Journey to Yangshuo

Chapter 8

Nov. 5th, 1991 “Road to YangshuoDay 43:

“We packed the mountain bikes and set off for 阳朔 (Yangshuo) through 65km of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. Breakfast of bananas before tracking south, skirting the Li River, through rice paddies to a travellers oasis.

It was well after noon before we were racing into Yangshuo. The first place we came across was the Youth Hostel, which we decided to make a two-night stopover. For only 4RMB (A$1) it was incredibly cheap. In this dorm room, we met Steve, who had only come for a few days but ended up staying a month (NB. this was the cheapest place in town).

For dinner, we headed out to one of the small cafes recommended in the Lonely Planet book. I was surprised by the correctness of the article -this was a real tourist haven. The food was great and the prices were very reasonable.

Nov. 6, 1991 “YangshuoDay 44:

“After a big night drinking with some Germans (we also ran into our expat German friend, Vernon, from the train trip) we were slow to rise. Paul had food poisoning so would spend the whole day in bed. I, on the other hand, was keen for a big day out exploring our surrounds.

I met Vern to help him find a bike to hire, then it was off to the market area for a cheap breakfast of banana fritters smothered in sugar & maple syrup, yum! Afterwards, we were off to the Chinese medicine man for a tonic to clear Vern’s cough, down near the port.

Yangshuo, 1991

Postcard of the busy pier, 1991年

I was alarmed at the number of boats and people at this ‘tiny’ docking areaon the Li River. This explained why the street was lined with souvenir vendors (the usual: ancient coins, wall-hangings, T-shirts and the like). A little farther down was some local boats with men out prawn fishing. On the other bank was some water buffalos playing in the water. Since it looked so inviting I decided to dive in to enjoy the cool, refreshing river, much to the amusement of the locals.

Here I met a young Chinese fellow from the economic ‘miracle’ city of Shenzhen called Darrel. When Vern returned from some domestic duties the three of us rode down a dirt track beside the river. This track, eventually, ended at a river crossing. For 1-Quai or 1-RMB (A$0.25) we and our bikes were transported to the other side.

River crossing with Vern

Crossing the river with Vernon & Darrel 6.11.91年

Once setting foot on the far bank, our ride was hitherto an unknown adventure:

A short ride up a peak, before ascending into the village below, then through rustic farms to places few ‘white men’ (if any) ever venture. My mountain bike was taking to the terrain like a duck to water making the whole trip worthwhile.

Hours ticked by as we crossed bridges, traversed farmlands, dodged water buffalos and conversed with the locals -through Darrel. Eventually, we found the road back to Yangshuo.

Back in the town, Vernon headed to a silk shop to put in an order for silk pyjamas. I figured that would be a great present for my good friend Miyuki’s birthday. With all the cheap clothing I felt like spending up -but realised that would be pointless.

I made tracks back to check on Paul… still convalescing. I purchased him some peanut brittle before heading back to downtown for the ‘peanut eating championships‘. Determined not to drink, however, I opened the first of several bottles upon my arrival. I managed to eat my allotted 30 peanuts, with chopsticks, in 29 seconds.”

Nov. 7th, 1991 “Moon HillDay 45:

“As Paul was feeling much better today, the three of us went down to the market for some ‘maggot soup’ with fritters. Vern then took us to the Chinese medicine man for a shot of God-knows-what.

Today’s adventure would entail riding out to Moon Hill. Unfortunately, it was a bit overcast, although, with the clouds clinging to the mountains you would be hard-pressed to call it a bad day. Crossing a bridge we paused to take in the picturesque view of the mountains along the river. It was here that we encountered a bunch of old Chinese ladies selling coins and trinkets of gold. There was also a local man trying to sell us a tour through the cave on his property.

A little farther on we came across a huge Banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis); they are important trees in Chinese (and Indian) mythology. Nestled behind this was a farm settlement alongside a rocky outcrop with caves. Inside these caves, the locals kept their stock of cows and/or pigs. From here we could peer back to the Banyan tree.

