. By 5 I reached the hostel where the night guard let me in to sit on the terrace to watch the sky illuminating, though sunrise itself was masked by the clouds. I crashed on the reception couch until let into my room where I slept until 1pm. A useless afternoon was spent relaxing in the guesthouse, which seemed to be almost entirely empty. In the evening I went in to explore the town. A tiny village, by Chinese standards, its 300,000 population is the same as the capital of Laos and bigger than most Irish cities. The place was extremely touristic, although everything there seemed to be catered more to the Chinese tourist than the westerner. And rightly so and the streets were brimming with SLR wielding nationals with a handful of western backpackers sprinkled among them. I browsed the touristic merchandise for a while, with no intention of buying any of it. I found a cheap meal and after filling my belly headed to one of the canal side bars for a beer. All was quiet there apart for the birthday celebration of an expat. It didn't seem like the most social situation so I headed back to the hostel after the one.
In the morning I set off on a dirt track, heading in the opposite direction from the town. The track was ever shrinking until it disappeared all together. Along the way there were some small hills, farm lands and a few nice streams. I found myself strolling through rice fields towards what looked like a small village in the distance
. The village was something of a contradiction. The buildings were mostly identical multi story concrete blocks, very modern looking. Parked outside there were the most basic of tractor type contractions and in the surrounding fields people were working using the most basic of tools. There wasn’t much scope for a tourist like me to hang around, and I did feel a bit out of place. I continued along a long paved road, cutting through the rice fields, to the next village, another concrete monstrosity full of ancient machines and tools. This time there was a shop at least so I refreshed with a nice cool coke before continuing on my way and inadvertently arriving back into Yangshou town. I browsed a bit more, had a quick look in the farmers market and then checked out the town park, where I found steps leading up a carst. There was a viewing platform about 50m but you couldn’t see too much from there. As I turned to go back down there was a man standing in the path, maybe 40 and well dressed. He smiled and said hello, so I gave him a 'Ni hao’ back. He extended his had and I smiled and shook it, assuming he was just being friendly…. Indeed he was, but a bit too friendly. He pulled me close to him and approached me as though he was trying to kiss me. My hand shot up onto his chest to forcefully prevent him from getting too close, his hand tightened sharply on mine. Luckily my hand was sweaty so it was easy to slide from his grip; I pushed him back and made haste to get down the carst
. As I retreated I looked back to see him masturbating openly in my direction, the sicko. My adrenaline was pumping and I felt a fear of a kind I have never experienced before. After I had calmed down I though of a whole range of karate moves which would have been very effective in that situation. I also thought about running back and giving him the hardest kick I could manage in the balls, putting his tool of perversion out of action for a few days at least. After the incident I headed back to the hostel where I had some appointments to keep. One of the girls working at reception wanted to improve her English, and I wanted to learn some survival Mandarin. From the very first word it was clear the Mandarin would be a very difficult and frustrating language. The tones are so important and subtle sounding (to the western ear) that it is not easy to learn, and nigh on impossible to master. We only got through the most basic phrases in the first half an hour and it was somewhat embarrassing when we switched to far more advanced topics in English. After that I had another lesson, this time in Tai Chi. A local instructor gave lessons on the roof of the hostel and since I was the only student I would get full undivided attention. It was really basic to start and it quickly became apparent that I would need to unlearn some of my karate fundamentals to get it, so that made for a second frustrating lesson. Afterwards I was happy to see that another backpacker had arrived in the dorm, a Canadian girl called Karen
. We had dinner together in the place and then headed into town to check out the nightlife. In a strange disparity it seemed that all the bars charged 25 Yuan for the same local beers you could find in a restaurant next door for just 7 Yuan. A chilled beer on the road side, in the atmosphere or an overpriced one in a loud disco bar… there wasn’t really a question. We stayed there until about 12 exchanging stories over a few beers before heading back.
