Peaks, Peddling & (Bad) Pandas

Our trip to Yangshuo from Fenghuang took us via Changsha, which other than a pretty impressive thunderstorm is not really somewhere of any note. Then followed a fast train and a bus to deliver us to the “village” of Yangshuo. A village with a population of around 300,000.  We had four nights in the first hostel near the centre followed by three nights in a place 4km outside the town. 

After arriving and ditching the bags we went out for a quick circuit of the centre to get our bearings.  Yangshuo doesn’t quite have the traditional styling of Fenghuang, but it did feel like a good place to spend some time. Some of that time was spent in search of a cafe that Jethro had talked about a lot from last time he visited. We never did find it. After walking up and down most of the streets we ended up at the riverside just after dusk with a view out towards some hazily lit limestone peaks.

View soaked up we went in search of lunch and found ourselves at a place that made their own noodles out the front. 

Our second day in Yangshuo was pretty uneventful aside from locating a suitable vendor for breakfast baosa (steamed buns) outside the local market and going to what Jethro thought was his favourite restaurant from last time.  It wasn’t, but it was still OK. In the evening we had a very sweaty walk up the hill behind the hostel with a TV tower on top.  The guide suggested it should take around 30 minutes.  Took us 15, which probably explains why it was as sweaty as it was as well as being very humid. 
The view from the top was impressive and the sunset was stunning.  We didn’t get the view from right at the top sadly as there was some building work going on at the time. Even so it was still beautiful. 

We were just getting to sleep when, through ear plugs, we heard the sound of rain from outside.  It was that loud that as soon as we heard the rumble of thunder we threw our clothes on and headed outside.  This isn’t the type of rain you get back in the UK.  It was a proper tropical deluge with flashes of lighting and the crack of thunder directly above. Even before we’d reached the road it already had a river of rainwater running down it.  Despite the torrential precipitation we decided to head through town to the river for a clearer view of the storm.  We forded the newly formed steam in the road and paddled our way through town along an unusually empty tourist street to the river front. The rain itself was subsiding but this gave us a much clearer view of the immense steaks of sheets of lighting streaking across the black clouds and the thunder that followed echoing off the surrounding limestone peaks.
As the storm moved away and the natural light show was obscured by the nearby hills we decided to call it a night and head back to the hostel.  As we were walking back along the main tourist street we bumped into someone unexpected. Again. Somehow Gregois, who we’d first met in Pingyao two weeks ago,  had ended up in the same place as us for a second time.  He’d even been staying in the same hostel. We shouted his name and a look of mild confusion at first, quickly followed by a look of surprise and disbelief. 

After catching up and being introduced to the other three people he was with,  Gregois suggested that we all headed to an interesting ex-pat bar he’d found on a previous night.  So off we all went, in the wrong direction at fist, for a few drinks at Bad Panda. Bad Panda is definitely one of, if not the, strangest bars I’ve ever been in. It’s a pretty small rooftop bar with its entrance hidden away down a small alley. A few flights of stairs with some ‘interesting’ drawings brings you to the door of the bar. There are two particularly striking features of this bar.  One is the mural depicting one of the streets in Yangshuo, painted across an entire wall, with pandas rather than people in a variety of situations. The closer you look, the more bizarre and disturbing some of those situations become. The second feature,  even more noticeable than the mural is the roof.  The whole roof above the bar is covered with an astounding array of underwear.

When ordering drinks at the bar it becomes apparent how they got there. There is a notice on the bar top stating that anyone who donates their underwear will receive 3 free shots of their choice. Had we known beforehand or been accidentally prepared we’d have turned up in an older set of undies. Sadly we have a somewhat limited stock in our hand luggage only trip and weren’t quite prepared to surrender what we had on,  particularly as they were probably worth more than the spirits on offer.  Otherwise they would now have two extra sets of British undergarments to adorn their ceiling. 

1 a.m. arrived and bed was calling, having already left once already 3 hours earlier for our nice early start the next day.  Oh well. We said farewell to Gregois for the third time and headed home. 

