Yangshuo is just south of Guilin, but worlds away from the average Chinese tourist city. This adventure capital caters to foreigners (and some locals) who prefer hiking through mountains, not crowds of tour groups.
Even though it was a bit overcast, we were instantly blown away by the amazing scenery and our quaint little guest house just outside of town. The dutch host, Tripper, gave us some tips while we sipped a cocktail on the deck “There is plenty to do here; kayak down the river, hike the trails, rock climb, caving, even take a cooking class. Whatever you feel like.” “Perfect,” we said, “We’ll do all of the above.”
But first, we need some clothes laundered. Fifty yuan ($6) and two hours later, we had a bag of freshly folded clean undies and full stomachs from a lunch of hot pot rice and duck. The town is still Chinese but has a sprinkling of western comforts. There’s even a McDonalds, and in Asia, when we see the golden arches it means only one thing – clean, western-style restrooms. They should take down the sign and put up a golden toilet.
Climbing through the mist
Cortney and I have rock climbed a few times, but it seemed like a fun thing to get into, especially when travelling. The landscape in southern China is perfect for any level of climber. We hooked up wih some local guides, rented bikes, and grabbed our gear.
If you’ve seen the movie Avatar, then you have an idea of the floating mountain scenery that surrounded us. The bike ride was amazing and pedaling past one giant limestone tower after another was the perfect warm up for the days activities.
We arrived at a well worn rock face. It was attached to a mountain that was about the size of a cargo ship turned on it’s end. Sky, our guide and local climber, gave us a quick refersher course. “It’s easy, all in the legs,” then he scampered up the side of the face like a gibbon. There was no hope that our attempt would be as effortless, but at least we looked the part with our harnesses and foot binding shoes.
Climbing is 90% technique and calculated moves, but to the amateur it can be very tiring on all the little muscles you never use. Cortney and I were able to complete a succession of lines (climbing routes) but there were a lot of difficult spots to work through. The nice thing is, every inch brings you closer to a spectacular view; and 40 meters above the ground in Yangshou is worth some scrapes and a couple of aspirin.
Something’s cooking in China
The next day we went for a run through the country side, hung out, and then ventured into town for a cooking course. Since it’s China, all cooking starts at the market, so that’s where we began. Cortney and I had our personal chef guide us through the raucous stalls. We bought meat, vegetables, spices and witnessed the ultimate demise of many an animal. It’s always strange to get a glimpse of the unpackaged, realistic side of food preparation.
Food in hand, we arrived at a small riverside retreat where Cortney and I fumbled through five courses of Chinese cooking. On the menu was eggplant stir fry, egg wrapped dumplings, steamed chicken with mushrooms, stir fried pork with veggies with oyster sauce, and green vegetables with garlic. The dishes seem simple, but the secret was wok preparation and the proper amount of heat, water and oil. Eating a dish while watching the sunset over China is a treat. The fact that we were the chefs, and the food was edible, makes it even more memorable. We hocked a spitball and congratulated ourselves on our Chinese cooking.
Lazy Li river
The first sunny day we came across was a perfect time to kayak down the famous Li river. Once again it was just Nick, Cortney and a guide. We drove out to a tiny village and plunged into the river. The views were amazing and the only other faces seen on the journey were local fisherman plying the water ways. We even caught a glimpse of native Cormorant fishing. Local fisherman teach their pet birds to dive into the river after fish. The birds have ropes tied around their necks so they know they will need the fisherman to untie them to eventually get their meal. The brilliant (or develish) tradition has continued for hundreds of years.
We finished the day with beer cooked river trout. Spicy, delicious and possibly caught in a birds throat.