Yangshuo River View Hotel

mike’s reflections on china

In late January, my husband Mike traveled from Virginia to visit me here in China.  We went to Hunan province, where we visited Fenghuang and Zhangjiajie, and to Guangxi, where we visited Guilin and Yangshuo.  I was disappointed for him because we had horrible weather for nearly the whole time he was here.  His one and only experience of China was a rainy, fog-enshrouded, cold and gloomy one.  In his reflections below, you can see that despite our hardships, he managed to see the experience as a positive one.  This was more than I could say for myself, but then I’ve seen better days in China.

Mike eats dumplings at the Red Sign

Mike eats dumplings at the Red Sign

Here are Mike’s reflections, along with some of the photos he took.

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After Cathy decided to go to China to teach this year she suggested that I should plan on visiting and traveling with her on one of her breaks. My initial reaction was less than enthusiastic. My first inclination is to plan relaxing, stress-free, outdoorsy vacations away from crowds and the fast-paced life I deal with in the DC suburbs. After giving the idea some thought and talking more with Cathy, I committed, leaving the planning to her, providing feedback on trip options when asked. I am an avid reader, like Cathy, and have an interest in cultural anthropology and world history, which I get from a fictional and non-fictional perspective. In addition to having the opportunity to spend some time with my nomad wife, I would see firsthand how one in five people on our planet live.

a wedding in the streets of Fenghuang

a wedding in the streets of Fenghuang

I knew from the outset that this trip would be a challenge, starting and ending with the long time-zone crossing flights halfway around the globe. From Cathy’s early travel experiences in China I knew that our in-country travels would not be easy. Neither of us are much on tour groups, preferring the freedom to move about at our own pace, surrounded by local folks, being forced to figure things out on our own. That‘s half the adventure. The apprehension we felt every time we ventured out to our next destination was rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and relief upon arrival. I came with no expectations other than to relish the uniqueness of China. Cathy put a lot of time and energy into our itinerary, hoping to show me the picturesque and historic side of Guangxi and Hunan provinces. You seasoned travelers understand the tenuous balance between trying to visit as many places as possible within a tight time window and allowing oneself the time to soak in the essence of each layover, and recharge, before diving in to the next adventure. I felt like we achieved that balance.

Fenghuang

Fenghuang

Cathy was very honest on her blog in describing her disappointment with the cool damp weather during my visit. Besides yielding a series of fog shrouded photos for her blog, she was sad for me. I am sure that many travel bloggers portray only the positive aspects of their trips, which is not reality. You have to accept and learn to deal with weather and other circumstances that don’t go your way. I like how Cathy freely shares her personal frustrations in her blogs.

Yes, I would have enjoyed some clear sunny days, but I was so alert to the sights, sounds, smells and the way of life wherever we went that the weather had much less of an impact on me than Cathy. The mist encased quartz-sandstone pillars of Zhangjiajie and the limestone karsts of Yangshuo looked whimsical and mysterious. The one rainy day where we didn’t go trekking was spent lounging in bed reading and treating ourselves to a muscle relaxing massage. That was just what we needed, some down time to recover.

Zhangjiajie

Zhangjiajie

I was constantly fascinated by assorted modes of transportation, the unified flow of scooters, bikes and buses on the crowded streets and dusty rural roads, the lack of heat throughout, the family way of life in the shops, service bays, and eateries, the variety of critters and body parts offered on the menus, the placid acceptance of a quality of life that few westerners could imagine, the third world toilets, the often derelict trains and train stations, the rural communal hamlets we cycled through, the villagers laboring in the never-ending fields, and the general friendliness of the people we encountered.

I wanted to see where Cathy lived, where she worked, the students she taught, where she shopped and ate, how she traveled, the soul and spirit of the bustling cities, the steady march of the rural farms, so I could get a sense for the environment she moved about in during her life in Guangxi. Thankfully those impressions will now be with me for the rest of her stay in Nanning, sensory impressions catalogued and brought to mind as she shares with me her weekly recap on Skype. Instead of her face and the stories she tells in words, I will see much more.

The Yangshuo countryside during a rainy bike ride

The Yangshuo countryside during a rainy bike ride

There are so many memories and images that come to mind from our two-week excursion, all fascinating to me, many of which Cathy has already shared in her blog. Some of these memories can’t be captured by pictures and words. They were moments of interaction, on some level, with others, in a land where one feels so isolated, despite being surrounded by 1.3 billion people. The thirteen hour plane ride seated next to a mother and her young son from Mongolia on their return trip from studying at the international school in Miami, Florida, the respectful sharing of a small train compartment for twelve hours with two young strangers, the prideful smile on the face of our dumpling lady in Fenghuang who was thrilled to see us show up for breakfast three mornings in a row, the conversation with a young woman, employed in international sales, on our boat ride on Baofang Lake, the engaging conversation with Duco, the young Dutch backpacker, on our bus ride to Yangshuo, the family we traveled with on our Li river bamboo raft, and the many challenging interactions arising from the language barrier at every twist and turn.

