Earlier this year I went on a tour of China, from Beijing down to Hong Kong, stopping off at the Great Wall of China, Shaolin Temple, Xi’an, Yangshuo and Longsheng along the way. I will review each place individually in order to not bore you to death. I travelled as part of an organised group tour with G Adventures with seven ‘strangers’. First up, my favourite place on the tour: Yangshuo.
Where Beijing is the father and Shanghai is the mother (or was that the other way around), Yangshuo is the hard partying daughter (or niece?) of China. This is how it was sold to us, and I suppose for China it was quite hard partying. The town itself is quite reminiscent of European resorts such as Malia and Ayia Napa, but thankfully less so.
There are a lot of bars, souvenir shops and street hawkers, but it’s a lot more tame than its European counterparts: most clubs and bars shut by 2am, even on the weekend, and the drink of choice for most Chinese tourists was shots of beer.
The hotel that we stayed at was on one of the two main bar streets which did make it quite noisy at night, but the main problem was that the rooms were quite humid and consequently the whole group got sick after the Yangshuo visit.
We arrived at night having travelled by plane from Xi’an, and it is a lot more hot and humid than the North of China, although the temperature tends to stay the same day and night. After a crazy bus ride through pouring rain and dirt roads, we arrive in Yangshuo at 11.30pm and went out on the town. As it’s quite a small town with really only two bar streets and then two other main roads that surround the main town, it’s pretty difficult to get lost (this is a big plus in China as I got lost nearly everywhere else that we visited) and it all feels relatively safe.
Another bonus was that it has a wide range of food retailers and you can get some Western food – I know that this is a little heathen-ish when you’re visiting other countries, but after ten or so straight days just eating Chinese food, it was quite nice to have a fried breakfast.
Breakfast Recommendation: Minority Café Great Chinese and Western breakfast all for under £3.50. I’ve never had banana bread before but if it all tastes like this then I don’t know why it hasn’t caught on more.
We also had the worst meal of our trip. It was the first meal that the guide left us to our own devices and we were ripped off and managed to order some pretty abysmal dishes. The restaurant was also not very clean but – and I say this with the impunity of a half Chinese person – China in general was not the cleanest.
Any negative comments is completely undone by the beauty of the countryside in the region.
I went on a walk with someone from my group and we ended up following this man for three miles.
There was only one road out of town the way that we walked and we ended up in quite a traditional village, quite a change of pace from the tourist hub of Yangshuo. We then turned back as there was a fork in the road and the locals were shouting something at us: possibly “why have you followed my father for three miles?”
The first day there, that is full day and ignoring the night before, we just looked around the town and it rained a lot. Also I went on the above walk. The second day was my favourite day of the trip (although when doing ‘peaks and pits’ on the final meal of the trip, I said “Great Wall of China”, as did everyone else. Ah, to be a sheep).
The whole tour was an adventure tour and was previously known as the ‘hike and bike’ tour. I cycle a lot in my free time and would happily go on a cycling holiday around the Yangshuo region. We got a local guide to take us to Moon Hill (below), a farmer’s house for lunch and then around the Yangshuo countryside. The photos aren’t really doing it justice as the views were really breathtaking. The mountains in the picture above are quite unique and apparently there are over 20,000 of them in the Yangshuo/Guilin region.
Cycling around Yangshuo also let me indulge in one of my new favourite hobbies: cycling photography; that is, taking photograph looking through the viewfinder of a DSLR camera while cycling. It is mildly dangerous and I nearly crashed on a few occasions. One of the girls also nearly crashed/fell into a river on a particularly muddy stretch but was saved by a tree.
Here is Moon Hill in all its glory. We hiked to the crescent which the Hill is named after. I wouldn’t name it Moon Hill as it doesn’t look like a Moon to me per se, but I don’t have any other suggestions. We had been hiking quite a lot in the days before this hike so it wasn’t too difficult, although we did come across a few people who were struggling to get up. The views were worth it, as they always are.
For some reason I then swapped bikes with the guide: she was riding a ladies’ town bike and I was riding a mountain bike. Chinese bikes are quite uncomfortable: the handlebars are slightly too far forward and there’s no suspension. The road bike felt a lot nicer but it was a bit sketchy navigating the muddier parts of the trail. Also, the bike that I was previously riding had no mud guard so the guide got a mud trail up her back, for which I still feel guilty.
On returning to Yangshuo, I, ever the adventurer, decided to go on another hike to TV Tower, which lurks immediately behind the town. Our guide said that it was easy to find. The local guide took us there and it was not at all easy to find and when we finished the hike and came back we supposed that we wouldn’t be able to find it again if we tried.
I went with two of the girls from the group who originally didn’t really fancy another hike but came along when it was such a mission to find the entrance. About a quarter of the way up one of the girls was struggling so she told us to go on without her and, as the strong, independent, modern women that we are, we did.
We were following a topless middle-aged man up, but I don’t think that happens to everybody.
Again, the view is always worth it. We were told that the best time of day to go was sunrise or sunset, but as long as the sky is clear you will still be getting good views. If you buy a bottle of water for 15 Yuan, you can go even higher up, but we stayed the other side of the foreboding gate to the TV station.
Eventually our other comrade joined us, we took some cheesy pictures and we all walked down together.
My advice would: be don’t walk this alone as there are quite steep, uneven and slippery steps.
We left the next day. Having only had two days in Yangshuo, I would definitely be happy to go back again, and I think that this is the only place that I would really like to visit again in China. You have to plan it right though, as the weather can be changeable and it does rain quite a lot. Fortunately on our big hike and bike day the weather was lovely and a good time was had by all.
The next day everybody barely moved on the bus and I think some people had muscle pain, but it’s all worth it for the adventure.