Yangshuo. The home of the bank note
Guilin is known throughout China for its incredible natural beauty and breath-taking scenery. in fact, it is SO well known it is literally seen every single day, because it is on the back of the 20 RMB bank note. Yangshuo is popular among tourists for its karst peaks, rivers, caves, and temples, as well as its laid-back cafes and bars. As such, the city is visited by a large number of Chinese tourists and foreigners alike and has a relatively large expatriate community.
Yangshuo is now a large tourist town, different from most typical Chinese towns. It is relatively air and noise pollution free, (provided you get away from major roadways), very clean and does not usually suffer from endless massive traffic chaos. Instead, it harbours wonderful restaurants and shops, an almost unlimited number of hotels and hostels, and is fairly developed by mainland Chinese standards. Yangshuo is well-known among travellers in Southern China, and is a major stop on the trail of many independent travellers. The main reason people stop in the town is to explore the local countryside by bike, try their hand on the world class rock-climbing sites, or take a bamboo raft down the river, viewing the famous ¥20 scene in the process.
After an easy and uneventful train ride we arrived in Yangshuo and had a local lunch, which included local delicacies such as ‘beer duck’ and ‘beer fish’ and even a few beers for ourselves. Always a great part of these trips is to try the local food and it never disappoints. A short ‘tuk tuk’ ride from the train station to the hotel was something I’ll remember for a long time. meant for 6 ppl, there was 8 of us in the back and the thing was slower than a tortoise, but we made it in the end and it’s a funny story to tell people in the future. Another China moment. Eager with anticipation after a hearty lunch, and with a chill in the air it was onto bamboo rafting on the Li River
Wrapped up in jackets and coats, except for a real UK man’s man who was in shorts and t-shirt (crazy?) while the rest of us had multiple layers on, it was a short pleasant walk to the rafting entrance. It was along this route that we could stop and take a 20 RMB photo, and it really does look like it does on the bank note.
And while it may not be a hidden secret anymore, in fact there were signs everywhere telling you where to stop and stand for the picture, it was still nice to get that iconic ‘shot’. or at least in my case, TRY unsuccessfully to get the shot. The UK guy mentioned above, his name forever a secret, ironed a 20 RMB note the night before to get that perfect shot. Did he actually get it? that will also remain a mystery.
The bamboo rafts fit 4 to a boat, and it was a leisurely pace which allowed us to drink in the supreme and awe-inspiring surroundings. It was very relaxing, actually too relaxing as another unnamed person fell asleep on the raft. we started and ended in the same place, I think actually it wold have been nice to just do a 1-way trip and we saw the same scenery going up as we saw going down. But a nice experience nonetheless. You can’t really visit Yangshuo and not go on the Li River.
We were shuttled to the XingPing ancient town next, although I would say its more of a village than a town as its tiny. Such a juxtaposition coming from the mega city of SZ. This had tons of charm and character, especially the little lanes and alleys which gave the best picture opportunities. There were lots of gift shops and the usually tourist ‘tat’ but hidden away were some real local items such as mushrooms that give men ‘power’ and drinks that are good for women’s health. some truly fantastic local produce was also available including the best mangoes and tangerines I’ve eaten in china. fresh and sweet these really hit the spot and left me salivating for more. This was also a good place to but fresh chilli or other chilli products as its grown locally and it is potent and cheap.
My favourite part of the trip was next, a nice hike. Small staircase, steep inclines and some rock clambering made for a fun and challenging combination. I would say it was a moderate hike but some of my fellow group may say it was difficult, either way enjoyed it immensely. After 45 mins or so of climbing, we were rewarded with a view from the gods.
A panoramic vista below, blue sky, small rooftops, and the winding mountains and river. It was like looking at a postcard. It is something I will remember for a long, long time. The hearty excursion left us all ravenous, so a large dinner was in order. Freshly produced and tasting delicious, this satisfied our empty bellies. A bit spicy for me but the food seemed to go down well with the group.
It was onto the Gingko village next. The Maidenhair (Ginkgo Biloba) is a unique tree, featuring fan-shaped leaves that turn a vibrant shade of yellow in the fall. This town becomes a tourist attraction for only 4 weeks every year, because this is when the trees are a golden colour. Truthfully it was a bit of a madhouse here with flocks of tourists going photo crazy, but there were some secluded areas to walk around and have a think. While not the dense foliage of, for example, the Cherry Blossoms in Japan it was nice enough. Not something you can see in the hot climate of SZ, so I was grateful to see something a bit different. In the walk to the town there was abundant fresh local produce for us to eat/buy. The pumpkin chips were delicious.
The last leg was a very sleepy village, in fact it was almost a ghost town. It was full of local elders just sat watching the world go by, happy or sad, it was impossible to know. The town was an enigma, it has new apartment buildings which ruined the local aesthetic and beautiful old buildings which were left to ruin. Not much to say about this town, it was pretty forgetful, except for the pig that was running around. Have t b quick to spot it though! Another lasting memory will be the ‘fat’ baby. Wrapped up in so many layers it was almost like a basketball you could bounce.
If you have never been to Guilin, and in particular Yangshuo, I suggest you go there. The scenery is beautiful, the air is fresh, the sky is blue, the people are friendly, and the noodles are delicious. Its only a short hop from SZ on the train and you wont regret it.
Both Guilin and Yangshuo are easily reached by high speed train from most major railways stations in south China