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China – Yangshuo

Confucius say, Many big mountains bring many small man

semi-overcast 28 °C

So, China here we come! After negotiating one of the tougher border crossings going around we were looking to head up to Yangshuo in the Guangxi province. We didn’t have much information to go on for getting up there, just a few sketchy details from some internet searches. Yangshuo has been one of the first things on our list for China, along with the wall and terracotta army. You will see from the photo’s to follow why this was the case...

Before we get onto the amazing Yangshuo, lets go back to the drama of actually getting there. Catching the MTR (train) out from Hong Kong to the border with the Chinese city of Shenzhen, the crossing was surprisingly uneventful but we knew that the next part would be a lot more difficult. We were hoping to take a sleeper bus up to Yangshuo and from what we had read, we needed to take a set of stairs over to the bus station by taking an immediate left turn out of the immigration building. We spotted the said stair case and walked along the footbridge where we had people saying ‘Hello Guilin, Yangshuo!!!’. We vaguely remembered reading that there are people who will help you find your bus at the end of this bridge so we said Yangshuo to one of the blokes and he nodded and started to wave to follow him. Not quite trusting yet we asked what time and received blank looks from him. Pointing to our watches helped and he wrote 13:00 on a piece of paper (currently 11:30). We were pretty sure we read that the only busses leave at around 20:00 so we asked for that and he nodded and waved us to follow him again.

At this point it was starting to feel a little dodgy, we couldn’t communicate at all and travelling in South America was starting to look like a walk in the park. We considered the 13:00 option if indeed there was a bus at that time, and it would mean that we should get into Yangshuo around 10pm rather than 5am with the 8pm bus. We tried to tell him that we wanted the 13:00 bus but he would only understand if we wrote it down, he wasn’t hanging around to be writing anything down though. We followed him to a little shop counter where he spoke to the man behind it and then we were presented with a ticket for 2 people for the 20:00 bus to Yangshuo for 320 Yuan (AU$50) each. One thing we hadn’t managed to find is exactly how much we should be paying to get to Yangshuo although we were assuming this was the official bus that we had read about so thought the price would be fixed. We were shown 19:30 on some paper and pointed to the ground meaning to meet back here before getting the bus.

We walked away in a daze, ticket in hand, for a bus time we didn’t want, not 100% sure where we were headed and wondering if we had been ripped off in the process. We tried to take a seat on a wall but saw a man walking towards us with a monkey on a leash and decided to hide somewhere before we got shown all the monkeys tricks. A lot of people asked us if we were going to Guilin or Yangshuo as we found some refuge in a tucked away corner of the plaza. We then spotted something on the other side that looked more promising for spending the coming 7 hours in... the magical golden arches that belong to McDonalds!! We ended up sitting in there for the majority of the day as it was quiet, clean and hassle free until we got some dinner at a noodle place before meeting back at the booking office. Thankfully there were a few other gringos waiting around too which improved our outlook. While we were sat there, three girls walked up to the counter and offered 200 Yuan each for their ticket which the man accepted as they went to walk away. Guess our 320 Yuan was a bit over the top, but at least it looks like we are getting there.

At 8pm we walked away from the booking counter as a group, under the station and through a traffic tunnel with streams of cars driving past us. On exiting of the tunnel we waited by the road for 10 minutes before a small little mini bus arrived and we were told to get in... Seriously, this is our sleeper bus?? One of the other gringos understood from the man that we were just being taken to the proper bus. At the main bus station we hopped into what finally seemed to be the right bus which we can only describe as unlike any other bus we have seen.


Bunk beds in three rows (window, window and down the middle of the bus). I was on one of the upper bunks next to a window, and lets just say that the beds are not made for the Yao Ming´s (7 foot 6 inch basketball player) of China. Tanya was on the bottom bunk at the rear of the bus where the two aisles are also made into beds so that there are a cosy 5 people along the back.