the town of Yangshuo

the town of Yangshuo

In one of Cathy’s blogs about Alex’s time in China she mentions a tension-filled afternoon. This is to be expected, in less than ideal travel situations and close quarters, as individual expectations collide with circumstances and each other. I suppose the key to traveling with someone else, successfully, is to recognize that this will happen and what to do when it does happen. I think in Alex and Cathy’s case, space and time was all they needed, and by the evening they were fine. It was surprising to me given all of the traveling we did and the inclement weather we encountered that we didn’t really encounter any moments of tension. Perhaps I’ll chalk that up to my laid back nature; HA! Just joking Cathy, I know it takes two to make this happen.

In looking back on my two weeks in China, followed by Alex’s two weeks, followed by Cathy’s trip to Myanmar, I am amazed at Cathy’s stamina, especially in light of the cough she came down with on our trip. Both Alex and I were exhausted after our short journeys. I can’t even begin to imagine doing that for six weeks. Cathy is like the Energizer Bunny, she keeps going and going and going!!!

the Yangshuo countryside on the way back to Guilin

the Yangshuo countryside on the way back to Guilin

As I left China I realized that this was truly a once-in-a-life experience. It is an experience that for myself, and for Alex, will resurface in years to come as we put global events into perspective, as a result of having the opportunity to glimpse a way of life so different from our own. I am thankful for that opportunity.

Categories: Airplane, Asia, Baofeng Lake Scenic Spot, Bicycle tour, Bus, Changsha, China, Fenghuang, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Holidays, Hunan, Jishou, Li River, Nanning, Nanning Wuxu International Airport, Seven Star Tea Plantation, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Spring Festival, Train, Transportation, Travel, West Street, Wulingyuan Scenic Reserve, Xi Jie, Xianggong Hill, Yangshuo, Yangshuo River View Hotel, Zhangjiajie, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

massages and a day of rest :-)

Thursday, January 29: This morning, we both wake up feeling sicker than ever.  Out the window, we can see it is raining heavily.  Besides that, Mike was kept awake all night by a bunch of Chinese people having a barbecue on the street outside of our window.  Apparently they were talking, laughing and partying until the wee hours.  I was oblivious to the whole affair as I can sleep though any noise, including my own snoring.  🙂

Because of his awful night of sleep, and being sick on top of that, Mike is feeling pretty grumpy, which is unusual for him.  I am too, but at least I have more holiday after he leaves.  I already know my whole holiday will not be ruined by bad weather, as the forecast for Yunnan province is for sunny skies and in the 60s (F) and Myanmar’s is for hot weather (90s) and sunshine every day.  I feel so bad for Mike that we are near the end of our time together, and the weather forecast is for nothing good ahead.  Even if we were to stay 10 more days in Yangshuo, the forecast would still be for continual rain and cold.

Mike has been an extremely good sport about the whole thing.  I have not been such a good sport because I wanted him to see the best of China.  I had a great time in Yangshuo in October, and I wanted him to have the same experience.  Because of his demanding work schedule, this will probably be his only holiday this year, and it’s been ruined.  He has tried to put a positive spin on it, enjoying it for the cultural experience it has been.  Meanwhile, I have felt sad, angry, frustrated, and irritated.  Besides the fact that his vacation has been ruined, mine has too!  I haven’t been able to take any decent photos or to do the activities, such as hiking and bicycling, that I hoped to do.

Mike asks the hotel staff if we can change rooms and move away from the street.  He doesn’t want to suffer through another night of no sleep.  So we pack up our stuff and move to another room, one that has a little alcove with a tea table in it.  It’s kind of cute.

After moving, we go out for breakfast at the Rosewood Cafe and then go for hour-long whole body massages.  We return to the hotel room and put on our pajamas.  We stay in the rest of the day, reading, sleeping, snacking and talking.

Mike in our new hotel room, in his pajamas. :-)

Mike in our new hotel room, in his pajamas. 🙂

During this time, as we can see the forecast is for more of the same in Yangshuo, we decide we will leave Yangshuo one day early and return to Guilin. We’ll lose the money for our hotel in Yangshuo for one night, but as it was cheap, only $35, we don’t care.  We book a room back at the Guilinyi Royal Palace for Friday night, so we can have all of our creature comforts.  We must catch a train from Guilin to Nanning on Saturday morning, so we can have a more leisurely time by going to Guilin a day early.

The only time we leave the room is in the evening, when the rain has abated a bit, to eat a Chinese dinner at Cloud 9.

