Nodding heads from sleepless nights in Shanghai and a 30 minute drive put us about half way between Guilin and Yangshuo (the two main tourist stops along the Li). Yangshuo is the less hectic, more rustic alternative to busy Guilin.
A handful of other boats navigated the river, a random assortment comprised of bamboo rafts, commercial two story tour boats, derelict tramps and makeshift fishing platforms. Spaced between this motley armada were groups of Water Buffalo making their way into the river. They created ripples with their kicking legs while chewing on palm stalks. The rest of their kind rested lazily on the bank, mud encrusted sides baked hard by the setting sun.
All of the smaller craft made a brief stop at a bend in the river where dense forests run in all directions with a wall of peaks hemming in the area. We disembarked to new crowds of ancient small women who were once again hawking goods, this time the necklaces and “rare/ancient” coins replaced by cheap beer and citrus fruit. Making our way through the shouts of “hello! Hello?” we found a set of shanties and makeshift huts with more rural-Chinese-neo-capitalists. Everything was up for bargain, even the bathroom as one of my traveling companions finagled a price of 1 Yuan ($0.15 USD) instead of twice that price. Our goods for the return trip were a skewer of spiced and grilled soft shell crab and shrimp along with few beers and indigenous fruit (all for about $3 USD). Heading back to where we had started, the sun splayed its rays between the karst peaks.
The van ride from our point of origin along the river to Yangshuo was a little over forty minutes. Arriving in the town we found it somehow charming even with the crowds of tourists. The streets were lined by three to four story buildings with Chinese tile roofs, their store fronts occupied by bars, an array of international restaurants and dance clubs made visually dizzying by flashing lights illuminating a haze of cigarette smoke.
After filling ourselves with berry flavored Tsingtao beer and unexpectedly good pizza, we made our way through the shops, bargaining for t-shirts and tourist goods. After about an hour we hailed a taxi for our hotel.
The Yanghuo Village Inn is located a short drive away from the city center. A welcoming cluster of lights illuminated the blackness as we broke left from the path into what our driver told us is called “Ancient Yangshuo” (we found out later that “Ancient Yangshuo” is simply a local moniker). It’s a cluster of small buildings that seemed to belong to a time somewhere between the Ming Dynasty and the Communist Revolution.
Scooters and Rice Paddies
The next morning we grabbed a quick breakfast of noodles in the hotels’ courtyard with fresh squeezed orange juice (the oranges grown on the premises). Afterwards hotel staff called a taxi for us and we hitched a ride into town. The crowds were just as thick as the night before, albeit with a different make up; families with children rather than rowdy partiers, fighting the mid morning heat. Our time was limited so we opted for a tour through the countryside on electric scooters.
Our trio of cycles (my wife rode behind our guide) traversed through busy lanes and honking horns. The traffic narrowed out as we made our way to the outskirts of the town. Suddenly tiled roofs gave way to terraced rice paddies sandwiched between karst peaks. Palm fronds and bamboo shoots formed a semi-canopy overhead. The only others sharing the road were the occasional bicyclist towing massive bundles of wood or trucks made up of only an exposed engine and flat bed.
After about an hour of riding we took a break at a small restaurant located off the road. A few other locals sat nearby chatting in Mandarin waiting for their lunch. An old man near us sat in silence smoking a cigarette. We ate chicken, rice and a local beer as we listened to our guide’s stories of growing up as a little girl in poverty. She’s now a mother in her forties and works several jobs to put her children through school. She taught herself English on the streets by interacting with tourists and like most of the working class in China is determined to make a better life for herself by the means of her own ability.
After lunch we made one more visit to the center of Yangshuo to grab a drink in the shade near one of several streams bisecting the town. I made my way through a labyrinth of narrow alleys to find what the street sign had advertised as a roof top bar situated atop an eight story hostel.
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