The next day Karen and I decided that we would go exploring the countryside on the nice mountain bikes rented out by the hostel. The cycling, on the main tourist trail, was easy although not all that exciting in terms of scenery or villages, just the same kind of carsts you see everywhere. We did get a little bit off the track, taking some back roads towards the Moon Cave, which we planned to visit. Luckily we had already bought out ticket at the hostel for 90 Yuan as it cost 320 Yuan there, what a ridiculous scam. We togged out in our swimming gear and jumped in a small boat, where we were joined by a group of Chinese tourists, to take us inside the cave. The cave itself was pretty standard, not holding a flame to Konglor in Laos. We walked about 1k deep into the cave where the main attraction was a big mud bath. It was pretty fun rolling around in the mud and getting covered from head to toe in the gunk.
There was a little slide into the mud which was also quite fun. Dripping with mud we walked back through the cave to wash off in a pool of cold water before jumping into a hot springs. The spring water was lovely and refreshing after the cold mud and freezing fresh water pool. After about 90mins in the cave we got dropped back to our bikes and continued onto Moon Hill, a big carst which had a semicircular hollow in it. There was and 800 step climb to the top and by the time we reached it my clothes were drenched with sweat. There was the most adorable old lady at the top who had about 10 English phrases which she used to communicate with us. She climbed the steps twice every day and her story won us over so we bought some postcards from her. At the bottom of the hill we grabbed some lunch before pedaling back to the hostel. The rain came down on our way which was at first refreshing but quickly became a nuisance. I couldn’t stop as I was in rush to get back for my second Tai Chi class. The lesson was a little bit more interesting but I was again frustrated by the vast contrast to everything I know from Karate. That evening we stayed in to have a bit of a movie night in the common area of the hostel. We watched Zombieland and Hot Tub Time Machine and got acquainted with the few new arrivals.
The previous days cycling wasn’t satisfying in any way so I took a bike on my own and went in the totally opposite direction, on a long and strenuous loop, away from the tourist crap
. The first 20km was a very tough, every time I turned a corner I was presented with another incline and I was so close to giving up on more than one occasion. Give up I did not but continued, pushing hard up the hills and pushing the bike for the steepest inclines. In spite of the cloudy morning, for which I was grateful, I probably never sweat so much in my whole life. As I reached the highest point I was rewarded by some stunning views of the Li River and surrounding countryside. The next 15km stretch was intermittent 5 minutes of wonderful downhill freewheeling and 20 minutes of hellish uphill climbing. At that stage I was more or less out of steam so pushing the bike up all the hills. There were a few villages along this section which again were mostly ugly concrete settlements although had a few tradition clay brick cottages. The people were surprised to see me and they would smile and wave, a lot like Laos or Cambodia. The last 5km of the mountainous stretch was all down hill and it was great to relax and enjoy the wind through my sweat drenched clothes. As I made it into the valley and approached the town of Puato I was never so happy to see flat roads, the first I had laid eyes on all day. As I entered the town a man was all too enthusiastically waving me over and I approached with caution, giving him the benefit of the doubt. I stayed at a safe distance to figure out what he wanted, I didn’t like how he was looking at me and as I was miming ‘what do you want’ he made the universal sign of a finger through an O made with the other thumb and forefinger
. I turned disgusted and pedaled hard on my bike to put some distance between us. Apparently Chinese men have a thing for me and are pretty aggressive and blatant about showing it. Anyway, I explored the seldom visited town a little bit, amused by the surprise on peoples faces to see me. I went into a supermarket to pick up something to eat and while there two young girls followed me around picking up various items suggesting I buy them. I sat outside to eat my lunch and the locals were circling me with looks of wonder on their faces. After lunch I continued on the way to the next town, along a busy major road. I was too happy with the flatness to care at first but by the time I reached the town of Baisha I was ready for something more interesting. Heading back towards the river, I found myself lost in small properly traditional villages, with nice clay brink houses. People who seemed to be trying to help me were only giving me directions to the bamboo rafting dock, in spite of their efforts I eventually found a trial out of there. I soon found myself cycling along a 6 inch wide raised track through the paddies until I emerged by a small waterfall. I was elated to find such a beautiful and peaceful swimming spot, void of tourists except for the odd drifter on a bamboo raft. After swimming and relaxing for an hour I was back cycling on narrow trail amid the paddies getting lost. It took a good two hours to make it the 7km back to the town and the adventure continued through beautiful villages untouched by development
. It was by far the highlight of the days cycling, and probably the whole stay in Yangshou. By 8 o clock I arrived at the hostel, absolutely exhausted after 11 hours and over 80km of cycling.
