Friday, July 1, 2011

The Yangshuo Countryside

It's been many days since I last posted, and have since trekked 6000 feet up Hua Shan mountain, stopped in Xi'an to see the terra-cotta warriors, flew to Guilin where we relaxed a bit, and have spent the last 2.5 days here in Yangshuo. I'll talk about those other places soon, but just wanted to give a brief update on today's awesome journey! I apologize for being brief, but I am typing this from my iPhone (this cheap hostel has wi-fi!).

Today was the first day Rachael and I were able to escape the tourists. We woke up and had a leisurely morning where we dropped off our laundry that really needed to be done and then grabbed breakfast/lunch at a surprisingly not-so-touristy restaurant which is a rarity in this town. We then rented nice mountain bikes for $5 each and started on a long and gorgeous journey.

We biked out of town on the main roads which took us a good 45 minutes. Thankfully, the shoulders here are all very wide and the drivers are incredibly respectful to bicyclists. Drivers often honk their horns just to let you know they're coming and tend to drive as far away from the shoulder as possible, even when there is oncoming traffic.

Once we made it out of town, we veered off onto a smaller one lane road that hugged the less traveled Yulong river. There were still a bunch of tour busses taking travelers to their resorts along the river, so the first 30 minutes weren't that much fun. However, the traffic died down and the scenery became incredible. We were surrounded by mountains on both sides, biking along a slow moving winding river that was surrounded by rice paddies. I really enjoy countrysides and seeing these farming communities, so this was incredible.

We often veered away from the main road to get some more peace and quiet and see the countryside better. The people in the villages were really friendly, and we often had brief exchanges where we'd try to speak Mandarin and they'd try to speak English. At best, we learned each others names and figured how far away we were from things. One of my favorite parts was when Rachael thought we should turn one way when actually it led to a dead end at the river. When we began going that way I could see a Chinese man looking at us with an expression of 'why are those white people going that way?'. After a few minutes we reached a very remote stretch of river where a woman was preparing some vegetables. No one else was within shouting distance. The river was really pretty, so we hung out in the shade for a few minutes and laughed with the other woman who was really happy and trying to tell us stuff we couldn't really understand.

After continuing up the river a long ways, we reached a place where there was a bridge with people jumping off it into the water. A bunch of tourists also made it out here because there was a direct road from town, and everyone was swimming. Rachael and I grabbed some ice cream and put our feet in while watching tons of Chinese men in tighty whiteys jump off the bridge. We then crossed the bridge and followed a much more remote path along the river and through a series of small farming communities. There were no other tourists here, which helped add to it's beauty. It was a tougher bike ride since we were often riding on one food wide dirt paths that were wining between rice paddies, and we had to walk our bikes for a few minutes because I wad afraid of falling off the elevated path and into one of the paddies. When a local 12 year old boy on a giant bike came by riding through this like a pro, we of course hopped back on ours and became a bit braver. We ran into 2 local women going the same way as us and they helped lead us to the dragon bridge (our final destination) and kept us from getting lost. We actually passed the bridge and one of them came flying down the path after us yelling to us that we passed it! The stretch of the bike ride on this side of the river took about an hour, but would have taken much longer if she hadn't helped us!

After this really long ride, we decided to take a direct route back to town. We rode on the shoulder of a highway (again with huge shoulders and courteous drivers) and returned our bikes an hour later.

Today was incredibly fun and refreshing because we were able to escape the hoards of tourists as well as the ever-present crowds and traffic of Chinese cities. The Yangshuo countryside is incredibly beautiful and the karst mountain landscape is just as nice as it looks in the photos.