 

Categories: Asia, China, Cloud 9 Restaurant, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Rosewood Cafe, Travel, Yangshuo, Yangshuo River View Hotel | Tags: , , , | 14 Comments

a cloudy day boat ride down the li river

Wednesday, January 28:  We go through a bit of an ordeal with our guide Esther today.  She has lured us into a boat ride down the Li River for a lower price than our hotel offers. She says she has connections.  I don’t understand how she can give us a better deal than the hotel, as the boat operators on the river charge generally the same prices, so she must be getting a deal on the transportation to the boat launch in Xingping and back.  She has already told us that the ride will be upriver from Xingping to Yangdi (east to west), and I told her I wanted the ride downriver from west to east, from Yangdi to Xingping.  This is the way I did it in October.  What’s so amazing about the downriver direction is that you end up in Xingping, where the jagged mountains are clustered together in such a fantastical array that a painting of them graces the 20 yuan bill.

Esther leads us through the streets to different spots, where she stops and looks all around for some mysterious person who’s supposed to show up.  She’s on the phone the whole time.  I still don’t like that she won’t guarantee the downriver boat ride, and she’s not telling us any details about who we’re going with.  She’s not planning to come along with us, and she’s being generally evasive.  As we move from one spot on the street to the other, with her on the phone yapping in Chinese and looking all around impatiently, I start to lose it.

I say, “Esther, you’ve had since yesterday to plan this!  How much longer will it be?” She keeps pacing up and down, searching for some vehicle that never materializes, and she has no answers.  Finally, I get fed up.  “I’m sorry, Esther.  You’ve had since yesterday to arrange this and you still don’t have it arranged!  We’re going back to the hotel.”

We walk away and leave her on the street, still talking on the phone.  Nearby, we stop into a travel agent, and we arrange the boat ride for the same price Esther was offering.  It seems however, that the downriver route is not available and the only way to go is from Xingping upriver a bit, but not all the way to Yangdi, and then returning to Xingping.  I guess the Li River must be lower at this time of year.  We pay the travel agent for the trip, wait about 20 minutes in the agent’s office, and then hop on a bus for the nearly one hour drive to Xingping.

On the bus, I’m squeezed in next to a Chinese lady who speaks excellent English.  She’s here in Yangshuo for the Spring Festival holiday with her husband and daughter.  She tells me her English name is Julia.  We have a long conversation about our holidays and her life in her hometown.  When we get to the boat launch, it ends up we all five share a bamboo raft together.

At the boat launch - waiting and waiting

At the boat launch – waiting and waiting

For some unknown reason, we have to wait quite a long time at the boat launch.  There are some boats lingering about, but no one seems to be manning them. Things are so much more disorganized than when I took this boat ride in October: a raft trip down the li river: yangdi to xingping

Finally, after at least a half-hour wait, we get on the boat with the lovely Chinese family.  We agree with the Chinese family that we’ll start in the front seat, which offers the best views, but we’ll switch places with them from time to time.  Sadly, the views today are not great anyway.  It’s a dark and cloudy day, but at least so far it isn’t raining.  We find out quickly that it’s quite cold on the river, with the cold wind and the spray from the river, and we realize we haven’t dressed warmly enough.

the Li River

the Li River

the boat launch at the Li River

the boat launch at the Li River

a dark day on the Li River

a dark day on the Li River

the cloudy Li River

the cloudy Li River

a river surrounded by karst landscape

a river surrounded by karst landscape

the Li River

the Li River

mysterious mountains

mysterious mountains

trees and karsts

boats, trees and karsts

For yet another day of our holiday, I’m disappointed in the dreary charcoal skies and the fog that nearly obscures our view.

a dark day on the Li River

a dark day on the Li River

the Li River

the Li River

the Li River

the Li River

The boat driver makes a stop at a little island where people are selling handicrafts, but none of us wants to buy anything.  While we wander about, the Chinese girl spends her time throwing heavy stones into the river.  Meanwhile, the boat driver sits with his friends and eats a snack.  We take turns taking pictures of each other.

our Chinese companions

our Chinese companions

Mike and I on the Li River

Mike and I on the Li River

It’s so funny, Julia reminds me so much of my Korean friend Julie.  Even her haircut is similar: my two closest korean friends

me with the Chinese girls

me with the Chinese girls

We pass on the opportunity to ride this little pony.

a ride on a pony, anyone?

a ride on a pony, anyone?

Finally, when our boat driver finishes eating his snack and chatting with his friends, we’re on our way again.

back on the boat

back on the boat

a boat with a view

a boat with a view

Soon after we get back on the boat, it starts to spit rain.  This continues for the rest of our ride.  Argh!!!!

