road bikes with no gears at all. I chose mine based on the squidginess of the seat and the most upright handle bars to avoid neck ache. We set off with our guide - tiny Sofia - cycling at snails pace at the front which made negotiating traffic on the 'wrong' side of the road interesting with all the braking and freewheeling so as not to crash into her! We eventually got off the main roads and onto the country lane heading into the gorgeous karst mountain scenery I'd been so looking forward to seeing. All around us were the beautiful towering peaks with farmland in between. Aaron in front of me kept shouting 'Nee hau' (hello/good day) to the farmers working hard in the fields without much response. He was a bit miffed. I thought they were probably sick of seeing tourists swanning around on bikes while they toiled away doing their back breaking work in the fields!
We stopped very soon after getting onto the country lane, pretending we were already knackered. Really we just wanted to get
our cameras out so we could take shots while we were cycling along. We stopped again a little further on to look at an 'ancient' house - 200 years old! Not so very ancient then. Then is was off again avoiding the flower head-band sellers with a 'boo yah, shear, shear' (no thank you) if they got too persistent. Amazingly it seemed to work.
A little later we stopped yet again to see if anyone wanted to take up the option of a bamboo raft trip on the river. Me and Aaron decided to give it a go so we all set off along a bumpy track to get to the start point. Our bikes would be transported for us to the end point of our raft trip, but not our daysacks. Hmmm ALL my most important things were with me - passport and money in my money belt, camera, purse and credit cards, asthma puffers, brand new mobile phone, gps! I was a bit worried I could end up losing the lot if we overturned and ended up in the water.
We had to don these bright orange, hopelessly ineffectual buoyancy aids that didn't zip up or
Cycling in the countryside around Yangshuo
The karsts were formed by water seeping through and eroding the rock to make caves. Eventually the tops of the caves caved in to leave the pointy mountains seen today.
even tie on properly. I suspect they would have just fallen off if we actually fell in. Then we sat in our two seater raft with a guy at the back to punt us along with long bamboo poles. The rafts were also made of bamboo - about 10 to 15 poles lashed together with wires but bent up towards the front of the boat. If it rained we had a pub garden umbrella to put up to keep us dry. The guy at the back would just get soaked it seemed. The rest of our group carried on with their cycle ride and we would meet them at Moon Hill ready for our trek up the mountain.
As we set off the scenery opened up in front of us. So peaceful and beautiful. There were massive peaks all around framed by prettily swaying bamboo. Water buffalos grazed in the fields and we saw the odd hamlet dotted amongst the peaks. We began to hear rushing water and then noticed the rafts in front of us dipping down what seemed like a small weir ahead of us. So we were puzzled when we also heard shrieking from the passengers
of the rafts in front of UNTIL we got to the weir ourselves and saw it was actually quite a big drop considering the style of rafts we were in! Our reaction was to hang to our bags at all costs and swoosh over the weir we went with accompanying shrieking from me and laughter from Aaron. Stupidly we hadn't thought to lift up our feet and they got completely soaked. Well Aaron's did, I was wearing my waterproof walking boots 😉
Just beyond the weir we were amazed to see a pontoon raft complete with photographer, computer and printer ready to print off our shooting the weir shrieks for a few yuan! Boo yah, shear, shear!
And so we continued, taking in the amazing scenery and thinking how lucky we were to be in this amazing place IN CHINA but also how sad it was the others were missing it and alright, yes a tad smug that we had made the right decision. There turned out to be quite a few more weirs to negotiate and we became quite expert at raising our legs and holding onto the bags each time. At one of the weirs we
spotted the rest of our group having a break from cycling to watch us from the shore and laugh at us in our raft as we went over the weir. We thought this must be where we were supposed to get off so made our punting guy go toward the shore. Wrong! The others had gone by the time we got there so we headed back off down the river, hoping this was where we were supposed to be going.
Our cheeky punting guy then insisted on stopping at one of the cafe rafts to have a beer! Aaron decided to join him and paid for a very expensive pee-joe (beer) which wasn't very ping (cold). I stayed on the raft and chatted to a guy and his son - an American who had been living and working in Hong Kong for about 10 years. Eventually our guy finished his beer and his chat with his mate and we set off again. In the raft next to ours was a young woman with her two kids. They started tottering up towards the front of their raft to have some action shots and of course this encouraged me and Aaron
to do the same. Aaron made it right to the end at one point and almost got his arse wet to match his shoes!
A little later it started raining and all the raft guys started putting up the beer garden umbrellas to keep us passengers dry. One guy in the boat ahead of ours was really struggling to get his up as basically it was completely broken. It was so funny watching him desperately trying to get it to stay up, another weir rapidly approaching. His passengers gave up on him and got their own umbrella out. He somehow managed to get them over the weir despite being at completely the wrong angle because of getting distracted by the umbrella fiasco.
