Yangshou was an overnight bus journey from Guangzhou with excellent seats, which reclined without fault and had ample leg room. Life has definitely got easier on that front. I arrived at one of the major tourist attractions in China in the pouring rain. It is perhaps only the second time that I’ve had to reach for my coat and then after several more minutes the water proof trousers. It wasn’t just raining here, it was thundering down and didn’t stop for the rest of the day.
I’ve tried my very best not to come to China blind and instead embrace it for what it is. And with that in mind I knew I wasn’t coming to a undiscovered scenic getaway. The streets of Yanshou are flooded with Chinese tourists throwing money in the air for anyone who can catch it. The main street is lined with fancy restaurants, bright lights and a Mr Bean waxwork. There are few people clapping here. Instead shop and restaurant workers are dressed in ‘traditional’ clothing and dance in time with, if I must admit, rather catchy music. An occasional trained/tortured monkey sits on top of a Chinese tourist’s head. It is not a landscape lovers dream.
But surrounding the town are karst peaks, which took me straight back to Vietnam. When the rain eventually subsided, I took a totally unnecessary walk to moon hill; Trip Advisors number two attraction. I might as well have ridden a bike as it was all down a main road. I passed so many street sellers and Chinese tour busses I lost count. The walk did provided a triumphant moment for me as I managed a complete conversation in Mandarin starting with hello, moving onto asking what the price of some weird yellow thing was and then understanding the price, followed by a quick thank you and a late goodbye. I was pretty chuffed and she seemed quite relieved.
With a new found spring in my step, I reached moon hill and after a short climb to the top, I was rewarded with lovely views. I then retraced my steps, this time stoping at the so called great banyan tree, which was rather disappointedly just a tree with a high admittance price and a lot of concrete, before heading back to the hostel.
The next day I rented a bicycle and set out into the karst landscape and away from the crowds. My route took me down by the river, through lots of mud and past a number of ladies who I think were trying to tell me off for using the walking path as a cycle track. I my defence, I didn’t read the rules sign at the start of the path. Now this was what it was all about. Beautiful scenery and solitude. The Chinese tourists were still too busy having their photos with Mr Bean to get out here and so for most of the day I had the place to myself. I ended the cycle ride at the most famous bridge in the area, which was a crushing disappointment. There is an argument with Yangshou, that to fully enjoy you have to avoid everything labelled as a ‘tourist attraction’ and instead enjoy the bits in-between.
From Yangshou, I traveled to Guilin, the main hub in the region. It all started very well, finding that my hostel was having an all you can eat bbq, which was fantastic fun. The next day, I regretted my decision to eat so much meat on a stick, when I then took a bus to the rice terraces at Longji. It’s kind of the wrong time of year for rice terraces, but it was still very beautiful. The start of rainy season has made everything very green, but on that day there was an additional bonus of blue sky, which made the air feel clean.
Upon arrival, I pulled out the map my accommodation had provided on how to find them. Fourteen images to identify and then to follow. Being China, the difficulty level had increased dramatically due to the rate of development, meaning that, despite only being printed a little while ago, many of the images had changed somewhat. A small shack was now a three story building.
The views were lovely, although the walking was slightly disappointing, due to firstly poor signage and secondly the torrential rain that followed the next day. That said, it did fill up some of the terraces with water, which is what the area is famed for. All in all it was a relaxing and rather beautiful area.
I returned to Guilin, and took part in a free dumpling making session, which being modest, I absolutely dominated, thanks in part to my lesson in Nepal. I also visited a rather fantastic cave with Abbie and Carroll, which had lots of lighting, two songs from our guide, a film, more lights and many stories. I didn’t learn anything about the history of the cave, but I did learn that this section was called ‘a bumper harvest of delicious vegetables’ and includes both melons and peanuts picked by some old man, who is somewhere amongst them:
At one point we stopped for a film and were joined by a big Chinese tour group. I think I spent more time watching them then I did the film:
All in all a great few days. Time to catch the train for a day and head to the famed Yunnan province, starting with Kunming.