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Published: September 10th 2017
The view from Five Finger Hill.
The foreigners who travel through China tend to be older, and/or are couples, or have been studying, working or volunteering in China and are now travelling around. It is a hassle to get a visa to come here, it is difficult to get around without some Mandarin and it isn't as cheap as say, South East Asia, so it isn't the most popular destination of choice for young backpackers.
That's been my experience anyway, as my show rolled into Yangshuo. There were a few more white faces here than I had seen previously.
Nearby Guilin used to be the poster child of Chinese tourism, one perennially promoted by the Communist government to the outside world, showcasing the natural beauty of China. By all accounts however, Guilin is now past its prime and has handed over its mantle as the place to go in Guangxi Province to Yangshuo. I still had to make a stop in Guilin however, to get onto another bus bound for Yangshuo. My bus from Fenghuang annoyingly dropped me at the wrong station and I had to fork out for a moto-taxi ride across town. It was getting late and I didn't want to miss the last
The most picturesque in the area.
bus to Yangshuo so I didn't have much choice.
At the end of a long day of travelling, it was therefore a welcome relief that my hostel was the most comfortable I had stayed at in China, especially after my unpleasant hostel experience in Fenghuang
The building was newly refurbished and all the facilities were brand new; there was air-con and each bunk had a private charging point, a reading lamp and a privacy curtain. It even had a swimming pool!
I've still yet to come across a properly social hostel in China however; more than half the guests at all hostels are Chinese and they tend to stick to themselves and/or can't communicate with you because they don't speak English. This doesn't help the hostel atmosphere and neither do the privacy curtains; they're nice to have but they're not conducive to social interaction as sometimes you won't see your dorm mates for your entire stay.
The key feature that has made Guilin and now Yangshuo such popular scenic tourist destinations are the hundreds of limestone karsts that are dotted over a massive area, which are complemented perfectly by picturesque rivers and farms. It is a wonderful combination,
Popular spot for wedding couples to take their pictures.
one that certainly impressed me in Cuba
. I was looking forward to more of the same here in China.
After a rest/admin day, my first day sightseeing however was disappointing.
The rain was coming down big time and authorities weren't allowing anyone to climb Bilian Peak, the closest climbable (well, not that day evidently) mogote
to town. Maps.me did guide me to an unofficial path up to the top but with the rain coming down and the fact that you normally had to pay a fee to go up, it was too risky and slippery to take. I mean, I had done a similarly risky thing before
, but this time I was gonna get much dirtier without the opportunity to go for a swim to clean off afterwards.
I had then planned to take a riverside stroll down the Li River only to find that there was no riverside path to the south of town. What Lonely Planet had described as the town's scenic highlight was only a couple of hundred metres long and going any further required you to either practice parkour, get dirty or swim. So yeah, the riverside path was totally overrated.
The low-hanging clouds did lend a certain atmosphere to proceedings but
Unique and unusual rock formation just south of Yangshuo.
they also cloaked the wonderful colours of the land and the peaks.
The next day was better though as I got on my bike and cycled along the Yulong River.
My first stop was Moon Hill, a massive but relatively thin piece of rock with a hole in it. It is rather unique and has some decent views across the land at the top, which requires a decent workout to get to.
After taking a road that snaked its way through some dramatic limestone karsts, I then tried to find a path I where I could cycle alongside the river. Lonely Planet suggested getting on the river itself by hiring a boatman but I wanted to experience the river scenery for free. Maps.me is generally pretty reliable although it can get some things very wrong. It was correct about a walking path along the river though and even some of the dirt tracks that replaced it once the path finished. I did have to carry my bike through some muddy rice fields for a bit but not for long. The river and karsts provide for some very pretty scenery as did the green fields of rice and other crops
Mill & Field
The countryside here really gives you some amazing photo opportunities.
being grown. Even away from the river, the scenery was pretty amazing, perhaps more so than on the river. Back alongside the river, the Dragon Bridge was quite picturesque, even if the life jackets and parasols from the bamboo rafts sort-of spoiled the scene a bit. I then went to Fuli Bridge which was recommended to me by a fellow foreign cyclist I met on the road. With less people and sans all the rafts, this was a much more serene affair and many wedding couples were taking advantage, with professional photographers and their crews snapping the happy couples in the quaint surrounds.
Then that instantly changeable weather struck again as it started to absolutely hammer down. While I did have an umbrella, I couldn't cycle while keeping the umbrella up at the same time and had to stop at a roadside restaurant to wait it out, where the owners kindly took me in. They were having dinner at the time and dinner is always a shared meal eaten together in Chinese culture so they insisted I join them. Much like my relatives would, they kept force-feeding me the delicious fried fish and spicy tofu they were having, continually
The main river that passes through Yangshuo.
filling up my bowl. One must eat well in China, especially if you're a guest. I know the drill very well; it would've been more of an insult not to accept their generosity. I did act very graciously and tried not to take the piss but on the inside, this famished backpacker who hadn't eaten all day wasn't complaining. I won't ever forget the hospitality and kindness of these strangers and it is one of those heartwarming but very typical - almost a cliche - traveller stories that never gets old.
It wasn't the only time I've experienced such kindness in China. A lady I bought some bread from at he Dragon Bridge kindly let me sit beneath her shelter with her family while I waited for a shower to pass and the same happened in Fenghuang from a lady I bought dinner from, at her stall. On my final night in Yangshuo, I managed to find canteen-style eatery where I got a healthy serving of food for just ¥15 and the lady there was also so nice as to keep refilling my plate for free. There may be a dog-eat-dog mentality in China but it is heartening to see
Crop Field & Riverside Path
The scenery away from the river wasn't bad either.
that particularly among the less well-off, the traditional Chinese principles of kindness, generosity and helping others with no expectation of payment or reward, is thankfully still strong.
