Sunday, March 8, 2009

Yangshuo (Part 2)

To continue with my Yangshuo post, I finished the Li River cruise around lunch time, so I decided to do some more bike riding in the afternoon. I picked a different area to explore and got ready to leave. Just as I was about to take off, two Chinese students asked if they could go with me. They might have just wanted to practice their English, but I also wanted to practice my Chinese. I figured the more the merrier and said they could go with and we started off. Compared to the roads I was riding on the first day, the roads we used that day were a lot rougher, with a lot of rocks and unclear directions. The two students were girls and they didn't have as nice of bikes as I had, so I was quite impressed at how well they were able to ride. It was also really nice to have them with me because we constantly had to ask directions in the beginning. So many roads kept branching off that it was impossible to know which way to go. We rode through a lot of small villages and farmland that day. While there weren't nonstop spectacular views like the first day, there were a few spots that were very good.
Farmland and Mountains
The final goal of the ride was this ancient village, but very close towards the end there was a site called "Three Colored Ponds". At one point in history, there was a very rich man's house and estate there, but things were destroyed by an earthquake. As the name says, there are three ponds, but now they seem to all be the same color.
One of the Three Ponds (Rock on the left looks like a horse's head)
Close Up of Rock
When we arrived at the village, we took a break at a small restaurant there, had some tea and a few snacks. I should mention that because the road we went on day was off the beaten path, we hadn't seen any foreigners pretty much the whole day. However, as we were sitting there, we heard someone pull up on a motorcycle and when I looked to see who it was, I realized it was this Swiss guy I knew. I had originally met him at the Clean Tech conference in Shanghai back in December and had also bumped into him on the main street in Yangshuo, but it was a big surprise to see him pull up with his wife and small child at this remote little village. After he saw me, he was equally surprised and we all relaxed for awhile looking at the mountains and river. Their little girl was really cute and she reminded me of my nephew Parker. They both seem to just walk around like they own the place and want to touch everything and cause trouble.
Lake and Mountains at Village
Chinese Students
Mountains and River
Swiss Friend and Family
Village as Sun with Sun Going Down
We left the village a little bit late, so we had to take an alternative route to go home that was quicker, but less scenic. I think we were all ok with that, though, because the riding was quite hard and we were all a little tired. At this point my butt was increasingly sore since I wasn't really used to riding a bike and the seat began to leave a permanent mark on my backside.
Fields and Mountains at Sunset
Sunset (with power line pole)
The next day was my final full day in Yangshuo and I decided to do some more biking. It really is the best way to see the neighboring countryside and I enjoyed the openness and solitude, both of which are sometimes hard to come by in China. I planned to go see these two old bridges that were supposed to be free standing structures, meaning they are cleverly engineered so that they don't need any external support such as pillars or anything else. The final day in Yangshuo was also the only sunny day I had on my trip it seems like and I was sweating a lot as I was riding around. The roads I traveled that day were very bumpy again, but at least the directions were clearer since I was going alone this time. I traveled along the river, through villages, and through farmland pretty much the whole time, so it was a really great ride.
River and Mountains (and Sunshine!)
Riding through Village
Mountains with Farmland
Riding Up to Village
The crazy thing about the villages is that even though they seemed pretty underdeveloped, there were power lines running to all of them and the cell phone reception was five bars. I think I could probably have made more clear calls there than I could when I was in my apartment in Chicago. Almost all the people seemed to have cell phones, even though they didn't seem to have much money. After riding for about two hours, I arrived at the first bridge. It was pretty cool, but I have to admit that it seemed like any normal bridge. However, as always, the ride to the bridge was great, making the journey much better than the destination.
The Dragon Bridge
It took about another hour to get to the second bridge and I got lost a little on the way, but it is never a big problem to get lost because you might just get a closer glimpse at a village or some other site.
Fuli Bridge
Little Orange Trees
River and Mountains Near Bridge
Village Near Bridge
That was pretty much all the riding I did that day. I didn't take as many pictures because I had already seen so many views of the mountains and rivers, but it was nice to just ride without worrying about anything else. After I got back in Yangshuo I relaxed for awhile and took some time to think about the trip. Later that night, I went out with an American guy I had made friends with at my hostel. We went to another hostel to meet some people and hang out. Some Northwestern alum might be interested to know that at the hostel we went to it's possible to play beer pong. However, they play by non-sanctioned rules and the Americans were often flummoxed by Europeans and their ilk who don't know how to play the game like gentleman. I think it was impossible to calibrate your shot with the plastic straws fixed to each cup, too.
Non-sanctioned Pong
So that is pretty much it for my trip during Chinese New Years. Looks like 11 days of travel or so provided enough material for one month of blog posts. Since I am a detail-oriented person, these posts tended to be on the exhaustive detail side, but that's just my style. I think the highlights of the trip were definitely the Tulou (Earthen Buildings) and riding around in Yangshuo. While I took a chance traveling during Chinese New Years and also the winter time, I think pretty much everything worked out well for me. It's not the ideal time to go, but at least there weren't a lot of crowds, except in Gulang Yu. As far as traveling alone, it has its pluses and minuses. I definitely met a lot more new people traveling alone and learned how to do all aspects of traveling on my own. It really improved my confidence in speaking Chinese as well and I was able to practice all the time. I think traveling alone is a good experience and something worth trying, but if I have a choice, I will much prefer traveling with some friends. There were times when it would be a lot nicer to have someone to share the experience with or chat with. However, after this experience, I know that I can travel on my own and still have fun. So in the future if I plan to do some long term travel, I won't feel bad about doing it alone. For those interested, there are more pics of Yangshuo at: