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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Guilin and Yangshuo: Day 5

Life doesn't get much better than waking up early, walking out onto the balcony of the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat 阳朔胜地 and enjoying a cup of coffee while looking out over the Yùlóng River 遇龙河. Thus began our fifth day in the Yángshuò 阳朔 area:

Looking back on it, I now wish we had stayed the entire time in Yanghsuo at this hotel, instead of the single night we were there. At the time we made the reservation online, we decided that one night was enough due to the inn's distance from town. Had we known that the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat was within easy biking distance of much of the best of the area's countryside scenery, we would have extended our stay and enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere. If there's a next time...:

Later in the morning, bamboo rafts began appearing on the river, floating languidly by the inn:

Eventually, the time came to pack up and leave the room, but before departing for Yangshuo, we took advantage of the inn's free bikes. My wife rode solo, while my daughter and I teamed up on a tandem:

The skies were threatening to open up and unleash a downpour, but the scenery more than compensated:

Our destination was Moon Hill 月亮山, four kilometers (2.5 miles) from the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat. This limestone outcropping with an eroded crescent-shaped opening is a surreal sight as it suddenly opens up in front of you:

It was a 30-minute walk up 800 steps (a number that Amber constantly reminded Pamela of as the latter huffed and puffed her way to the top) to reach the "moon". The views, of course, were worth the "effort":

My wife felt so sorry for this old woman who walked up the steps in order to hawk drinks that she bought a Coke from her for RMB20 ($3.25):

The trail continued on past the moon-shaped hole to another lookout point. However, at this point, it began to rain heavily so we made our way back downhill to the parking lot:

Though it had rained a lot so far on our trip, this was the first time for the three to be caught outside in a downpour. Fortunately, Pamela had come prepared with some cheap plastic raincoats. Back on the bikes, the rain showed little sign of letting up, so we pulled off the road at a small diner for lunch, where the menu included local treats such as fried pork with taro:

By the end of the meal, the rain had stopped and we got back on the bikes:

Parking our bikes beside the Yulong River, we were given a ride on a farm vehicle past the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat to a point upriver where rides on bamboo rafts were on offer:

This is one of the most popular activities in the Yangshuo area - sitting on a chair on the raft while a boatman using a bamboo pole gently guides you down the river. Amber and I were on one raft, while Pamela rode solo on another:

The scenery, naturally, was splendid:

At one point, we floated past the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, and our room with a balcony:

Continuing down the river and past a couple having wedding photos taken along the riverside:

The ride took almost 90 minutes in total, and ended where we had parked our bikes. Before returning them to the inn, my wife stopped to buy some grilled fish:

By the time we dropped the bicycles off, it was almost 6:00, and we took advantage of the hotel's free shuttle to Yangshuo, where we checked into our home for the final three nights, the Yangshuo C.Source West Street Residence. Located in a Ming dynasty-era building, and tastefully decorated in modern retro-Chinese chic, it may not have had the serenity of the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, but it did provide some sense of isolation from the world outside:

Which in Yangshuo was a necessity, as the town's main drag, Xijie 西街, was cacophonous. Back in the 1980's, Yangshuo was a quiet backwater that had the fortune to be "discovered" by young Western backpackers cutting a Chinese path on the Banana Pancake trail. Many fell in love with the area and never left, opening up bars, cafes, inns and restaurants, while local entrepreneurs rushed to cater to the visitors' tastes (such as Western-style breakfasts, for which I was very grateful). Before long, as the Chinese economy took off, with affluence affecting leisure time trends, the Chinese also started coming in droves. The result is that Yangshuo is far removed from being an idyllic rural Chinese backwater. Instead, Xijie teems with tourists, Chinese and non-Chinese, walking past endless souvenir shops, eateries, and even bars and discos pumping out horrible Chinese dance music. Touts proliferate to the extent that the weary tourist ceases to be polite when declining their sales offers. English is widely-spoken, which can of great help to the non-Mandarin speaking visitor but provides little defense against the hawkers and vendors. Still, Yangshuo's atmosphere can be fun, and the setting, surrounded by tall spires lit up at night by white spotlights, adds to the mood:

For my daughter, it was all great fun, especially when she ran into her classmate yet again. It's a small world in China:

Next up: Going up the country on two wheels.


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