Heading out in kayaks along the Li River a small boat floats in front of us.
Arrived into Yangshuo just after 8:30 AM. Thankfully I slept pretty well so wasn't too tired in the morning. Learned there was a kayaking trip leaving at 9:00 AM and decided to take part so after checking into my room at the Hotel Explorer. Didn't leave me much time to get ready so I quickly changed clothes grabbed the cheapo camera and a bottle of water and headed out to the main street to pick up the van that the hotel desk had arranged and headed out to the Li River. Stopped and picked up two other kayakers on the way (Barry and Gillian from Ireland). They were finishing up a southern route from Beijing to Hong Kong and would be taking the train in the reverse of what I had just done to Hong Kong via Shenzhen later in the day.
Looking out across the river (Karst Country)
But for now we were going to go out for a relaxing morning on the river. We were driven about 20 minutes to the river, shown our raft, given a life jacket, and sent out on our way down the river. No forms to sign, no guides telling us what to do or where to be, just a local Chinese man following us from behind with a motorized bamboo raft. Sometimes he would fall behind us, sometimes he would be ahead of us but he never bothered us or forced us to hurry up the pace. The three os us liesurely paddled down the placid river enoying the stunning scenery. I was reminded quite a bit about the karst scenery around Krabi, Thailand where I had spent the first 2 months of my travels. There were many amazing views from the river.
West Street (a pedestrian street) in Yangshuo
Would have loved to have had my new camera to get some better photos, but too risky with getting wet in the kayak. So instead the small camera would do. We found a small cave nestled into one of the cliffs along the river and spent a short time exploring that before getting on our way again. We continued to lazily make our way down the river until we pulled out around 12:30 where our "guide" had stopped along the river's edge. We helped him load the kayaks on his bamboo raft and then he led us up to the small town and a bus stop where we would catch a ride back to Yangshuo (then he went back to take the kayaks back up river).
Back at the hotel, I spent some time settling into my room, which I had not had time to do earlier. Grabbed a late lunch at a nearby restaurant and spent some time talking to the server who wanted to "practice" her English.
A reflective scene on the river
Relaxed about the main thouroughfare of town (West Street) until 4 PM when I met up with Angelika (Geli) and Simone (Simi) for a bamboo rafting trip on the river. Quite touristy, but enjoyable nonetheless with some amazing views of the surrounding areas.
Back at the hotel again for some Happy Hour drinks with Paul, and then headed out for pizza at another restaurant in the area. While eating I was approached by two Chinese girls on holiday in Yangshuo. Again they wanted to practice their English skills with Westerners (it was actually suggested that they come to Yangshuo to do just that). We had an interesting conversation about a variety of topics, but eventually the activities of the day combined with the overnight train journey led me to say goodbye and goodnight and head back to my room to call it a day.
Prepping for the Yangshuo bike ride
Skipped breakfast this morning and then just met the gang for a bike ride in the Yangshuo countryside later in the morning. This is obviously a common activity in Yanhshuo as there a variety of bike vendors around the town offering bike trips (touts approach you regularly offering the trips). The bikes are in pretty rough but generally serviceable condition. We headed out of town weaving our way amongst the towering karst formations. The scenery was beautiful but the clouds and haze made the overall viewing conditions very poor (especially from a photographic standpoint). I can only imagine what it would be like here on a crystal clear day without the hazy views. The biking was fun though on a combination of roads and some side trails in the hills.
Moon hill karst formation
I especially enjoyed being back on a bike for the first time in ages, even one in such rough shape.
We stopped at one particular karst formation known as Moon Hill, so-called for the half-moon arch that is carved into the hill (the remnants of an ancient cave eroded all the way through the hillside). Entering the park area, we took a quick pit stop for some beverages and then a group of us decided to pay the entrance fee to climb to the top of Moon Hill (I think it was 30 or 40 Yuan). As we approached the the starting point we were followed by these tiny, old Chinese ladies carrying tiny coolers full of water and soft drinks, lots of postcards, and even books about Moon Hill and the Yangshuo Region in general. It appears that 1 or 2 lay claim to a group of people walking up the trail and they work you to death.
It was funny at first but quickly became a bit obnoxious as well. Paul and I picked up the pace up the stone steps heading up the trail in a semi-successful attempt to open a gap between us and them. But every time we looked over a shoulder they were still there, trudging up the hillside trying to get some of our Yuan.
The good path (nice stone steps) ends at the base of the half moon-shaped exposure. We stopped here and observed a few adventurous souls rock climbing underneath the escarpment. We took the requisite photographs and then proceeded to the side trail to the very top. This was a very treacherous trail. I would have hated to climb it in the rain as in many areas the trail was worn to slick-smooth stone.
On the very top of Moon Hill
At least they little old ladies did not follow us up this route. At the top we could see at over the whole area...at least that which was visible through the haze. We commiserated a bit about the viewing conditions while looking around and then walked, jumped, slid, fell, back down to the main trail. And who would be waiting for us but our very own souvenir sellers once again. All the way down they hassled us. Finally I gave in and bought a Sprite from one lady for 10 Yuan (3 Yuan more expensive than the 7 Yuan down at the snack bar at the bottom) and she stopped pestering me. It was worth the 3 extra Yuan just for that. Back down we met the rest of the crew and headed back off on our bikes again.
We had heard of a local farmhouse restaurant where we stopped and ordered lunch.
Typical Chinese style meal
We had another amazing banquet of food and I was really enjoying the family-style meals they served at many of the restaurants in China. Then it was back on the bikes for the final leg of our journey back to Yangshuo. After resting briefly most of us went out for dinner to a local beerfish diner for dinner. Beerfish is carp caught from the local streams cooked in beer (and other spices and vegetables) and served with rice and other dishes. It was a different and delicious taste. After dinner Helen and I meandered over to Bar98 and met up with Geli and Simi (who did not join for dinner) for some drinks and conversation. Of course it started to rain so we had to stay and consume a few more while biding our time (it didn't make any sense to get wet).
Out and about by the river
Finally the rain stopped and we all headed back to the hotel for an evenings repose.
Had some free time in the morning, so after getting a bite to eat I found a spot to partake in my first local Chinese massage. Like Thailand, a good deal can be head on massages for the equivalent of less than US $10. After a relaxing 1-hour it was off to the supermarket to gather some snacks for the next long train journey(s) ahead. A bit more about Yangshuo before I wrap this entry up. The surrounding area is incredibly scenic formed by the same geological processes that built the karst formations in Thailand. Millenia ago this area of China was part of the ocean floor, hence the possibility of these formations to occur from the underwater dissolution of limestone layers and then shaped further by eons of erosion by the elements once the seas gave way to land.
Variety of restaurants in Yangshuo
The city of Yangshuo is a mix of Chinese and Western tastes. Many ex-pats have started businesses with the help of locals and this gives the city a very touristy vibe albeit mixed with some Chinese sensibilities. That's both a good thing and a bad thing, but I would not let it preclude one from visiting this stunning natural area. But with all locations good things must come to and end. It was time to move on and head towards the Yangtze. It was a twisted and convoluted path to get there, but get there we must.