When the bus finally pulled off, it was actually not such a bad ride. I was in the foetal position for the most part, but had a good sleep none the less. At various point throughout the night though, when the bus was about to pull into another stop they cranked out this Chinese rap song at full volume to wake everyone up. Although the whole song was in Chinese, it started off with the English lyrics ‘Girl you got a sexy body, show me that sexy body’. It was pretty funny, every time those words started to come over the speakers you just heard all the westerners groan and put their pillows over their heads for the onslaught of noise that followed.

We got our ‘wakeup call’ around 5am when the bus pulled into Yangshuo. The hostel had said in their confirmation email to beware that there will be other people waiting at the bus stop to offer a taxi ride then will take you to their hostel instead of where you want to go. Armed with this advice, we politely refused the help offered by the few people there and instead trusted in our Iphone GPS to walk to the accommodation. The first problem was that we didn’t get dropped off at the bus station, just by the side of the road. Second problem was that the GPS was out by about 100meters, so when we started walking along the street that it said we were on, we were actually heading the wrong way. By the time the GPS said we were in the middle of the river, we figured something was wrong. It was still pitch dark and we had no reference points, so we found another hotel and got a map from in there. We now had it all figured out, when as we were walking back, one of the original hawkers from the bus stopped us again. When we said where we were going, he said that it was a very long way away and he can get a taxi for us. We said no, but the taxi rocked up and we figured that we might just take it to get there and get some more sleep. 60 Yuan was the price, but we settled on 40 even though that seemed like it was still over the odds. When we were in the back of the taxi, the original bloke started to try to get us to go on a sunrise boat trip down the river. 10 more minutes of not taking up his offer and we finally got dropped off at our hostel, shown up to our room and waking up again at 10am (to register our Visa within 24hrs of entry that is part of the requirements).

Phheww, quite an experience but we are here now and can relax a bit. Before we even went outside, we drew the curtains open to be confronted by a massive wall of rock behind the hostel. When we stepped out of the hostel we were welcomed with a town (little by Chinese standards) nestled between a number of large karst peaks in the landscape.


We walked down to the river which gave us more great views before heading back through the town

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We walked through the park in the centre of town which was really cool to see all people going about their own business relaxing on their afternoon. People were doing some fishing, playing badminton, doing Taichi and plenty playing cards or dominoes. It was some pretty serious stuff with people slapping the table really hard when they laid their card or domino. It was really funny to watch! We walked up to the top of one of the karsts in the park and got some views over the town.

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We went back into town to get some food at a place which did some good dumplings. While we were eating our food, they had the TV on and it was extremely interesting to watch the Military News... Presented by a male and female host in full military uniform, every news story was a propaganda feature on something with the military. Although not able to understand what was being said, the stories were self explanatory – a new fleet of jet fighters, training exercises that have gone well and the most recent military games where soldiers were changing tank tracks and guns in relay teams. So funny. After dinner we walked back to the hostel and all the karsts around town get lit up at night time making for some more great photo opportunities


The next morning we headed out of the city on bikes to get away from the beeping horns and busy streets. Definitely a great decision as we rode along some village roads by the Yu Long river. The scenery was amazing even with the ‘fog’ (more than likely pollution) making the mountains a little obscured.

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Although the hostel said that the road is marked with signs in English, we only saw one at the very start and was basically guessing from our very simple and not to scale map that the hostel gave us. Our destination to the north was the Dragon Bridge. We got lucky with our decisions until we got up to a main road. There were two other westerners on bikes looking lost as well so we compared maps even though they were only somewhat alike and both not to scale, and headed left onto the main road. We had picked correctly and after going through the bigger town and risking our lives sharing the road with the maniac Chinese drivers we eventually got to the Dragon Bridge.

Cormorant fisherman, the only one who looked like he was actually fishing for fish not tourists


Taking a break for some snacks at the bridge we started chatting with the other lost couple. Cory and Amy are both Americans who teach in Hong Kong and were on a short break up in the region. We both wanted to ride back to Yangshuo on the other side of the river, so we decided that 4 heads are better than 2 when trying to find your way around these villages and agreed to stick together.

