Yangshuo: Bumpy Rides

14:51 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

We set off for Yangshuo, Guangxi with our imaginations full of tinkling birdsong, lazy bamboo rafts and rugged karst mountains. First of all however, we had to endure two flights full of the typical Chinese male.

Aboard a confined aircraft, they seem even more boisterous and inconsiderate than usual. They recline their chairs as far as possible, graze on peculiar foods and only interrupt their conversations to stare at a foreigner and draw-up wads of phlegm. Whilst I sort solitude behind my book, my girlfriend, Amanda, went to war and deployed her knees deep into the offending passengers chair in front. This five minute cycle repeated until the airline fed the men a square meal, when there was a few moments of relative peace.

We left the airport and the irritants of air travel behind us we set off and headind into the Guangxi countryside. Films such as Jurassic Park 2 and Avatar were filmed here and it is easy to see why. The karst formations, bamboo forests and lingering mist make for an otherworldly atmosphere. We checked into an old converted farmhouse, itching to explore.
our digs
After travelling through the afternoon, the remainder of the day was spent in the town of Yangshuo. We bought mango smoothies, homous and ate at the best Indian restaurant this side of the Himalaya. It was great to see a different side of China. The side which is open to other cultures expressing themselves side by side with the Chinese.

This is the province of Guangxi where the Han Chinese live alongside many different ethnic minorities. The contrasts between the cultures are drawn out rather than diluting the whole. In so many places in China they are fearful of supposedly invasive foreign cultures. Perhaps the Chinese, deep in my home province of Shandong, could learn a thing or two about opening up to other cultures without fear of loosing their own.
Yangshuo town
Our first full day in Yangshuo began at a pedestrian pace with a brew in bed and a map on our laps. With a plan soon in place, we hired some mountain bikes and quickly picked-up the pace. I spent too much time looking around at the scenery and not enough ahead on the road. Though I somehow avoided face-planting into a roadside bush. We got breakfast in town and then headed down a tourist free cycle route. We'd swapped the breathtaking views for tatty side-streets but the locals were more than happy to chat and share their chewing tobacco. (that said, we've both become masters of gratefully accepting gifts without actually consuming them. Most of our classes at work involve some grubby ink-stained little hand giving us a half eaten biscuit).

Our first stop was a giant banyan tree. They are something of a fixture in Asian literature and I was really interested to see a specimen close. They are huge and I could easily picture how whole villages could settle beneath a single tree. Around the tree monkeys, cormorant fishermen and traditionally dressed actors posed for pictures. Sure, it was all staged for the tourists but it made for some great photographs. 
 We hit the road again and quickly made out way to Moon Hill. The Moon Hill is a giant hill with a complete hole through the middle of it. At the foot of the hill, friendly old ladies touted coke cans and postcards. They were persistent but very sociable. We declined their purchases and set off up the hill. The climb was steep. Eventually the bamboo cleared and we reached the eponymous hill. With red faces, we climbed the last few steps in amazement. The hill was pretty enough, but somehow the elderly saleswoman had raced up the hill and beaten us to the top. We were there gasping like fish out of water and she was vigorously hounding down the other foreigners with a pack of postcards in her hand. We sat down with her and had a chat. She was a local lady with considerable language skills. She made ends meet by selling tat and opening her home to hungry tourists. She proudly showed us her notebook of previous guests comments. Notes from foreigners from all over the place complimented the lady on her hospitality. She was lovely but we still weren't buying, so off we headed.
Amanda at Moon Hill
 Amanda and I intended to take find a dock along the excitingly named Dragon River and take a bamboo raft cruise. We headed off with nothing more than a bottle of water and our trusty tourist map in-hand. The smooth tarmac road slowly gave way to dirt track. The mountains moved in and the vegetation crept closer. The path twisted and turned with nothing in sight, except for lush forest and mountain tops. Occasionally we cycled past the odd hut but by now my wheels were frequently spinning under the gravel. We were lost.
Not lost. Honestly.
 I didn't dare admit were were lost to my girlfriend through. Amanda herself began questioning if we were going the right way. “Of course we are!” I lied. We ploughed on. Eventually our path became nothing more than a mud barrier between two paddy fields. The scenery was again breathtaking and the cycling was thrilling. It was exciting to be one slip away from a dunk in the waterlogged fields. I began to joke about spending the night out in the countryside. Amanda wasn't impressed.

We turned a corner and the Dragon River revealed herself. We parked up our bikes and drank in the view. We were lost, but it was one hell of a place to be lost. Eventually our path disappeared into the river and we reached a dead-end.

Incredulously, there was a man wearing a full suit and rubber sandals fixing a submerged motorbike in a neighbouring paddy field. He lead us to a bamboo raft and across the river. I was so happy to reach the other side. Maybe Chinese men aren't so bad after all.
Our saviour.
My body had long since let me know it was tired and my adrenaline was quickly wearing off. We decided it was time for home, elated with our day's little adventure.

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