I decided to extend my stay by one more night because there was one last thing that I wanted to see that I didn't have time for the previous day.
It would have been impossible to have done it by bike so this time I hired a scooter to take me to Five Finger Hill. I saw the view it afforded on a postcard at the hostel and thought that I had to go there - the picture was breathtaking.
I had left things a bit late as usual and the rental shop linked with the hostel had actually run out of motorbikes forcing me to think of a Plan B which would involve taking buses and taxis to a spot not frequently visited. It sounded like a mission to get to by public transport; a bus to the small town of Pu Tao and then some form of transport to the sight itself, which wasn't on maps.me - I'd need some local directions once I got to Pu Tao. Things would
Rafts On The River
Boatmen take tourists down the Yulong River on board bamboo rafts.
be much easier with a scooter and thankfully the rental shop managed to rustle one up. I had enjoyed the cycling the day before but thought that a scooter would be even more fun - it would cost me ¥100 I was desperately looking to save, but I thought I had restricted myself so many times in China that it was about time I treated myself.
I knew the rough location of the hill so I tried to ride straight there and would ask for help once I got close. I didn't need to in the end as I unexpectedly recognised the Chinese characters for "5", "finger" and "hill" on several signboards and posters wrapped around electricity posts that guided me right there.
Apart from bamboo raft departure points on the Yulong River, Yangshuo has proven to be relatively crowd-free and at Five Finger Hill, I was the only person there. It was serene. I was expecting a bit of a mission but twenty minutes of hard yakka under the sun was all it took to get me to the top.
I perhaps should have known better than to expect the view to resemble the postcard but it was
The lovely old rural village of Longtan.
still pretty spectacular. Just not as spectacular as I was expecting or hoping for.
I was lucky that the sun was out when I was up there; the weather had been really on and off on the journey there, as if it couldn't make its mind up whether to rain or not. It had made up its mind now - it f*cking caned it down. The ¥100 I paid for the scooter was good value though as it included a full tank of gas, storage under the seat to keep my camera dry, an umbrella you could mount on the bike and a massive pink poncho. I still got quite soaked though as the country roads turned into rivers but at least my valuables all remained dry.
When the rain stopped, I then found myself with at least a couple of hours with the scooter to go where I pleased. I checked out a place called Shangri-La which was just a whole lot of newly-built, old-style pavilions on the river to complement the scenery. Like a theme park, it also has theme park prices so I kept riding.
And like I thought it would be, the riding was
Longtan Village is full of buildings built during the Qing dynasty.
lots of fun; the highway road is almost brand new and you could really put the pedal to the metal on it, while going through the narrow country roads took you through rural villages and striking scenery. The Chinese are like their stereotype however and are pretty bad drivers. You had to be prepared for those around you to do something unexpectedly stupid such as charging down the road in the wrong direction. The rural villages were interesting however as they were properly rural and you got a glimpse of how life is lived in the countryside - more comfortable than other countries such as Laos
, but nowhere near the big country house lifestyle that you get in Europe either.
My final stop of the day was at the Longtan Ancient Village - it costs ¥20 to visit but it was closed by the time I got there; however the village is still properly lived in so I just walked on into it. One man I encountered inside didn't appreciate my presence but otherwise it was quite cool to walk around the tight lanes and original Qing dynasty architecture. As Longtan is a village rather than a town, it felt
The main attraction here in Yangshuo.
totally different to Fenghuang and had a rustic charm to it.
On my last evening in Yangshuo I decided to walk around the pedestrianised town centre where they have an artificial lake surrounded by cafes, clubs and restaurants including a Starbucks housed in a newly-built, ancient-style tower. Like most Chinese cities, Yangshuo has its fair share of bright lights and stalls selling barbecued skewers of weirdness, nowhere more so than West Street, which also has a few nightclubs a la Fenghuang. It also caters a bit more for Western tourists, judging by the presence of a German Beer House that even sold bratwurst and currywurst. As mentioned earlier, I have certainly seen more white skin here than anywhere else in China so far, with quite a high proportion of it being Russian.
The scenery here indeed is pretty amazing and though took some decent photos, I just feel that my photos and what I saw just aren't as dramatic as what I've seen in books and on postcards. This generally left me slightly underwhelmed by what I saw. Maybe if China was one of the first places I had ever seen then I would've had my breath taken
All part of the amazing scenery around Yangshuo.
away a bit more. Expectations play a big part in your enjoyment of sights and even after travelling for as long as I have, they still require management. But there was an element of having seen similar scenery before - perhaps not as dramatic as it is here - that somewhat tempered my amazement. This I guess, is one of the downsides of travelling so much.
And this might be the last bit of natural scenery I may see for some time now; I now head to Shenzhen, a massive city, and then Hong Kong and Macau. When I return to China, I will be hitting the big cities; Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. As mentioned above, I wasn't as blown away by what I saw here like I was when walking around slack-jawed in Fenghuang, but the scenery is still stunning and I really enjoyed myself here, particularly with the physical pursuits of hiking, cycling and motorbike riding. The motorbike riding in particular was worth shelling out for; I have now ridden scooters a number of times since I have been in Asia and am pretty comfortable with them now and would love to do it again.
The Karsts Up-Close
You couldn't help but gawk upwards as you cycled down one of the roads near the Yulong River.
Yangshuo has perhaps provided my most relaxing experience in China so far; probably a good thing as I now take a break from the country by heading into hectic Hong Kong!
再見 (zài jian),
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