We spent the morning of our first day here catching up on sleep and errands. But by the afternoon, the sun was beating down to the tune of 95 degrees and we knew it was time to get out and do something in nature. So we rented (typically beaten up) bikes from our hotel, and headed out to the Yulong River, where we had made reservations for a bamboo raft trip down the river.
The logistics of the bike/raft trip were kind of cool. We had set up the trip through Stephen, a short, beaming man who runs the West Lily Hotel with his wife. Stephen told us that a "farmer" would meet us outside the hotel on his motorbike, lead us to the river, throw our bikes on the back of a motor-cart, and transport them down to the parking lot at the end of the raft trip. We could then find our own way back to the hotel by bike.
The "farmer" turned out to be a really cool guy who spoke a bit of English. Whether or not he was actually a farmer I wasn't really sure. All I know is that he was obsessed with my beard. Every time he stopped to wait for us to catch up to him, and he would make beard motions and say "Beautiful!" You see, Chinese men may be able to grow wicked Fu Manchus, but no matter how hard they try, they will never be able to obtain full coverage. Any Chinese beard is destined to be scraggly in the mid-cheek area. It's just the way it is. At another point, the farmer tried to communicate something to Mimi in Chinese about my beard. At first she couldn't figure out what he was saying, but eventually she realized he was comparing my beard to the beard of Karl Marx! I forgot that everyone in China over the age of thirty knows who Karl Marx is.
After a half hour bike trip, we arrived at the Yulong River, which is smaller than the more popular Li River, but in my opinion much more gorgeous. As we waited for everything to get sorted out, an ancient hunchbacked woman approached Mimi. Her product: a fifty cent water cannon. After about ten minutes of this little old lady following Mimi around the parking lot, Mimi caved in. It was no Super Soaker 2000, but we had ourselves a water gun. Armed to the teeth.
Eventually, the farmer led us to our raft and introduced us to our driver, a thin but strong man with bad teeth who used a ten foot stick to steer us down the river. We hopped on the raft, which was equipped with metal seats and a beach umbrella, and went on our way.
The ride was great. Occasionally, there would be a 3-5 foot dip over and down a levee, where they would take your picture as your raft careened down the rapid. They would then pull you to the instant photo lab stationed on a bamboo island in the middle of the river and try to get you to buy the picture. We successfully resisted purchasing the alleged photo of a lifetime, but we're unable to resist the temptation of the ice-cold beer station a bit further down the river.
The scenery was gorgeous. I was able to get some great photos as well, a couple of which I uploaded to my last post. A bit further down the river, we realized that many of the island beer stands were also selling fresh grilled fish. We asked our driver if we could make a pit stop and I ate a little spicy fish from a skewer. It wasn't the most delicious fish I had ever had, but the fish was fresh and the experience was fun.
After a few hours, our trip sadly came to an end. We said goodbye to our driver, found our bikes in the parking lot, and biked back into town. As we got closer to town, we found ourselves amidst a giant swarm of school children who were biking back to their homes. They were very excited to see foreigners on bikes and many yelled hello to us and then giggled to their friends.
The next day, we succumbed to another of Yangshuo's tourist attractions, the infamous Water Caves. I felt a little strange about doing these "package tour" type activities, but after a little convincing, I let go of my reservations and embraced it.
The Water Caves themselves were a little underwhelming. As my father once said to me, "If you've seen one cave, you've seen 'em all." I would tend to agree. The highlight of the cave, however, was not the stalagmites that our guide swore looked like a bathing beauty or a rocket ship, but the mud bath and hot springs. We had come with our bathing suits and hopped right into the mud. After a quick rinse, we then hopped into the natural hot springs. I had never done this before and thoroughly enjoyed it. Nature's jacuzzi!
Perhaps the best part of the day though, was our bike voyage back into town. Instead of taking the direct route back on the main road, we decided to follow a bike trail that was listed on the map we had picked up at our hotel. Supposedly, it would lead us back along the Yulong River around the area we had been the day before. At some point, however, we took a very wrong turn, and ended up on a narrow, mostly stone path that went along the perimeters of the local rice paddies. At certain points, we had to get off our bikes and walk.
Eventually, it spit us out at the river's edge, right at one of the levees with the island photo lab! What were to do? We could either turn back and try to find the proper bike path, or we could attempt to cross the levee with our bikes. The problem was that the levee actually had about six to twelve inches of water gushing over the top. Naturally, we tried to cross the river.
