Ethereal Yangshuo

Trip Start Aug 09, 2010
Trip End Feb 01, 2012

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Flag of China  , Guangxi Zhuang,
Thursday, December 2, 2010

Our entry into this town was the most memorable, dramatic, and of course beautiful one to date. Who needs planes, trains or automobiles when you've got bamboo rafts that can take you from one town to another. And by raft we do mean huge bamboo poles bound together with a few deckchairs perched on top. 

Paul and I got the front seats on the raft and had unobstructed views of the wonders surrounding us as we sailed down the scenic Li river. Gorgeous limestone peaks covered in trees rose all along both banks creating an outwordly feeling. Apparently these peaks inspired the floating mountains in Avatar. The trip took about 3 hours and by the end of it our muscles had turned to jelly we felt so relaxed, except for our index fingers of course as they must have clicked our cameras a thousand times!

To actually make it to where we were staying we had to take a golf cart, a bus and a motorbike cart which was quite interesting. Especially on our last mode on transport where we were perched on a plank balanced on the sides of the cart holding on for dear life as we hurtled down the potholed roads. 

The place we stayed in, the Giggling Tree, deserves a special mention. It's owned by a Dutch couple who stumbled upon the derelict farmhouse four years ago. After getting all 27 (yes 27) owners to agree they took it over and turned it into a wonderful place to stay in. I'm actually writing this in one of their public rooms, the fire is roaring, there are some lovely travellers we're sharing train horror stories with and the DVD room upstairs is beckoning. 

On our first day there we just sat outside in the courtyard, enjoying the views of the wonderful peaks. If you ever come to China, I hope the rest of this blog convinces you that this place is a must. 

The next morning we woke up early, hired a couple of bikes and set out on a cycling route that Karst, our host suggested. The sun was shining, the weather was warm and the scenery spectacular. It was like we had been magically placed inside a landscape painting and made to cycle inside it. We've tried to take some photos but a million pictures could not even begin to capture the beauty of this place. Finally we had found the China we came looking for. 

Our destination was Dragon bridge and two hours after setting off we made it there. We bumped into three people who were on the bus with us the day before, got chatting and decided to all go for lunch together. A young girl had been trying to convince us to go eat at her restaurant and we decided to let her take us there. Ah the look on her face was priceless. She was overjoyed. When we got there we realised we were the ones who should have been overjoyed. The restaurant was decked with private floating 'rooms' with tables and chairs so we could eat right on the river. The food was great too! 

After lunch we sat by the river and watched Adam and Ethan brave the 25 foot drop and jump off the bridge. Clearly we didn't have our swimsuits on, otherwise we would have been right there jumping with them (yeah right!). After they left Paul and I stayed on to sketch the beautiful view. Let me just say that I'm no artist and the massacred bridge I ended up with is testament to that. But the process of really looking at something and trying to draw it is a real joy. I lose track of time  really looking at the scenery in front of me and trying to capture it. It helps me truly see the beauty of what I'm looking at. I'm so glad I decided to copy Paul and try my hand at sketching. (Although I always have to hide my 'work' when a curious passer by tries to see what I'm drawing, it IS THAT embarassing). 

Before we knew it, the sun started to set and we had to make our way back home. We had the option of taking a bamboo raft down the river but decided to cycle back instead. We were so glad we took the active option as about thirty minutes into our journey we heard the sound of instruments being played and of course we went to explore. It turns out that we had stumbled on a funeral, although they do funerals slightly differently over here. The whole village had assembled and was busy preparing a feast while the band played on. The beckoned us over and took us into the room where the coffin was kept, decorated in colourful paper and a dead chicken on top. They gave us some incense to light and I nearly set fire to the paper decorations which probably wouldn't have been so good. Once we'd stuck our incense sticks and were leaving the room they set off some firecrackers. The noise nearly gave me a heart attack and I jumped with the fright, which seemed to entertain a few of the villagers. They were so lovely, even offering us food. It was just a shame that we could not stay with them as we had to get back before it got too dark.

Karen is not wrong. This was the China we had been looking for! If you ever go to China forget The Great Wall, The Cities and the Terracotta warriors. This is the best place in China. It is too beautiful to put into words. Every time you turn a corner the limestone peaks go off into the distance. The people in this area are the friendliest we have come across in tho whole of the country and as Karen mentioned, our accomodation, The Giggling Tree has to be one of the best places we have stayed in since our travels began. The actual location of the place is just outside of Yangshou so you are right in the heart of the beautiful countryside. As you eat breakfast in the lovely courtyard you can see the peaks all around you and the Dutch couple who own the place are very special. 

