Just Around the River Bend: Yangshuo, China

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Our first day in Yangshuo was spent relaxing, wandering around the town and the market and being hassled constantly by ladies with maps who spoke very little English.

These ladies, with their bamboo hats and umbrellas, were all trying to sell bamboo boat trips along the river. We knew we wanted to enjoy the scenery from the water, but we didn’t overly enjoy the pressure. Still, Yangshuo is a tourist town and that’s what you get!

As we were there during China’s summer school holidays it seemed like the entire country had descended upon Yangshuo. The majority of tourists there were domestic, and so John and I stuck out like a sore thumb among hundreds of Chinese tourists – John being a head taller than everyone else and me with my red hair. We were thus tout magnets.

The prices of course seem to vary entirely based on what they think you might pay. The first person asked us for 150 RMB; the second for 300 RMB and the third for 250 RMB. One lady followed us for a good fifteen minutes – they really don’t like taking no for an answer. It made me wish there was a Chinese equivalent of insha’allahbut alas! I’m yet to find one. Repeating ‘no’ and that you’re not interested of course brings the price down pretty rapidly. Her final offer was 100 RMB, and we still made no promises. At that point in time we were both somewhat famished and the only thing we wanted was food!

Sitting down for lunch at East-West Music Cafe, which soon became our favourite hangout due to good food, lovely staff and two-for-one cocktails during happy hour [11am to 12am – they haven’t quite got the concept of happy hour there], we were soon approached by an older lady, Esther, who spoke reasonable English and does bicycle tours around the countryside. We spoke with her for a while; she wasn’t pushy and didn’t shove maps in our face. She was quite friendly and we liked her, and so arranged for a bicycle tour the next morning.

Esther was still talking to us when we’d finished and intended to head down to the river for a bamboo boat ride. It was a hot day, and spending a couple of hours on a boat sounded pretty good to us. Her price was 150 RMB, and just as we were telling her we’d been offered it for 100 RMB the stalker lady who’d offered us this appeared. She and Esther soon got into a somewhat loud argument, fighting over John and I and who would take us on the boat trip. Stalker lady won that round, but we promised Esther we’d meet her in the morning for the bicycle tour.

Stalker lady led us to the river, dumped us onto a little boat with another woman and her young daughter, and we were off. Our pilot initially pushed us out into the river with a long bamboo pole but this quiet, peaceful method of travel was quickly replaced with the hum and rattle of the motor.

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Sitting on a bamboo chair at the front of the boat/raft/floating transportation device we were in prime position to enjoy the scenery surrounding us. And, whatever you may think of the tourist mecca Yangshuo is, with loud music and clubs and bars and neon lights, it’s impossible not to soak up the landscape and marvel in the beauty around you. Only the motor – and other boats with kids with water cannons – breach the peace, and soon enough I’d blocked out the motor anyway. We were thankful for the shade of the ‘roof’ above us, although John later realised he hadn’t put on sunscreen and new bright pink legs. Clearly he failed to keep them in the shade.

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I sat for a while on the edge with my legs in the water – it was so cool and crisp I was tempted to jump in. The colour turned me off this, as well as my doubts about the water quality, but the temptation was still there.

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We motored along, passing the huge limestone karsts that Yangshuo is famous for. I can see why rock climbing is a popular activity here – some of the karsts, rising up along the river’s edge, had sheer cliff faces perfect for climbing. It was incredible. It amazes me as well how much grows on and out of the karsts – most were covered with trees and plants and green.

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I may have found myself singing a few Pocahontas songs [mostly in my head…] as we made our way along the water and through what must be some of China’s most magical scenery.

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We spent about an hour and a half on the water. Unfortunately while we’d turned around and come back up the river, we were not let off at the same spot. It was about a half-hour walk back from where we were dropped off and while I’d hoped we could enjoy a quiet walk along the river it was not to be. No path led that way and it was a cliff for a while, so it was onto the road and back through the town.

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Later that evening we decided to try out a fish foot massage. I’d had one before – years and years ago – and while I remembered it tickling, I was clearly remembering it through rose-tinted lenses. John found that half an hour incredibly entertaining, while I can safely say it doesn’t feature in my top 100 most enjoyable massage experiences. I doubt I’ve had that many massages, but if I had it wouldn’t be up there. There’s nothing relaxing about having tiny fish munch on your toes.

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6 responses to “Just Around the River Bend: Yangshuo, China

    • Sorry I didn’t reply earlier – I’ve just discovered that I haven’t been receiving my email notifications!
      My favourite places of everywhere I’ve ever visited happen to be a few places I haven’t actually blogged about – Esfahan and Yazd in Iran, and Damascus in Syria. I visited the Middle East in 2010, and it was probably the most fascinating and educating experience I’ve had. I’ve never met such welcoming, friendly people anywhere. It was like stepping into a whole new world!
      But it’s a pretty difficult question really, as I have far too many favourite places – Istanbul, Sarajevo, Veliko Tarnovo [Bulgaria], Belgrade… I hardly know where to start!

  1. Fantastic place. We hired bikes there and went out into the sticks a little. I can’t remember where exactly, but have you seen the guy thats high as a kite and lets you take photos with his fishing birds? You going to be staying around there much longer?

    • It is a lovely place. We rented bikes another day…that story is yet to come! I don’t think we saw the guy you mention – unfortunately we’ve already left so I can’t go looking for him!

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