A perfect way to end China

Yangshuo, Guangxi region, 4-5 November

For our final stop in China we decided to reward ourselves with a couple days of pampering and relaxation by the pleasant Yulong River in Yangshuo, which is regarded one of the most beautiful counties in China. Its local scenery of the crystal clear Li and Yulong rivers snaking through limestone hills embodies the essence of Guilin.

Since the 80’s, Yangshuo county became popular with foreign backpackers such as ourselves. Today it is a resort destination for both domestic and foreign travellers. In the last thirty years village life has transformed from farmsteads and farming to resorts offering river-rafting. Though there are clear signs that given another five years it may well be a different story, when we arrive during the tail end of the high season it is still the quiet and peaceful place we were hoping to find, perhaps partly in blame of (or thanks to) the local transport mafia.

According to Wikipedia, Yangshuo is easily accessible by bus, but really they may as well have described it as ‘a major ball-ache’. Though only 100 km south of Guilin, it takes four buses, a golf buggy and a minivan, plus four frustrating hours of escaping taxi scams and feeling pretty lost, to finally get to the resort. Thankfully it lives up to the glowing reviews of the glorious views it offers of the Yulong River, as enjoyed here with a cold beer!

In case anyone reading this is planning to head in the same direction, let me save you from some of the hassle you’ll encounter from the Guilin maffia: take city bus K99 to the South Bus Station, ignore the ‘welcoming committee’ offering to take you to the ‘bus’, instead ask any of the bus drivers for the bus to Yangshuo (25 RMB p.p.), and once in Yangshuo find the Tourist Transportation Centre where a shuttle will take you to the resort area. Mind that this plan is by no means fool-proof, as even the bus personnel may try and usher you into a private car, or at the very least overcharge you for the bus ticket. In the end we get off easy paying a mere extra 10 RMB.

In the morning we set of on bicycles the resort offers free of charge. Being a Dutchman, there’s really no need to say more. Bikes you say? For free you say?? Let’s go already! In true Dutch fashion we have now rode bikes in every country we’ve visited. Strangely, in spite of providing her with regular exposure, I can’t help but feel that Lauren does not each time grow fonder of riding bikes. Which is probably not helped by the fact that I caused her to fall and scrape her knee (her version of events).

We’re off to see Moon Hill, which has its name because of the crescent shaped hole inside the rock. The pleasant cycle path from the resort leads us along and over the river, through nearby villages, to the hill’s entrance where a guy in uniform shakes us down for 4 RMB, explained as a bicycle parking fee. To begin the climb, we first have to enter through a photo-op with a group of Chinese dressed up in traditional outfits.

When crossing the platform they spring into action as if stung by a bee and begin posing next to us. It might be the already considerable morning heat, or the fact that I’m making myself believe they do not want to have to do this either, but suddenly I find myself almost agreeing to a picture. Until I remember I’d rather step barefoot on a piece of Lego than pose with some strangers pretending to be ethnic minorities. That was a close one..

A big sign that says Nixon Trail, tells the story of how in February 1976, the former US President visited Yangshuo and spotted Moon Hill from the nearby road. Amazed, he asked (quote): “Is the moon on the mountain you pierced with a missile?” (unquote). Having gone up the mountain, Nixon instead becomes convinced the hole is made by the sky itself. Here’s to judge for yourself.

The surrounding area is great to explore and we find plenty of scenic spots riding our bikes back to the hotel.

A Yangshuo favourite is taking a bamboo raft down river, but after seeing the endless stream of boats pass by the hotel we decide to give this one a miss. Something about being stuck behind twenty other boats doesn’t seem like the best way to enjoy this beautiful scenery..

So our 40-day tour through China has inevitably come to an end and we’ve both had the best time. As has become our custom, before taking the train to Hong Kong, we’re checking in to a transit hotel tomorrow where it’s time to sit back and reflect on our visit, presenting you with the scores for China!

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