|Perfect way to end our time in China. Finally found a relaxing town, where we can easily escape to take in the rural life of China. Yangshuo is the backpacker haven we have been craving for a little while now, and is very much like some of the towns we visited in SE Asia. Even better, the school holidays are well over now, so there are a lot less local tourists around. Although it was a little busy on the weekend when we arrived, during the week it became very peaceful.
Yangshuo is a small town by the Li River with a very relaxed feel to it, plenty of good cheap accomodation and food - including lots of western food! And, of course, there is the reason the backpackers come here, the towering limestone peaks looming/overshadowing the town, the river, and the surrounding countryside. We loved it at once, so much so, that we booked ourselves into a nice old style hotel and settled in for a week! Our hotel room is very large, with a small balcony, and has wooden floorboards, again a bit like the SE Asia hotels we stayed in and an absolute bargain.
The main tourist street is called West Street, and has lots of old chinese buildings which are now restaurants, bars and souvenir shops. Being pretty much fully pedestrianised, it makes for a very pleasant place to wander, apart from the odd tout or two. The Li River flows past the end of West Street, and this has really beautiful scenery with the mountains, fishermen, and water buffalo going past. There are a number of peaks around town, and they look pretty impressive above the streets. (You can see much more of them close up than you can from the main streets of Guilin). The peaks also look fantastic as dark shapes at night, especially as we got closer to a full moon at the end of our week here. The full moon, rising over Green Lotus Peak as we were eating just off West St, was a definite big highlight. We have been extremely lucky with views, we have had fantatic one of the last three full moons. The last two being at Halong Bay and the Three Gorges.
There are also a couple of parks in Yangshuo with peaks of course. We went to one, and climbed for a view, although the park itself was pretty shabby compared to the ones in Guilin.
For the most part, we relaxed in town trying out the many restaurants, but particularly enjoyed Susannah's Cafe. This is a well established place where we enjoyed local specialities such as drunk duck and beer fish! Both really yummy. The duck is cooked well and truly in a local red wine. While the local Li River fish is cooked in a big stew of chillies, spring onion, tomato, ginger, peppers and of course beer! We also really enjoyed chatting to the friendly staff there as they got to know us from our several visits.
We also got to help out the fledgling restaurant called Yak Cafe, with their menu. Clarified the english on it which was in a little disarray, and put the menu in a more coherent order (beer first!) And by the time we came back the next day, they had re-printed the lot (still with some mistakes we must say). So anyone coming to the Yak Cafe in Yangshuo, we did that!
Also, while in town, we took advantage of the end of season bargain sales and shopped for gifts and souvenirs. Good to see our haggling skills are still very much in order, cos these guys start at some very high prices!
We also managed to drag ourselves out of town twice! The first time was to bus to Xingping, also lying on the Li River, north of Yangshuo. From here we caught a boat up river towards Guilin. There is some really fantastic scenery here - karsts of course, but also fishermen, and some great shots of large water buffalo swimming against the current of the river. This area is also where the 20 Yuan note scene is depicted from. Nancy also made me climb a mountain at Xingping with 1,159 steps - in 36 degrees, and incredible humidity. I had had enough of mountains and boy did we sweat it out! I had also forewarned that we might not see much in the haze, and although this was true, there was still admittedly some great views over the town and river.
Best of all was our cycling trip along the Yulong River, a tributary of the Li River. The scenery was, of course, the usual amazing karsts, but it was just great to get away from it all in such a rural location. Following the river, we went down dirt tracks which led to isolated villages (away from cars that is). Lots of little kids chasing us, old men and women in doorways seeing what we were up to, and people working the rice fields (of which the lush green and buffaloes reminded us very much of Vietnam). We also passed small creeks with lots of ducks, the odd buffalo wallowing in mud, and even a fish farm. To top it off, we even had a cool day for cycling - thank heavens! We had had really oppressive tropical heat (that damn Autumn tiger!!) for our first few days in Yangshuo, of which apart from going to Xingping, we had spent relaxing in town, and in our A/C room. But the afternoon straight after getting back from Xingping, a big thunderstorm broke the heat and this cooled things down wonderfully for the next couple of days. (It is the only rain we have had since Yunnan). With the humidity gone, we had perfect conditions, especially for sitting out at night and having a beer. The autumn tiger returned with a vengeance on Thurs/Fri, but at least we were not up to much by then.
Our last night, the full moon night, was very special as well. Went down to the river, with mountains silhouetted by the moon, and went out on a boat to witness the night cormorant fishing. This is a unique way of fishing indeed. The fishermen rear the birds from birth, and teach them to fish on their behalf from their rafts! Under the spotlight, we got to see six cormorants constantly diving for fish. They have their necks tied so they can not swallow, and every now and then the fisherman would haul them on to his raft to empty their gullets. The birds are not on a line, so could get away, although they probably know they would starve with their necks tied. And admittedly the birds did look pretty pissed when a big fish was taken from them! They fish most nights until 4am, and then the birds necks are untied so they can have some of the catch. Only problem is that there are a number of fishermen here with trained cormorants, so there are very few big fish left in the river, so most of this is for tourism now. Was a great night out on the river enjoying watching these amazing birds diving under a full moon.
Yangshuo was very peaceful and a fantastic end to our time in China, especially since the last couple of weeks in China we were struggling a bit......But thanks to school terms starting again and our last 3 towns we stayed in, we are leaving with a good feel about China. :)
Nancy footnote: Had another fantastic massage, this time Chinese with a medical foot massage, it bloody hurt, the woman had fingers of steel, but I am sure it has done me some good (as long as tomorrow I'm not covered in bruises......)
But if anyone is in Yangshuo, I recommend going to Lai Lai Xui Xian Ge and getting the foot and body massage a steal at 70 yuan ($9 US) for two hours.