Boats, Bikes and Hanging Dogs

Trip Start Jun 29, 2009
Trip End Nov 06, 2009

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Flag of China  , Guangxi Zhuang,
Friday, July 3, 2009

Upon arrival at the airport in Guilin we stopped at the China International Travel Service (CITS) and were persuaded to buy tickets for the Li River cruise that would take us from Guilin to Yangshuo, our second destination. We paid Y360 each for them and it included coach pick up from the hostel, a four hour cruise down the river including lunch and English commentary and optional bus back to Guilin. We were told the tickets were valued at Y420 but we could have the 'special price' of Y360. Upon arrival at the hostel the same tickets were offered at Y385. On the coach there we were asked by the guide not to tell anyone how much we had paid for our tickets which we thought was melodramatic, but sure enough over lunch one of the other guests was complaining about the value of their Y500 trip. The trip down the Li River was stunning. The heavy rain didn't keep us inside, and we stood alone on the top deck with our rain coats and unbrellas for most of the trip. The guide kept pointing out the supposed 'highlights', but often these were bizarre aminal shapes to be made out of the side of a rock and we wondered for the second time in two days why the Chinese are so keen to find images of animals in their natural wonders to validate their importance. To us, the entire journey was a highlight with karsts rising out of the gushing river which had risen dramatically as a result of the heavy rains, and mystical mists wrapping themselves around the peaks. 

Our arrival in Yangshuo was a bit of a shock to the system as we carried our backpacks through the throngs of people - all with their umbrellas up - along the stall lined path from the pier to town. We called Wei, who runs the hostel we were staying at and he came to collect us. We were staying in Yangshuo Culture House, a hostel run by Wei and his family. The hostel offers Calligraphy, Chinese, Tai Chi and painting lessons and offered the opportunity to see a more 'local' side of Yangshuo. The location was a couple of km away from the centre/tourist streets and right next to the start of the 'countryside' with a huge green karst overlooking the hostel. We were hoping that the huge home made meals would be shared with the family, but unfortunately it was put on just for the guests. This, coupled with the fact that we only spent two nights there, meant that we didn't get the cultural experience we had been hoping for there. We did, however, learn to play Pong, a chinese card game, from one of the other American guests who was teaching in China.

The highlight of Yangshuo for us was our bike ride along the Yulong River, cycling up through the tiny villages of Yima and Jiuxian. The weather was rainy and sunny, which meant that in intervals we were drenched then burnt, drenched then burnt. We aimed to reach the Dragon Bridge just before the town of Baisha, for a day trip covering 10km each way.  About 2km in I got a puncture! Luckily I flat tired to a halt just outside a little shop and the lady called her husband who came running out with a bucket of tools and bike repair kit. Genuis! He worked away on my bike whilst the lady tried to sell us new plastic rain coats and drinks, which we bargained for and duly bought. We were a bit worried about the cost of the bike repair, as like with everything, the Chinese won't discuss the price with us until they have finished the job. We were completely at his ransom but amazingly he only charged us Y10! On the cycle back, Ben's pedal kept falling off and so we stopped at a proper 'bike repair' shop along the road and got it fixed. He charged Y20 and would have nothing of our 'tai gui!'.

In the evening we walked down to the Farmers' Market for dinner. The market was a flurry of activity but quite dark and a bit dank. We definitely saw some dubious looking 'meat' for sale and hanging carcases that looked like .. dogs. The menu of the cafe we sat down at confirmed they were.. as we were offered 'roast dog meat'. We then walked through the centre of town, West Street (AKA Foreigner Street) and discovered ginger tea. Sweet and spicy. We perched above the throngs with their eye stabbing umbrellas on a cafe balcony and were happy to be staying away from the area. At first, looking into the restaurants and bars along the street we thought it was a local hangout, before realising that they were Mainland Chinese tourists. I also managed to buy a pair of new sandals (in my size!) on the walk back home. My flip flops weren't surviving walking through the river that had taken over the streets.

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