Me, mother & daughter, and Mike on the bamboo raft

Me, mother & daughter, and Mike on the bamboo raft

heading down the Li River

heading down the Li River

Li River

Li River

Li River

Li River

Li River

Li River

continuing down the river

continuing down the river

more picturesque views

more picturesque views

another boat on the river

another boat on the river

beach

beach

one of the larger boats for the Li River Cruise

one of the larger boats for the Li River Cruise

the Li River

the Li River

The Li River

The Li River

mother and daughter

mother and daughter

on the Li River

on the Li River

Li River views

Li River views

the Li River looking out over the end of our bamboo raft

the Li River looking out over the end of our bamboo raft

Cruising down the Li River

Cruising down the Li River

By the time we finish our ride, we’re all shivering and wet from the rain and the spray from the river.  We squeeze into the bus again and ride back to Yangshuo.  We go back to the hotel to rest and get warm and dry for a while before we head out to dinner at Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant.

The restaurant has two huge wooden sliding doors at the front.  Mike doesn’t realize they’re sliding doors and he pushes one of them inward, lifting both of them dangerously into the air.  He realizes belatedly what he’s done and he steps back, letting the doors clunk back into place.  Meanwhile the people in the restaurant run to the front to stop him from knocking down the two huge doors.  They’re so heavy that they probably would have crushed him if he had knocked them off their tracks.  He causes quite a stir!

at Pure Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant

at Pure Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant

Luckily after dinner the rain has abated so we take a short walk around the town again.  We run across some funny characters in the street.

characters on the streets of Yangshuo

characters on the streets of Yangshuo

We decide to warm up a bit in Mango by sharing a refreshing mango and ice cream dessert.  It’s really yummy, but that ice cream makes us shiver all the way back to our hotel.

Mike at Mango sharing his mango dessert

Mike at Mango sharing his mango dessert

the walls at Mango

the walls at Mango

Inside Mango

Inside Mango

We get cozy again in our hotel and read a long while.  There’s never anything on TV to watch as all the shows are in Chinese.  After our day on the river, we’re both feeling really sick, with coughs, sore throats, runny noses and general head colds and shivers.  We can see the forecast for tomorrow is for rain all day.  We decide that if it is actually raining, we will get massages in the morning and just stay in our hotel room for most of the day, trying to recover from our miserable colds.

 

 

Categories: Asia, China, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Li River, Pure Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant, Rosewood Cafe, Travel, West Street, Xi Jie, Yangdi, Yangshuo, Yangshuo River View Hotel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

a rainy day bicycle ride in yangshuo

Tuesday, January 27:  Though the bus ride from Guilin to Yangshuo is only supposed to be 1 1/2 hours, today it seems like it is longer.  It also seems to go through much uglier scenery than I remember from my October trip.  Maybe it’s the dreary weather, but there is also much ugliness in the human habitats and commercial establishments along the way.  Most of the buildings are of shabby concrete construction, of no architectural character at all, and junk seems to be scattered about willy-nilly.  It’s too bad the amazing natural landscape is so ruined by people.

We arrive and check in to the Yangshuo River View Hotel, the same hotel in which I stayed in October.  It seems shabbier now at off-season, and Mike is pretty disappointed after some of the nice hotels we’ve had.  Oh well, we get settled in and immediately go out for lunch.

On the street outside of our hotel, we run into an older lady who introduces herself as Esther.  She offers to take us on a bicycle ride through the countryside for a good price and she pulls out a book in which many foreigners have written glowing things about her in English.  She’s apparently wonderful, the most kind person in the world, energetic and hard-working.  We tell her we are interested in a bicycle ride this afternoon, as the rain seems to be holding off.  But we want to eat some lunch first, so if she’ll wait, we’ll go with her.

I would take the lead myself, but I’ve only been on one bicycle ride here in Yangshuo and I’m afraid we might get lost.  It’s late in the day to get lost, so I figure it will be nice to have someone along who knows the territory.

We stop at a pizza place and share a medium pizza because we only want a small snack.  It’s another cold and cloudy day in a what is becoming a long line of dreary days on our holiday.

Me at lunch in Yangshuo (Photo by Mike)

Me at lunch in Yangshuo (Photo by Mike)

Even the cute town of Yangshuo looks a little empty and desolate.

Street in Yangshuo (Photo by Mike)

Street in Yangshuo (Photo by Mike)

We look for Esther after lunch but she seems to have vanished.  I go to the room to put on some warmer clothes, and Mike goes off in search of her.  He finds her (I’m not sure where), comes to collect me from the hotel, and we meet her at a bicycle rental place.  After finding some bikes that fit, we’re off.

We ride quite a long way until we’re able to make a stop at this lovely spot.  I am always in awe of Yangshuo’s karst landscape, with its mystical oddly shaped mountains jutting up from flat farmland.  Granted, it’s a dark and hazy day, so it’s not as beautiful as it could be.  But it still reminds me of ancient Chinese paintings and suggests romantic and poetic ancient times.

Farmland and karsts outside of Yangshuo

Farmland and karsts outside of Yangshuo

Esther is lively, cheery and energetic and luckily we all ride about the same pace.

