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Relaxing in the countryside

Yangshuo, China
Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The journey from Guilin to Yangshuo couldn't have been easier. We took a local bus from the hostel to the main bus station and then a coach to Yangshuo taking a mere 1 and half hours. The one thing we have noticed so far is just how cheap the transport is. The local buses have a flat fare of 1CNY (approx. 10 pence) and then the coach to Yangshuo was just 22CNY. A bargain just £2.20 for 1hr and half journey, unbelievable!

When we researched Yangshuo we decided not to stay in the main town as we wanted to be in the countryside. It was a wise decision as the town looked very similar to previous places we have seen. We stayed 4km out of town and the local scenery was simply out of this world!

As soon as we departed from Guilin it was easy to see why the area was one of China's original tourist destinations. The stunning karsts mountains jut out from the earth absolutely everywhere and nestled at the foot of many of the hills are quaint farms with ripe crops waiting to be harvested. The only word for the views is stunning. We have been to many beautiful places in the world but Yangshuo is simply breathtaking. Although it is difficult to compare beaches with cityscapes and/or the countryside this is by far the most beautiful landscape we have seen in China and if not the best, one of the best in the world.

Day 1

The hostel was set at the foot of a karst mountain, so we decided to take advantage of our location and go for a hike and lose ourselves in the wilderness. It was a lovely way to begin our stay here and we couldn't help but be excited about the next few days.

In the evening we headed out of the hostel and down a long dark road with our phones being the only source of light as there were no street lights. We went to a place nearby which had an outside area set up with tables. It was advertised as the farmer's restaurant and this couldn't have been a better description when halfway through preparing our meal, the husband was sent to the nearby fields with a torch and a knife and comes back a few minutes later with freshly cut vegetables for us.

In the end we were served by the whole family and the wife who was the cook was so pleased when we told her how good it was! Her smile seemed to light up the entire area. Although it is only day one, we have already fallen in love with Yangshuo with its good food, amazing views and lovely people.

Day 2 - Caves and Moon Hill

The hostel recommend we visit Moon River Caves as they are the most natural and least visited. They are the furthest away from Yangshuo so the caves had the ingenious idea of opening a ticket office just before the other two main caves where you can leave your bike and be bused to the entrance. All was going well until we couldn't find the ticket office so after a lot of hunting and avoiding the masses of touts trying to sell us tickets for the nearby caves we resorted to asking a couple of police officers. One didn't speak any English and the other had limited vocabulary and after telling us it was just 3 metres away when we looked a little confused he decided it would be easier to show us. So with a police escort we set off! However when we found the office it was closed so they proceeded to ring the caves for us only to find out they had shut down! But this didn't put our new friends off as they were determined to find us a cave to visit so they escorted us to Moon Caves recently renamed from Black Buddha. We paid 120CNY to get in but later found out they have a half day and full day rates and you guessed it we paid for a full day. We are sure the police took a cut of the full day ticket for directing us to the caves but who cares we turned up with a police escort how cool is that?

The first part of the caves was very picturesque and amongst the amazing stalagmites and stalactites our guide often shouted and pointed out what he thought were obvious shapes and animals. Horse, elephant, mushroom, coral it never seemed to stop but we were often left staring into space long after he impatiently wanted to move on to the next 'obvious' shape. We didn't once question the authenticity of this cave but strangely our guide did bring it up saying everything is natural and not touched by man. Now either these were very good fakes and he was testing us or he was hinting at the authenticity of other caves, which backs up our theory and blog on the Seven Sisters Cave.

The next part of the caves was the bit we were waiting for as we had heard a lot about it before visiting. The mud baths and hot springs note there is no 'natural' in front of hot springs.

TThe mud baths brought out the inner child in both of us and after warily stepping into the cold slimy water we were soon throwing mud at each other as if we were 7 again. We never remember playing in mud was this fun! Apparently the mud contains special minerals but who cares about that when you can swim and throw it at each other? The only downside is the pool is not heated so you can't play for too long before you need to head for the hot springs. Unfortunately not before an ice cold shower on the way!

The hot springs were great and although we have had many showers since being on the rails this was the first time we had been able to take a dip in nearly 50 days so we both didn't want to get out.

