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China -Yangshuo Li river trip report

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morning we caught a cab to the ferry terminal for Shenzhen airport past the new territories. The Tubojet was sleet and modern like a first class airliner. It had large flat screens and was super quiet. Soon we were at the Shenzhen airport and even though we were in Mainland China, the airport was brand new.. As we approached the Guilin airport we spotted lots of patchwork farmland and the reflective rice paddies. When we got to Guilin there was no one waiting for us as we had set up, so we were grossly over charged for the hour drive by taxi…$44. A young girl who spoke no English drove the taxi. She zipped thru town. I’m glad we were not staying n Guilin.. There was a continuous line of equal sized small shops lining the four lane (actually only a wide two-laned highway). We saw bamboo and rattan furniture shops, stone carvers, and large tricycles carrying everything: from large sacks to bundles of wood, and live chickens (packed so tightly you could hardly tell they were chickens except for the occasional beak). The streets were filled with diesel trucks, bicycles, tricycles, motorcycles, and pedestrians and she had to dart and weave to avoid them and the occasional group of cattle (just like videos on TV). People were all over and smoking (as if it wasn’t polluted enough) and there was a lot of horn honking. It was hot and humid and the car did not have air so the noise and diesel smell was bad. We left the city and began to see the famous mountains. This was just as interesting a part of the trip and dangerous as well. Big trucks would do u-turns in the middle of the road. There were some unusual old trucks that sounded like a tractor running out of gas with motors jutted out like a snout on the front with a large flywheel driven by a belt. Some had a single wheel in the front. The vehicles pulled out in front of us and passed on the right and generally narrowly missed each other.
We arrived at he hotel and checked into our huge room, which was on the third floor. (no elevator) It has high ceilings and nice western moldings, is painted white with a wood laminate floor and decorated with dark Chinese furniture and a wicker couch. The Magnolia is the best hotel in town and quite the deal for $45 a night. There’s a huge window, which looks out to our private roof garden facing a bustling street and the view of several bushy rounded peaks. In the center of the hotel is a courtyard with a koi pond. The side hallway leads out the back to view of the creek below with views of rooftops and a stone bridge.
We went around the corner to a dumpling shop and ordered two plates of dumplings; one was pork and the other vegetable. The woman’s son was making the dough and the mom filling them at another table. The homemade dough made for the best dumpling I’ve ever eaten. Then we went to West Street, the shopping street (where shopping isn’t a pleasure). Every vendor accosted us, as we were new in town. Vendors called out and were very persistent. Groups of girls approached us and asked us to help with a school project. “Write something you feel about this town” they say. We walked down by the river where there is a garden with beautiful old Chinese buildings and across the river were some people riding horses. At the other end of West Street is a reflection pond with a carved stone bridge. The stores were open until midnight and it was a party street atmosphere with the music, restaurants and the glow of the red oval lanterns everywhere. There are Aussies here and some Germans, Swedes and Dutch. Day 2---last night there was a lightning storm and rain. We awoke late and it was cold and raining. For breakfast we ate at a place called China Café where we had a large crepe-like pancake with slices of bananas. We did some more bargaining. In one shop they were boiling cocoons and removing the shells of the silk worms. Then they pulled the fibers over a loop to stretch it and hang it to dry. After that two people pull the fibers apart like carding wool and the silk is light and soft. They did not want to come down on prices here.
We ate dinner at and had China café and had the cashew chicken and the lemon chicken (very good). I wish I could get my lemon chicken this crispy! We had the whole upstairs to ourselves.
Day 3----This day it was really cold and I’m glad we have coats and sweater. We went down to the other end of West Street for breakfast and by the time I got there my fingers were numbThe “hash browns” were the crispiest web of French fries. We walked over the stone bridge on the pond (really a part of the canal) and there was a fisherman in the typical long bamboo raft boat. He had a long beard and a basket full of fish that he had caught from nets.
We arranged for a private boat tour down river past Fuli to a small very poor village where we had reserved a table for lunch at the Pavillion on the water. At the time appointed our transportation to the boat arrived and it was a motorcycle (and we thought the taxi was harrowing)! In my world I would never ride especially without a helmut but hey we were on vacation. It was an exciting ride through the grittier part of town but it was sooooo cold.. G’s cycle disappeared ahead and typically thought my driver was going to Shanghai me. We finally hooked up in a neighborhood where a line of boats was parked.
We descended sideways down the muddy and slippery hill to the boat. The boat driver had the short Chinese bangs and a toothy grin. The long flat boat had a cabin with windows and some folding chairs. We were loving the view of the humpy peaks in the mist and the river with huge clumps of bamboo that looked as if they were feather plumes from afar, snapping pictures…the water buffalo, ducks, shacks, and the other tourists (all Chinese) We docked at the town and walked up to the pavilion. Uh oh! There’s even a tout here but she is an old lady without a son (very bad thing in China since there is no social security)…
We are greeted and led to a small fire of coals on the stone floor and other people are here eating and warming up. The first couple is French and another is from Scotland with their exchange student daughter. Some are sitting on the Chinese stools, others at tables. The menu included the typical noodles and vegetables or the fried rice. We wanted something more unusual so G.ordered the straw pork and I ordered the smoked pork with vegetables. G’s arrived first on a plate ringed with thin tomato slices and mini cucumbers in the shape of a heart and a carrot rose. As it turns out straw pork is just pork fat back flavored with hoisen sauce and wrapped in a piece of straw. .My dish was stir-fried smoked thick bacon (undercooked) with celery and peppers and lots of oil… 20 yuan (2 bucks) but we are foreigners.