Our guide Edith

Our guide Esther

When we stop for photos, Esther makes a phone call so we mill about taking a lot of shots while she’s talking.

Me and our bicycles (Photo by Mike)

Me and our bicycles (Photo by Mike)

Farmland and karsts

Farmland and karsts

the road ahead

the road ahead

landscape around Yangshuo

landscape around Yangshuo

Farmland and karst landscape

Farmland and karst landscape

stopping along the way

stopping along the way

fields and pointed mountains

fields and pointed mountains

Me at a stop along our bike ride (Photo by Mike)

Me at a stop along our bike ride (Photo by Mike)

the road into the village (Photo by Mike)

the road into the village (Photo by Mike)

We continue on our ride through farmland and old villages.  We pass some of the countryside hotels I’ve heard of, most notably the Giggling Tree, a place I want to try one day.

reaching to the horizon

reaching to the horizon

On our bicycle ride (Photo by Mike)

On our bicycle ride (Photo by Mike)

the beautiful karst landscape of Yangshuo

the beautiful karst landscape of Yangshuo

trees, grasses and karsts

trees, grasses and karsts

leaning towers

leaning towers

It seems to be getting colder and darker as we ride.

Karst landscape seen on our bikeride (Photo by Mike)

Karst landscape seen on our bike ride (Photo by Mike)

along our bike ride (Photo by Mike)

along our bike ride (Photo by Mike)

a waterway in Yangshuo (Photo by Mike)

a waterway in Yangshuo (Photo by Mike)

Karsts and reflections

Karsts and reflections

After going back to one of the main roads, Esther wants us to stop at her friend’s restaurant so we can eat something.  We’re not hungry because we just ate lunch several hours earlier, and we plan to eat at Rock-n-Grill tonight.  Her friend’s restaurant is in the shadow of Moon Hill, so we can see a glimpse of it from below without climbing up to it.

Moon Hill

Moon Hill

On the way back down the main road, I am looking for the Passion Fruit Leisure Farm where Audrey and I had a lovely lunch on our bike ride in October: a bicycle ride through the yangshuo countryside

At this time of year, which is off-season, there is no lunch being served.  However, the proprietor is serving up some passion fruit juice.  We each order one and take our time enjoying it, much to Esther’s chagrin.  I think she’s impatient to be on her way.

Passion Fruit Leisure Farm (Photo by Mike)

Passion Fruit Leisure Farm (Photo by Mike)

Me sipping on a passion fruit drink (Photo by Mike)

Me sipping on a passion fruit drink (Photo by Mike)

Mike and his passion fruit juice

Mike and his passion fruit juice

After we finish our passion fruit juice and leave the farm, I know from my bike ride with Audrey in October that we are almost back to town.  However, Esther has other ideas.  She veers off on another backroad to take us through more villages.  Once we get off onto the backroads, it starts to rain.  At first it’s spitting, but then it turns into a steady drizzle.  It seems like we’re riding forever, with Esther pedaling furiously onward.  I am now miserable and wet and just want to go back to our hotel.  Finally, Mike tells Esther that we want to go back to Yangshuo.  It’s a very long ride back into town.  Meanwhile I’m getting drenched and starting to shiver.  I’m getting the chills and I can feel a cold coming on.

Finally, we get back to town, pay Esther her money, and go to the hotel.  The room is quite cold, even with the heat on.  Mike and I decide to grab a bite at Rock-n-Grill, just to get out of the hotel.  At Rock-n-Grill, the restaurant is toasty warm.  We order wine and delicious Thai food and thoroughly enjoy our meal.  After dinner we take a walk through the town.  It has stopped raining by now but I am feeling quite miserable.  I have been not feeling great ever since the day in Zhangjiajie when my feet got wet, but now, I can feel a sore throat and a bad head cold coming on.  After I walk, I put on multiple layers of pajamas and cuddle up in bed, wondering how on earth I will survive not only the rest of my trip with Mike, but the next month of travel I’ve planned after Mike leaves.

 

Categories: Asia, Bicycle tour, China, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Rock-n-Grill, Travel, Yangshuo, Yangshuo River View Hotel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

an afternoon stroll around yangshuo & green lotus peak

Friday, October 3: After I return from my raft trip, I head straight into town to eat some lunch, since I never had breakfast this morning.  I find a Chinese restaurant and sit outside to have fried dumplings and sautéed bok choy.

Across from my restaurant is a pretty little coffee shop that serves fruit juices and coffee and desserts.  I go here one afternoon for a mango juice.  I love the flowery borders and pathway to the creekside patio.

Walking down the street from the restaurant, I see an interesting menu board.  I’m so tempted to try the “spicy intestine” and the “fragrance of dog!”

"Spicy intestine" and the "fragrance of dog"

“Spicy intestine” and the “fragrance of dog”

The street is a cute one and though the streets in Yangshuo are meant to be pedestrian-only, all kinds of vehicles somehow barrel their way through.

