A Travellerspoint blog

December 2014

Yangshuo

Kartst, bikes, and river rafts

overcast 26 °C

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

-Sarah

Posted by Sarah.M 16:54 Archived in China Tagged trees village corn bike chicken bamboo raft yangshuo karst mandarin dragonbridge Comments (0)

Day two at the Longji rice terraces

semi-overcast 18 °C

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Our second day at Longji we woke up early to take on a 4 hour hike to the JinKeng rice terraces. After light breakfast at the hostel, we took a look at our not so detailed map and headed out. We had to climb back up to the Nine Dragons and Five Tigers view point to get to the hiking trail, but the views were so amazing we really didn’t mind. While climbing, we saw some more village dogs exploring the terraces, and one decided to be our guide up the hiking trail. Whenever we were taking too long to catch up or stopping for some oranges, he would run back to investigate what was taking us so long.

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After about an hour of hiking uphill we came across a sign assuring that our little tour guide “Buddy” was leading us in the right direction. We passed a cemetery shortly after with large brightly colored flower wreaths lying atop large stone tombstones. Buddy decided to go jump around some tall grass, chasing birds and what not. We stayed along the path occasionally passing some local farmers who use the paths to get to one field to the other. After about 10 minutes of walking we could hear Buddy barking, looking for us. We kept going hoping he would catch up but he never did.

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Following the narrow winding path, we made it to a clearing where a local woman lured us up a hill for a good view by her pig barn. She was member of the Yao cultural group, where the women are known for having very long hair. She wanted us to pay for her to let hair down so we could take a photo. We declined and quickly kept walking.

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The closer we got to the Village DaZhai, the more pushy hawkers we would come across. Many signs to the terraces seemed to be missing and locals were of little help except trying to get us to eat at their restaurants. Fed up, and hungry we turned around and stated making our way back to Ping’an. The menu we checked had been all in Chinese, little help when Sarah needed vegetarian food.
As we were leaving, we got another tag along dog, “Buddy 2”. We were quite creative when it came to naming rice terrace dogs. The way back was quite a bit easier as it was mostly downhill, letting us enjoy the scenery. Buddy 2 followed us all the way back to Ping’An, quite a feat, considering it took the better part of 2 hours to hike.

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It seemed every time we tried to make our way back to our hostel we would get lost in the village’s complicated streets. Once we finally found our way we ran into a fellow Canadian who was also getting lost in the complex village. We pointed him in the direction of the hostel and would have a early supper with him. He was from B.C. and skipping a Canadian winter for ninth straight year. He was also eager to tell us, and all the other hostel patrons about his blog.

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After supper, we headed back up to the top of the hill to enjoy a sunset over the rice terraces. It was quite the sight.

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-Ryan

Posted by Sarah.M 16:19 Archived in China Tagged rice dogs hike terrace Comments (0)

Longji Rice terraces

semi-overcast 14 °C

The next morning, we slept in and had breakfast at the hostel. We could see the beautiful harvested terraces out the window in the lobby area. Cats wandered in and out of the front door, leaving rodent treats for their owners. The hostel girls weren't too impressed. Construction rang out next door.
We used the free map to plan out our day of visiting the sights at Ping'an village and maybe the neighbouring one with the oldest rice terraces. The girl working at the front confirmed that it was possible to do.

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We started up toward the viewpoint of the Nine Dragons and Five Tigers. I wasn't sure I could do the whole hike with the uphill sections not letting up, but we eventually made it to the top. The view was pretty incredible every time we took a break. Our cameras got no rest during that climb.
The first crop of rice had been harvested and now the second crop was coming in slowly. Many of the terraces in this area were flooded, giving the spectacular views for miles. An impressive irrigation system was in place to transport water from one terrace to another via a dug channel or bamboo or cement open pathways. Small streams ran down the side of the rock path.

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At the viewpoint, the flooded terraces blended, one curve into another. Even with the overcast sky, the reflection still gleamed. A man at one of the shops at the top offered to take our picture with the Nine Dragons view in the back and we took him up on the offer. He had clearly done that a few times before. It was a bit odd to see the commercial shops up at the top of these beautiful terraces, although the terraces weren't naturally occurring either.

We walked to the next view point Seven Stars with the Moon, which took a bit longer than our first climb, maybe an hour. The green terraces rewarded our efforts along the now mainly flat trek. We passed larger bamboo forest as well as bamboo chopped and split in half that showed off the different segments.
This viewpoint had more shops and restaurants that the previous one had had, but luckily, there were enough Chinese tourists ahead of us to keep the vendors occupied. Some of the women would pay to get dressed up in ethnic-wear from the local tribes, like the Yao with a reputation for their incredibly long hair, and take pictures at the viewpoints.

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The visibility was starting to improve, the fog lifting and almost showing the mountains opposite us. We continued down the path to Old Zhuang village where the first rice terraces were a hundred or more years ago during the Qing dynasty. Our first attempt at reaching it got interrupted by us taking a random turn to marvel at more terraces at our level, but we soon realized the path would take us back to Ping'an, the village where we were staying.

