Boarding the small boat that would take us along the River Li from Guilin to Yangshuo was a pleasant surprise as reviews we had read implied the boats were old, not very comfortable and not to expect very much for lunch – not the case at all.
Very modern boats and lunch was very fresh indeed, I photographed it arriving.
The scenery along the river was spectacular, I did take some photographs although mostly just stared in awe.
Each mountain is named after its appearance – Horse’s Head, Elephant Trunk etc. – some were easy to spot and others we struggled to identify. The river meanders through the hills and the sway of the boat encourages relaxation, it was a struggle to keep awake.
Yangshuo itself is a small town and the gateway to Guangxi Province. Arriving after lunch our guide and driver whisked us up into the mountains to the nearby Yangshuo Mountain Retreat. I was so excited that I would be sleeping in the same bed for two consecutive nights. Once we had deposited our luggage we were off on a two-hour bike ride (we were offered the option to walk but exercise to wake us up sounded a good idea).
It was good to see the local culture close up as we both rode and walked along the river watching the fishermen, bathers and rice farmers enjoying their day.
The Retreat (https://www.yangshuomountainretreat.com/) is set on the banks of the River Yulong amongst hills and fields away from the bustle of normal life. The rooms are simply but elegantly furnished, with no Telephones or TVs (hurrah). The hotel is committed to ecological sustainability and remains rooted to its original mission. Providing training and employment for the local population – as well as Ex-pats with skills to share. It is possible to join in classes during the stay – Yoga, Meditation and Basic language skills were on offer and appeared popular. Below is the view from my room.Whilst at the retreat we went to see a performance of the Impression Liu Sanjie on the River Li. This is an amazing production on the river using the mountains as a backdrop. It is directed by Zhang Yimou, who produced the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening show. The cast are mainly local farmers, fishermen and ethnic family groups alongside a few national stars. It tells the story of local folklore aided by lighting and moving platforms. My photos do not do it justice (taken very quickly at the end). Go, if you ever have the opportunity.
Next day we had no scheduled events and it was good to laze about in the morning exploring our local area. After lunch we decided to be brave and chanced the Yulong River Bamboo Rafting experience. Well, it was not as scary as it first looked although I did spend more time making sure I stayed on board than enjoying the passing scenery! We decided to walk the 3km rather than use a taxi – had not considered the temperature, the traffic or the narrowness of the road – added to the adventure I thought.
We ate in the Retreat Restaurant in the evenings to enjoy the quietness – would certainly recommend the food.
Soon our little respite was over and we were back on the road, this time heading to a real adventure. Ahead of us was a 4 hour drive then a 30 minute hike up a steep mountain path that had no vehicular access. The drive was picturesque as we made our way to Longji and the Dragon’s Back range of rice terraces. We were to stay in the village of Ping An at the Longji One Hotel.
Bamboo was much in evidence – everything from buildings to cooking utensils appeared to be made of this local resource. The rice is grown and harvested today just as it was hundreds of years ago, with each family having an allocated space. Initially I thought the village had a medieval air about it and worried that the young generation would be left behind their peers in other cities and countries – a wasted thought I soon discovered. Looking in houses as we walked by I noticed TVs and many other electric appliances alongside the ‘mobile phone’ in constant use with some interesting Apps. Alongside Apps for translating languages I also discovered that there was an App that identified flowers and fauna from your photographs (now on my phone and used regularly)
We walked through the mist and drizzle ever upwards to view the terraces. As we were early in the year the rice was being planted and the individual terraces and paths were very visible making it easier to understand how it all worked.
Although informed by our guides of the ‘minority’ groups in this area of China it was interesting to actual meet the people who have worked hard to maintain their regional cultures. Such as the ladies of the Miao, who we referred to as the ‘Silver Ladies’ because of the locally made ornate silverware that they decorated their costumes with.
On the way back down the mountain, the next day, we passed through a small market where we purchased some silverware and tea as gifts and persuaded a lady of Yao culture to un-braid her hair. It is their culture to only cut the hair twice in a lifetime – once as a very young child and again at the age of 18. The cut hair is saved and is incorporated into the ‘up-style’ bun daily.
Onto Sanjiang and the regional centre of the Dong Minority group. Again, the first impression is of a bygone time – but oh my – the beauty and history of the ‘Wind and Rain Bridges’.
Again Bamboo was the commonest material for buildings and furniture. Having left behind the rice planting we were surrounded by tea bushes and it was a joy to walk leisurely along the paths, although some paths were rather steep (good that I had ‘trained’ before leaving UK).
Tea is not a drink I choose although here I felt it would be impolite not to and what a delicious drink when the ‘two leaves and a bud’ travel such a short distance from plant to pot.
Up and out to catch a train and car to Zhaoxing and to see rice grown in small fields and irrigated by centuries old water wheels and ….
…..the majesty of the ‘Drum Towers’.
We attended a theatre production explaining local culture and history, walking back to the hotel in the dark with the bridges and towers illuminated was a joy (no way is my camera good enough to reproduce the sight – just take my word it was worth seeing)
Having spent a day swapping trains and spending a night in Changsha we were soon on our way to Zhangjiajie (or Avatar country as we referred to it) and two days trekking in the stunning UNESCO World Heritage park. Although I must admit – we returned each evening to our rather smart hotel. There is only so much ‘roughing it’ my husband is prepared to do. Both up in the mountains and following the river lower down was just beautiful and despite the huge number of people also visiting the area it so vast it accommodates us all easily.
The first day was the toughest – at some points we had to walk sideways through very narrow passages between the mountains or crouched low to pass under overhanging rocks. ‘How do you manage bringing overweight people here?’ asked my husband.
Our guide replied ‘Oh, we don’t. We put them in the cable car’ ‘There’s a cable car!’ we both shouted in mock (real) horror! We used the cable car to descend – adding another opportunity to view the landscape and to escape the rain which had been with us all day. Second day the weather was dry and warm which made the river side walk even more special.
All of a sudden we realised that we had reached the end of this adventure, we intend to visit again – going north to visit the Terracotta Army and the Wall.
It was amazing.