I continue my wanders around the town, eventually making my way to Green Lotus Peak.  I have to pay 40 yuan (~$6.50) to go into the park.  I’m told that I can’t do any climbing to the top of the peak today because the pathways are too slippery.  This is disappointing because of course I always like to climb to the highest vantage points.

Entering Green Lotus Peak

Entering Green Lotus Peak

view of karst landscape from Green Lotus Peak

view of karst landscape from Green Lotus Peak

Old Forest of Steles

Old Forest of Steles & The Chinese Character

weathered pagoda at Green Lotus Peak

weathered pagoda at Green Lotus Peak

Karsts from the pagoda

Karst landscape from the pagoda

looking down the pagoda roof

looking down the pagoda roof

From the pagoda at Green Lotus Peak, I can see across the Li River to the karst landscape.  I can see many people are camping across the river.  Maybe all the hotels in town are full.  Or else they just want to be one with nature.

more of the karsts from the pagoda

more of the karsts from the pagoda

Jianshan Tower was formerly Jianshan Temple, built around AD 713, the beginning of the Tang Dynasty.  Three monks in the temple struck a bell every morning and evening and the sound spread far across the land.  This is the story of “Monks and Bell of Jianshan Temple.”  In 1916, the temple was destroyed and “no monk was there anymore.”

Jianshan Tower, formerly Jianshan temple

Jianshan Tower, formerly Jianshan temple

pretty painted woodwork

pretty painted woodwork

Jianzhen (688-763) was a famous Buddhist in the Tang Dynasty.  He was invited to visit Japan by Japanese scholars.  He tried 5 times to take a boat to Japan, but failed.  On the 5th attempt, he met a storm and his boat was driven to Xijiang, the entrance to the East Sea.  On the way back, he arrived at Guilin.  After that he took a boat from Guilin to Yangshuo and came to Jianshan Temple.  He exchanged knowledge about Buddhism with monks there, and sang praises for Yangshuo’s beautiful land.  In 753, he finally made it to Japan on his 6th attempt.  He built an altar in the East big temple in Nainang and publicized Buddhism, thus contributing to Sino-Japanese Cultural Exchange.

Jianzhen the famous Buddhist

Jianzhen the famous Buddhist

angles & corners

angles & corners

Looking south

Looking south

pagoda and karst background

pagoda and karst background

another view to the south

another view to the south

karst landscape from Green Lotus Peak

karst landscape from Green Lotus Peak

Looking north from Green Lotus Peak

Looking north from Green Lotus Peak

On a cliff overlooking the north side of Green Lotus Peak is a special calligraphy word.  This word was written in 1834, during the Qing dynasty, by Yangshuo mayor Mr. Wang Yuanren, whose nickname is Jingshan.  This is a poem in ONE WORD, according to a sign.  The poem says “How beautiful the landscape here!  We should study and work hard when we are young.”  The stone carver failed to read Mr. Wang’s nickname, Jingshan, properly, so he carved it upside down.  This stele has been preserved since 1981.

A poem in ONE WORD!

A poem in ONE WORD!

Looking north up the Li River from Green Lotus Peak

Looking north up the Li River from Green Lotus Peak

view across the Li River

view across the Li River

northerly view

northerly view

fans created by an artist at Green Lotus Peak

fans created by an artist at Green Lotus Peak

When I arrive at the north end of Green Lotus Peak, the gate is locked, but someone comes quickly to open the gate.  Now I’m in an unfamiliar area of town.  I keep making my way north and I see the boat docks and a lot of commercial activity with people piling on boats for a ride.  I make my way through this bustling area and try to find my way back to the part of town I recognize.

boats and karst landscape across the Li River

boats and karst landscape across the Li River

Boats at Yangshuo

Boats at Yangshuo

Boats at the ready, Yangshuo

Boats at the ready, Yangshuo

Boat rides from Yangshuo

Boat rides from Yangshuo

Commerce Chinese style

Commerce Chinese style

Boats in Yangshuo

Boats in Yangshuo

I finally make my way down a busy street, following the signs for West Street.  Little by little, I start to recognize some things and, very thirsty by this time, I dip into Mango for a mango juice.  It’s very cutely decorated, and the cardboard cup covers are tacked up to make an interesting 3-D wallpaper.

I make my way through the throngs of people down West Street and eventually back to my hotel on Bin Jiang Road.  There I have a beer on the porch and watch the people walking by.

