Yangshuo; for better for worse

Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
Trip End Feb 28, 2013

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Where I stayed
Showbiz Inn
Li River International Youth Hostel (Yangshuo)

Flag of China  , Guangxi Zhuang,
Thursday, December 22, 2011

Yangshuo, China

Shenzhen to Yangshuo by Bus On December 21, 2011: 8:30PM to 5:30AM (340 miles / 550 kilometers in 9 hours)

Zài jiàn - 再見/ – Goodbye Shenzhen
After another morning of barely intelligible phone calls and email exchanges with the local (China) Fed-Ex staff regarding getting our parcel released from customs, we determined that waiting a few more days in Shenzhen for the release would be futile. I went to the Futian Long-distance Bus Station terminal at the Zuzulin station on line-one of the metro. It is just one stop beyond the station we use to get to the Loft. I expected to have some difficulty finding the bus station ticket office but I was wrong! Exit C let me through to the ground floor of a massively overbuilt terminal which is under the same roof as the metro complex; airport check-in and tickets on the second level, bus departures on the third! This bus terminal is bigger than many airport terminals. Signs in English directed me to the second level ticket window. Only two of the approximately 30 windows were open and two people in line. I asked for two tickets for to Guilin/Yangshuo (230RMB/$36.51 each). 230RMB? "I want to take the bus, not fly", I said jokingly when she told me the price of the ticket. As I was taking my money out of my wallet, she sprinted off and returned with someone who spoke better English. The good English speaker explained that the bus ticket is for the big city of Guilin and would need to have the driver let me off when it stops in Yangshuo along the way. I didn't try to explain my joke and just thanked her for the help.

We had been to Yangshuo for the first time in 1994 and returned in 1998 and 2003! We loved the place. We were looking forward to going back to this tiny backpacker haven nestled along the Li River among the dramatic karst mountain peaks and verdant green rice fields. We planned to spend the holidays there and had booked a guest house well in advance for a two week stay.

At 7:30PM, we returned by metro, ate a crappy meal at KFC and boarded the bus. This is our third, and best, sleeper bus experience during our stay in China. No on-board toilet but it did have those little airline type air vent controls over some of the top bunks. The driver said we could choose any bunk so we picked places directly under the vents. Those were great!

We stopped at what looked like a fairly large city at 5:30AM. We were told it was time to get off the bus. No, we need to go to Yangshuo, we protested. “This is Yangshuo” the man replied. “THIS is Yangshuo?” We staggered out of the bus and collected our luggage. A hotel tout offered to take us to his hotel. We told him we already have a reservation. He nicely recommended we go to the McDonald’s and have coffee until later in the morning.   It is still too early for check-in at other places he explained. “Yangshuo has a McDonald’s?, we asked. "Sure! It is near the KFC", he beamed. "You want a taxi?" We didn’t take his taxi but we took his recommendation to have coffee at McDonald’s. Wow has Yangshuo changed.

Wow! Yangshuo has changed!
In the 9 years between our first and thirds visits, Yangshuo had grown a little. But it was still a sleepy little town with a handful of businesses catering to backpack travelers and trinket sellers catering to the one or two tour boats that would come down the Li River for two hours of shopping before loading up and returning to Guilin for the evening. The better hotels were only in Guilin and that is where the mainstream tourists stayed. And of the tourist were 99% foreigners.

Now, after another 8 year gap, we see the same lazy moving Li River. Same emerald green tower green karst peaks. Same cormorant tied to the fishing rafts, same smile on the local’s faces. But where did all these people come from? Where did all these new roads and buildings come from? Why do they pump drums and bass into the streets at night? Why are all these Chinese tourists here now? Has Yangshuo has been ruined by its own success? I have to take a step back and think; “change is inevitable, embrace the new”.
And now that is settled, let go see Yangshuo!

Bike Ride in the Country-Side
The bike rental lady delivered two mountain bikes to our Showbiz Inn and we zipped over to the Subway Sandwich and bought two footlongs. The Subway is a fake but but has a similar green sign and menu as the original, selection of ingredients are fewer, but is perfect for our planned picnic on the river’s edge.

We pedaled upstream along the Li before turning west into a small village with a number of new hotels and guest houses. We went past the Village Retreat Hotel where we got invited to go for Christmas dinner.