Banyan Tree postcard, 1991

We purchased a postcard of the Banyan tree, 1991年

We rode back to the main road to continue on the path to Moon Hill; a big recommendation from the Lonely Planet guidebook. From there we climbed up the hill to compare the view with pictures in the guidebook (much greener in the book). Nonetheless, the view from the top was spectacular.

After spending sufficient time at Moon Hill we made tracks back to Yangshuo for a big feed. I picked up my silk pyjamas and we made our way to the Green Lotus for our last supper, as we would ride out tomorrow.

At the cafe, we talked with a German girl who was studying in Hong Kong. She told us she was picking up a T-shirt with special patterns she had preordered. This gave me the idea of making the ‘team shirt’ for the ride (“1991年 Return Trip“). After a little discussion, it was decided that we would stay another night and get them made up the next day.

So, what would be on the cards for tomorrow, then?

We decided on a rubber raft down the river, which we reserved straight away. This meant waking up at ‘sparrow-fart’, in time to pick up the inflatable rubber raft (IRB) at 7am.

Map of Yangshuo, 1991

Sketch of downtown Yangshuo, 1991年

Nov. 8th, 1991 “Floating Down the Li RiverDay 46:

“Up at ‘sparrow fart’ and down to Micky Mao’s by 7am. With the boat hired we headed down for some noodles with Vern, while we waited for our bus.

The bus took us the 45km to 样题 (Yang Ti), however, we were delayed an hour and a half while the transmission was repaired enroute. The other crazy thing our driver did was turn the engine completely off on the downhills to save fuel. Once in Yang Ti, our odyssey began. Although, it took us initially about an hour to pump up the IBR -we did encourage some of the locals to help us take turns working the hand pump.

Sketch map of Yangshuo

Our route down the Li River from Yang Ti in the north, 1991年

It was into the water, as our three intrepid adventurers began their float down the picturesque Li River. It started with total chaos, as each time we tried to paddle we kept turning around in circles; however, small rapids provided much-welcomed assistance once we got the hang of it. Our goal was to get to 興坪 (Xing Ping) in time for the 5.30pm bus to take us the 25km back to Yangshuo.

Initially, we thought that Xing Ping wasn’t that far away and we’d knock that off in a couple of hours -HOW WRONG WE WERE!!!

Despite the struggles, the scenery was spectacular, and when combined with the continuous stream of tourist vessels, the journey was very enjoyable. It seemed like something was happening or there was something to see all the time, with the fisherman on the river, water buffalos, children playing on the banks and, of course, the giant mastiffs rising all around us.

A trip which began at 11am, the 5.30pm bus was looking good if Xing Ping was only just around the next bend or was it the next?…it was 6pm when we finally docked. Our “short’ jaunt down the river had taken us 7 hours! Unquestionable great fun, though.

Now to get back to our lodgings at Yangshuo. The tour boats were going to charge us 200RMB (A$51), the tourist bus was 80RMB (later down to 50RMB). We decided that we were sick of being ripped off and walked away. Eventually, we hailed a taxi-bike that took us all the way back to Yangshuo for 20RMB (A$5).

Firstly, we went in to design our T-shirts at 8pm and they would be completed by 10pm for 15RMB (A$3.80). Then down for a feed: the Green Lotus was suggested, however, as we passed Lisa’s Cafe I noticed a spare table, so we went there.

Inside who should we run into, but our Aussie buddies, Roger & Martin. A pure coincidence, as we both were well ahead of our pre-arranged rendezvous in Hong Kong. Copious amounts of beer began to flow as we regaled our journeys since we had parted ways in Beijing, some two and half weeks earlier. Back at the hostel, it turned out that the boys were actually staying in the room next to us.

