We have finally arrived in Yangshuo, a famous backpackers' haunt in the south of China in Guanxi province. This will be our final stop on our odyssey before heading back to Shanghai and onwards to Aus.
Yangshuo is quite westernised in parts, and is actually advertised on Chinese TV as a place where westerners and Chinese people hang out in western-style cafes. The main drag is actually called West Street (although that is originally because it is on the west shoreof the river that runs through the town).
The landscape around this area is really unusual; karst hills rise out of the land like alien sculptures. We started out in this area in the small but pretty city of Guilin, which has a real holiday feel to it. At last the weather was a bit finer and I was able to discard the thermal vests I have been wearing constantly!
We spent a few days in Guilin seeing the local sights (many of which are these hills) - ElephantTrunk Hill looks like an elephant dipping its trunk into the river, and Camel Hill looks like, well, a camel. It sounds less attractive than it is in reality I promise you!
In the evenings the river tributaries and city lakes are all lit up, and we spent a pleasant few hours strolling along the banks and across the bridges (allvery Venice-like in places) watching Chinese Opera being performed on a lake island or enjoying the floodlit dancing waters of the lakefountains set to music. On another lake there are twin pagodas, one silver and one gold, sitting on stone lotus flowers beside each other. They are floodlit at night and look beautiful.
We decided on a river boat trip to Yangshuo, as this is the way to travel around here, and anyway it was one of the few modes of travel we hadn't experienced in China. We chose the Chinese tour(Y190 each - about 15 pounds) instead of the English tour (Y500!) as the only difference was that the tour guide spoke English, and all we wanted to do was see the scenery in any case.
As the river level is really low after a dry summer, we were ferried by bus toanother embarkation point downstream where dozens of big flat-bottomed river cruisers were lined up to receive the tourists. Along the river bank local people stood selling fruit and trinkets until the boats departed.
It took about half an hour to get out of the little wharf village (and this is low season!) but when we got underway the scenery was really breathtaking. We slowly wended our way along between the karst hills in the sunshine, surrounded by well-heeled young students from the Beijing no. 55 High School all dressed up in head-to-toe designer gear (not fakes) and dripping in electronics like iPods and digital cameras.
I took dozens of photos of the hills and the people working the river, either selling fruit or gifts from the bamboo rafts they punted alongside the tourist boats on, or fishing or doing their laundry.
We were served lunch - a fairly basic meal of rice, stewed bamboo shoots and some pretty salty tofu, which one could augment by ordering other more expensive dishes, mostly river fish of one type or another.
After about three hours we arrived in the sleepy village of Xingping, where we disembarked amongst an army of sellers and taxi drivers. We managed to find the local bus (Y5.5 toYangshuo for one hour through the countryside) and sat wedged into our narrow seats, backpacks and all, for the ride. The female bus conductor crammed as many people as possible in this bus (up to her legal limit - we were stopped at one point by the police doing as afety check) and she even had little footstools for people to sit on in the standing room. I sat with a local woman beside me on a low stool, a small child harnessed to her back, whilst a long-legged young man sat with his legs folded up under his chin in front of her.
We drove through beautiful countryside, small haystacks punctuating the low fields as small home-made beehives clustered in otheryards. The hillsides around us jutted up into the (at last!) flawlessly blue sky and my all-black travelling outfit seemed far too hot for once.
In time we arrived in Yangshuo and were assaultedfrom all sides by women with pictures of their hotel rooms - one lady had pics of a little place called Fawlty Towers which actually looked lovely and had been recommended to us by an Israeli couple we had chatted to before. We headed for our hotel, the Morning Sun Hotel, which was located off the main drag and would hopefully be a bit quieter than the rest of the town. It is a lovely place, with a little courtyard in the middle, shiny marble in the halls and dark wood polished floors in the rooms.
Our room actually has a balcony overlooking a pedestrianised street below, where the daytime sellers (key-cutting, clocks, beltsetc.) make way for the more touristy sellers at night time (bags, scarves, jewellery). It is a bit of luxury for a change (although in low season right now the prices are great) as we intend to stay here almost a week.
I think Orlando might be a bit unimpressed as this is most certainly not the "real China". Instead, the main Street, Xi Jie(West Street) is lined on both sides with cafes selling Western food (real coffee! French toast! Banana pancakes! Hamburgers!Pizza!) as well as Chinese food (although they are really surprised when you order Chinese). Shops sell every type of trinket and item of clothing. Huge fans are a fashion here (the type which look like a handheld fan but are actually about 6 feet across for hanging on the wall).
There are rock-climbing cafes (Karst Cafe and Spiderman’s!) for the more adventurous, and bike hire everywhere forless than a pound a day. Other places I have been promised offer acupuncture and massage (I fancy a bit of foot massage I think) as well as calligraphy classes or Chinese lessons. I think I will like it here although I suspect Orlando will have to take off on a mountain bike once or twice to get out of here. Never mind. I can shop!!!