The ride back down the river was even better than the morning, this other side of the river is less populated and it had some really small villages that looked a lot more traditional still farming and going about their daily activities without even looking at us when we cycled by. We started out following a track from the bridge that took us onto a thin single walkway by some farmer’s fields and the river. It was so great to walk along these tracks with the bikes, not 100% sure where we were, but feeling like we were away from the hoards of Chinese tourists that were in town.

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We found our way back to Amy and Cory’s hostel which was in the countryside so we decided that after about 4 hours of bike riding it was a good time to stop for lunch which was a really good meal. We hit the road soon afterwards to try and make it out to the Moon Hill which looked pretty good on the maps. Another hour or so of country tracks, more unbelievable scenery and lots of map checking got us onto the main road for the tourist spots.


After initially cycling straight past the entrance to Moon Hill, we found it again but were approached by an old lady. She asked if we were going to the hill and when we said yes, she said that the official entrance price of 20 yuan ($2.50) was too expensive, and she could get us there for 5 Yuan each. We just had to go with her to another entrance. We said no a few times, and she even produced a little note book of testimonials (in english and even spanish) from people saying that they trust her and she was very kind. We eventually decided to go with her down the road and another old lady was there who took us up a little mud track that eventually hopped over some barbed wire and onto the official steps. We paid our 5 Yuan each to her and went off half expecting to find the pay station around the corner. Everything was fine though and after a sweaty climb up the steps arrived at the hole in the mountain that is Moon Hill. The views from the top were sensational with the mist clearing for the afternoon and being able to see so much of the landscape around us.


We got back into town hoping to catch some sunset views from one of the hills.

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Our activity for the evening was extremely touristy, but the Sanjie Liu Impression show looked alright from the posters around town, we figured we would give it a chance. Not expecting much when we rocked up to join the unorganised chaos of thousands of Chinese tour groups entering the gates, the show turned out to be pretty impressive. Supposedly this is choreographed by the same person that did the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony, either way, the combination of lit up mountains, a perfectly reflecting lake, hundreds of bamboo boat men, ribbons, flames, lights, music and floating sets all perfectly timed together exceeded anything we were expecting.


On our final day in town we wanted to get a boat on the Li River as this is supposed to be the best scenery in the area. It would have to be pretty amazing to be topping what we saw the prior day. We tried bartering with the sellers down on the river for a trip, but we were in town over a Chinese long weekend, so there weren’t any boats going up river today, so instead we opted for the hotels option which took us on a bus up the best area for a boat ride, all for less than what we could find out on the street anyway. The bamboo boat ride lived up to all the hype, with the stretch of river having big peaks right next to the water. It was also the scene of our first experience with Chinese tourists that have become common place at all the sites we visit. At one particular point I was taking a photo of the landscape when a little girl with her mother said hello and then asked if they could get a picture with me. Multiple angles and photos later we hopped back on the boat and thought it was pretty funny, how little we knew that this would become a common thing over the next few weeks.

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We got a short bus ride up to the bigger city of Guilin the following morning ready to go out to see the Dragons Backbone Rice terraces and put a few kilometres into our walking shoes again.

Daniel – As far as tourist destinations go in China, Yangshuo is one of the most visited by the locals and fending off the hordes of tour groups is something that goes with it. But even so, the area is so stunning, that if you go just a little way from the town, you get both the amazing scenery as well as some peace and quiet to just take it all in.

Tanya – Well we sure threw ourselves in at the deep end trying to travel around in China first, simply by figuring it out when we walked across the border to the mainland! But we made it to Yangshuo and were well rewarded with the stunning scenery in such a beautiful place. We had a great fun here and its been a great intro to China.

Posted by dbgomes 02:24 Archived in China Tagged china round_the_world

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