Moon Hill

Next on our busy itinerary was to climb Moon Hill a distinctive karst hill with a hole through the middle. The climb didn't take half as long as expected and after taking in the breath taking views from the lookout point we followed the 'advice' from the hostel and took a diversion around the 'no passengers' sign and continued to the top. As this was supposed to be out of bounds the path was incredibly well trodden and there must be many people who do the same each day. The views from the top were unbelievable and were far more impressive than those from the lookout point.

Day 3 - Day 50 on the rails

Today we had planned to visit Dragon Bridge and the lesser known Fuli Bridge. The bike to Dragon Bridge took us past some of the most magnificent awe inspiring scenery we had seen so far; although we have managed to get some great photos the camera cannot capture the sheer beauty of the area. Unfortunately Dragon Bridge although very authentic did not live up to the hype and was outshone by its surroundings so we continued onto Fuli Bridge and in our opinion although slightly more impressive than Dragon Bridge again it didn't live up to the hype. After visiting the bridges we decided not to loop back on ourselves and to continue heading in the same direction which wasn't a bad idea as we took in some more stunning scenery that we would have missed. However we soon found out this meant we were on the wrong side of the river without a bridge in sight. We eventually found a dam which had a small amount of water freely flowing over the top. Ross had the idea to cross and Sonya a little more hesitant agreed as it was the only option. Half way across Sonya with the coordination of an elephant on roller skates lost her balance and took a dive. Wet from top to bottom the locals passing thought it was comical. The fated phone took a bash and a soaking but luckily this time survived unscathed!

Afterwards we stopped for lunch at the unfortunate Chinglish typo named Peasant Family Restaurant which had us chuckling through our meal.

Liu San Jie Light show

Written by the director of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics the light show was very impressive and lived up to the hype. The venue was just as amazing as the show itself set on the Li River surrounded by 12 karst peaks, outdoor theatres do not get better than this. The show has over 500 performers and lasts for about an hour and a quarter which just flew by. We both read the story behind the show before but wished we hadn't as we couldn't follow or relate any of it to the performance and in a way this spoilt the show. Unless you understand Chinese fluently there is no way you will be able to follow it either so it's best to just sit back and enjoy the lights and tremendous performance. It was well worth seeing but as the theatre is fairly small there is no benefit in paying for the 'better' seats, we organised ours via our hostel and ended up sitting quite high up in the theatre and we are sure we got better seats than the face value of the ticket.

Today was 23c a far cry from -35c just a month ago and it would have been laughable to mention sun burn well surprise, surprise today the sun came out and so did Sonya's freckles. It's time to find the sun cream!

Tourist Hotspot

Yangshuo and surrounding areas are a big draw for tourists and unfortunately this does have a few downsides. The prices especially food are significantly more expensive than we have been used to paying even in Xi'an another big tourist destination. Expensive is obviously relative to what we have been paying, 2 people can still eat out for less than £10 with drinks. Also the hawkers are much more pushy and border on being verbally aggressive at times reverting to Chinese when you don't buy anything. You don't need to be fluent in Chinese to understand what they are saying! Water is sparse and bottled water is expensive and costs more than beer :-) A bottle of water cost us 5CNY when a large beer only cost 4! We brought 9 beers for 29CNY great for relaxing after a day on the bike.

Exchange Rates!

Unfortunately after last week's news that the UK have lost the 'AAA' credit rating and the £ diving against many currencies this has had an impact on our budget. We have yet to work out the full damage but the Thai Baht is now only 43 to the £ when we first visited it was circa 70! Thanks Gordon Brown you are still affecting our lives long after leaving office! Rant over and we will try and stay politically impartial from now on.

Hostel Review

We stayed at Yangshuo Outside Inn located just outside Yangshuo. The Inn is owned and run by a European and the story behind what he went through in redeveloping the run down farm buildings to what they are today is a real tale and adds to the hostel's charm. Our room was gigantic but lacked a few mod cons no heating and a pitiful shower to name a couple. The shower wouldn't normally be such an issue but with all the outdoor activities we really needed a good one. We are staying in the middle of the countryside so you can't expect everything but the internet is infuriatingly slow even by Chinese standards. The staff were again fantastically helpful and spoke amazing English. A great budget stay but unfortunately lacks a few essentials.


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