In my travel spreadsheet I have a note from a former colleague who has deep knowledge of China. The note reads, “Yangshuo –> Most beautiful!” After 6 nights in this town surrounded by karst peaks, I agree.
My first full day in Yangshuo I planned to see the surrounding area on bike. At the reception area of the hostel (Aside: Sudder Street Guest House could be the best place I stay this year) another woman, Margarita, was headed out biking and invited me to join.
Shortly after leaving the hostel, we realized our paper maps were questionable. This is the 21st century though so Google Maps (with VPN on) became our primary navigational tool. Even with Google Maps, Margarita and I took a few wrong turns. We biked on dirt roads, paved roads wide enough only for scooters, and one highway as we traveled through neighborhoods, farm fields, and the countyrside. At midday we took a picnic lunch break.
Our ride took us to the Li River where we realized (well, Margarita realized because my navigational skills are poor) we were on the wrong side of the body of water pictured below.
The location where Margarita and I crossed the Li River.
After standing and appreciating our view for a while, we started discussing crossing or turning back. Then, a local woman spotted us. Through gestures from across the river, we developed a shared understanding: Margarita and I wanted to cross the river with our bikes.
The woman took off her flip flops and rolled up her pants. Then she began walking across the rock path in the river. At first, Margarita and I were worried she could fall in the rushing water so we began yelling, “No, No,” hoping she would turn back to avoid potential injury. In hindsight, our local friend likely walks across the river at this point often.
When the woman reached us we cheered and she smiled. Then, we tried to determine how much money it would cost to take a raft across the river. Again, with gestures, we understood she would charge 30RMB (less than $5USD) to take us across the river on the bamboo rafts locked and docked next to us.
Bamboo rafts docked where we wanted to cross the river.
Our boat captain gestured for us to get on the raft. Margarita loaded her bike and sat down. I waited to see if the Captain would ride Margarita across and return for me or if she wanted us to ride together.
Next, instead of gesturing for me to board, our boat captain tried to push both bamboo rafts out of the culvert. She was working with both boats because they were locked together. After 30 minutes of maneuvering, with us helping as much as possible, Margarita and I agreed the two rafts together were not going to fit out of the culvert’s opening.
The two rafts in the culvert.
At this point, Margarita motioned for the woman to unlock the padlock. The woman agreed. With serious strength, she ignored the lock and started to unwind the heavy wire connecting the lock to the other boat. In a few minutes, she freed the raft!
I laid my bike on the raft, sat on top of it, and we shoved off. With ease and skill, our captain maneuvered us to the other side of the river. We unloaded with our bikes, paid her, clasped hands and smiled big, said xiexie and headed to eat our lunch.
Biking, seeing the countryside and real life in a rural area, enjoying time with a new friend, exploring, getting lost, adventuring – this day had it all!
It was a 2.5 hour train ride on the high-speed, D class, bullet train from Guangzhou to Yangshuo. From the Yangshuo train station it was a one hour bus ride to the town of Yangshuo.
I took my first tuk-tuk ride of this Year of Sarah Joy from the bus station to the hostel.
Margarita and me at the start of our bike ride.
A popular tourist activity is a bamboo raft ride down the Li River. At this terminus, rafts are stripped of their chairs and men haul the rafts onto a truck for transport back upstream.
As Margarita and I sat on the ground eating our picnic lunch, streams of Chinese tourist groups passed by. The people carried umbrellas, dressed in nicer clothes and shoes, and in some cases, wore color coordinated shirts. I imagine they were as amused by us white, sweaty, dirty tourists sitting on the ground near bicycles as we were entertained by their get off the bus, take a picture, get on the bus approach to site seeing.
We passed many farms in the afternoon half of our bike ride.
The waterfront area in the town of Yangshou.
Will and I took a day trip to the neighboring town of Xingping. Xingping became famous when this landscape was selected for printing on the 20RMB note. We took a post day trip swim too.
The TV Tower in Yangshou is the highest point in the city. At the top of this karst mountain are the TV antennas for the city. This is the view after a 45 minute climb. On the way up I met Francesca and her husband, Italian tourists spending two weeks in China for her 4oth birthday.
I loved the Sudder Street Guest House! The view from my dorm room and some quality time on the patio.