An escape to the country-side
08.01.2012 - 13.01.2012
My first stop was Guilin for a few days rest at a comfortable friendly hostel, WADA Youth Hostel. The perfect place to chill out, meet people and have a few beers. Crowding around the warm stove, sharing stories and reading was the highlight of my time here. Guilin felt like a slightly unfriendly place, and there wasn't too much to do. But it was the gate way to the Li River, Yangshou and the beautiful rural villages.
In every Chinese city one of the first things I do is find my breakfast 'local'. Being my favourite meal of the day I like to find something new in every place. Just down the road from the hostel I encounted the best vegetable dumplings I have tasted since being in China. Every morning (and a couple of evenings too) this was my food of choice.
Li River Cruise..==
Through the hostel I booked a half-day Li River Cruise, traveling down the 'best' part of the river and ending in Yangshou where I would stay for a few days. Lead by a Exuberant guide who spoke the best (and funniest) Ching-lish I had heard so far, I finally got to witness the 'real' China. Although the trip was sold as a 'bamboo boat trip' Yang-Yang (our guide, whose name meant goat-goat) quickly informed us the boat was actually made of plastic tubes, a modernised version of the traditional water vessel. However if we did want to experience a real bamboo boat we could pay extra to take part in an extended trip, which ventured further into the countryside. I decided to "hand over the money" as I had not done much over the last few days.
The scenery was stunning (exactly as it was sold in the brochure). We passed various famous natural landmarks, including the 'Nine-horse Fresco Hill'. I only spotted two 'horses', which is less than Bill Clinton who spotted three. I'm not proud of this fact.
We also got to take pictures of the exact view that features on the 20 yuan note.
Reaching Yangshou I had 40 minutes to find accommodation and food before meeting the rejoining the rest of the group where we got the chance to sail on real bamboo boats.
We go the chance to moor up on a marshy bit of land where farmers provided us with food to feed their water buffalo. These animals were surprsingly beautiful and peaceful. We also got the opportunity to watch cormorant fishing. Although I didn't completely agree with the practice of this type of fishing as it's pretty cruel for the birds, this was a traditional style of fishing that was been used for years and is impressive to watch.
The town istelf totally catered to Westerners, as I had never seen so many English language menus! However the backdrop for the town consisted of beautiful mountains, not high rise buildings. The roads that provides access to the rural villages run through the flat valleys, along the rivers. This makes cycling the ideal way to travel around.
On the Tuesday I set out on an epic 7 hour bike ride, attempting to cover as much ground as possible through the villages. With the aid of a tourist map which featured the most accessible roads and paths for cycling along I headed out on the main road,and then towards Dragon Village which provided access to the most beautiful parts of the countryside.
Reaching Dragon Village I encounted my first hurdle. Biking into the main square I hit a make-shirt checkpoint, as an old Chinese man walked into the road gesturing for me to "halt". To passthrough the village I would have to pay a fee! Refusing to pay I had to turn back and find another route. Back on the road a woman pulled up my the side of me on a moped, eager to practice her English. This was to my advantage, as after a friendly she informed me of another "off road" route that would take me the way I wanted to go. This route actually provided me with a much more adventurous bike ride.
With no map to follow, just a vague memory of the directions the woman on the moped had given me, my route depended on guess work, and bu which trachk looked the most exciting. A couple of hours into my journey I was presented with another "no entry" by villagers. Which meant I had hit a possible dead end at a small dam. The small make shift bridge at the bottom of the dam was not sturdy enough for me to carry a bike over. Carrying the bike over the gusing water in the gap at the top of the dam also seemed a little daunting. I stopped for lunch and plucked up the courage to try and carry my bike over the top. As I approached the mini waterfall, I hear yelling in Chinese. A young boy on a bamboo boat approaches and calls out "20". Keen on bargaining I call back "10". He accepts the bargain and climbs up to help me. Wearing wellies he carries my bike through the top of the dam and places it on the other side of the river. He then comes back and indicates for me to get on his back. He certainly earned his 10 yuan as he carried me across to the other side. The two Chinese tourists traveling on the bamboo boat took plenty of pictures for their holiday album, and waved me off as I biked away.
Not far down the path I soon realised I had yet another river to cross. After bargaining with a Chinese guy I paid another 10 yuan to be escorted over the river via banboo boat. He also earnt his money by helping me on and off the boat, and carrying my bike up on to the road for me.
I continued along the path which got rockier and more hilly. Eventually I reached the main. By this time it was almost 3:30pm. Taking the sensible option I biked back along the main road, which was less exciting but gave my legs a rest. Keeping one ear on the road, and listening to music in the other ear I headed back to Yangshou looking forward to a big dinner!
On Wednesday I headed to Xingping, a smaller village about 40 minutes bus ride from Yangshou. Unfortunately I had developed a cold so didn't feel well enough to do anymore biking. This Old Place Hostel provided a great place to relax, with a fantastic common room area and projection screen for movies.