It is cool in Yangshuo in December but we got hot riding and pulled off our jackets. Orchards of mandarin orange trees are covered with plastic sheeting to protect them from the cold. January and February are the really frosty months, we are told. Rice will be planted in late March so most the fields are brownish yellow now. Still, the farmers have work in the fields preparing the fields and stacking the straw. They bring their ducks with them to feed while they work. Most people stay inside and out of the sun. We made our way back toward the river again and found a nice spot on the river for our picnic.

A tourist boat floated down the river from Guilin. It was followed by another and then another. The river was shallow near our spot, the boats would get bogged in the mud and power up as they worked their way through the muck. At one time, five boats were struggling through the same bend in the river at once. And then an empty boat joined the jam, coming empty in the reverse direction. Now days, the boats go loaded from Guilin to Yangshuo and return empty while the passengers either overnight in Yangshuo or take the bus back to Guilin.  This new one-way strategy leaves the tourist time for shopping and spending money Yanghuo unlike the old days when they would only have a few hours before having to catch their boat to go back to Guilin.


We spotted a few fishermen on their 'bamboo’ rafts setting nets or going by with firewood. The ‘bamboo' on many of the newer rafts are 6 inch PVC piping. I can’t imaging it is not because of any shortage of bamboo. The PVC just must work better. We went on to a nearby fishing village and watched life there for a while. We tried to hitch a ride back to Yangshuo with our bikes but none of the fishermen were interested in taking us.

It was a great day on the bikes and we had picked a day with sunny weather.

Christmas Dinner at Village Retreat
We had run into a British expat taking a smoke break in front of the Village Retreat Hotel. He invited us to the Christmas dinner where we could expect to be joined by half the expat community in town and the hotel guests. It was going to be the most Christmassy thing going on in town, so we went.

We filled our glasses with mulled wine and quickly fell in with Chris & Kim, Dutch nurses living in Australia, Marie from Belgium and Lynda from Zaire but now calling Tasmania, Australia home. She currently has a contract teaching at a University in Nanning. They were great to talk to and enthusiastically recommend we visit Australia. Yep, Carnes and the barrier reef are great but the real attraction is seeing the natural wonders in the outback." Get a 4WD and drive", they said.  You can camp almost anywhere and there are places we will want to go that requires four wheel drive. Rent if coming for a short time or buy and sell the vehicle if staying longer. People do it all the time. They promised to help us when we decide to come. Lynda was just as enthusiastic about her island of Tasmania. NOW A VISIT TO AUSTRALIA IS ON OUR LIST! Chris and Kim blog at www.2girlzlovinglife.com

Café Mimosa
We eventually discovered breakfast at Café Mimosa (16 Gui Hua Road),with tasty western style food and friendly staff and with the cold and cloudy weather outside, one the few cafes with heat! We returned for dinner. Then, for each of the next four days, it was cold and drizzly out, and we just lounged in Café Mimosa. It was not busy in town so we didn't feel guilty about taking up space in the cafe. A few days, we had breakfast, lunch and dinner there before going home. We chatted with many of the travelers that came in, watched DVD upstairs, and found all about the English teaching scene in town from the teachers who frequent the place. Michelle ended up giving impromptu English lessons to a few students who came in the café. If you go there, give our greetings to Yuan, one of the owners, and try the lasagna followed by apple crumble cake which seems to be the favorite of everyone in town.

We enjoyed a couple of meals with young Americans Seth, Drew and Caroline. Seth graduated in calculus and physics and is working as a technician in Virginia (or was it West Virginia?). The recently married Drew and Carrie have fallen in love with traveling and wanted Seth to join them for a few weeks. Drew bought Seth a business class ticket to Hong Kong. How did the dreadlocked Drew swing the ticket? Frequent flyer miles! Drew has lots of them. He introduced us to the world of travel hacking, a club of folks who work hard at collecting hotel and airline points, and then using them to travel. Certainly, we collect and use points when possible but Drew has it down to a science. And he exposed us to so many opportunities we have been missing. He puts some of his techniques on his website is travelisfree.com. Caroline is a 24 year old artist with talents of her own. We will write more on them later on segment this blog. It will be an entry, now and then, dedicated to exceptional people we meet while traveling.


Our final Café Mimosa friend to mention is Jack. He is from the UK and has been studying Tai Chi in Thailand. Now he has come to study Tai Chi in Yungshou for two years. When finishes, he plans to open his own Tai Chi school in Spain! Jack is a thoughtful intelligent young man from the UK. One of the best parts of our traveling lifestyle is having the opportunity to meet people like Jack.



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