Yearning for Yangshuo
Updated: Dec 3, 2020
Yangshuo County is possibly one of the most beautiful areas I have ever seen to. The distinctive style of mountains that you find in Southern China cover this beautiful county, showing off a landscape that you would never see anywhere else. I have seen beautiful landscapes and mountains, from Norway to Costa Rica but Yangshuo is a different kind of beauty all together. It isn't that it is more beautiful then the Fjords of Norway or the rainforests of Costa Rica but it definitely gave me a more sensationalised feeling, like I was on another planet, where these spikes of rock and forest just rose out the ground seemingly from nowhere. If you are the kind of person the loves to hike, mountain climb, kayak or anything like that or if you just enjoy chasing stunning scenery than you have to visit Yangshuo at some point in your life. I was there with a group of friends I had met whilst teaching in China, and our trip to Yangshuo was a treat given to us by the company we were working for, Gotoco China. I just want to give a massive shout out to Gotoco for providing us with the opportunity to teach in China and earn our TEFL certificates for free, would seriously recommend for anyone looking to get into teaching abroad, but I digress. My friends and I would go onto explore this beautiful area and see everything it has to offer for the next few days.
Yangshuo is not only the name of the county but also the name of the town we were staying in. A small town by Chinese standards, but, like most Chinese settlements, it was busy and full of life all day long. The town was very touristy and felt very fake in a lot of areas but it was very fun to see. They had an Italian restaurant that was made to look like every Italian in every movie, and Indian restaurant that did the same. I ate in both because it felt like a life time since I had any food like that, and to my surprise it was actually very nice, not just a cheap knock off. It was a town of bright lights and sensory overload at night but a place of serenity set against a stunning back drop during the day.
It was a really long journey from Shantou to Yangshuo that involved a lot of not knowing where we were meant to be in massive Chinese stations so our first night there we just went out for something to eat, have a look around and then went back to our hostel to sleep. The hostel was crazy and there a loads of similar ones in Yangshuo as it is a backpacking hotspot in China. Cool chilled out swinging chairs and hammocks downstairs, mental rooms with cartoons on the walls upstairs, why not ay? But we had big plans for exploration the next morning. One of our group, Jamie, thought he had found a trail to the river through some forest and we set off in the early hours to try and catch the sunrise at the river. We would not make it. There was some resemblance of a trial but it was covered by dense foliage, we probably travelled about 800 metres in an hour before realising there was no way we were getting through this with anything short of a machete. We turned back and managed to get to the stunning Li river through a route more travelled, to watch the sunrise over the mountains while swimming, one of the most peaceful moments I have ever had. We then went on a trip organised by Gotoco, to Xing Ping village to climb the Laozhai Mountain. This mountain towering over the village was one of the tougher climbs, not because of the difficulty of the actual climbing but because of the heat of Southern China and me having a little bit of vertigo. This was not helped by the fact for some the climb you had to use a ladder because it was so steep and it felt like this ladder was hang off the edge of the mountain. However, I am glad I did not back down, because the views were amazing. This area was especially famous for its beauty with the scenery being on the 20RMB note and being visited by Bill Clinton on his trip to China with his family. There is something special about being at the top of one of these distinct mountains because it makes you feel like you are miles above everything else. Other mountains gradually rise from the ground where as these mountains just shoot up seemingly from no where so there is nothing immediately around you that is anywhere near as high. Sitting in a pagoda at the top of this mountain was sensational and gave me a sense of being on top of the world. I couldn't recommend this climb more if you want to see the beautiful scenery from above. You will probably lose about 2 kilos in weight from the amount of sweat you put out from this climb but it is great.
As if we hadn't done enough already, this day was going to end at 3am with a strange night out. Yangshuo has a buzzing nightlife even though it is a small picturesque town. This night out was not just with our Gotoco group it was with other members of Gotoco programs across all of China. We all met in a youth hostel rooftop bar called Monkey Janes. It was a very cool rooftop bar with cheap drinks and free snakebite shots, we were getting loose. It was great few hangout with the other Gotocoers and hearing about their experiences. This bar was also home to Monkey Jane, a pregnant Chinese lady who loved to party. She was at the bar the entire night and leading the party. It was a very cool vibe. Lots of drinking games, lots of snakebite shots and most importantly, lots of emotional singing of American Pie. We then moved onto a club which contained one of my favourite inventions that we found across China, a bouncing dance floor! This meant that when everyone got on it and the music started going mental, when everyone jumped up and down you got some extra air and when you are loose that feels very cool.
The night finished in a way we had become accustom to in China. Drunkenly wondering home through the street in the general direction of our accommodation, finding a food cart to sit down at on the way. Food carts are a great place to eat, as long as you are not worried about food poisoning. They are basically grills on wheels with fresh produce at the front of it. You go to the fresh produce put it in a basket, and hand it to the person on the grill. This produce can be anything, Oysters, Pork, Aubergine and even Spiders. You then have your basket handed back to you, filled with amazingly well grilled food, covered in a spice rub, then take it back to your tiny stool, exactly like you see in Primary Schools across the UK. You are basically sat on the ground. You socialise with everyone set around the same food cart, you laugh with the person on the grill and most importantly the food tastes amazing, even spiders have a decent flavour when grilled right. The food cart we found in Yangshuo provided all of these things, but I couldn't tell you where it was for the life of me. That's the best thing about these food carts, they tend to pop out of nowhere.
