Diecui Road and Yangshuo Park from New West StreetView All Sizes
JOURNAL : August 30, 2012
|Series||Bicycling around Yangshuo|
Yangshuo is a town in Guangxi Province about 70 km south of Guilin. Typically the terminus of a boat cruise down the fantastic Li River (Lijiang), it was a peaceful village until only recently. Its character and authenticity soon charmed the disembarking foreign travelers.
These days Chinese tourists outnumber the luowai (foreigners). Yangshuo realizes how awesome it is and is changing accordingly. Tourist activities and lucrative services are displacing traditional occupations like farming, and new construction is accelerating. Yangshuo is in danger of becoming another smoggy city before too long, so check it out soon.
Binjiang (Riverside) RoadView All Sizes
Some take the cruise downriver through the magical land of karst mountains, and some go directly to Yangshuo. I had planned the former but ended up the latter.
From Guilin the original plan was to head down to a pier and hop on the classic Li River cruise to Yangshuo and stay for a few days. No cheesy guide, no major tour markup, none of this being herded about like sheep — just me on the boat enjoying the karst mountains roll by. The boat arrives in Yangshuo and I find a hotel for a few days. Easy.
But things don't always work out according to plan and you must make the best of the situation you find yourself in. For at the hotel in Guilin the proprietor suggested the cruise and I was ready to pass. He quoted the cost with an English-speaking guide and without, and the latter was a good deal so I reluctantly took it, thinking it would save me wasted time trying to navigate down to the docks early the next morning. The bus, he said, would be by at 7am and off I would go. This was the new plan.
Fields Outside of YangshuoView All Sizes
The bus went around and picked up other people around Guilin for an hour, then headed out of town. The non-English-speaking tour guide said something to our group that caused them all to mumble and grumble in Chinese... something I would not understand until later. But for now we passed through some beautiful countryside for a couple of hours until I began to wonder when we'd reach the dock. We arrived in a town and some store signs indicated that we were already in Yangshuo. Oh crap, they had planned on taking the cruise upriver back to Guilin, not the other way around!
Waterfall Sculpture near RiverfrontView All Sizes
Well that was no good, since I was already at my destination. Then it got worse as they herded us through some building which I thought was the point of embarcation, but which turned out to be a series of product presentations. Oh yes they were getting us good. No wonder the tour was such a deal. Well I escaped out of there and found myself in Yangshuo but without the desired Li River Cruise.
Li River and Karst MountainsView All Sizes
Within ten minutes I found a hotel and secured a room. Twenty minutes and I had rented a bicycle. A half hour later I was the only passenger on a raft leisurely cruising down the Lijiang River. Life is good.
When possible I like to explore a new town on foot or by bicycle. Bicycling allows the traveler to cover alot of ground without having to find parking, negotiate traffic, worry about hitting pedestrians, deal with traffic laws, or pay the higher cost of renting a motor vehicle. On a hot day, cruising along on a bicycle is a great way to cool down.
Li RiversideView All Sizes
Bicycling in YangshuoView All Sizes
A Canal, from Double Moon BridgeView All Sizes
Yangshuo Park MonumentView All Sizes
Xianqian RoadView All Sizes
Since bicycling is an excellent option, it's important to make sure you don't get screwed somehow.
First, thoroughly check the bicycle for mechanical operation and sturdiness. The bike I rented today had two annoying defects which I had to constantly repair — the seat kept falling off, and the pedal was cracked and began to break under pressure. When I returned it the guy wanted to charge me for it, holding my drivers license as ransom! I made a big noise, threatened him and demanded my license and he gave up.
Another scam I've heard of is that you can rent a bike and when you lock it up someone from the rental place will come by with a duplicate key and "steal" the bike. When you come back empty-handed for your deposit, they keep it and charge you for the missing goods. If they want something valuable for a deposit, perhaps give them something you don't mind losing, like an expired license or passport. I was so concerned about getting my license back that I took the bike on the raft with me. The boat's pilot prolly thought I was nuts.
Decorative Bridge on the Lijiang RiverView All Sizes
Even a careful examination cannot uncover manufacturing defects. On the second day when I rented a bicycle to explore the countryside outside of Yangshuo, I hit a curb and the tire popped. Whereas I had jumped curbs thousands of times on my bike at home, a fault in the construction of this rim caused it to pinch the tube. Rather than gripe about it I paid them a couple of bucks for a new tube and was on my way.
Musicians in Yangshuo ParkView All Sizes
Minor hiccups aside, Yangshuo is a great place to bicycle. One of the first places I encountered was Yangshuo Park, situated on Diecui Street across from the bus station and New West Street. Karst formations rise up around it, and all sorts of people recreate within. In the morning people practice Tai Chi, during the day musicians play ancient Chinese instruments, walk their dogs, engage in games, or ride the merry-go-round. Near the center is a massive stone monument.
Guihua BridgeView All Sizes
The entrance to Yangshuo Park is featured in the panoramic photo at top.
The second day of bicycling was to explore the countryside outside of Yangshuo Town. The karst mountains are always fascinating, and ancient ruins of villages abound. Much of the surrounding area is still agriculture, with more profitable crops like pomelos displacing the more traditional but labor-intensive rice. But even this way of life is being abandoned in favor of the growing tourist trade, where a man with a raft can make more on a single fare than he did with a day's work on the farm.
