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Published: July 29th 2015
China!!! This is one place from the get go we were really excited about. The language barrier, the culture difference and the sites we had read about. Who wouldn't want to see the Terracotta Warriors, climb The Great Wall of China or see Pandora from Avatar in real life? Plus with the scale of China (with it being bigger than the whole of Europe put together) we could not begin to imagine the diverse scenery and culture we would encounter. Bearing this in mind, it surprised us that western tourism was relatively low. Not that we complained but it just sounded like a great country so we thought more people would feel the same too.
Don't get us wrong, we did have some reservations; we had heard about the loud noisy journeys, some unsanitary habits and the food. We heard they eat cat/dog meat and had spoken to one british girl in Myanmar who said that the food was soo bad she nearly starved during the 2 weeks she was there.
Was it really that bad?
Even so, this is why we travel; we have to experience it for ourselves.
Crossing the border was relatively easy getting
stamped out of China, filling in an entry card and stepping onto Chinese soil.
Shenzhen, the border town, was not as we expected. We expected some small town but it just felt like an extension of Hong Kong as it was quite built up and sophiscated.
Now came the real challenge of getting to Yangshuo. We read that touts try to sell you tickets when you cross the border but there were none in sight. We entered a square where there are some steps leading to a metro and a bus station to your right. We did not know where the bus station was so asked someone where it was in Mandarin. They understood us, Result!. We did the same at the ticket office when trying to purchase our tickets.
This time however they appeared to understand us but said 'no have' in Mandarin. The ticket officier then began trying to tell us something which we didn't understand. FAIL.
The thing that we quickly learnt in China, contrary to what we had read is that when people don't understand you (or you dont understand them) they have no patience. After trying to communicate she shooed us
out the way and allowed the next customer in line through. Great.
We stood there slightly confused and as we did a woman approached us. She told us she could sell us tickets for a nightbus. We even managed to negotiate a price, ask and understand how many hours it would take and what time it left in mandarin. Feeling smug with our newly acquired basics but slightly weary on whether she was the real deal we followed her to an office with other chinese people and waited there.
Turned out to be fine. After a short minibus trip to another bus station, we were on the bunked nightbus. A real sleeper bus with beds (albiet small and narrow). We had been on the road 5 months now and had never encounteted flat sleeper beds.
The overnight bus was our first taster of the 'loud Chinese' other travellers refer to. Yelling from the back of the bus to someone at the front in the middle of the night whilst everyone else is sleeping is fine here apparently.
Waking up during the last couple of hours on our 13 hour sleeper bus, the sun finally rising, we
looked out the window slighty blurry eyed. We did not expect to see such a picturesque view, it was the most pleasant awakening possible. Hello Yangshuo.
Yangshuo is known for its limestone karsts, covered in green flora and cloaked in mystic low lying clouds. Even though we'd seen pictures and been to other countries with huge limestone Karsts (i.e. El Nido in the Philippines) the scenery that lay before us was unlike any other rock formation we had seen, more beautiful than any photo and far more magical than we had imagined. Congregations of large formations stood tall in all shapes and sizes as far as you could see and they just kept coming. We lay in our beds for a few hours in awe of such beautiful scenery as the bus sped by. We tried over and over again to capture these views on our phone but failed due to the speed of the bus and blurred glass windows.
Stumbling off the bus at 7am going through the usual motions of orientating ourselves whilst turning down the insistant taxi drivers, we eventually haggled a reasonable price for one to take us to our hostel. We arrived at
the hostel knowing we may not be able to check in at that time of the morning and were greeted by a Chinese man who didn't speak a word of English. No problem we thought, we'll just use our freshly learnt phrases and show him the booking number. No luck. He wasn't responding as we'd hoped.
Infact it seemed like he was trying to tell us something completly different, pointing out the window to some other small street. In other words telling us to go away. We were definately at the right place. Surely they could not be fully booked as we had reserved our room online. Eventually he gave up and sat back down to watch early morning tv. Just left us to it. Stumped and tired we too took a seat in the lobby, unsure of what to do. We sat there for about 45 mins until finally one of the receptionists turned up who could speak excellent English. Turns out the non English speaking man was overnight 'security' and did not get involved with guest check in. Despite it being early we were allowed to check in and went straight to bed, having not slept well
on the overnight bus (despite the beds) we slept in.
After a nap in our very comfortable bunks, we went out to explore the area to find us some food. Shops, markets, restaurants and more shops. All selling clothes, selfie sticks, hand carved souveniers and some kind of traditonally made nutty snack. The town definately seemed geared towards tourists.
We walked just off the main strip where it looked like most locals ate and settled on a small eatery with a selction of foods. Here you are given a small metal bowl which you can fill yourself from the various vegetables, egg, fish and meats. You then take the bowl to the kitchen where the cook will stir fry the whole thing for you. It was so delicious. P had a mix of vegetables with small fried flavoursome fish and a bowl of rice. Chris went for vegetables and ham pieces mixed with noodles. Just what we needed.