The rain didn't last for long, which was just as well for a wedding couple we saw on the shore having photos taken. Apparently they hadn't actually got married yet but were having PRE wedding photos! We also passed a huge rock that has now become a mecca for rock climbers who seem to be coming more and more often to this area to climb. And so we arrived at the bridge where Sofia was waiting
Cycle ride in the countryside near Yangshuo
Renee remembering to look where she's going - tricky taking photos while cycling ;)
to meet us - looking a bit alarmed at Aaron's antics - balancing precariously at the front of the raft while I took photos for him. The rafts were all loaded back on a van ready to take them back to the start and we set off on our bikes towards famous Moon Hill - again at Sofia's snails pace.
When we arrived, to Sofia's surprise the others weren't there waiting for us. She joked that Dennis had probably got them lost, but when they still hadn't arrived and we had all finished our hot chocolates and moccas she decided she ought to phone him just to check. He was lost!! Apparently the heavy rain the night before had made the usual route impassable and they had to go a different way. Dennis had no clue where he was and had to keep asking locals the way. Eventually they arrived a little more saddle sore than they should have been but seemed to have had a great time laughing at Dennis getting them lost. We decided to order some lunch at the cafe before our trek up Moon Hill. I decided it might be worth turning on my gps
Our incredibly slow cycle guide, Sofia
She was tiny - you'll see in a photo later when she is stood next to me.
to see if some kind person had hidden a geocache there and yep they had. I found it behind the sign at the bottom of the hill attached magnetically. Sofia posed with me for the photo. I don't think she really understood what it was all about, but the photo is great - she makes me look like some massive giant she is so ickle.
The others had rushed off up the hill while I was finding my geocache, which I was actually quite pleased about as it gave me space and time to take it at my own pace, stopping to take photos of interesting things along the way, including a sign painted on a rock saying we were not allowed to set off fireworks!! It was very muggy and I could feel my face burning up to its usual beetroot shade it goes whenever I do any hill climbing. It didn't actually take very long to get to the top but by the time I got there my hair was dripping with sweat and my face was bright red and looked like I'd must have just conquered Everest rather than the small Moon Hill! To make it
Lotus roots growing in the fields near Yangshuo
These are where the lotus roots are grown that we cooked in our cookery class - the ones that look like swiss cheese when sliced - all covered in holes.
worse there was a group of beautiful, young French girls and guys all looking like they had just stepped out of a salon - not a hair out of place! By the way the reason for the hill's name is due to the massive gap through the rock at the top that is in the shape of - can you guess? A crescent moon. When stood underneath it the 'roof' is about 100m high.
The viewing area just beyond the gap proved to be a fantastic place to take photos and I got my beetroot face recorded for prosperity by one of the French girls. So unfair - I arrive at the top not gasping for breath but looking like shit, whereas others arrive completely knackered and out of breath but looking like they haven't been exerting themselves AT ALL! pfffft! So I took a return photo or the beautiful French girls and guys and they took another of minging me and photogenic Renee who I'd caught up with.
After reveling in the glorious landscape all around we finally went back down and rewarded ourselves with deliciously cold ice-creams before heading off on the bikes again - this
Tom setting off down the bumpy part of the track
The others almost missed the turning so we waited for them to catch up.
time along the main road back into Yangshuo. We hadn't gone far when we realised that the people at the back had stopped and were fiddling about with Renee's bike. When we got back to where they were we found that a bungie had got caught up in her bike chain and just would not budge. People kept stopping to have a nose and offer help but still it wouldn't shift. Eventually a tuc tuc guy stopped and brought over his tool box and whipped the bungie off in no time. Sofia gave him some yuan for his trouble.
Back on the road and we continue at snail's pace almost colliding with Sofia every other minute or so. Very saddle sore we arrive back at the bike hire shop in bustling Yangshuo. The others were keen to get back to the hotel for a shower before coming out into town again, but me and Renee knew we would never make it back again if we did that so headed straight for a bar and ordered a few beers, bourbon for Renee and cocktails for me. They came in tiny little glasses - what was it with everything in miniature?
The Chinese that Dennis had taught us so far seemed to be working. Foo yuan got the waitress over for our order. Boo yah sheer sheer made the hustler guy with his tourist tat go away and annoy some other poor drinkers who didn't know the magic words.
Renee's trip up Moon Hill had made her realise she needed some better footware so we looked for some trainers for her in some shops on the way back to the hotel. She was very pleased to find some really comfortable trainers in her size and ended up wearing them loads for the rest of the trip. A good buy.
We got back to the hotel, had wonderful showers - even if they did make the toilet wet - remember the room description? And collapsed into bed for an early night ready for an early start the next day to catch another sleeper train to get us to the start of our Yangze River cruise. What a fantastic couple of days in lovely Yangshuo.
I was IN China, and still couldn't quite believe it 😊
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