Nov. 9th, 1991 “Day with the LadsDay 47:

“Paul needed to check the alignment of his wheels, which had been fine riding out to Moon Hill two days earlier. We breakfasted at the Green Lotus on eggs, tomatoes & pancakes washed down with a banana smoothie. Due to the lateness of our breakfast we decided to stay another day and take the boys out to Moon Hill.

Our numbers expanded even more on the ride out as we met two Dutch girls, Caroline & Corina, that were also trying to get out to moon Hill. We led the way, even stopping at the bridge to joke with the old ladies selling coins (“Those coins REALLY were old!!”)

At the base of Moon Hill, we met the same lady selling bits and pieces. She told me she collected currency from all around the world, so I gave her a 10-yen coin from Japan. In exchange, she gave me a lapel badge with the Australian & Chinese flags on it.Having fun with the locals & Paul, Yangshuo

After descending Moon Hill, it was agreed that we would try one of the limestone cave adventures on offer. A man we talked to seemed genuine and he had many recommendations from other Western travellers that he could show us.The New Water Cave took us many hours of climbing down into it and along underground streams exiting several kilometres away. For our party of 8 paying 5-Yuan each, was well worth it and highly recommended.

Due to the late finish, the ride home in complete darkness was an extreme sport in itself. None of us had any lighting on our bikes (I had removed mine due to constant theft) and there was no street lighting or any moonlight. We basically knew where we were going although tractors & trucks passing by intermittently we were given glimpses of the terrain we had to cover.

It was back at Yangshuo having a meal that we were informed by the hostel owner that we couldn’t ride south to Wuhou as we had planned. Apparently, it was closed to aliens.

Nov. 10th, 1991 “The Li RiverDay 48:

Today’s agenda was taking our burgeoning crew for a bicycle ride south along the river. After a huge breakfast at the Green Lotus, Vern provided us with an itinery to follow out of town, turning to go under the bridge.

Once on the track, it wasn’t long before we were in another world, away from the tourist areas of Yangshuo. Here we encountered water-buffalo and other wildlife to be photographed. The path led through local farms and villages exiting at the banks of the Li River. Here was a tranquil spot to just indulge watching the water-buffalos play amongst the stunning scenery.

Riding a little farther, we encountered a ferryman. I negotiated a fare of just 1-Yuan (25 cents) to take all seven of us, bikes included, to the other side. From here we rode to the town of Fuli (see map above) where we had a drink of sugar cane juice (the main crop in this area of southern China). It was only a little way down the road that we encountered the forbidden territory. We had been warned when hiring the bikes not to go into those areas. (Vern, of course, paid no attention to this shooting straight past the sign). We could ill-afford being caught in the no-go zone at, especially as the sun was fading, so we made tracks back to town. This enabled us to buy a bottle of beer each to sit on the banks of the Li River as the sun was setting behind the granite mastiffs.

Hiring bikes in Yangshuo

The documentation for bike rental

Back at our lodgeings, showers were had (Paul and myself chivalrously going last meaning we missed the last of the hot water), before heading down to Lisa’s for another great night of merriment. This is when Vern had the infamous debate about the Dutch. (Don’t really remember what he said, but the incident was memorable).

Nov. 11th, 1991 “YangshuoDay 49:

Firstly, we were down to buy tickets for the bus/boat connection to Guangzhou (Canton) at the cheap price of 35-Yuan (A$8) each. Then breakfast at Lisa’s Cafe to decide the agenda for today. We agreed on a hike north along the Li River.

Ditching the bikes for the day, we walked to where the boats dock and just followed a path along the riverbank until it divided. Here we decided to go up through the farms, where we came across a classroom of very frightened young students. Further up was a waterfall, which provided a great location for an afternoon nap.

Thoroughly rested, we hiked back through the scrub to the beautiful Li River. From here we made our own track through some dense bush, including the ‘biting plant’ which was like lantana with thorns. Finally arriving back to the town for a shower and diner at Lisa’s Cafe. Tomorrow we would leave for Guanghou and then Hong Kong, thus ending our China journey.” 

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