Just outside of the centre of town theres a whole range of sights to see and things do. With a rough plan in mind for some sightseeing, we hired pedal bikes and set off. As we rode we
took in the surrounding scenery. Beautiful large limestone karsts left, right and center. It was difficult to concentrate on the road with such jaw dropping scenery so we had to stop a few times to really take it in. As we were looking up we spotted a walkway linking 2 of the karsts with people coming out of the mountain, crossing a rope bridge and entering another. We immediately turned our bikes round in search of the entrance.
The site was called Butterfly Cave. Above the entrance of the cave on the outside was a large stucture of a butterfly. Due to ongoing construction we could barely see it. Inside was a well paved colourfully lit cave system with stalagmites, stalagtites, stone thrones and ear ringing 'holy bells'. The cave got its name from one limestone formation that resembled a butterfly that Chris marvelled at and P completely missed. Walking through we tried to avoid getting caught up in the many tour groups as they lingered whilst we tried to take photos. There were a couple small groups who also wanted to take our photo, building up the courage to ask us in English. This was something that we
knew was going to become a nuisance.
We walked across the canopy linking the 2 huge karsts into the second one. After a few small flights of steps we came to a toboggan slide - down the mountain! "why not?" We thought as we donned a pair of special pants and saftey gloves. It was so much fun as we went down, lifting our legs up to go faster whilst using our gloved hands as breaks. We felt like big kids. Back down to earth we followed a path that led us through a bunch of stalls selling souvenirs. Ignoring the sellers easily as they all just spoke Chinese, we carried on until we came to what looked like a live show.
There was a host making kazoo sounds with his mouth before he brought on a traditional dance troup. There were lots of people in the audience cheering and clapping. When we walked through the entrance we felt hundreds of eyes turn to us. Trying not to take much notice we took a seat to watch the show. People however were trying many tactics to take pictures of us. We tried our best to hide our faces
behind our ice-creams. It was so bad. It felt like the eyes of the entire audience were on us. We needed a swift exit.
Once one section of the dance was finished we rushed the hell out of there, found our bikes and headed back as it was nearly time to return them. There was also a cave with hot springs and a 'mud bath' in which we debated seeing but didnt have our swimming clothes so gave that a miss. We momentarily stopped by Moon Hill to take photos but had no desire to climb up anything and moved on.
In the evening we ate at the same place we did for lunch ordering more or less the same meal. Afterwards we walked the town along the highly popular main strip of 'West Street'. It was shocking at the amount of people here, mostly domestic tourists and a small handful of foreign tourists. The mass crowd reminded us of Notting Hill Carnival as we looked down the narrow street and seen a sea of people. The streets really came alive at night - clubs (complete with poles) we never even noticed during the day appeared, pumping
music onto the street. Food stalls, street perfomers even some of the clothes and traditional nutty snack shops put on some kind of 'show' to entice shoppers. Not what we envisioned Yangshuo to be like at all when we were back home researching China. This was mass tourism Chinese style with only a handful of westerners to be seen.
On our second full day here we hired bikes again but this time set off on a 5 hour round trip through the old scenic towns within the valleys following Li river away from all Yangshou's tourism. It was great to see an actual small local village doing their everyday things as opposed to it becoming a tourist trap.
As we rode we couldn't help but take photos of the picturesque views - from the mountains up close to the misty mountains in the distance. We passed through small villages and down narrow muddy path ways. Sometimes when we passed villages we would catch local men smoking chatting and listening to music whilst women poked their heads through the doors and children played on the bikes. It had such a lovely atmosphere about it and the locals were facinated
by us, some tipsy men even cheered as we rode by, we decided not to stay and intrude though and carried on cycling at a leisurely pace.
Chris's bike fell into a wet rice field as he tried to let a local on an overloaded motorbike pass through one of the narrorest dirt paths we found ourselves on. It was a tight squeeze indeed.
As we cycled we didn't see a tour group in sight. Only when we got closer to the river did we see the many tourists taking bamboo journeys down the river. It seemed a lot more serene along this river due to the boats using man power and not engines.
As we rode by the river, the heavens opened and so we purchased one of those cheap fashionable rain anoraks as the short heavy downpours were getting us drenched.
After 3 hours of riding we finally reached our destination - The Golden Dragon Bridge. A pretty old bridge almost completely covered in vines, with small groups of tourists either ready to embark on their raft journey or just getting off. The scenery here was beautiful, with the river and the mountains creating
a stunning backdrop.
The journey back was a bit of a rush as we only had 2 hours to return the bikes and we'd already rode about 3.5hours to the bridge. Taking a more direct and less scenic route down dusty main roads and through grey towns we managed to make it back in about 1.5hrs. Not bad at all.
This day was truly one to remember. Yangshuo, away from tourism was truly stunning.
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