Down and Dirty in Yangshuo

Trip Start Oct 27, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Yangshuo 11 Youth Hostel

Flag of China  , Guangxi Zhuang,
Wednesday, August 24, 2011

North east of Nanning lies the natural wonder that is Yángshuò (阳朔县). 70km south of Guilin (桂林), sitting lazily on the 'Li River' (漓江) this city has remained one of south China’s predominate tourist retreats; famous for its Karst Mountains, muddy water caves, and cormorant fishermen. With so many visitors you will struggle to find a little bit of Yangshuo to yourself.

               Leaving Nanning on an express bus to Yangshuo (¥95, 6hours), I arrive late afternoon as the mountains are bathed in a strong orange glow from the setting sun. Although the town was busy, it still remained quiet after the herds of people in Nanning, and I make my way to ‘Yangshuo 11 Hostel’ located on the pedestrian ‘West Street’ (西街, Xi Jie) near the river. Offering some of the best views of the town and surrounding countryside from its roof top terrace, dorms are available from ¥40 per night.

                Having missed breakfast, and only finding a tub of instant noodles as we stopped for a toilet break, I was starving. After local recommendation from an Australian expat living in Yangshuo, I head to ‘Lao Jia Xiang Clay Pot restaurant’ on Guihau Lu (桂花露) as small street side restaurant that is always guaranteed to be full of customers. From as little as ¥6 you can pick up a portion of fried noodles or rice, but it is the clay pots that make this place so popular. Starting at ¥10 you can get a large oven hot pot, filled with cooked rice and topped off with vegetables, pork, beef, duck, tofu, pigs’ ears, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, or whatever takes your fancy from their extensive menu. Washed down with a local beer, or cup of hot soya bean milk, this was the best food I found in the whole of Yangshuo.

                As the evening progressed, and the streets began to fill with tourist, I began to notice an unusual thing, most of the tourist were Chinese. I became a single white pixel among an Asian canvas, which is unsurprising as around 95% of Chinese tourism is endemic; and although there are good numbers of western travellers, we were easily out numbered. Looking around the town, I decide to join the crowd, and explore the shops as 10 month have began to take its toll on my limited number of cloths; now being so endowed with dirt and sweat I could hardly wear them, and the worst being my favourite pair of shorts which have now developed a whole in the crotch large enough to deliver a baby.

                One of the sight that has made Yangshuo so popular among the crowds of tourists, apart from the stunning countryside that features on the ¥20 note, are the Cormorant fisherman than are iconic to this region. Floating on thin bamboo rafts, each fisherman will normally work with 2-6 cormorants at a time, launching them into the water where they collect the fish in their gullets. To prevent the birds from consuming the entire catch, the fisherman will place a ring around their necks to prevent them from swallowing. Once they are filled to capacity they will return to the raft, and the fisherman will clear their throats. However, the cormorants are not stupid, and will refuse to fish if they are not rewarded for their efforts; normally receiving a fish every couple of dives.

                To explore all that Yangshuo has to offer, I highly recommend hiring a mountain bike (¥15-40, £1.50-4) for the day. From the main town you can take a quick ride south before following the Yulong River (遇龙河) toward the striking 600 year old dragon bridge near the town of Baisha. From here you can hire a bamboo raft, and with your bike strapped to the back, enjoy a scenic trip down stream as you watch the mountains and rice paddies drift by.

                Before returning to Yangshuo town I recommend stopping off at Black Buddha Water cave to get down and dirty. Located 6km from the main town, pass the Yulong River, lays the subterranean hot spring known as the Buddha Water cave. Numerous amounts of touts line the road in their own ‘ticket office’ or ‘reception’ but they lie, and will send you to the smaller moon water cave. The real ticket office sits directly opposite the cave, and although they show a laminated sign with fixed prices, it is negotiable; my ticket started off at ¥300, before I haggling it down to ¥60.

                As you enter the cave, you will lose all sense of direction and depth. Stretching for up to 5km under three different mountains, you will eventually reach the dark and gloopie mud baths that are famed for their health benefits. Spending half an hour wading, floating and smothering yourself (or others) in this slippery muck is a strange experience, before cleaning off in the natural hot springs. Of all the places I expected to be one year ago, I never would have imagined I would be having a bath in a cave underground in China.

                With so much to do in Yangshuo, including kayaking, rock climbing, and trekking, as well as the beautiful countryside, it is understandable how many people can easily spend a couple of weeks in this region of China. But after only four day I felt I was ready to move on once more, and after chatting to some other traveller I decided to book a night train from Guilin to the city of Kunming (昆明) located in the south western province of Yunnan (). I was now on the road to Shangri-La.
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