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Yangshuo

I loved Yangshuo! It’s a town rather than a city in the middle of the most amazing countryside, big limestone mounds covered in trees fill the area. The Li River runs right through it and carries on all the way to Guilin, we could have rode by boat to Yangshuo but seen as the bus was £50 cheaper we opted for that. Although we were out in the countryside now, Yangshuo’s beauty is no secret and it was by far the most touristy place we visited, more white people here than anywhere previously! Our hostel was just off the touristy West Street where there’s shops selling everything you can imagine, a road full of bars and a whole street dedicated to German food.

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Bikes were only £1.50 to rent for the day so I got on Google maps and planned us a nice tour of the countryside passing through lots of little villages. The bikes were not quite up to the same standard as our road bikes back at home, they had one gear and flat tyres but they did the job. The views are even better up close, the fields were filled with farmers and their buffalo working hard on their crops and then in the background were these huge imposing limestone karsts. Google maps turned out to not be the most reliable source of directions and a few miles off the beaten track the road stopped at the edge of a river, it carried on at the other side but there was a distinct lack of bridge present. Fortunately with Rob’s best Chinese (waving his arms about and pointing at the bikes) we were able to get a Chinese man and his 4 pieces of bamboo to rescue us and take us across the river. We passed through the real rural Chinese villages on our ride, but no matter where we’ve been in China, whether it’s a huge bustling City or a village in the middle of nowhere you can guarantee there’ll be at least 5 intense games of cards going on. It’s obviously an exciting spectator sport too because there’s always a huge crowd gathered watching. There was a woman selling homemade flower headbands in the next village and since becoming aware of the widespread poverty after reading the book I’ve been trying and buy off every street seller, but honestly I’ve never seen someone so happy to receive a 20p tip. Rob reckons I’ve become soft as we’ve slowly started to acquire a bunch of crap we don’t need, so far I’ve got a flower headband, 2 bobbles, 2 bracelets, a bag of unripe oranges, some sort of inedible member of the grapefruit family and a wooden frog. But I’m sure there’s more I can collect! Our countryside tour was rounded off with a trip up Moon Hill, a rock with a hole in it. Two local farmers caught us just as we were about to pay the entry fee to get into the park and told us they got a special local discount. The deal was we pay them a lower entry fee, they make a bit of money and everyone’s happy. Turns out there special rate meant following them round the corner and using a step ladder to hop the perimeter wall, then they shushed us as we crept through a maze of woods before popping out on the main path, I’ve never felt more alive! The mountain itself was a but of a disappointment but at least we didn’t pay the full whack!

Even though our hostel was called the showbiz party hostel we spent the whole first night in the rooftop bar and didn’t see a single person, we did get the pool table and darts board all to ourselves though. So we ventured to the Yangshuo strip on the second night, not as cheap as some places in China but you can still get a beer for a pound and a mojito for £3. Also the bar had a tiny puppy that we were allowed to play with! It wasn’t exactly a busy bar, after an hour we were the only couple left but who needs people when you have puppies anyway!

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Despite having saddle sore bums we hired the bikes on the second day to venture down to Xingping village to see the river up close. It was about 16 miles each way so we passed through plenty more small villages and countryside. In one village there was a spontaneous dance class going on which I was peer pressure into joining by a group of middle aged Chinese women. My rhythm isn’t great at the best of times (me and mum tried Zumba once and vowed never to speak of it again) but I looked even worse next to the elegant perfectly in time Chinese ladies. One dance was enough for me before we made our excuses and left! Xingping is a village along the Li River which is absolutely beautiful. After being followed around by a lady on a motorbike shouting bamboo for over half an hour, seriously she would not give up, we gave in and took her bamboo raft tour. The views were lovely but we had to make a stop half way on a tourist trap island where the locals were chasing us round the island trying to sell us things. As soon as we got off the boat people carrying a stick with 2 birds on either end crowded the boat and tried to put them on us so we’d pay for a picture. I tried to explain I’m scared of birds but it didn’t translate well in Chinese so the stick bird carriers followed me round the beach whilst I ran away.

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Once we were back on dry land we began our cycle home, must have been hometime because there were loads of grandparents picking the little kids up on their motorbikes and 3 or 4 teenagers squashed onto the back of scooters. The kids here all wear matching tracksuits in the schools colours, not a blazer or tie in sight! We cycled through Chinese rush hour as well, fearing for our lives, helmets mustn’t exist in china and the cars seem to just do as they please so it was a white knuckle ride home. That concluded our penultimate stop in China, we’re one bus away from Guangzhou where we’ll stay for a couple of days before heading to Vietnam!

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