We arrived in Yangshuo at 9pm-ish, spilled off an air-con bus into the sweltering heat and crowded streets. Lights, people, music, drinking everywhere – this place could give Thailand’s Koh San road or Ibiza’s West End a run for their debauched titles. After getting over the shock, not having seen a bar in over 3 weeks, and leaving our rucksacks in The Explorer Hotel (lovely but noisy) we had a quick look round. Expect to see market stalls, PRs (aka flyerers – bless em), Happy Hours, secret sex rooms. It’s mostly young Chinese tourists here but there’s a noticeable western backpacker presence, especially in the purposefully named ‘West Street’. Don’t expect to sleep till around 2.30am as that’s when the music goes down a notch and when I say music I mean a heady combination of bad karaoke (is there any other type?!), Boyzone, Europop and a sprinkling of 90’s trance. It’s probably best to go and neck some 2 for 1 cocktails, play a little beer pong and then pass out.
Yangshuo by day is a whole different kettle of fish. The Limestone peaks draw the masses in and it’s not surprising why, it’s a beautiful mini mountain range in this Chinese Southern Province. I cruised the River Li which is a good way to check it all out but even better was mountain biking. I can’t quite believe I braved the Chinese roads of mayhem on a push bike when I haven’t cycled on the UK streets in 20 years but I did and survived. My advice would be just keep going and they’ll drive around you. We cycled around 25-30k, mostly with gorgeous views through paddy fields and round the peaks. The 37 degree heat was unbearable though so we called into Mr Pan, a farmer’s house. He was completely wasted drinking liquid from a large bottle filled with 7 deadly animals, a combo of snakes, scorpions, spiders etc. He sang songs with energetic dance moves to accompany them and showed us how his pet birds could back-flip in their tiny cages. It wasn’t long before we were ready to brave the heat again!
We ditched our bikes for a bit to climb Moon Mountain, a limestone peak with a big moon shaped whole missing from it. As beautiful as this is, it’s about 30 minutes of solid step climbing. The countryside views from the top are probably worth the climb. Next we headed to the water cave, which promised us great happiness. The caves are stunning with stalactites and stalagmites forming some wonderful shapes, strangely their natural beauty isn’t deemed as enough so throughout they’ve been labelled with names such as ‘broccoli’, ‘elephant’s ear’ and ‘Maternal love’ for the breast shaped rock formations.
Next you get to enjoy a mud bath in the dark cave. It’s cold which is what lured us in as at one point cooling down was the only thing that mattered. I’m up for most things but this was a pretty gross experience. It’s probably not dissimilar to being bathed in cold custard as was popular in early 90’s Saturday morning kids tv. The mud was more like grey slime and it completely coats you. There are unidentified floating bits and god knows how many bodies per year sit in it. The only good thing is if you dare to lie down you bounce right up again, you can float easily on the surface. Lots of professional photos were taken so I’m fully expecting at least one horrific photo of us to appear online. Rinse off under a tap of freezing water and then enjoy the warm natural hot springs in another cave. I was ready for 37degrees and mountain biking again!
There’s loads to do in Yangshuo, some of the guys did calligraphy lessons which sounded pretty cool, you can also do Kung Fu, Tai Chi, rock climbing. I went for a cooking lesson in a remote village in the mountains. It was pretty rustic but tasted bloody amazing! We chose our food from a local market, which had dog’s carcasses hanging on display. We went for the safe options of chicken with cashew nuts and chilli and blackbean sauce, steamed dumplings with pork, ginger and garlic, aubergine with onion and oyster sauce, Bok choi with fresh chilli and garlic and ‘beer fish’, a local delicacy using catfish with lager in the sauce – delicious.