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Kartst, bikes, and river rafts

overcast 26 °C


Arriving in Yangshuo wouldn't be complete without the standard terrifying bus ride, complete with horn blaring and ultra-aggressive driving. It didn't help that it was only a two lane road most of the way. Once we arrived, we followed the directions that the guesthouse had given us. It was only 2kms from downtown, which didn't seem too bad at the time. Unfortunately, the bus station was far more than 2kms from the downtown. There were plenty of tourist maps on billboards to follow to the Li River where large karst formations stood in the background, quickly fading as the sun set. We continued down the long yellow corridor and onto pitch black dirt roads. Luckily, Ryan had his flashlight.

In the end, we walked nearly an hour with our heavy bags, to make it to this little guesthouse in the countryside. It would only be fitting that the signs were poorly mapped and that another tourist couple had to give us directions to the cozy garden. When we arrived, it was indeed cozy with a nice porch in front, relaxing lobby and warm colours. They even had Lonely Planet China. Our room on the fourth floor was like staying in a hotel: soft cushy bed, A/C, towels, soap dispensers and even toilet paper (rare for China). It was a welcome change from the rice terraces.

Supper across the street at their sister hostel was pretty delicious. I had one of their recommended dishes, dragon eggplant that had a spicy, sweet and salty sauce and peppers. Ryan had a chicken burger and fries that he quite enjoyed as well. Back at the hostel, the women at the front, who spoke wonderful English, helped us plan out our day for tomorrow and luckily for us, everything was able to be booked on a whim.

In the morning, the fog covering the spectacular view from our fourth floor window concerned us a bit. We went downstairs to take part in the do-it-yourself breakfast that offered a fully equipped kitchen, eggs, tomatoes, toast, jam, tea, coffee, milk, yogurt all for about four dollars each. The jasmine tea alone made it worth the price, at least for me. It was nice to make something for ourselves for a change as well instead of being restaurant dwelling bums.

The fog remained after breakfast, so we postponed our plans to go rafting on the Li river until the afternoon and chose to do our cycle earlier. With the hot temperatures here, 25-28 degrees, that would probably be more agreeable too. The guesthouse rented us bikes that almost functioned and even gave us a picture book of directions to follow for their countryside cycle to Dragon Bridge. The bikes had really squeaky brakes and trying to switch gears was up to the bike's discretion, although I appreciated the fact that they actually had gears.


The mostly peaceful bike ride took us past fields of rice and mandarin trees. Some were still covered up with plastic, probably to protect them from the cooler temperatures at night. We passed a colourful elementary school, went through village back alleyways, past chickens, dogs and farmers. There were some crumbled brick buildings too, just past their prime.


After being treated to minimal traffic other than motorbikes and the occasional van, we had to go onto the main highway for about 3kms to reach what Ryan referred to as the embroidered rock. He had been reading up on some interesting Chengdu museums with embroidered balls the night before, and was seeing the word everywhere. The ride was alright for the most part, except for the horn-happy tour buses that took up most of the road. Thankfully, 3kms wasn't that far on a bike.


The next villages had more apartment buildings, not much bigger than three or four stories and a relaxing downhill stretch. Just past a bamboo patch, the village turned back to open fields and we soon glimpsed the Yulong river. Locals paddled bamboo rafts with tourists sitting to take in the view of the not so far off karst rock formations.


We reached Dragon Bridge after passing through one more village. We could tell immediately based on the number of souvenir and food vendors along with ladies asking us if we wanted a raft tour. We'd already arranged ours on the Li Jiang river so we declined. We walked around to take pictures and I munched on a cheap and tasty cob of corn while Ryan laughed.


The photos we took didn't really do the plant-covered bridge justice as the riverbanks were too crowded with vegetation and buildings to offer a clear vantage point. We also made the executive decision to skip the optional bridge in the interest of making it to the bus station to go rafting on time. It would have been neat if we had an extra hour to be on the safe side.


On our map, there seemed to be a smaller road that followed the river and could keep us off the highway. Maybe it did exist, but instead we found a really bumpy road with a dead end that cost us twenty of our a hundred and twenty minutes. Not wanting to get lost again, we opted for the main busy road. Ryan asked every local he saw for directions, just to make sure we were on the right path. That beautiful downhill section on the way in was a killer walk in the midday heat, since my bike decided to go into first gear right after I had climbed the whole thing.


With just over an hour left, making minimal progress we found the eroded rock to mark our entrance to the main road. I had my doubts that we'd make it, but forty five minutes of intense cycling -- at least fifteen of those spent coasting on downhill sections, three through a dusty tunnel -- proved that the feat was possible and we had time to spare. We might not have been the most desirable people to sit next to on a confined bus space to Xingping village.

The ride was relaxing after that. We stopped in one village to pick up more parcels than a UPS truck for about ten minutes, including large bags of rice, and then a few stops later, we made it to the village. A woman from the boat tour met us at the bus station. When I went to use their washrooms, not only were they squatters, they also only had half-walls without any kind of door. It really made you realize that everyone is there for the same reason no matter how you dress it up. We had a long walk to the boats after that.

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The bamboo rafts here weren't the authentic ones we saw on the other river. These were made of thick PVC pipe and painted to look like bamboo. The boats ran by motor power instead of manpower and the sheer number made me cringe for the environment. I felt a little bad boarding one, considering we had paid a higher price just to get it to ourselves, because we were tourists and weren't offered the alternative.


The first view was the one on the 20 yuen bill of the karst hills. The driver pulled out bill to show us the resemblance. I could understand why they'd put such a nice scene on their money. The landscape continued, big and small peaks, some treed and others bare. The shadows in the distance soon became more peaks as our boat chugged along.


A migraine didn't help the boat situation. I knew I should have been enjoying the spectacular views with caves, karst, greenery, water buffalo, but I was ready to go back to the guesthouse, without the dreaded bike ride. Ryan gave me an Advil, water and we eventually found a washroom on an island. I was happy to pay for the little metal shack as long as it came with a door.


The ride back was far more enjoyable and we took some more pictures. The morning fog had cleared and we could see much better now. Most of the other bamboo boats had gone back too so the noise was reduced. We got a little lost in town after a free ride in their electric car shuttles, bus eventually found the bus station and made our way back to Yangshuo.


Once there, we were not looking forward to the crazy cycle back. We looked around at restaurants until we found one with some affordable dishes that we both wanted to eat. I ordered some spicy beans as well a very basic fried rice. Ryan ordered some sweet and sour chicken that came on the bone. After a few pieces he noticed the chicken was pink and stopped eating it. We tackled the fried beans instead, which sadly came with meat, meaning I had to pick it all off and inspect each piece. The fried rice was meat-free though.

We went into a travel shop in hopes of buying the train tickets that the train station wouldn't sell us in advance yesterday. Must be bought two days in advance, no more. In the shop, the woman was playing on her phone so we waited there until she acknowledged us as most employees who value their job would. Instead she kept playing on her phone and when we didn't leave, she got up and sat on a street bench to make a phone call without even looking at us. Sorry for disturbing your social life. It astounds me how some people still have jobs with work ethic like that.

We rode back to the guesthouse in the dark, but made it there quickly. The women at the front desk there actually helped us figure out that there were 13 train tickets left to Chengdu and if we went to another hotel earlier in the morning, we just might be able to get them. I really hoped that we could.


Posted by Sarah.M 16:54 Archived in China Tagged trees village corn bike chicken bamboo raft yangshuo karst mandarin dragonbridge

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