Trip Start Jun 10, 2010
Trip End Apr 08, 2011

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Where I stayed
Tripper's Carper Diem Guesthouse

Flag of China  , Guangxi Zhuang,
Saturday, July 10, 2010

    Okay, so I may well have already found Paradise on Earth only a month or so into my travels...
    We've just spent the last week in a place called Yangshuo in Southern China, a remarkable little haven (I say 'little' but I imagine the scenery could stretch on forever) of the most dramatic landscape of steep lush-green Avatar-like mountains dotted around valleys of farmland and rice terraces. It's pretty difficult to describe how beautiful it is (clichéd, I know) but it seems to be China at its most glorious.

Arriving from Guilin

    Initially, as we arrived from nearby Guilin, along an extremely bumpy road, my first impressions were of the centre of town, which leaves much to be desired. It's a little tourist-hyped, with the usual excursion outlets, sales offices and markets normally found dominating more familiar holiday destinations, such as Spain or the Canaries. However, this seems to be a relatively recent development, with the influx of touts and tourist shops seemingly incorporated into the original town layout, without the need for dominating high-rise hotels. Thus, the predominantly Western-influenced tourism outlets seem to be confined entirely to the areas of town directly adjacent to the bus station - leaving the rest of Yangshuo in a little untouched microcosm of its own. 

    We arrived pretty worn out on our first day, after a cheap flight from Beijing at 7am. This meant braving a night's sleep at the airport from 10 o'clock the night before, due to the surprisingly short metro operating times in Beijing! Nonetheless, I was amazed at my ability to copy the seemingly innate ability of Chinese people to fall asleep on any given hard surface, including check-in desks and luggage racks circled by motorised floor sweepers at regular intervals, and managed to get a reasonable night's sleep (although my definition of that has changed since arriving in Asia). 

    The turbulence of such a small aircraft and our two connecting bus rides, along with an hour-long trek to our accommodation, all combined to make it a bit of a hellish journey, but this was all made up for by the first glimpse of where we would be staying. It was the most fantastic little guesthouse spread out over a few terraces, with hammocks and wicker-backed chairs all overlooking rural farmland and further out over the valleys of limestone along the Li River. We were gobsmacked at how tranquil the whole place was in comparison with the centre of town, with only the sound of a few chickens in the fields and The Beach soundtrack (very apt) humming from the speakers on the veranda. Bliss. Needless to say I slept well (original definition this time) that night...

Sleepy life

    Aside from when we were out exploring, the majority of our time in Yangshuo was spent enjoying a few drinks (at 60p you can't go wrong) on the veranda whilst watching the farmers in their straw hats leading bulls across the fields and tending to rice paddies. We met a couple of English students from Nottingham on the first day, so pool competitions and mosquito bite comparisons were inevitable, along with the usual sport chat, for which I usually manage to develop convenient selective deafness at the word 'goal'. 
    Life seems to move so slowly in Yangshuo that it's hard not to be totally laid-back. Even when the free golf-buggy drivers that drive you along the dust roads into town keep you waiting for 20 minutes... They tend to read a book or have a nap as you wait patiently in the back seat until you develop a repetitive cough that eventually wakes them up and gets things moving.
    Aside from when you wander into the masses of markets stalls selling silk scarves and genuinely good-quality clothes and souvenirs, there doesn't seem to be much reason to rush here - a huge contrast to the majority of the cities and little towns we've visited so far. This was probably a good thing, when most nights we were able to afford to feast on slap-up Chinese food, pancakes, bbq food and sometimes free beer until the early hours, chatting with the Belgian owner of the guesthouse and getting to know new backpackers that drop in almost daily. Not a great recipe for early morning starts the next day, but it was great to wake up to just the sound of cockerels as opposed to car horns!
Snakes and birds

    After exploring a little on foot, we decided to go by bike along the Li River one day, which actually resulted in us reaching a lovely little village with no through-way. We had to do a U-turn and make our way back again, without getting very far at all. This wasn't really a disappointment in the immense heat and in fact lead to us stumbling across an amazing little river-beach hidden between the mountains, complete with crystal-clear waters (yep, even on a river) in which you could swim amongst passing boats. Add to this the option of seeing a snake being skinned alive (gross!) and cooked for a dinner-for-two place setting on the sand, and you get a taste of being at the seaside with a twist... 

