Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Yangshuo's landscapes are amazing

From Hong Kong we went to spend a week in mainland China in an area known for its landscapes, and we were not disappointed. Since it's the mainland, getting there for cheaper involved leaving Hong Kong by train to Shenzhen, where we passed the border, then taking a cab to the local airport, a plane to Guilin, and finally a couple of buses to reach Yangshuo. The funny part is: this was the quick way that involved taking a 1.5 hours flight instead of a 9 hours train.

The trip was worth every minute though as the area is truly gorgeous and offers tons of things to do if you like the outdoors.

One of the warnings we'd heard was that Yangshuo was extremely touristy but funnily enough it didn't feel like it. It is indeed extraordinary touristy, but the tourists are 99% Chinese and we still felt like we were in a place where western tourists where a very small minority (as opposed to, say, Bali for example). Strangely it made us feel like we were in a place that was less touristy.
It also helped that everything we did kept us accidentally away from the throngs of Chinese tourists.

Chinese tourists assaulted by the Chinese touts as they get off the bus

We explored a good part of the area by bicycle and had a lot of fun doing it. We tried to follow a specific route on our map for a whole day, and as the day wore on we were more and more convinced that the map was terrible and hard to follow. This had the fun consequence that we spent most of the day wondering if we were lost, but were always on the proper route or not far from it. It was all the more fun because we were alone on the bike track (which pretty often looked like a mere foot path)

But boy were the views amazing!

The goal of the bike ride was to reach a famous bridge called the Dragon bridge (I love that they love dragons!) from which you could get a good view of the valley that spans even further out.

Having a dragon fruit on the dragon bridge

Chinese tourists on bamboo rafts

Those boats you can see on the river are bamboo rafts and a tourist favorite. They are therefore a favorite of the locals who can't stop shouting "Hello! Bamboo!" as soon as you get close to a spot that provides them. The reality is that you can get them from anywhere on the river so that shout was hard to avoid when anywhere near the river.

As soon as we were away from the river though, nature and the countryside took over, allowing us a glimpse of a more rural China (a nice one, though it's probably not like this everywhere in rural China)

Old lady walking her buffalo

Tombs scattered on the mountainside

I love those trucks where the engine is always on the outside. There is no hood or front fairing

Towards the end of the ride we went through even more deserted areas but finally found the main road back to town and had a final stop by the river to get a glimpse of the sunset. After more than 7 hours riding around we were toast and ready for bed!

So the next day we tried something a little easier - a scooter. Things didn't completely pan out as we got dumped on pretty bad as we started leaving the city but the sky eventually cleared up enough to let us dry. We went to see a nearby old town with small alleys and pretty rooftop. It was a bit of a letdown actually as it was not really worth the detour, but you can't always get it right.

We also went to the famous Moon Hill with its giant arch at the summit. We started on a walk from the bottom, sure we would not even try to get to the top given how hot it was there. But as we kept walking up and up we reached the top without really planning on it and were rewarded by some amazing views.

As a bonus for us there were even guys climbing the roof of the arch. What an awesome spot for climbing!

That put us in the mood for some vertical action and we took the next day to go climbing as well. We went to a spot nearby called White Bottle Cliff and spent the day challenging ourselves on the Chinese granite. The rock was really fun to climb on. There were a lot of holes and hidden holds that were fantastic. Of course you also had some random critters hanging around in some of those holes, but overall it was thankfully surprise-free climbing.


Denise, not worried about the height

 It was pretty hot and extremely humid. So much so that it's the day of our trip that we sweat the most, hands down. Even when we were just sitting down we could feel the sweat dripping everywhere. It was quite surreal actually.
It was a fantastic day of climbing that made us really happy to retire to our room and the AC at the end of it.

Another of the highlights of our short week in Yangshuo has been the hike we did along the Li river, which includes crossing the river several times. It didn't start too well mind you. As we reached the beginning of the hike, which is incidentally a river crossing, we had to butt heads for a while with the locals who insisted that the beginning of the hike was flooded and that we needed to take a bamboo raft directly to the second crossing. The price they were asking for was too high of course but they also seemed to have a mafia system going on where no other raft would take us without having the green light from the lady who kept on following us and wouldn't let us go with whomever we wanted. Thankfully though, other foreigners had already been there for a whole hour and saved us a lot of headache by bringing us up to speed. In the end we went to the second crossing for a decent price (but are pretty sure the closure was a tourist trick to have us take the rafts) and decided to forget about it and enjoy the hike.
And so we did. The scenery was really nice, which helped a lot, and we had made new friends with whom we chatted the entire hike.

The hike ended up being pretty long with some parts right by the water and some others in the forest, and regularly awesome views of the valley.
When we reached the end we were done for and happy we had skipped the beginning after all :)

"It's so FLUFFYYY!" - Despicable Me

There's a lot more to do around Yangshuo and plenty we didn't get a chance to explore including caves, some fed by natural springs, that are very popular with the Chinese tourists.  For us nature was definitely the star here and she gave us quite the show. It was a magnificent area to visit!

You can find more photos here (map)

View China - Yangshuo in a larger map

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