Our third day in Yangshuo was the first day we went out on bicycles. We were planning on a short-ish ride as a test to see what it would be like in the 36 dredge heat and 70-80% humidity. The answer to that one is: ok if you keep moving, really really sweaty if you stop and there’s not much wind. Anyway, the bikes we hired, for the nice sum of about £1.50 each for the day, were very simple, not too heavy single speed bikes with a very handy basket on the front to stuff in a bit of food, water and other bits like cameras. The procedure for setting off goes like this: ensure luggage is secured in basket (holding handlebars to stop bike from falling over), lift kick stand (that only works with empty basket), sit on saddle, cyclist then dons pointy bamboo hat and starts peddling. 

Our trip took us on a short circuit of Yangshuo before heading up the east side of the Li river.  We quickly changed our plan when we encountered a moderate hill and decided that the single speed bikes were only ok on a very slight incline. They weren’t much better on steep descents either with very minimal brakes. For the price and simplicity though the up flat miles very well and as midday approached we were more or less back in Yangshuo ready to dehumidify ourselves. In the afternoon we had a very short jaunt out the other side of town to see where it went before handing back the bikes until the next trip the following day. 

Xingping.  The view from here can be found on the back (or front, can’t really tell)  of the Chinese 20¥ note. This viewpoint has creatively been named 20 Yuan View by the locals. Was also generally recommended to take a 20 minute bus ride for 15¥ each way to get there.  We decided to cycle.  Unlike the day before this ride was 30km (each way)  on bikes that average 15km/h, with very little shade. This made hot.  Very hot.  Also unlike the previous day with its relatively empty winding roads, this time we had one very busy road followed by a long and almost arrow straight which really highlighted the limited top speed it’s possible to attain on a single speed bike. Rant over,  the scenery was stunning and the view of the river at Xingping was even more so. Sadly I was so hot, sweaty and probably dehydrated that o only took a couple of photos while we found a nice shady bit of riverside to have lunch at. 

Eventually we (I) felt recovered enough to move again.  The downside was that it was now about 1p.m. and the hottest bit of the day.  We had a while deciding whether to wait a bit longer for the midday heat to subside a little, to wait for some chance cloud to move overhead, or to just go. Well the midday heat doesn’t really much better until at least 1700 (a very long wait),  there wasn’t a spot of cloud in the sky and barely any wind (possibly an even longer wait), so that left only option three. This was, as it turned out, probably the wrong choice.  Two and a half hours of cycling and sweating in the sun and Chinese sun cream (supposedly factor 50) resulted in the inevitable. Sun burn.  Thankfully we probably escaped lightly as the bamboo hats were a godsend and our arms have had a few weeks to get at least a bit less pasty white (even Jethro has a bit of a tan) so it was mild sun burn. We arrived back at the hostel hot, sweaty,  burned and, on my part at least,  quite worn out.  We returned the bikes and showered off before a well earned test before the evenings entertainment. 

As a of reward for our effort we went to see Impressions Liú Sânjiě. This is a spectacular show with 600 local performers taking to a small section of the river on bamboo rafts and pontoons to create an amazing set of light displays. The show also lights up a number of the surrounding karst peaks during the performance providing a stunning backdrop. It seemed to have some sort of story to it and having been created by the director of “House of flying daggers” I’m sure it did. We just didn’t have a chance of following what it was. 

As a sort of side note,  if you think people in the UK or Europe are glued to their phones too much,  that’s nothing in comparison to China. Here it’s almost a surprise to see someone driving without phone in hand (maybe explaining some of the 600 road deaths a day)  or anyone anywhere near a viewpoint (or other seemingly inane places) taking a selfie.  The light show was no different.  It seemed that almost half of the 500+ audience was trying to film the performance on a phone.  I cant imagine who would ever end up watching a video like that of basically bright dots on black.  I’d taken one photo of the hills at the beginning then promptly given up.  I’m sure there are videos and pictures from paid professionals on the Internet if anyone wants that.  I’ll settle for seeing first hand instead. 

Rant over again. Sorry it had been a long hot Day.  Tomorrow we move hostels to a smaller village on the side of the Yulong about 5km out of town.

Part two will follow soon. 

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