Sunday, March 15, 2009

Yangshuo: Majestic Fields

The next day, I woke up with my things packed. I was off to Yangshuo, around 90 km from Guilin. I decided to take the Li River Cruise, which was one of the 100 things I wanted to do in this world. Though costly at RMB 300 (P2,100), the Li River Cruise is known to be a spectacular and unforgettable journey across the river that snakes its way across the majestic limestone rocks that make Guilin and its surroundings magical.


The cruise began with a pick up from the inn, and a 30 minute bus ride to the pier. From there, the cruise, that included lunch, is expected to last 4 to 5 hours long. I met a group of Europeans and an American on the boat who became my table buddies for the entire cruise. We were sharing stories of China, and I mostly listened to their experiences. We were off sailing, and our English speaking guide, Danny, invited us to go on the deck to witness the first bends of the river.


Since the river was at its lowest level, the boat slowly treaded through the calm waters. It was 5 degrees outside, and the wind was carving through the valleys. There were villages by the banks of the Li River, where bamboo rafts were parked. The scenery was amazing, and each bend revealed more breathtaking sights.


There were several "scenic spots" along the way, such as the one depicted in the 20 Yuan bill. Our guide Danny took all of our pictures with a 20 yuan bill at hand.



The cruise was beginning to take forever after 3 hours, and we were all hungry. Fortunately, lunch was served, and it was a buffet of, what else, but Chinese dishes. We asked Danny how much longer it would take to reach Yangshuo and he said, 2 hours. Ok. The cruise was indeed long, but Danny explained it was because of the low level of the river. The best time to take the cruise was during Spring where bright flowers dot the hills. We all dozed off after a heavy lunch.


We arrived in Yangshuo almost 2PM. I imagined Yangshuo to be a country town by the hills, very rural and laid back. I was surprised to see it developed and full of establishments. The boat docked near West Street, a pedestrian street that resembled any backpacking center of the universe.


I called Wei Wei, my host for my stay in Yangshuo and she met up with me near the end of West Street. I rode at the back of her motorbike and took the road across the countryside.


It was amazing. It looked familiar with all the rice fields, but the limestone hills that seem to go endlessly across the horizon made it unique. There was already a hint of spring, with yellow flowers blooming on trees.


We passed by the Yulong River, where tourists could take a bamboo raft ride, somewhat similar to a gondola ride in Venice.


I arrived at Moon Resort, a budget hotel at the end of Moon Hill Village. The hotel was owned by Wei Wei and her family, and she pretty much run the entire hotel along with her husband. I thought it wasn't the best choice, but Wei Wei and her family's warm reception made the stay worth it. They were so friendly and accommodating, and could speak English too.


Moon Hill is a prominent site in Yangshuo because of the void on its peak, that is shaped like an inverted half moon. There were several Chinese tourists who took pictures on ledges that had a fee of 5 yuan per shot. Funny how the Chinese tourists pose with the moon shape at the background.


I walked around further into the village and noticed one of the accommodations I was considering, the Yangshuo Village Inn. I was glad to see the place because of one thing, its famed Italian restaurant, Luna. I walked up the reception and asked for Luna. I was escorted up to the rooftop of the inn where Luna sat with views of Moon Hill. I ordered a margerita pizza and a cheesecake, which were both satisfying. The waitress was enthusiastic to talk to me in English, so we struck conversations while I ate. She mentioned that there was a Filipino who was a guest in the inn, and that the menu of Luna was actually developed by a Filipino.


That night, Wei Wei arranged a ticket for me to the Sanjie Lu Impressions Show, a performance directed by world renowned Zhang Yimou. I bought the mid-priced tickets, hoping that my seat was well in view. Fortunately, I was in perfect view. I was seated at the middle of the front row of the section I was in, and everyone behind me were the Chinese tourists that came in droves. The theater was huge. I was told that it could accommodate 5,000 people. And it was full when the show started.


The outdoor show was set against a backdrop of real limestone hills, and the river in front. It was surreal, and as soon as the first lights illuminated the hills, I was smiled in awe. It was a unique stage, and a show that comprised of 600 performers. I couldn't describe each sequence here, but my favorite was when the fishermen on bamboo boats pulled up long red cloths beneath the river and danced with them on hand.


It was spectacular. No other word for it. It was the closest thing I could get to watching the opening of the Beijing Olympics. The lights were cutting furiously across the dark sky, in fiery red, while more than 300 dancers lit up torches in the air. I also liked the part when a ballerina glided gracefully on a swinging moon-shaped platform. All in all, the show gave me goose bumps, and being an event director, I was truly amazed at the creativity and precision of the performance.


The next morning, I woke up with nothing to do. I planned to go up Moon Hill, but I was too lazy to do so. After having breakfast, Wei Wei asked me if I wanted to play table tennis. I gladly said yes. That morning turned out to be special, as I met Wei Wei's entire family. I played with her daughter who was asking me to teach her how to roller blade. She reminded me so much of my daughter. She even looked like her.


Then, the other babies of the family came out, the cousins. They all had their pictures taken from me. The babies seemed to like me as I was making faces to them. I tried communicating in Chinese with the other relatives of Wei Wei who couldn't speak English.



I thought my stay in Yangshuo was short lived. There were so many other places to see around, but time took its toll on me. I had to make my way through the Yunnan province, which was my ultimate destination. After enjoying a warm Saturday morning with Wei Wei's family, I took a taxi straight to the Guilin airport with Wei Wei and her friend along. We stopped by for lunch in Guilin before I bid them farewell. MY experience in Yangshuo was made special by the friendly people I have met, and this is what I will take with me more than the stunning and majestic landscape of Yangshuo.

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