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The real walk to Zhuang was pretty short and each viewpoint required a fair number of stairs. We walked on many concrete stairs and narrow paths through the village a bit to find the second viewpoint. There would be no way to bring a car up to any of these points which was why we saw everything hauled by people or animals. Chickens wandered the paths and dogs too. I couldn't help but pet an adorable one on the way down.

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We finally found the second viewpoint, a bit trickier when half the signs were uprooted and lying on the ground and we had to pick them up, reorient them and then find our way. The views again were nice, but I think the ones near Ping'an were probably the best.

The way back to the hostel was equally tricky. From our entrance point last night, we thought the town was small, but from the other side, hundreds of hotels, restaurants and other wooden/concrete buildings crawled the hillside. As we walked by, many had been locked up or were under construction. I read that during peak season, this village could hold up to 6,000 guests. A far cry from the current maybe hundred around in mid November.

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Eventually after climbing and descending many staircases, we found the road with some construction that we had walked up yesterday and we followed it down to the hostel. It was quite the trek yesterday, looking at it in the daylight. It was crazy how the body could just power through.
We settled in for a late lunch/early supper. I tried veggies and mushrooms, since they had such flavourful mushrooms around here but wished there were more of those and less greens. Ryan had his heart set on the sweet and sour pork (off the western food menu) as a French woman had recommended it to us yesterday.

Posted by Sarah.M 18:30 Archived in China Tagged dog village rice hike terrace longji zhuong Comments (1)

On the train to Guilin

semi-overcast 18 °C

Despite almost missing our train, the whole ride was a great experience. We slept soundly on our bottom and middle bunks. Trains in the hard sleeper class (still not as hard as my mattress in Thailand) had three bunks, the top one being the most cramped and cheapest, requiring quite a climb. It was nice to enjoy the bottom bunk where we could actually sit up and have a conversation in the morning.

We bought some snacks for breakfast which turned out to be expired dried yam and we could really tell that those weren't fresh. Quite the chewy affair. I also snagged expired orange juice that thankfully didn't make me sick. It was carbonated and sugary enough that I figured it'd be okay. The dates also could be packaged dates but based on our expired chocolate we couldn't be too sure.

We kept watching the countryside migrate become less and less urban as we headed away from the coastal areas. The landscape became more rocky, and mountainous. Ryan spotted some rice terraces as well.

The captain of the train -- perhaps just a worker, their uniforms were so official looking -- was quite intrigued with our presence. Although he spoke no English and we no Chinese, he kept trying to have conversations with us. Our short sleeves were too provocative for his tastes and he was quite concerned we'd be cold. He checked out Ryan's luggage tags on another visit too. When I finally changed into a shirt with three quarter length sleeves, I gained his approval.

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A few hours later, one of the woman working helped us get off at the right stop at Guilin. From the train station, there were tons of vendors calling out for tours to Yangshuo or to the rice terraces, but we wanted to find our bus station instead to avoid getting scammed. Once we walked the street, passing many fruit vendors -- selling oranges, bananas, pomelo, rambutan and even one that was yellow and appeared to have fingers called Buddha's hand -- and restaurants, we made it to the train station. We were happy to find a woman who spoke English at the ticket counter, but less thrilled that we still weren't at the right ticket station. Luckily, she wrote us out directions to the next one in Chinese to show the driver along with the bus driver.

At the other bus station, another woman spoke English at the ticket counter. We were getting spoiled in Guilin and we boarded a bus to Heping that left about twenty minutes later. The driver really gave our nerves a workout with a driving practise that's less common in North America: driving into the oncoming lane to pass even when there's oncoming traffic, as well as honking the horn when the other cars, in their own lane, refuse to move over. It really got the heart racing and I was surprised they still had functional horns on their vehicles.

We didn't arrive at our transfer spot, the town of Heping, until after five. All the public buses had gone, but there was one guy willing to take us up for 40RMB each. It seemed steep but he was the only game around so we hopped in, got our rice terrace entry tickets at the office, and he drove up the mountain as the sun began to go down. We could still see the terraces climbing the side of the mountains as we drove. The driver stopped at one point on the mountain and Ryan got ready to fight him, unsure of his motives. It was just nature calling and the man came right back.

When we arrived at the gate, I figured out why our driver had been texting people along the drive. Woman and men with large baskets offered to carry up our bags for us but we declined. Others were trying to sell us rooms. A woman followed us for a few kilometers advertising her hotel, but we knew of a hostel we wanted to stay at, since they would have some English to help us plan, and we told her we had already booked a place. It was another kilometer or two up the road, past construction, but luckily the hostelling international sign helped reassure us that by pure luck we were in the right place.

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The room was alright, thin wooden walls and a bit cold, but the right price. The floors creaked like nobody's business to go down to the third floor to use the washroom. But they had free laundry facilities, aka a sink and clothes line, and a restaurant with an English menu so we could eat supper: noodles and beef for Ryan and bamboo and egg for myself.

Posted by Sarah.M 15:59 Archived in China Tagged train rice fruit hostel terrace expired longji chewy Comments (1)

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