My muscles were aching from the previous day so I didn’t feel at all guilty about arsing around the hostel all day. I did meet with a few others who were also having a lazy day and we decided to head out on the town for the night. Moments after we left it started flogging rain and by the time we reached the town all three of us were soaked through. After about 2 hours in the first bar we realized that we didn’t know each others names. I came up with the idea of not telling each other but instead picking the most typical names of our respective countries. I picked paddy, the English lad picked Richard and the German girl picked Helga. We decided we would go with those names for the night with any other people we met, it was quite funny. We ended up heading to Monkey Janes, the roof top bar of the most well known hostel in Yangshou. It was full of western backpackers, like a scene from South East Asia, which was a nice break from the streams of Chinese tourists on the streets below. They were playing beer pong, which we sat out, but were happy to join in later in the night when the game of choice changed to flip cup. At about 2am we were chucked out and after having some delicious street food we headed back to the hostel
Day 5 didn’t start so well. Apart from having a heavy head I checked my bag to discover I had lost my credit card and camera. Well lost or stolen, I can’t really say… but I was certain that I had the items when I entered to bar and didn’t have either when I made it home. Helga and Richard were planning to go kayaking with a newly arrived Irish lad whom we aptly named Seamus. I was supposed to move on but they were twisting my arm so I decided finally that I would join them and spend a 6th
day in Yangshou. We were picked up at 1pm and driven for about an hour… somewhere. We didn’t have a map and neither our driver nor the guy at the river bank had a word of English to give us any information at all. We were on some section of some river and that seemed to be all we needed to know. We paddled off downstream for a good hour enjoying the beautiful carst scenery along the way. There we some gentle rapids and cliffs which I paddled right up to for a closer look. The sun was shining which was really pleasant at first but without any cover became far too intense. We stopped for a soda at a small floating restaurant and explored a small untouristed village nearby. It started to rain as we launched into the river again and before long it was absolutely hammering down. It was actually quite fun to be paddling through the pissing rain
. We were soaked through by the time we finished the kayaking. The guy piled us onto a public bus to take us back to Yangshou. By the time we arrived there we were starving, so in spite of being wet we piled into a restaurant for some traditional Chinese dinner. Back to the hostel where we chilled for a few hours watching a movie before heading back to Yangshou for another night on the town. We had a pretty similar night, starting in Monkey Jane’s where rolled about 10 more people into our little stereotypical name game Hans, Bruce, Klaus, Megan to name but a few. We weren’t feeling the vibe there so we checked out another rooftop bar nearby, where the whiskey started flowing. That shut down pretty soon so we went with some locals to another bar which remained open. Here there was a drum kit and after Seamus made some horrendous noise on it I took over and played some very basic beats I remember banging out on my brothers drum kit back in the day. Again Seamus made some noise, and the barmaid told him to stop because of the neighbors… but when I took over she didn’t say a word, which I took as a compliment. This time it was closer to 5am by the time we got home after a truly heavy night.
Some of the most stunning photos of the whole trip were taken in Yangshou. Unfortunately they disappeared with my camera. The pictures I attach are either taken from one of the guys cameras of lifted from the internet.
After a confusing Guangzhou station led me onto the wrong bus, the ticket lady saw me and ushered me onto another bus. The driver and the guy loading the bags seemed pissed with my mistake as the barked Chinese at me while I was changing busses, making me feel somewhat retarded. The $20 bus from to Yangshou was luxurious; it would want to be for that price. The ride was not so comfortable, in spice of bagging the most comfortable front seat. The roads were as bad as any I had previously travelled on. I was treated to the open window and clouds of smoke from a chain smoking driver all the way. I did have empty seats beside to put my feet up and I managed to get a couple of hours sleep. At 4:30 in the morning when we arrived in Yangshou and even at that time there were a few moto touts. In spite of a 1.5km trek to my accommodation I set out on foot. My directions were sweet and it was quite nice dawn walk through the deserted town. As I walked along the Li River towards the hostel the first light was breaking over the horizon revealing the eerie shadowed carst landscape