Time to meet our tour group, or so we thought. We headed to a hostel in Shanghai that is used by the Dragon Trip tour to meet a guide and our fellow travellers. No one showed up. No tourists, no tour guide. The desk told us to wait in the rooftop bar. Still no one came. We made them call the tour company as it was over 50 minutes past our meeting time. Our guide, Judy, then arrived apologising for the lateness and explained the rest of the group had met in Hong Kong and were already en route to Yangshuo. She put us on a 19hr overnight train to Guilin. It was old and dirty and there was no privacy at all. The beds were stacked 3 high. We had a top bunk and a bottom bunk meaning there was a stranger between us. It wasn’t actually too bad, the time went quickly as we ate pot noodles and read books. We got some sleep and arrived the next day around noon. We had a private car take us to the hostel where we finally met the 12 other people on the tour. As the last to arrive we got stuck on the 5th floor with no lift, although we did have easy access to the roof bar and a great view of the town.
Yangshuo is a scenic tourist spot with small mountains as far as the eye can see. It is hot, around 30 degrees in the day and as it is day 3 of golden week, absolutely packed to capacity with tourists. This is why we felt somewhat betrayed by our tour provider. They must have known long in advance of us booking that this would be the case and, whilst our local guide was absolutely lovely, she was completely unprepared for the impact China’s 70th birthday would have. We rented bikes and rode (once I had remembered how) to the river. The ‘unmissable’ activity here, which is included with the tour, was a trip downstream on bamboo rafts. It looked great fun but we arrived 10 minutes after it opened when there would normally be no queue. There was a 2 hour plus wait, in baking heat. The activity was abandoned and instead we rode to Moon Hill.
The 750 steps of Moon Hill were not unknown to me but I had intended to wear my walking shoes and travel light with plenty of water. I ended up doing it with a heavy backpack and in my sketchers. I made it, but the heat made it incredibly difficult. I’m not at peak fitness but I made it to the top, a sweaty mess, and took in an amazing view. Luckily, my extra weight included a banana and chocolate bread.
The trip down was quicker but my legs had turned to jelly and every step was a concern. I even started making a video in case I collapsed. It was mellodramatic of me though. At the bottom, we still had to ride about 8km back to town, fortunately they sold energy drinks at the bottom. I arrived back at the room, on the 5th floor, sweating and panting. I showered and collapsed on the bed to sleep.
We were supposed to visit a cave and go into some mud pits but the queues for those were long too. It’s sad that we have missed out on the best this place has. We enjoyed exploring the market and shops, eating fresh mango and a potato curry amongst other things.
Once the tourists began to leave, the town grew more peaceful and you could appreciate it more. We walked down to the river and found a waterfall and some stepping stones. Then headed to the park to find ladies dancing, people exercising on free to use gym equipment and lots of people playing cards.
We also went to Long Ao, also known as Sally’s village. Sally was a local guide and her family still entertain guests on the Dragon Trip with local food and tea. We walked amongst the orange groves and saw the positive effects that the Chinese government has made to the rural farmers lives. They once lived in crude buildings that only lasted for about 15 years. Now they are given money to build decent brick homes that last lifetimes instead. They struggle to furnish them but it’s a massive bit of progress. The family were lovely and the food was amazing. We even set off firecrackers, that hit me in the chest whilst I filmed and made me jump.
Our train the next day was a bullet train. The old sleeper carriage trains are slowly being replaced by these sleek, modern trains that do the same journeys in less than half the time.