 Whilst we were there our stay coincided with a Dutch Holiday: St Nicholas's day. It's basically similar to Christmas where you give presents to each other but in this case it is mainly just for kids. So Karst and Paulina (the owners) invited all the village kids around to the guesthouse and gave them all presents! 40 kids, 40 presents all wrapped up with a child's name on each present given by a very generous Karst & Paulina. The excitement of young children when they receive presents and are at a party transcends cultures. This party could have been held anywhere. We witnessed the happy faces, jumping up in excitement and the great energy that only kids can create. One thing that was different was the way kids treated their presents. In China it's customary to open a present once you've gone back home and many kids obediently left their present untouched. Other couldn't resist and carefully opened a small corner, just to have a small peek inside. It was a heart warming and inspiring afternoon. 

On another day cycling we ended up in another adventure. That is what I am loving about travelling. Every day is one big adventure. So there we were happily cycling around when my pedals fell of my bike! Great. We were in the middle of nowhere and had no way of fixing the bike. As we started contemplating cycling back on Karen's bike with her on the back, an old lady stopped on her bike that had a wooden cart attached to it. She said that she knew someone down the road who fixes bikes. I love this about the Chinese. They are the most inventive of people when it comes to making a few quid. So I put my bike on her wooden cart and rode with Karen. Thankfully it was not too far as it was quite hard cycling for two! You would never have known it though with the old lady. She must have been around 80 and she cycled off with her bike, the attached wooden cart and my bike on top like there was no tomorrow! Fair play to her. So we paid the guy who fixed my bike a 1, we paid her a 1 and got ready to set off to our destination - Moon Hill. When the old lady found out where we were going she said that she could sneak us in from the back so we would not have to pay the entrance fee which goes to the Government and give her some money instead. As she said who would you rather give money to? The government or an old lady? Well her argument was very persuasive. So off we went with her climbing up near vertical cliffs to get in the back way. Again she steamed ahead whilst Karen & I laboured behind. We got in though and once we climbed the 800 steps to the top the views were amazing. At the top we met another lovely old lady. She sold us some water and got talking to us. She taught herself English and probably various other languages to sell to the tourists. She was so sweet and she kept telling us to climb on top of the archway where the signs clearly say "Keep out". Everybody else was doing it so we did our duty for England & Malta and climbed right to the top. The old lady was right, the views were even better from up there. Before I sign off, I want you to think of the old lady on the hill. 800 steps she has to climb at least twice a day with bags full of cold drinks. She was at least 85/90 and she had a cut leg from where she had fell on the way down. So when you are moaning about your life, job, whatever, think of her and what she has to go through every day. I prefer her office though! 

I will pass you back to Karen well when she wakes up as I am sitting on the beach writing this at 07:00, ha ha! As I mentioned above, Yangshou is truly a must see destination. SO SEE IT! 

 Hi there. Well I wrote the first part of this blog when we were still in Yangshuo - I was THAT inspired. But a few more things stuck in my mind. 

One was a Sunday morning I spent at a famous cookery school in town. The day started with a short trip to the local market. It was quite enjoyable until our guide pointed out the meat section and informed us that they sold dog meat there. Horrific. Everyone went to have a look but even the thought made me want to cry. I tried to put it out of my mind as we got a cab to the actual school.

The cooking class was a lot more pleasant. We learnt how to make about five or six dishes. The best bit was understanding some basic concepts of Chinese cooking. Such as heating a wok up until it smokes stops the food tasting oily (although you'd need to lower the heat once it smokes). Oyster sauce can be used in any dish and gives loads of flavour. The smaller you chop ingredients the more flavour they add. Always cut peppers lengthways not sideways. The recipies themselves were also delicious. Can't wait to try them out at home. 

Although the most memorable even was a show we went to that was created by, Zhang Yimo the same guy who created the opening show for the Beijing Olympics. P and I went to see with a Kiwi couple we met at the Giggling Tree, Merrin and Louise. They live in Hong Kong and had come over to Yangshuo for the weekend. This show is on every night, twice a night at the weekend and is always packed out. It was easy to see why. 

The 'stage' is part of the Li river and the back drop is a semi-circle of gorgeous peaks that are lit up as well. All watched under a starry sky. The performers, 600 in all, create a wonderful spectacle of colours that is hard to describe. We've tried to capture some of the scenes with our camera but they don't really do it justice. It's one of the most enthralling things I've ever seen.

We say we stayed in Yang shuo but actually this was the first night we went into town. after the show we ventured down the crowded streets with Merrin and Louise and  stopped for a barbq'd dinner at one of the local restaurants. The town is very touristy which is why the Giggling Tree is at that perfect spot, just outside the madness and in the middle of the natural beauty of this place. 

Again we were very sad to leave this place expecially when we thought about the epic journey that awaited us. But the beaches of Thailand were beckoning us and so we set off on the long way there! 

Till then...

Lots of love

Karen and Paul 

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mom on

Its true you are having an amazing adventure love reading the blog and looking at the pictures

Tukkie on

Those mountain peaks are amazing! Great photos and news xxx

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