    One night we decided to go and watch a farmer cormorant fishing on the Li river. This was interesting from the point of view of watching a daily part of local life, but saddening to watch the birds being pulled along by string and forced to give up their catches due to tightened string around their necks. I beg to differ when it comes to the HSBC adverts for 'respect' on British TV, showing a happy collaboration between the birds and the fisherman... doesn't quite match what we saw. I'm not naiive enough to think that it's that straightforward to criticise their ways of life though - it seems these type of adverts can be misleading about more than just the birds.

Rivers, caves and mountains

    When we weren't witnessing a fishing frenzy on it, we decided to take a raft-ride along it - well, along an even more picturesque river this time - the Yulong river. Being pushed along by a man with a giant bamboo stick for two hours, albeit braving the odd mini-waterfall drop, was akin to how I imagine it would be to ride in a gondola in Venice. It was the most relaxing thing we had done so far, floating along watching the mountains reflect in the water and villagers washing their clothes on the river banks. 

    In terms of getting the most out of the karst limestone peaks that make up the Avatar-esque scenery, we decided a good way would be to first go over one - by hiking up Moonhill - and then go underneath one - by exploring the waterways and caves systems.

Under the caves

    The way in which you navigate the waterways underneath some of the limestone peaks would certainly give UK health and safety experts something to shout about. Safety isn't really a prime concern, which makes it perhaps a little more fun from the outset. You climb into an over-filled boat (minus a helmet) and pull yourselves along at considerable speed via metal railings under low-hanging rocks leading into a larger opening. This becomes interesting when another boat approaches from the other direction and you begin competing for the paths with the most headroom...
    However, once inside the caves you see some breath-taking sights, mainly huge rock formations named according to their similarities to other objects, such as the 'cauliflower' and the 'jellyfish'. Of particular interest was how our guide, leading us along slippery slopes and through dark rock pools at top speed, appeared to get increasingly bored with translating his tour into English, until he eventually decided we should head back. After conveying to him that we would like to continue on for the rest of the route, his response was to walk at an even faster speed until he lost us completely and we had to continue on our own. Good result. So, exploring the caves was great from thereon-in, especially given that we then got to bathe in a mud pool and wash off in natural hot springs - amazing experience. The springs were bath-sized pools on various levels, overflowing with steamy water, leading to a bigger pool at the base. Good for the skin! But rather sleep-inducing and therefore not a great recipe for navigating a boat through underwater cave passages to get out. After numerous 3-point turns, many (large) splinters and some good teamwork, we nonetheless made it in one piece.


    Moonhill is a limestone mountain with a semicircular natural hollow, forming an arched appearance that has given rise to its name. Climbing it at peak sun was perhaps a mistake, given the humidity and what we should have learned from climbing Tai'Shan, but thankfully it didn't take long to climb to the summit. By now we had also grown used to the overwhelming number of steps required to reach any worthy sight in China. The view from the top was certainly worthy, and maybe the only place possible to see so many of the surrounding peaks from one vantage point. On the way up we were gullible to the jokes of passing trekkers, insisting ''it's miles to the top'' and ''at least another hour or so'', when it was in fact a mere 15 minutes away. Of course, we re-iterated those estimates to the people we passed on the way back down - it's only fair!

I'll be back...

    There is so much to see in Yangshuo that we had to leave with the feeling that we could never see it all in one go and would have to come back to it in the future. Not least because of the cost to us should we try to do absolutely everything on this one trip, but because it's a place we could imagine wanting to visit again and again anyway.
    As we pulled out of the town on another rickety sleeper bus bound for Hong Kong, the lit-up mountains started to shrink into the distance and we travelled once more along miles and miles of rice fields into darkness. I will definitely go back to this fairytale place one day. In the meantime, the one thing I hope is that Tripper and his guesthouse remain as a great place to see the old Yangshuo for what it really is - a mini-paradise that feels like it sits at the edge of the world...
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jonny17 on

Sounds like a must visit!! xxx

erylnorris on

You wouldn't regret it :p I'm definitely going back! x

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