We loved spending time around Yangshuo, in Southeast China, which is an area of immense natural beauty. It can be described as Halong Bay on-land because of the similarity of the hills that stretch as far as your eye can see with a couple of very scenic rivers running through.
Traveling by train from Vietnam, our initial stop was Nanning, the first major town across the border. This is my first visit to China, apart from a few work trips to Shanghai and one of my first impressions is how smiley, friendly and helpful most people are. Our Chinese is limited to hello and thank you but armed with a phrase book and our best charades skills we have successfully tackled a number of situations and had lots of friendly banter. We have found it easy enough to buy tickets and navigate the trains as long as you allow plenty of time. In fact the stations are organised a bit like airports with separate waiting rooms for different trains and it would be very hard to get on the wrong train.
Like most people wanting to visit Yangshuo we took the train to Guilin and from there continued by bus after relaxing for a couple of days in Guilin. It's a fairly small town, beautifully located on the Li River, with some nice sights.
Yangshuo town is touristed way beyond our expectations, but mainly by Chinese tourists. We were staying in a small guesthouse 4 km outside of town and got a culture shock when we went into town for dinner and were faced with endless rows of souvenir stands selling all the knickknack you can imagine and more.
West Street is the heart of the tourist area and we found a great Indian restaurant nearby (nice with a change of flavour once in a while!). As soon as we finished eating we were approached at the table by 2 uni students majoring in English. The purpose of their study trip to Yangshuo was to practise their English with foreign visitors and in general young people who do speak English are keen to chat.
The town definitely has charm but after spending most of the last month in busy cities we were happy to return to the quiet of our hotel at the end of the evening. We enjoyed walks along the river and one of the highlights was a bike ride with a guide along small roads and muddy tracks, passing small villages and people working in the fields.
The scenery is truly stunning and can also be enjoyed while drifting down the Li or Yulong Rivers on a bamboo boat.
Our favourite place of all was XingPing, a very small town dating back 1700 years. It's 35 minutes drive from Yangshuo and about 2 hours from Guilin. One image of XingPing hills is commemorated on the 20 yuan note, proving how revered this destination is and of course there is a spot where you can try to take that exact same photo.
In the evening only few tourists are left and most of the tourist stalls are closed. On our first day, we went for a walk around 8.30pm and the old town was practically deserted and felt like the China of our imagination; charming old buildings in narrow laneways.
One afternoon we trekked into the hills following directions we got at the hotel. Although quite detailed the directions lacked any mention of time or distance and were like a photographic version of Chinese whispers in as much that half the time we had no idea if we were going the right way.
A woman was herding her cows up the same rocky path and after 2 of the cows wandered off in a different direction, she left us to heard the remaining 3 up the hill.
We then continued further up to enjoy the views. It was hot and sticky and the path got narrower and muddier but wonderful to be amongst the green hills rather than looking at them from below.
As always we were a little sad to leave but looking forward to more Chinese adventures...