I lifted my bike over my head and began to slowly walk across the river. I tried to avoid the green parts, which I assumed to be slippery algae. The current was stronger than I had anticipated but I made it over the first gap and paused at a little dry spot about a fifth of the way across the river. There, we met some Westerners who had also come with their bikes and were swimming around the levee. They warned us that they had made the same mistake the day before, and that even if we crossed the river, it would be pure rice paddies on the other side. But we had already made it this far, and we weren't about to turn back now.
One of the swimmers was nice enough to carry Mimi's bike across to the other side, and I followed him with my own bike held up over my shoulder. Slowly but surely, I made it to the other side. Occasionally, Chinese tourists on bamboo rafts would try to shoot me with their water cannons. I didn't mind though, because it was all in good fun and I was actually quite hot.
Sure enough, when we made it to the other side, we found ourselves in the middle of a maze of rice paddies. We walked our bikes along the narrow, damp paths that hug the rice fields and eventually made it to a real road. It took about thirty minutes of trudging through the paddies though, and by the end we were quite worn out and dirty and even a bit scratched up. Here is a picture of Mimi in the middle of the paddies.
By the time we had made it back to a real road, it was nearly six o'clock. We decided to track down one of the little fish shacks we had seen along the river the day before and get some dinner. Mimi wasn't eating fish, but I was more than ready to eat some more of the fresh Yulong River fish. After a bit of biking, we found a place that had tables right at the river's edge.
The food was delicious and the view was great. The only problem was that by the time we had finished eating, the sun had gone down and it was rapidly getting dark. We hopped on our bikes and found our way back to Yangshuo. The last mile or so of the trip back though was a bit scary, as we had low visibility. We were careful though and made it back safely.
The next day, we took a local bus to the village of Yangdi, a small town about an hour north of Yangshuo. We had read about a hiking trail that went south along the Li River all the way to a nifty little town called Xingping. When we got off the bus in Yangdi after a very bumpy ride, we were assaulted by a veritable army of ancient hunchbacked ladies who were all selling the same hand-made flower wreaths. This was on top of the swarm of younger touts trying to get us to take a boat ride all the way back to Yangshuo.
After a bit of confusion, we figured out that we had to cross the river by bamboo raft in order to begin the hike. There was only one other Westerner on the bus, who was also trying to do the hike. We ended up teaming up with him for most of the day. His name was Keiran and he was from southern Ireland. He had been traveling extensively for many years and had actually spent five months in India last year. As we hiked along the Li River, Mimi and I picked his brain for useful tips and advice about traveling in India.
It was fun talking with another traveler and the conversation made the hike pass by quite quickly. Every so often, a local boatsman would pop up and offer us a ride down the river to Xingping. Having done the raft trip a few days before, we weren't that interested, but Keiran seemed very excited by the idea. Eventually, we found someone who would do it for a reasonable price, so we did the second half of the hike by boat. I wasn't crazy about the boat, which had a motor engine and was made out of plastic instead of bamboo, but Keiran was beyond stoked, so we were happy to do it.
This portion of the river is very famous for its beauty and is even featured on the back of the 20 yuan note. With the help of some ladies on another boat, we were able to locate the exact spot and take a picture. After we got off the boat, I was able to get a picture of a pregnant water buffalo. I can't decide which picture I like better. You decide:
Eventually, we arrived in Xingping, which was a cute little town that reminded me a bit of Pingyao. The buildings didn't seem to go higher than two stories and life seemed a little bit slower and more traditional than the bigger towns and cities. In a bizarre coincidence, while we were eating lunch (noodles and fried duck eggs), we ran into Albert, the German lawyer who we had met on the train from Shanghai to Beijing. In a country of 1.3 billion people, you can't help but ask yourself, what are the odds?
After lunch, we walked a bit more around Xingping. Here are a couple of pictures:
After a bit of wandering around, we were quite tired. We located the bus stop and hopped on the next bus back to Yangshuo.
That was yesterday. Today it has been raining for a good portion of the day. This morning, I looked around Yangshuo's local market, which featured some very brutal slaughtering of animals. I hope to post some photos from this excursion soon.
In the afternoon it cleared up though and we were able to go for one last bike ride (this time on a tandem bike) along the Yulong River. I got one last spicy roast fish (which I was unfortunately over charged for) and we biked back into town. In a couple of hours, we will be taking an overnight sleeper bus to Shenzen, which is just across the border from Hong Kong.
I must be honest, I am very sad to be leaving Yangshuo. Its relaxing and peaceful here. The people are nice and the countryside is phenomenal. I can only hope that one day I can come back.