My Travel Map

My Travel Map

23 August 2009

China: Xingping, Guangxi Province

As I mentioned in the previous post, we did not stay in Yangshuo since we found it too big and bustling for the relaxation we had planned. Instead, we went back upstream to the small village of Xingping. This is an old, but well-known village. The image on the back of the 20 yuan note was taken from the scenery near Xingping. It is right at the heart of the karst mountains, and Missy and I stayed here for four days. This was the view from our hostel's rooftop patio.

And this was the view from our room. Not too shabby.

Looking down at one of Xingping's streets from the hostel roof. This is one of the "new" sections of town, that has sprung up as a result of tourist money. Still, the town has only about a dozen streets and only takes ~5-10 mins to walk across the entire thing. Missy and I found it to be perfect.

Bamboo graffiti. Bamboo is a very important plant to China, and especially so along the Li river where it is used for construction and, of course, bamboo rafts.

Near Xingping's docks. The only thing we didn't like about the place was the nearly constant barrage of "you like bamboo?" or "you want bamboo?" from the various people trying to sell a ride along the river on their bamboo rafts. It was mostly women (often the wives of the raft operators) offering, and they would show you a little picture of the river scenery with a raft and happy tourists on board. I told them again and again (in Chinese) that we were waiting to take a ride when the weather was nice, and they consistently answered that the weather was better upstream (I guarantee it was not). Also, never, never take the first price they offer. As with anything, bargain. They want your business. Make sure you check a guidebook for a fair price though, this is the major source of income for a lot of these people.

There is a little cafe on the corner here, which served both Chinese AND Western breakfasts. We ate there quite a few times.

Xingping is old. The town originated over 1000 years ago, and it was once the largest town along the river. The village has a very, very rustic feel...not run down. You can tell that each place is lived in and maintained. The restaurants here were great too. The food was incredible and SO FRESH! You could tell everything, all the ingredients, probably came from within a 20 mile radius of the place. The chicken and beef were especially flavorful. Missy and I found a favorite in the sweet and sour chicken, which is not at all what anyone familiar with Chinese food in North America thinks of. I also really liked the Sichuan beef and the spicy snails, which were just fried up, shell and all, in a beautifully spicy/tangy brown pepper sauce and were meant to be eaten by picking them up and sucking them out of the shells.

The sunset's from the rooftop patio were absolutely perfect. Missy and I would grab a couple beers or coconut juice (so good there!) and just relax up there watching the sun go down behind those jagged peaks. You can see here too that the sun went down just perfectly between the mountains.

We rented bikes from the hostel (only US$1.50 for the day!) and took a good ride through the hamlets and countryside around town.

The Li River Valley with the mountains fading in the distance.

Alongside the river, much of the land is quite flat, which allows for a great deal of farming.

Did I mention these mountains are huge? They rise up thousands of feet from the base plains (or the river). This is also becoming a popular area for rock climbers, as it should, and of course, the Chinese are embracing that in good entrepreneurial fashion.

The weather was quite nice (relatively) the day we rented the bikes, so we decided to make a couple people's days and go for a "bamboo" ride upstream to Yangdi and back.

Many of the mountains have been given interesting names like Moon Hill, Snail Hill, and Nine Horse Fresco Hill. I'm pretty sure there are some good legends about most of them as well.

I had a conversation with our raft drivers wife. It was pretty basic, since she spoke no English, but in it, I told her how beautiful Missy and I found their home (the Li River area) to be. She said: "Yes, it is beautiful, but we don't have any money." That really stuck me...I wondered what she and her husband must think of Missy and I. There were some people we came across who understood well that we, as students, really didn't have much money compared to many other Westerners, but to this woman and her husband, we were quite wealthy. That really got to me... it just isn't fair really how we are born into different lives, some of us given nearly endless bounds, while others have to struggle under extreme limitations just to get by.

Some river traffic.

If I remember correctly, this is Nine Horse Fresco Hill, just taken at an off-angle. The hill, when viewed perpendicularly to the face, is really quite wide and absolutely massive.

Back at the hostel, enjoying some good lighting.

Beijing Opera masks aren't just found in Beijing apparently...

One of the older streets in the village. It was amazing how the villagers timing was set up around the tourist influx, from around 10 AM to about 3 or 4 PM. Most people only come to Xingping as a tiny side-trip from Yangshuo on arranged tours. The tourists are mostly relatively wealthy Chinese, and the money is great for the people of Xingping.

Rice paddies just outside of town.

There were many, many old graveyards around the village. This is one of them. The people believe that the dead should be buried on hillsides, the higher the better for the spirit.

Missy and I said a quick hello ("Ni hao!") to this farmer. He was shocked that we spoke Chinese, and tried to start up a conversation. As normal with me, I made it about 4 questions in before I had to apologize for not understanding. It was quite frustrating at this point; there were many people like this farmer (and like the raft driver and his wife) who I found to be intriguing, and I would have loved to have a good conversation with them about their lives. I guess I'll just have to wait until the next time I go to China, when hopefully my grasp of Chinese will be better.