Then we toured the village. There were lots of 2-month-old puppies (someone had just had a litter). The pups were tan and typical curs with Chinese slanted chow-like faces. Justin would have played with them. I hope they don’t end in a rice bowl. There were two toddlers playing in a doorway in their tight puffy jackets stacking stools as toys. Inside the doorway I could see the adults were playing stick cards trying to stay warm. A woman of about 40 selling trinkets decided to shadow us so I started up a conversation. She was short, attractive with a big smile and in very rudimentary English and pantomime we communicated. She had one child a 16-year-old son- the Chinese ideal. She showed us the school and some fishponds and a carpet thick green rice sprouts between the house waiting to be planted .The village reminded me of a Mexican village: crumbling walls, wires running overhead, chickens with a brood, pile of sticks and building materials, old bikes, and farm equipment.. As we walked by a brick building with hole high up I was startled by this weird growling sound. G lifted me p to see the pig inside. Like the old Chinese saying…. instead. I say a visit is worth a thousand pictures.
Our Scottish friends were returning my bike but we were taking a car on a very bad road On the way back we saw lots of rice paddies, citrus orchards and some vegetables all with the humpy mountain background. There are 1.4 billion people and some are indeed very poor.
That night we went to dinner the food (Red Star) was not good. My duck had way to much ginger and G’s pepper steak was just tooo much pepper and mushy beef. We did have some delicious hot apple crumble at Drifters.
The next day was still very cold and damp. We went to breakfast at a bar called K.C. Blues. We hate to eat alone and wanted to connect to other travelers so that’s why we picked it. We ordered one French breakfast.: 2 huge thick slices of French toast, scrambled eggs, fresh squeezed OJ, and a huge bowl of homemade yogurt with watermelon, apples and bananas. The menu was extensive. The specialty items included snake, bamboo rat, and dog We saw a sign that said,” try the dog, it won’t bite”.
We didn’t want to miss the best section of the mountains and river and G. had enough of shopping, so we arranged a tour upstream with driver and boat ride We dodged the carts, pedestrians, tuk tuks, and trucks through the frantic streets. Out in the country we saw a less poverty stricken area than yesterday. We passed an interesting brick factory with a large barn for drying and a giant beehive kiln front and center. The women were in the process of turning over the soil by hands with shovels. There were men with water buffalos plowing in the cold, damp mucky fields as rice is going in soon. Lots of small mandarin orange trees are in bloom here and the air has an orange blossom scent.
We arrived at the town and the boat driver took us down to the river where we again had our own private boat. This area is the most scenic and we saw constant line or the large tour boats from Guilin upriver. These boats had one dining room deck and one roof deck….very fancy compared to ours. They have a cooking area in the back where they wash the dishes in the river. The river is fast flowing, crystal clear, and serpentine. Of course the mountains are stunning and misty.
We arrived at the little fishing village and there was s a group of villagers sitting around the coal fire on the stairway up from the river. My hands were numb so I joined them. We walked up the embankment and through a bamboo tunnel into the brick village pass the hawkers but they are very polite. This place was once a very nice village. He took to a house with exquisite windows on the inner courtyard windows On the wood paneling were pictures of the Clintons when they visited here in “82?. We wandered some more and our boatman’s demeanor indicated men were gambling in the dark sparse rooms. Our slick looking boatman who was wearing a leather jacket was eager to get back and when we docked I spotted two cormorant birds sitting on a half wall with their heads tucked in for a nap The temptation was too great so I gently stroked his feathers. We realized we still had some yuan left to spend so we wouldn’t have to change the money again. We looked at fake Rolexes (quit working in when you shook them) and some tribal embroidery (wouldn’t deal). We found a wall hanging in a silk shop and tried bargaining hard. This shop was tough and we pulled out our bills and said this is all we have. They wouldn’t budge so we left and the young girl ran after us down the street. We ended up paying about 10 dollars too much anyways. Yangshuo is the most touristy place in China and about least 3 times more expensive as well.
The driver arrived to take up to the airport and we soon realized what the wide lanes were for…..the bikes!! On the way hordes of kids were all along to the side. We saw a broken down truck in the other lane and the welders were there fixing it on site. The driver hit Guilin and suddenly veered off to the east on this convoluted trek through back roads, potholed dirt roads, construction sites etc. Again we thought we were being hijacked! When I could take it no longer and a said ”plane?” He replied ”too many car”. Say what? That cost us an extra half hour and then he turned us out in a place we didn’t recognize….. the modern terminal of the airport. The Frenchman was here, must be the right place.Thanks for help with the connections!!

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