Tsingtao on the porch of the Yangshuo River View Hotel

Tsingtao on the porch of the Yangshuo River View Hotel

I relax for a bit in my hotel and at 7:00, I go out to meet Audrey at Demo Bar .  She and her friends Sarah and Peter are already drinking some wine, so I join them for a glass.  I tell German Peter about feeling sick from the food, and he, who has worked in restaurants all over China, tells me many people have stomach troubles here because of the oil.  He tells me most restaurants recycle their oil and in the recycling process it’s chemically treated.  He says several restaurants in Yangshuo use only olive oil, and he knows to eat at those restaurants.  I wondered why I get sick so often, even if I’m eating just vegetables.  He says it’s not the meat; the meat is all well cooked, it’s the oil.  I guess there is no way to avoid it then, because everything here is cooked in oil.

After a bit, Audrey, Sarah and I head to Rock-n-Grill.  It’s a lovely setting beside a creek and away from the crowds on West Street.  Tropical plants surround us and the music and the vibe are laid back.  We drink more wine and share a Thai meal which is delicious, including pork wrapped in lettuce leaves.  Both Audrey and Sarah have traveled extensively, so it’s fun to share stories.  I feel like we’re kindred spirits, even though I’m 30 years older than Audrey and 23 years older than Sarah.  We have a grand time talking and talking.  Eventually, Audrey and I meander back to the hotel on the back streets; she knows the town intimately.  It turns out her apartment is right around the corner from my hotel.  It’s peaceful and pleasant when we get away from the crowds on West Street.

Tomorrow morning, Audrey’s going to take me on a bike ride in the countryside outside of Yangshuo.  We don’t set a time, saying that we’ll see how we feel in the morning.  It’s quite a late night, and I’m exhausted.  I’m happy to be back in my hotel for a good night’s sleep. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, Demo Tiki Bar, Expat life, Green Lotus Peak, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Rock-n-Grill, Travel, West Street, Yangshuo, Yangshuo River View Hotel | Tags: , , , , , , | 21 Comments

travel & arrival in yangshuo

Thursday, October 2:  I leave my apartment at 6:40 a.m. and reach the main gate of the university at around 7, where I take the number 10 bus, arriving with the crowds at the Nanning Railway Station about 20 minutes later. There I accidentally meet one of my students, Eva, who had told me on Tuesday that she was taking the 8:20 train to Guilin, her hometown.  She tells me she read that yesterday, the first day of the National Holiday, this station “saw 140,000 people.”  I believe it.  Even today, for this early train, the station is packed.

my student Eva at the train station

my student Eva at the train station

I get comfortable on an aisle seat next to a friendly Chinese girl. The fast train is comfortable, modern and smooth. My ticket was 111 yuan, or $18.

Even two hours south of Guilin, I begin to see the limestone karsts for which the area is famous.  There are thousands of them stretching endlessly on the horizon.  We pass beautiful farmland, farmers in conical hats, water buffalo, and neat little paths threading between fields.  Some farms have ponds, and some of those have lotus blossoms.  I see sprawling groves of tall spindly trees with tufts of green at the top.  I’m not sure what they are, but they’re delicate and pretty.  I love watching the countryside outside the train window even though I don’t have a window seat and I’m constantly leaning forward to look over my seat mate’s head or lap.

When we arrive in Guilin, I catch a bus to Yangshuo for 40 yuan ($6.51).  I think this is the special “holiday price,” because I’ve heard it’s normally 20 yuan ($3.26). Either way, it’s dirt cheap!

By the time we arrive at the Yangshuo bus station at 1:00, I’m desperate for a bathroom.  It’s been a very bumpy ride!  As always, the public bathrooms are disgusting, the Chinese hole-in-the-floor variety.  I encountered one outside the Guilin bus station that didn’t even have flush mechanisms; woman were squatting over a trough with no doors to shield themselves from curious eyes! You can imagine the smell.  Yikes! I could rant on and on about this, but what’s the point?  I try to pretend I’m not actually using these toilets; I simply imagine I’m somewhere else.  It’s how I’ve learned to deal with a lot of unpleasant situations while traveling.

I’ve already asked several people about the whereabouts of my hotel, but I only have it written in English.  At this Yangshuo bus “station” bathroom, I find an American girl and ask if she knows where it is.  A Chinese girl is standing in line and lucky for me she speaks English.  She writes the Chinese name of my hotel on the copy of my confirmation.  It’s amazing when traveling that you often find helpers in the most unlikely places.

I find a moto-taxi and show him the Chinese name of my hotel.  He ties my suitcase to the back of the bike, and I hang on to his tiny waist as he zips through Yangshuo.  It would have been quite a long walk!  He charges me 20 yuan for this thrilling ride (~$3.26).  I finally arrive at my destination at 1:30, 7 hours after I walked out my front door this morning.

Arrival at the hotel.

Arrival at the hotel.

People have told me to expect prices double or up to 5x as much as normal during this National Holiday, because Yangshuo is the ultimate tourist destination in the south of China.  Still, in Western terms, I find everything very cheap.  I’m not going to complain if someone charges me 20 yuan instead of 10 yuan for something.  It seems like penny-pinching.

