Thursday, September 1, 2011
China is home to some legendary scenery and the Li River is among the most famous. It features even more limestone karsts and though South Asia is riddled with them, Yangshuo is considered the best.
At one time Guilin was the grand capital of Li River tourism. The masses flocked here to inner-city scenery parks with multi-colored lighted caves and staircase-scaled mountains. The western backpackers flocked to Yangshuo, a city south of the main sights that was smaller, and merely a day trip for the million of Chinese tourists. Things have changed and the Chinese have now discovered the town. It may have been the most crowded tourist city I've ever seen. Somehow though, it maintained its small charm. This is helped by the two intersecting rivers and its location within a bowl of mountains.
The real charm is its easy access to the countryside. I met a cool Irish guy, who joined me at the Buddha Water Cave on my first day. This advertised "all-natural" cave/spa featured gorgeous stalactites and stalagmites, some of which were obviously sculpted and painted metal. Deep in the cave was an incredibly fun mud pool. The buoyancy was great for floating and gliding across its surface. Deep in the cave was an incredibly fun mud pool. After a rinse, we were then led to a hot spring which was surprisingly nice on such a hot day. It was a touristy visit, but my skin and muscles felt great afterward.
We spent the rest of the day and all the next biking around the countryside. Somehow, the villages nearby never got the memo announcing that this was a tourist hotspot, because even a mere mile from town, people went along with their pastoral lifestyle as if nobody was there. This was the true charm of the area, being able to view authentic rural life within sublime scenery, not more than five minutes from a bustling tourist ghetto. We left the road getting lost on small trails between the rice fields, eventually stopping for a swim in the peaceful Yulong River, while the locals fished. This was what China was meant to be.
The next day I bused to Kanting to walk a 16km hike along the Li River, the biggest draw of the area. I met a nice Chinese student who joined me for the day. He helped me negotiate prices for the boat trips across the three crossings of the trail and taught me many new Chinese words. The hike was beautiful, but lacked the quaintness of the Yulon. The entire stretch of river was crowded by "bamboo boats" (actually made from PVC) filled with Chinese people who preferred soaking each other with water pistols over soaking up the gorgeous scenery. The hike was not popular; we met nobody along the way except peddlers trying to convince to abandon the hike and board their "bamboo" instead. It ended with the area's most famous sight, the mountain on the back of the 20 yuan bill.
That night at the hostel, a few beers led to a walk, which led to a few beers along the river, which led to a British guy, a Chinese woman and me skinny dipping for a couple of hours in the surprisingly fast, but thankfully shallow river. I was the first to do it, they all at first jumped in with their clothes, but I was leaving the next day and didn't want them to get wet; plus, I'd broken the nighttime skinny dipping barrier in Thailand numerous times with various groups of women from Spice (Oh yeah ;-) ). The British guy joined as a coup to get our Chinese companion naked. It worked and he used teaching her to swim as a play into her lack of pants. I of course was dating Michelle and did my best to help in a non-suggestive manner (he took a more hands on approach to his teaching style). I didn't have the heart to tell him that I knew she was engaged and already had another boyfriend of the side who had just left that day, though her already infidelity might have encouraged him further anyway. At some point, an obviously drunk local wandered down to the water, hearing our splashing, so we hid under a ledge. The British guy took it for the team and emerged when he called out. He spoke fluent Chinese, making him a better candidate than me or the naked Chinese woman. I'm sure a big scandal might have arisen from the revelation of all three of us: two naked white men in the water with a poor young, pretty, "innocent" Chinese girl.
So the Brit talked while the two of us laughed silently, doing our best to stay hidden. Then she started to fondle me. I kept doing my best to avoid her advances without making a sound, which I found difficult, for a number of reasons. The biggest was I couldn't see her hands until they were upon me. The Brit and the stranger talked for ages, while I kept politely pushing the woman away from me. Finally, after ages of discomfort, the man left and I bolted away from the girl. Never thought I'd find myself in a position to run from an attractive naked woman making moves on me. I felt bad for the Brit who was stuck in a three-way romance with a girl who didn't want him, but fancied another man who wasn't interested. After she left for a toilet, sometime on the way home, I encouraged him to make a move if he was interested. In the end, it didn't matter as the girl passed out and we both had to carry her to bed. It was one of the strangest nights of my trip.
We had all planned a mass climb of Moon Hill; many joined except the Chinese woman who was too embarrassed or hung over to leave her room. Moon Hill is not high, but it has great views and was a tough climb in the humidity. I've never sweat so much in whole life. At the top, I stripped my shirt and wrung it out. It could not have been more saturated even if I'd dumped it in a bucket of water. A shower was a welcome coda to the hike before hopping on a bus to Hong Kong.