Daniel, a Great GuideView All Sizes
Popular West StreetView All Sizes
So I had planned on seeing these sights and other popular attractions like Moon Hill and Big Banyan Tree by myself on a pair of wheels. But while photographing Guihua Bridge here a fellow came up and started a conversation with me. Know that this usually puts me on Scam Alert. I was prepared to walk away from whatever he was offering. He showed me photos of the things I just described, and then produced a journal with handwritten testimonials from people all over the world endorsing his personalized tours. For about $20 USD he would take me on a day-long tour of the area. His friendly, honest manner convinced me that he was on the level, and that I would probably not get led into some trap.
This is how I met Daniel and got an awesome tour of the vast area south of Yangshuo. He also conducts personal tours of places far beyond Yangshuo, like the Longsheng rice terraces. You can book a tour with him. You can also check out his website.
A Cool Market on the RiverfrontView All Sizes
But first I would have to mail off some boxes to California. That day I had finished a bunch of shopping around town, picking up a stone xylophone, some silk purses, shoes, and a dress. We decided to meet up near the Post Office on Pantao Road.
Update : it took nearly two months for the boxes to arrive home via slow boat from China. Air freight was simply too expensive for the contents.
Bicycling south of YangshuoView All Sizes
Father and Son on the Yulong RiverView All Sizes
Yulong RiverView All Sizes
Aqueduct and River-Driven Pump StationView All Sizes
Water Buffalo taking a Mud BathView All Sizes
Swimming in the Yulong RiverView All Sizes
So we headed southeast out of town, crossing the Yulong River and taking narrow gravel or dirt paths that split rice paddies and abandoned fields. Looming over the landscape are those karst mountains formed by heavily eroded limestone that used to be underwater reefs. Over the years, water has permeated the rock and eaten out the interior, creating caves, fissures and sinkholes that shape the land and its hydrodynamics, enabling water to pass through underground galleries with less filtration.
Kid on a MopedView All Sizes
With the exception of a few local passers-by, these paths and roads were mostly empty. On occasional farmer could be spotted in a field, or we met a woman walking down a newly cemented lane with her water buffalo.
Rocky paths became dirt roads that passed through tiny villages more like loose clusters of houses and some larger buildings like apartments or hotels.
A Woman and her Water BuffaloView All Sizes
Lion SculptureView All Sizes
This lion was one of a pair which guarded a nice hotel where we stopped for a tofu snack from a cart out front. This particular statue was instantly my favorite of all I had seen in China (and would stay that way). I decided that I would one day have a couple of the animal guardians in front of my home, whether I could find them for sale or commission an artist to carve them. Don't you just love the stylized curves balanced with realism and detail?
At one point we stopped near an aqueduct that doubled as a walkway to access the nearby Yulong River. Daniel led me over to the pump station where the force of the river turns a turbine that pumps the water up onto the aqueduct and feeds the fields above the water level. We passed a water buffalo enjoying a mud bath to cool off in the muggy heat. Taking a cue from the animal I stripped and jumped into the river myself.
The water is very clean and refreshing. A swim is highly recommended.
Water Buffalo outside of TownView All Sizes
On the way back the same water buffalo was standing there next to the aqueduct just staring at us. Since I am unfamiliar with their behavior it seemed wise not to agitate the animal by giving it a kiss like people seem to do when they meet a water buffalo.
On the way home we checked out Moon Hill from the classic vantage point in a small village opposite the mountain. It was almost dusk by then.
I stayed in Yangshu for two nights, but packed alot into the time I was there.
The first night I stayed at the He Gu Resort Hotel which is southeast of Yangshuo and kind of far away from the action. It was also relatively expensive. In its defense, the rooms are large, elegantly appointed and decorated. Overall the hotel is nice and receives a recommendation.
The Elegant He Gu Hotel LobbyView All Sizes
He Gu Hotel RoomView All Sizes
Riverview Hotel RoomView All Sizes
He Gu Resort HotelView All Sizes
Returning from the raft ride down the Lijiang the sky began to rain so I ducked out of the pour at the Riverview Hotel which faces the riverfront. Inquiring at the desk revealed the prices were quite reasonable and that rooms were available (but all those with a balcony were taken). So I reserved a room for the next night. While it rained I had some drinks with a Brit and a Scot who had ridden the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow into China.
The rooms are smaller and much cheaper than the He Gu, but the view of the river is sweet, and the feeling is more that of a mountain cabin than a hotel room. Next time I reserve one with a balcony!
During the day Yangshuo is a bustling little town with a healthy tourist trade. By night its a hoppin' shakin' party town. Shopping areas like West Street have innocent-looking storefronts that transform into booming nightclubs and action-packed dance halls by night. The streets are now packed with thrill-seekers illuminated with glittering lights. All the brightly colored signs are lit up and the but more shocking are the huge spotlights flooding the surrounding karst peaks that I didn't see until I ascended to a rooftop club and they were suddenly all around as bright as day.The moon was full that night and I can't believe I forgot to bring my camera! You'll just have to trust me that it was an fantastic night.
Yeah so all I have are these photos during the day that describe a quaint Chinese town, but not the hip nightly festival.
Ok there's bicycling which you're prolly sick of hearing about by now. And you can imagine that with all those unusual peaks it would be a place famous for climbing by now. Tours and equipment for such are available all over town, like Xianqian Road and West Street. Popular climbs like Green Lotus Peak and Man Hill are close by, or head south to Moon Hill which was famously ascended by Jimmy Carter way back when. Undoubtedly some difficult ascents exist which require a skilled hand.
From the outside to the inside of the limestone you can opt to explore underground caves characteristic of karst topography.
On the RiverfrontView All Sizes
At heart Yangshuo is still a cool little town that has not become cheesy yet. Of all the places visited during this trip, it makes the short list of spots I'd return to spend more time.
About this day
August 30, 2012
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