Monday, 16 February 2009

Yangshuo - Part One

The first time that I walked down the main street in Yangshuo I was in continual danger of bumping into someone or getting run over as I was so busy staring at the truly stunning karst mountains to pay attention to anything else. Normally, the idea of somewhere being a ‘backpacker’ town would be enough to fill me will horror, but Yangshuo completely won be over with its pretty, bunting decorated streets, relaxed pace, friendly people and startling beauty.

Having only previously visited the metropolises of Beijing and Shanghai, it was a surprise to see people walking about carrying the traditional shoulder yoke with two baskets, normally filled with farm produce to sell on the street – which in rural China includes live chickens. Despite obviously relying on tourism for much of its income, and being stuffed full of hostels, hotels, eateries and souvenir shops, I was pleased to see that it was also still a functioning rural Chinese market town.

On our first night we were lucky enough to stumble across the excellent Seventh Heaven Café. We made the mistake of straying a couple of times during our stay, but never found anywhere else in its league. My favourite dish was their hummus and pitta bread, which was made entirely from scratch when you ordered, and was easily better than anything I ever ate in Greece.

We were equally fortunate in our hotel, West Lily, run by an extremely helpful couple called Lily and Steven. They also have an adorable little girl, just over a year old, who knew full well that she was far more interesting than the postcards I was writing.

The first thing we wanted to do was take a boat trip down the river Li, and after being quoted a ludicrous price of 2000rmb in Guilin, found that we could do a river trip from Yangshuo for under 100rmb per person. The boats leave from Xingping, so we took a local minibus there from Yangshuo, giving us the opportunity to check out the lush local countryside, filled with orange groves and vegetable fields.

To get to the boat landing point in Xingping, we walked through a street of old style Chinese houses, complete with old men playing a mahjong outside and dogs snoozing on doorsteps. If it wasn’t for the glow of televisions seen through open doors, it felt like it could have been the China of a hundred years ago.

The river cruise itself induces me to a frenzy of superlatives: if I was actually paying for my airfare, that trip alone would be worth the cost. The scenery is so amazing, that, if one was a theist in a playful mood, one might think that God had got bored with sensible, everyday landscapes and allowed himself the luxury of indulging his powers to the full and doing whatever he wanted. I have no doubt that a geologist would have an alternative, but no less astounding, explanation.

It was probably also the most tranquil experience I’ve had in China, and after four months of the hustle and bustle of Shijiazhuang, cruising on the clear river, contemplating the astounding natural beauty and animals quietly grazing on the shore was a tonic to the soul.

Other tonics were provided at Monkey Jane’s, a hostel whose rooftop bar is an almost obligatory stop off point for visitors to Yangshuo. We chose not to sample the snake shooters, but instead headed for the 2-for-1 cocktail menu, and although service can be a little tardy, they certainly mix a great mojito. As well as the snake liquor and enviable views over the town to the river, the bar boasts possibly the most ragged pool table I have ever seen. This however was not much of an issue for me, as my pool skills are so bad there is little that can make them worse. We did however enjoy playing several cocktail fuelled games, and met an impressively varied medley of travellers.


  1. Nice long post! However this only makes me want to visit China more sadly... -.- Oh well, maybe someday.


  2. Mojitos in China. Quite the paradox. Lovely writing, I look forward to my returns....