Missy and I decided to take a hike after sitting in the hostel for half a day of strong rain. It took us some time to actually find the trail through the mountains to a fishing village, but we eventually did (it was tucked in between a couple of farmers houses and honestly looked like a private lane for them).

Just about halfway along our trek, the skies opened up and we were blessed with beautiful sunshine and blue skies!

We also got some nice views of the river, which was in heavy flood after the rains.

The fishing village was small. It took us longer to get there than we had expected, and we were hoping to be able to pay a raftman to take us back to Xingping, but apparently they weren't running any boats because of the high and fast waters in the swollen river. We wanted to stick around and see their village (access to which was 5 yuan each), but we had to apologize and depart quickly so that we didn't get stuck up in the mountains after dark.

We got some more nice scenery and lighting on the way back too...and we made it back in time for sunset.

Looking out over pretty much the entirety of Xingping from the hostel rooftop.

It is such a quaint little village. The people are beyond friendly, the food is fresh and delicious, and the scenery is like something out of a fantasy. I honestly hope this place does not just become another bustling tourist hub like Yangshuo. Missy and I hope to return there at some point in our lives for another period of relaxation, and we honestly hope that the only thing about it that has changed when we do return, is that the locals are blessed with a bit more money and comfort.

Xingping, one of the brightest highlights of our trip.

China: Li River area, Guangxi Province

This area was one that Missy and I were looking forward to most on our trip through China. We'd seen plenty of pictures of this picturesque river basin, but we knew it would be more spectacular in person. We ended up staying five days here, and it didn't let us down.

We first arrived in Guilin by air from Xian. We got in at night and had an interesting time finding our hostel. We ran into two travelers from Spain who spoke great English but no Chinese. Turned out they were staying at the same hostel, and thus, I became responsible for trying to use my broken Chinese to figure out first which bus stop to take (Guilin is much bigger than I was expecting) and then how to get a cab to our hostel. I had some help from a friendly Chinese businessman on the bus, whose English was just slightly better than my Chinese. We managed to get to our hostel (despite it being marked on the wrong place on the map in my guidebook...tsk tsk Rough Guides...), and we ended up wandering down one of the main streets and strolling through a nightmarket. Oh yea, and the hostel was well worth it! It was a bit like a hotel, but Missy and I were not complaining; our room even had a balcony that overlooked one of the rivers (Guilin has several)! The picture above is of Elephant Trunk Hill. If you haven't already figured out, the Li River area is blessed with these jagged, karst mountains. The birds and the raft in the foreground are popular in the region, where the river defines daily life. The birds, cormorants, were used historically as fishing birds; cormorant fishermen would tie loose ropes around the birds necks so that when they dove to catch fish, they would be unable to swallow them. The fishermen would treat the birds to every seventh fish they caught. While some people still fish by this method, it has become more of a show for tourists.

Once again, the river defines life in the area. Mostly everyone lives off of it in someway and most definitely gets the majority of their diet from it (or the livestock and fields that it nourishes).

We didn't stay in Guilin long (only overnight); it is a very, very big tourist city, which we wanted to avoid. Many more adventurous travelers head downstream to the bustling tourist town of Yangshuo, which is smaller than Guilin and closer to the heart of the densest mountain scenery and is the town where most of the large river cruises end at. We decided that this town was still too big for us and moved on from here, but not after wandering around a bit first.

I'm lovin' it...the mountains that is. Plus, here in Yangshuo, we were treated to our first truly blue skies of the trip!

The town sits in a valley that is surrounded on three sides by the mountains and the other by the river. It is a beautiful little place and has a lot of neat shops and market stalls, though some of them are quite spoiled by rich tourists who don't know how to bargain.

At the docks, looking upstream towards the heart of the karst mountains. It was up that way, in a small village, that Missy and I decided to lose ourselves in for a few days.

It's amazing seeing the river being shared by fisherman on those tiny bamboo rafts right alongside the massive sightseeing boats, which can hold a few hundred people!

This cormorant fisherman didn't do too much fishing with his birds, more posing with tourists for a few yuan. He was very friendly though, and really, the pictures are worth it!

I would highly recommend checking out Yangshuo on a market day. There is a vegetable market (with fruit, fish, and other river goodies included) as well as a meat market. The vegetable market is well lit and very colorful, as you will see in the next few pictures, while the meat market is dark and dank. Missy made it about two steps into the meat market before turning around, much to my disappointment. There was pretty much every part of a variety of animals available for sale, with much of the butchering being done on the spot. I was quite intrigued! However, we did spend some time wandering the vegie market. The picture above shows some of the edible delights from the river, namely, snails, toads, eels, crayfish, freshwater shrimp, and the odd fish or two. I had the snails and shrimp while there, and I must say, the snails were superb in a spice pepper sauce.

Ah, the colors of market...and the peppers too!