My room at the Yangshuo River View Hotel

My room at the Yangshuo River View Hotel

I check in immediately to my hotel, the Yangshuo River View Hotel. I had booked this ahead of time on Agoda.com.  Again, I know the prices are higher than normal, but I wanted to travel during the holiday and I wanted a nice room.  I pay around $87.50/night, which is really high for China.  I don’t have a river view because it was one of the last available rooms, and the river view rooms were more expensive anyway.  I’m actually glad I face a courtyard; it’s much quieter than the streetside river view would be.  The hotel receptionists speak excellent English and they’re very helpful.  I arrange a cruise down the Li River for tomorrow morning (220 yuan, around $36).  Then I go out to explore the town.

First I walk down the street in front of the hotel, which borders the Li River.  I get a glimpse of the pretty karsts and boats cruising down the river.

River boat on the Li River

River boat on the Li River

View of the Li River and karsts from Bin Jiang Road in Yangshuo

View of the Li River and karsts from Bin Jiang Road in Yangshuo

Along the sidewalk, the merchants are in full swing.

Stinky tofu for sale.

Stinky tofu for sale.

Pomelos for sale

Pomelos for sale

peeking through trees at the Li River

peeking through trees at the Li River

The town is very cute and touristy, with colorful shops selling the typical things you find in these kinds of towns everywhere: pashmina shawls, flowing skirts, bohemian tops, hippie handbags, silk scarves, “do your name in Chinese character” scrolls, whimsical lanterns, postcards and trinkets.  I’m always temped most by the lanterns, but I wouldn’t know how to transport one, so I don’t buy.

I really want all these lanterns!

I want all these lanterns!

There are scores of fruit juice shops or stands, coffee shops, musicians performing in hopes of selling CDs, flags flying for the National Holiday and views of the karsts at the end of streets.  There are also plenty of tourists, including Chinese families, Western backpackers and older couples.

Xianqian Jie

Xianqian Jie

Tropical Yangshuo

Tropical Yangshuo

"Write postcards to the future and coffee"

“Write a postcard to the future and coffee”

To stroll through the town, click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.

In my walk about town, I come to a cute pond beside the hugest McDonald’s I’ve ever seen.  What a shame about that.  I have a picture, but it’s so NOT scenic.  I’ll leave it out.  I don’t think you’ll miss it.

bicycles by a pretty little pond

bicycles by a pretty little pond

a pretty little pond, bordered by a huge McDonalds

a pretty little pond, bordered by a huge McDonald’s

I stop at Cloud 9 for lunch.  By this time, I’m starved.  I order shrimp with peppers and onions on a sizzling plate, along with white rice and a beer.  It’s yummy, but my stomach starts rumbling before I’m even finished eating.  Since I feel a little sick, I go back to the hotel to relax a bit before going back out for dinner.  I got up at 5 a.m. this morning just to be sure I made it to the train in time, so I’m exhausted from travel.

After I rest a bit, I go back out and walk along the river.  Along the opposite side of the road from my hotel, between the hotel and the Li River, is a long playground buzzing with Chinese children.  Down by the river are lots of people posing for pictures on a sliver of moon, or walking along the river’s edge and on stepping-stones that jut into the water.

I wander back into town.  It’s even more crowded now that it’s approaching dinner time.

I’m keeping an eye out for a bar called Demo, where a young American lady named Audrey bartends.  Small world that this is, she is the niece of one of my old classmates.  Her aunt put me in touch with her through Facebook.  Audrey, who is part Chinese on her mother’s side, lives and works in Yangshuo.  She teaches English and works sometimes at Demo.  She thinks she’ll only stay in Yangshuo through December; she’s looking for jobs elsewhere.  If she decides to say in China, she says there are “limitless possibilities.”

Welcome to Demo Tiki Bar

Welcome to Demo Tiki Bar

Of course, I haven’t got the lay of the land yet, so I have no idea where to find Demo, but suddenly in my wanderings, there it is right in front of me.  I’m not hungry since I had a late lunch, but I order a Kirin beer and some delicious mushroom soup and homemade bread made by the German cook, Peter.   I chat with Audrey a while and then she gets to work.  We plan on taking a bike ride on Saturday.

Wall art in Demo

Wall art in Demo

Demo Tiki Bar

Demo Tiki Bar

View of the street from Demo's balcony

View of the street from Demo’s balcony

street view from Demo's balcony

street view from Demo’s balcony

I walk back to the hotel and settle in for the night because I have to get up early tomorrow for my boat cruise down the Li River. 🙂

back to the Yangshuo River View Hotel

back to the Yangshuo River View Hotel

Categories: Asia, China, Cloud 9 Restaurant, Demo Tiki Bar, Expat life, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Nanning, Nanning Railway Station, West Street, Xi Jie, Yangshuo, Yangshuo River View Hotel | Tags: , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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