The next morning we woke up feeling a little worse for wear. But if one thing can get you out of bed and ready for the day ahead it is the site of the stunning mountains surrounding Yangshuo, and knowing you will be exploring them all day. We had decided to book out some electric moped for our whole group. I know what you are thinking less Sons of Anarchy and more hipster riding something green to look cool, but to be honest they were cheap and actually pretty nippy. We drove into the mountains with a little route planned, but that would soon change. The maps in Yangshuo were not our friends it seemed. We drove along the most stunning artery of the river that ran through the valley and it was a beautiful spot, so beautiful a company had decided to put a campsite there. Now if you are in the UK this is no biggy, you drive through the campsite and carry on, well Chinese campsites are a little different. They have markets in them under tents that adorn the only road through this part of the valley, and with all their signs it makes it not very suitable for bikes, even as small as ours. This led to a few crashes, including on of our group powering straight into a sign for ice cream and another crash that ended with a cut on the leg of another member of the group.
This cut led to next leg of our journey, trying to find a hospital in this remote rural area of China. Someone from the campsite showed us to one, zig zagging along the roads as quickly as we could still surrounded by the stunning 360º scenery, one of the most beautiful emergency drives. When we arrived at the hospital it looked like an empty concrete building in a tiny hamlet with three other derelict buildings. I know the NHS is falling apart at the seams but I really hadn't seen a hospital like it. This did not fill me with confidence but it is all we had, and to be fair to them they put one stitch in our friends leg and we carried on our way, she was fine.
We then proceeded to climb into the mountains coming across more and more beautiful views as we climbed, and more and more fun roads to drive on. Long winding roads up the mountains and steep winding roads on the way back down, which if you are feeling brave you could achieve some serious speed. There is actually not that much to tell about this section of the trip but it was probably one of my favourite parts. Flying through stunning, rural China with my mates in the baking hot sun, I got the worst sunburn this day that lasted for at least a month and came back with me to the UK, I know classic Brit. But apart from the sunburn it was incredible bliss. If you find yourself anywhere with beautiful scenery, hire yourself any motorised bike and just head out, it makes you feel more at one with the scenery then in a car.
As it got to around 3pm I just didn't ever want to stop. However, and very understandably, some of our group wanted to see some of the natural wonders that Yangshuo had to offer, so we decided to split a few of us kept on driving and the others went to see some springs, which were apparently stunning and when I go back I will be checking out myself. Those of us who continued to drive decided to race each other and ended up finding some very cool things as well. We found a wedding photoshoot in a cave which was very strange but was very fun to watch while taking a water break and obviously exploring the cave, you can also find these tiny villages and hamlets that just seemed lost in time the further and further you drive.
The issue was... we drove too far.
We had to drive back to Yangshuo and lost another couple of our group. However, luckily for me, my back said it had plenty of life left, so me and another friend decided to drive towards the mountains on the other side of Yangshuo. We once again got lost in the beauty if this stunning area. We found a beautiful spot on the river where children were playing in the water, people were washing their clothes and others were sunbathing on the rocks by the side, it was serine. Honestly if you ever get the chance to go to Yangshuo just get on something to drive and you will find something beautiful.
It was starting to get late and we had arrange to meet some friends at the top of a TV tower at sunset, it was our last night as a group. We thought this would not be a problem as we had not travelled far and thought we knew where the TV tower was. How wrong we were.
It can't have been longer than 5 minutes before our bikes started stuttering and cutting out. We had miles to go and all of a sudden our journey became like a Top Gear episode, we were racing the sun and we had to make it to the top of a TV tower before the sunset. We were stuck on a Chinese main road not able to go above 5mph, but with the sun starting to give off this orange hue, riding next to one of my best friends it was actually amazing. We then reached the town and my friends bike completely cut out. He ended up having to push it and it was at that point we really didn't know where we were going. We ended up crossing two working building sites whilst having to push our bikes, heading down back allies and having to basically treat these bikes like scooters the whole time. I must say looking back at it I have no idea how we made it.
But we did make it... well we made it to the foot of the mountain we then had to climb to get to the TV Tower. After our arduous journey on the bikes we were not done. We had to climb this mountain to get to the view. It was steps all the way up but it did take its tole on me, I was very tired from the day. Another thing I should mention is when you get to the top you will be greeted by the guard of the TV Tower who you have to bribe to let you into the complex, he is a pretty cool guy and lives in the TV Tower, climbing this mountain to get food everyday. But once we were allowed in and found the perfect spot, the tiredness from the journey sunk into insignificants. Our friends were already there and they were waiting for us with a few cold beers. Looking over that sunset with some of my closest friends, beer in hand, on our last night in China together, I couldn't help feeling it was the perfect end. We were on top of the world, looking over some of the most beautiful scenery I have and ever will see. It was pure bliss. I will always remember and take myself back to that moment.