I have been staying in the most heavenly surroundings this past week. Yangshuo -a place of stunning mountains and scenery, so famous for it’s beauty that one mountain landscape is featured on the 20 yuan note here.
On Tuesday evening Martha and I set off on the bus from Gunagzhou. Being a sleeper bus, we had our own bunk bed complete with pillow and soft blanket. Clearly designed for Chinese sizes, we were nevertheless quite comfortable. I watched the world flash by - dark countryside, factories, small shabby towns, all illuminated by bright streaks of lightning in the night sky.
After falling asleep for a couple of hours, I awoke at that ghostly time of 5.20 to the first misty glimpses of the mountains. At 6 o’clock in the morning we finally rolled in to Yangshuo. We eventually found our hostel – Monkey Janes, but could only leave our bags as too early to check in. So out we strolled instead, on a search for tea and breakfast, which we had by the river in a cafe – Mmm, egg, toast, tea, pancakes, juice…just what was needed after a 12 hour bus ride! Unfortunately it looked set to rain that day, so we discussed our options… We both wanted to see the light show on the river, and the cormorant fishing show. Despite signing up to see both over the next few days…we were turned away each evening as the heavy rain meant the river was too high! It put a stop to dreams of rafting in the sunshine too… On that first day we decided to have a morning of shopping – this place is filled with quirky little shops, cafes and restaurants, the cobbled streets lines with bright market stalls! We very much enjoyed looking at all the beautiful things. Later that afternoon we set off for our Chinese cooking course – involving a trip to the food market – vegetables, live meat (chickens, ducks, rabbits…err…kittens…) not to mention the skinned dog carcasses hanging up above. I must say I avoided that section (although Martha has some lovely close up shots…) Back at Cloud 9 restaurant we were taken to a rooftop kitchen area, and each assigned a work space including gas hob, wok, utensils and a lovely apron and chef hat! We had previously as a group decided upon three dishes we wanted to learn how to prepare – aubergine, dumplings and beer fish (a local specialty) and so we began! It was great fun, the group were all really nice, and the teacher, Linda, was very good. After each meal was prepared and cooked, we went down to the restaurant before starting the next one! It was great! We were very impressed with our dishes and were full up after…
The next day Martha and I were supposed to go on a boat trip but oh! That was cancelled due to the rain… instead we signed up for a tai chi lesson in the afternoon and after a leisurely lunch we met our teacher who led us to his tai chi health centre, which turned out to be a large open shelter at the end of a winding path, through some gates into a place full of trees and greenery. He spoke no English, but we got along fine. The lesson lasted an hour and was interesting, although I’m not so great at remembering routines and stuff, but still, I managed to keep up – it’s not exactly fast! Later, Martha and I hired some bikes and set off to explore on our own for an hour, making us realize that we most definitely needed a guide! Ha, sense of direction not so good… We had dinner at Kelly’s Place, recommended by the Lonely Planet – and now also by both Martha and Rozel! The thing about Yangshuo is that, as a tourist destination, it has a marvelous selection of western food on offer – and decent western food at that! It was so good to indulge a little. I really love Chinese food, but, four months of nothing else made this a very welcome change! I even remembered how to use a knife and fork! Not used them either since arriving in China!!!
On Thursday morning our boat trip was cancelled (yes, AGAIN) so instead we went to Shangri-la, a place where local merchandise is made by local people, in the traditional way. You get to go on a short boat trip and see some ‘performances’ and it’s all very staged, but the setting is beautiful and it’s open on rainy days. Still, can’t say I’d say it was worth visiting really. I’m just trying to justify the 3 hours spent there looking around…
After lunch, Martha and I hired both bikes and a guide – who ended up being the lovely girl we booked through. Her name was Amy and she took us on the most amazing trek around the local countryside, down muddy, bumpy tracks and all through the mountains. We chatted all the way about anything and everything. China life, living in Yangshuo, her family, farming, learning English (everyone here speaks great English purely as a result of the amount of tourists here – Amy has only learnt English at high school, the rest she learnt through working in the tourist industry. She has worked in bars and cafes, in the cooking school, and now in the outdoor centre – ‘Black rock climbing’, where her husband is a climber. We were out for 3 hours before stopping at Moon hill, which took us an hour to walk up and down the slippery steps. By this point both of us were so sunburnt, as the sun – having hidden behind clouds the past few days, decided to emerge after we had set off. Typical. An hour back after that and we were completely finished and so ready to cool off in the shower. Never in my life have I sweated so much!!! Clean and beautiful – though BRIGHT red, we had dinner, and were then too exhausted to do much else!
The next morning we chatted to Amy who said although no boat trips were running, we could get a bus to Qing ming, where the famous landscapes are, so that’s what we did. Upon arrival, the first impressions of the town are that it offers such a stark contrast to the touristy Yangshuo. The people here looked poor, as did the streets and buildings. We wandered down the nearest street and soon picked up a lady desperate to sell us a boat ride. Speaking no English, we discussed price and weren’t sure, so continued on – with her on our trail the entire time. We walked by the river, almost empty except a few boats. Our shadow pointed to a boat and again encouraged us to go. We got the price down, and eventually decided – what the heck, we may not get on the river otherwise! We were led to a clearing by the river, overlooking the outline shown on the banknote, where a boat came to collect us. And so we stepped on and had a trip – all to ourselves on the river, with barely anyone in sight! The water was really high – you could see the tops of small trees along the edge poking out. It was beautiful and we were glad to have gone! We got back to Yangshuo in time for dinner before getting the bus home. And there begins another saga altogether. We had to walk about 20 minutes to a bus along a road somewhere, not nearly as nice as the one we arrived on. At about 1 o’clock in the morning, the bus got stopped in traffic…and then barely moved for the next 4 or 5 hours… We eventually got dropped off in Sanxiang, not at 6 am as expected. No, 2 o’clock in the afternoon – 30 mins before I was due to teach! Not only that, we weren’t even dropped at the station, so had no way of getting a local bus back…thankfully someone stopped and asked in English if we needed any help, and offered us a lift which we gratefully accepted. 2.20 – back at the flat, and 10 minutes ‘til my lesson…well, that didn’t happen. I had told the school the situation, and made it in for the second one. Would quite happily never repeat a journey like that! Relieved that I have booked a couple of flights for my future travel plans now…although there are a few buses and trains in the plans too...please, PLEASE no repeats?!!!