First, I’ll say that while this post is filled to the brim with photos, they still don’t do justice to this unbelievably gorgeous part of China.
We had been told by both guides on the trip so far how lucky we were to be going to Yangshuo. Ming told us it was her favorite place in the world, and Selina went on and on about how many Chinese dream of traveling to the Guanxi Province. I was already excited to make our way there and the locals’ rave reviews made it clear we’d made a good decision including the area in our itinerary. I fell in love with pictures online and in books, and was eager to see a more rural side of a country we mostly know for its cities.
I fell in love with pictures and was eager to see a more rural side
of a country we mostly know for its cities.
Yanghsuo and Guilin are only about 50 miles apart, but the drive from the Guilin Airport would take us every bit of two hours. The roads were narrow, often dirt, and full of potholes. Waze would have been yelling at us the entire way about hazards on the road and if you threw a United States Highway between Guilin and Yanghsuo, it would have taken maybe 45 minutes to make the journey, but man am I glad it’s more difficult than that. As we left the cities behind, sensational mountains, winding water, and true quiet took over.
We grabbed a quick dinner of what were becoming pretty standard dishes, and hopped back in the van for the rest of the drive to our hotel on the river in Yangshuo. It was dark as we entered the area, but even so, the “sugarlump” mountains were stunning; in the night, they were only shadows, no detail, no greenery to see, but they hinted at the impressive views that would greet us in the morning.
Yangshuo Resort was the only lodging on the trip outside of Beijing I was invested in beyond assuring our reasonable safety and relative cleanliness; the hotels were mostly just places to sleep, but in Yangshuo I couldn’t say no to this beautiful, tranquil place on the river.
We woke up the next morning, ate breakfast (for me this was coffee, rice noodles–a Southern China specialty, and cornflakes), and went outside to meet Sam who would take us out for a day of seeing the countryside by bike.
As we set off, Sam was chatting with us, telling us about the area, and how he loved meeting people from around the globe and showing them a less known part of China–he’d grown up on a farm in Mongolia and dreamt of seeing the world, so he went to university to learn English. He told us about the community, filled with families and farms, many of which are much less active now than they used to be. He said the farmers could make more money operating boats, so often that’s what they did. He told us about “real life” in China and asked about the US, from the political climate to weather to what we like to do for fun. He liked the sound of Seattle and was amazed that we were able to obtain Visas that would allow us to enter and exit the country as we pleased for so long. He mentioned that because the mountains were made of limestone, many of them hid caves, and Jon and I must have seemed intrigued because pretty soon, he peeled off the road, yelling “Follow me!” A short way off the path, Sam announced we’d be leaving our bikes leaning on a house (unlocked, but he was clearly not concerned). We were going to see a cave! He guided us back on a path across a creek, into a cave easily larger than our home. The inside of the cave glimmered from the floor up to the “ceiling” probably 30 feet above our heads. We climbed around and explored a bit, an experience for which any photos are woefully inadequate, then returned to our bikes (untouched, so Sam’s confidence was evidently well-placed) and continued on the path. Among the sights we took in were rice farms, other crops, water buffalo, cows who wandered and mostly lived in the limestone caves, chickens all around the neighborhoods, kids walking back to school with noodle bowls for lunch, and bamboo rafts floating on the river.
Sam was kind enough to take us by his home. He gifted us beautiful chopsticks, and showed us his rooftop patio. He and his girlfriend collected items like tires and PVC pipes to make planters for flowers. Easily the backyard with the most beautiful view I’ve ever seen.
We returned to the hotel, showered off the layers of mud and rain from biking through (and for some of us falling in..) fields, took a rest, walked around a bit, and headed to dinner. We were all pretty exhausted, but the best kind of exhausted. The whole day was definitely a highlight.
(If you’re interested in a bike tour in Yangshuo, comment below and I’ll put you in touch with our fabulous guide!)
The next morning we were off to Xingping for a “bamboo raft” down the Li River to Yangdi. The bamboo in our case was actually PVC pipes, but the entire experience was still phenomenal. The views were, again, just stunning, and one of the mystical mountain scenes is featured on the 20 yuan bill.
After a dream-worthy two days in Yangshuo, a healthy dose of perspective, gratitude, and awe, it was back to the Guilin Airport to spend a final few days in Beijing!