If you’ve only recently tuned in, this is my third and final China ‘wrap-up’ post. (I’ve already done ones on Beijing and Shanghai so check them out). When I started this trip in July, one thing I had in mind was to see where else in the world I could potentially happily live. Each city I travel through I have been rating in 5 areas as a light-hearted way to see how they compare.
When it came to culture, Yangshuo was a bit of a funny paradox. It was hands-down the most isolated place I’d visited in China and so you’d think it’d be most ‘Chinese’ if it lacked western influences. To some extent it was but it could be rather hard to find bountiful and genuine ‘Chinese-ness’ as you needed to cycle quite far out of the town. Yangshuo itself is quite a touristy town and has sadly been quite Westernised at the heart in an attempt to attract foreigners. People in general I found were in good spirits (they love to wave and say hello as they cycle by) and friendly, unlike Beijing on average. But I suppose the same could be said comparing any capital city with the countryside.
As with anywhere in mainland China, spitting and bad road-usage is commonplace. And internet censorship. Nobody’s favourite things but comes with the territory I’m afraid. If it makes you feel better, you do became somewhat immune to the annoyance such habits bring!
While I was delighted at how much better I could communicate with people in Shanghai compared to Beijing (my Mandarin had improved but their collective English was also better) I hit a bit of a wall in Yangshuo. Very few people speak English but this shouldn’t be to much of a problem if you’re staying at a guesthouse and take day trips with organised guides. If in doubt, use the fall-back option of pointing and miming. (I had to play charades with a local policeman who was trying to tell me I was ‘parking’ my bike in the wrong place).
My Mandarin hit an absolute wall when my beloved laptop broke yet I was determined to get it fixed right there and then. Cue me cycling down to the town centre to the only electronics shop with laptop on my back. Desperation made me naively confident I could bluff my way through talking about how my laptop needed a new logic board, in Mandarin, with the help of my Pleco dictionary. How wrong I was. “Wo de dian nao bu hao! Bu zuo! Bu ke yi yong!” I proudly proclaimed. Suffice to say my laptop didn’t get fixed…
It comes as no surprise that in somewhere as isolated as Yangshuo, bikes are going to be your main, if not only, method of transportation. You could book a taxi to somewhere through your guesthouse but I sensed that could be a bit hit-or-miss. Case in point: the driver who took me and two other people to the airport-shuttle bus stop stopped off on the way to buy some breakfast. Granted, we only stopped for a minute or two but we very much had somewhere to be quite soon!!
The guesthouse I stayed with was great as you could rent a bike or motor-scooter very cheaply for a whole day. And after 5pm, rentals were free! Cycling places is definitely a great way to explore a place at your own pace. Click here to see some photos here from my bike adventures.
Things to do/nightlife 2/5
Again, it’s probably no surprise that out in the countryside there’s a limited amount of obvious things to do. In the heart of Yangshuo, there was a karaoke place and a few lively sounding Western bars. And of course there’s some restaurants too. My favourite evening activity was actually watching a cormorant fishing demonstration.
I think the countryside is probably the best place to try and wrangle a local invitation to something or somewhere. I met one guy who spoke about another place in the countryside he’d been to and had managed to get himself an invite to a local family’s home for dinner as they’d seen him wandering looking for food at night! Depending on how good your Mandarin is (or how good their English is) approach a few locals at a bar or something and ask if you can sit with them. People are generally very friendly and eager to socialise with Westerners.
During the day, I recommend you either hire a bike, borrow a map and go for a self-guided tour or book yourself on one like I did with Bike Asia. You’ll see plenty of tucked away villages and countryside without the fear of getting lost.
Away from the polluted cities of China, you were pretty much guaranteed clear skies every day. (I mean clear as in not polluted – there was definitely a good amount of cloud when I was there!). And you’ll never get bored of the beautiful green mountains looking over everywhere you go. Further out of the town you can cycle by lakes and the infamous Li River and a few of it’s estuaries. Like anywhere with a tropical climate, come prepared for torrential rain at any moment! I have never been a wearer of ponchos but in China I caught myself wearing neon-coloured ponchos more times than I care to remember.
Although the countryside is beautiful, since only the very main roads have tarmac, dirt roads are everywhere else meaning it can get incredibly dusty. Any light-coloured footwear you have will not stay that way for long. Similarly, your legs will be sporting an attractive covering of dust which will stuck to your suncream. But hey, just take a shower before get into bed each night. Easy peasy.
I’ve always been a city girl at heart so even if Yangshuo was the most incredible countryside retreat, I know I couldn’t live there. However, for what it was, Yangshuo was a quiet and serene break from the madness of Beijing and Shanghai. I spent 6 days there which in hindsight was probably too long but I’m glad I went, if for no other reason than to compare China’s countryside with it’s cities. However, I did wish I had stayed for a bit in the centre of Guilin. I would have been able to take more interesting day trips, like seeing the rice terraces of Longsheng! Sorry for the low rating Yangshuo but I don’t think you and I were ever going to be the right match.
Have you been to Yangshuo before or perhaps elsewhere in Guilin? What did you think of the Chinese countryside? Tell me in the comments below!