Rivers, mountains and tourist crowds

Trip Start Sep 01, 2010
Trip End Sep 01, 2011

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Where I stayed
Yangshou Li River Hotel

Flag of China  , Jiangsu Sheng,
Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wed 17 Aug

We catch a morning flight to Guilin which takes just under two hours. It's a drive along the brand new deserted motorways to the airport. There are quite a few different Chinese airlines competing for customers.  I was perhaps expecting one or two state airlines, soviet style, but I’ve counted at least six.  Once again it’s a smooth operation picking up a coach and travelling to the city of Yangshuo.  We are in the same geological countryside as Halong Bay in Viet Nam, except we are inland and have an enchanting sugarloaf mountain view just outside the front of the hotel.  There is a standard Chinese hotel room which my room mate Ernesto and I have had three times now.  Enter corridor – small bathroom to the left then on the right there are 2 very hard single beds.  On the left is a desk, a TV and ahead a window with two chairs and a low table.  We check in quickly as Bin has arranged a minibus to take us to the Li River.  It’s a 45 minute drive and after all the travelling we are feeling a bit weary.  The road becomes chaotic – out here there are plenty of motor scooters, but not on the scale of Hanoi.  Here there are coach loads of tourists ( 98% Chinese) all heading in the same direction. This countryside is scattered with these tall sugarloaf peaks which rise steeply out of the flat plane of intensely cultivated land.  The Li River is shallow and crowded with small craft.  We scramble down rocky steps of irregular dimensions all crowded with Chinese tourists.  The cruise boats are bamboo poles fused together with a wooden deck lashed on top.  The front of the boat curves out of the water and there’s a canopy and three cane or wooden benches seating a maximum of 6. Hanging under the canopy are life jackets which no one wears.  We can’t all get on one boat - I’m in the first group scrambling over the front of full boats waiting to leave, but the others have to go back and find another one.  Off we go powered by a motor with a long shafted propeller.  Warm water floods onto the deck so we have to rescue our bags.  On either side, these strange hills tower above us and at river level there is a swarm of small boats, full of Chinese who find us curious.  They want to take pictures of us.  Children on the boats have bought water cannons which look like large bicycle pumps.  They draw up the water from the river and shoot at other boats – it’s all good fun, but Johan is incensed and shouts abuse in Mandarin and Suzy has an expensive camera and looks German daggers at anyone threatening to shoot. The Scenery is stunning and when we get to the turning around point there are chaps with poles on their shoulders, each with a cormorant perched on either end.  They try to put a hat on my head, but I’ve got my sunhat on and I duck out of the way. It’s another rip off opportunity.  Here you can also dress up in an ethnic costume and be photographed against the beautiful background.  Aussie Mike is enraged as someone has water bombed him on the way up and he’s buying a water cannon in order to retaliate on he way down.  Sadly the opportunity is missed as it breaks the first time he tries to use it. 

Bing has arranged a meal at a bar/restaurant in the tourist town area.  It specialises in local dishes and I have a Pork and Taro dish plus a dish of river snails to share with whomever is game.  The snails are minced up with pork and spices and the shells re stuffed.  There are bars here, so the youngsters are happy and stay out late. 

Yangshuo is not the real China, it’s another tourist town like Wuzhen and Hangzhou and you have to shop around for bargain water and beer.  There’s a KFC and a McDonalds patronised by both Chinese and Westerners.  The Chinese are enthusiastic holiday makers here and they seem to be having fun.  The town is full of restaurants, cafes with internet wifi, shops and street vendors.  Everyone is trying to sell something and the tourists are shopping.  We come across beggars with disfigurements and I spotted a fat homeless person doing very well fishing food out of rubbish bins.  Chinese like to order lots of food and leave piles uneaten to signify abundance.  I guess it’s good for those who feed of scraps, but so far I haven’t seen that many dogs or cats.

Thurs 18 August Day 5

Andrew has lost his camera at the bar last night and some people look a bit rough to be cycling through the countryside.  We walk around the corner to pick up our steeds and I go for a narrow seat after my experience in Chaing Mai and also check that all the gears work.  They do and it’s very modern with a sprung front suspension.  We are lead by a woman guide in a conical sun hat, who takes us out through the city onto country roads towards Moon Hill.  She says that the villages in this part used to be very poor, but with the advent of tourism, they have done well and we can see that the mud brick houses they used to live in are rapidly being replaced with modern ones.  We pass through rice fields and come across a rice harvester which looks new and is being edged up a plank to get it on to the road.  Our guide says she hasn’t seen one before so it must be brand new.  Interesting that we also pass a peasant ploughing with a water buffalo and many farming practices are still ancient.  Bin tells me that each person in a village has a land allocation.  This is reviewed every 30 years and readjusted to account for deaths, births and emigration. 

It’s a 800 step climb up to Moon Hill, which is a hole worn through a cliff.  We park our bikes and having been warned by the guide that local ladies will try to sell us water at inflated prices, we set off.  Fortunately our guide has encouraged us to buy water cheaply at a village stall some way back, so we are all able to say no to the local ladies and not agreed to 'later’ which is taken as some sort of verbal contract to buy.  The Guide says that unless you say no, they will follow you all the way to the top.  It’s a pretty hot climb and we’re all exhausted by the time we get up there, but sure enough there are a few ladies who have followed potential customers all the way. Bernard pays one of the women to fan him as he walks all the way up.  The view is magnificent when we do get there and there are three young English blokes doing rock climbing – in this heat!  My legs turn to jelly on the way down and I need to eat.  Fortunately our next stop is a lunch at an organic farm.  It’s actually a house in a village and we don’t get to see the farm.  We park our bikes downstairs and climb up to a roofed dining room where we are brought a big bucket of rice, a potato dish and beans.  We fall upon them and they are delicious.  Then a whole host of other dishes keep arriving, beef, pork, chicken, egg and tomato & chips until we are completely full.  There’s a possibility of going into a cave where we could swim in hot pools or bathe in mud.  We’ve done enough and elect to cycle back - time to collect laundry and relax.  Later I go looking for a massage place but don’t find one, ending up having a beer with Ernesto and watching the world go by.  An English couple, he a Geordie and she Chinese from Suffolk are spending some time in China trying to learn Mandarin, they are on their way to New Zealand and she’s a doctor with a year’s exchange in Thames (Coromandel).   I go off to sample the local ‘beer fish’ which is carp and not that delicious.  The fish has not been scaled and though I can cope with bones, carp tastes a bid muddy.  It’s an early night as we’ve got a 6am call in the morning.
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