… the street I lived on during my visit in Yangshuo…
After spending a few weeks in Yangshuo, I could understand the draw of this place to travelers and tourists alike. For starters, Yangshuo is one of the cleanest places in China. Although my photos don’t do it justice, the air quality here is the best in the region and the “greyness” of my photos is probably more an overcast condition than the air pollution like you will find in Beijing or the other bigger cities. The city is also adorned with beautiful & lush jungle covered mountains that spring up in and around the town. No matter where you go in Yangshuo, the background is full of these beautiful emerald views.
The town is “quiet” by Chinese standards, the traffic is slow (again by Chinese standards) and the people, while used to tourists, are polite, but still “quite” Chinese. One can be comfortable as an expat traveler and still find all the creature comforts of home: a good cup of coffee, wireless internet, a hot shower, fine food, and a friendly cocktail chatting with someone from pretty much anywhere in the world.
… some fellow ‘expat’ travellers from (I believe) the UK having a cocktail and/or desert at Kelly’s Cafe, one of the more popular expat hangouts…
Some of the expat travelers become so drawn to the relaxed “backpacker” way of life that they take a job teaching English and stay for months on end. I met quite a few travelers who came on vacation, stayed for a while, then went home, packed their belongings into storage and came back to Yangshuo. Some have been here for a year or two. The Chinese tourists are here for a much shorter duration. Some of the nouveau-rich Chinese drive to Yangshuo and stay for a few weeks during the Chinese New Year but most of the people come in package tours. We see them, much like the Japanese around the world, following their tour guide who holds a sign atop a wooden pole – each tour guide with a different color and their tourists instructed to follow the colored sign.
… a local woman sells dumplings to tourists…
The resulting mix of Chinese and non-Chinese tourists as well as Chinese locals makes for an interesting social visit. Anya, being the social butterfly that she is, made friends with locals and imports alike. I found that my schedule was almost busier than I could stand as we went from event to event, each catered or guided by a local. I learned quite a bit from her in the subject of travel. Specifically, I resolved to make better friends with the locals and go with them to their schools, places of work, family events and other arenas to get a more intimate and realistic view of what their lives are like.
For “extreme” travelers who have been travelling about rural China using local transportation (local busses and trains), Yangshuo is a relaxing oasis of coffee, chats and maybe even a haircut or massage. A full body massage runs about US $10 per hour. One of our local friends, Erica, took us for a haircut. If I remember correctly, the bill for all three of us came to about $12. This included a hair wash, neck & shoulder massage for 1/2 hour, haircut, 2nd wash & condition, blow dry & style. Not bad for $3 per person.
Many of the locals worked or directly benefit from the tourist trade. The hotel and restaurant owners, the tour guides, street vendors, and boat captains all work with tourists daily and seem to be “used” to seeing us. It seems that everywhere in China that a Westerner goes “off the beaten path,” one is met with stares and interest. It is fun to travel to parts of China that have never known a Westerner to visit – yes they still exist, and more on that later.
… a local vendor carts around a load of sugar cane; for about a half dollar, he will cut you a large piece – the locals chew on the sugar cane as a snack…
When I was outside of the “tourist area” of Yangshuo, I still found the Chinese people to be quite nice and polite, but they were certainly more “interested” than those who had more frequent contact with Westerners. As I lived just on the edge of town between the city and the apartments, I would run into local Chinese each day when I walked to town. I made friends with the laundry lady, always said hello to the welder and the woman who sold meat from a roadside stand, and even the man at the bicycle shop. Each smiled and waved enthusiastically when I said “nee-how” (hello) to them in Chinese.
There was a grammar school nearby the apartment and when I walked past a group of children, there was always one brave souls who would say “hello.” All of the Children would all stop and look at me with wide open eyes waiting for my reaction. Whether I responded “hello” or “nee-how” they would all giggle childishly and continue on walking; the instigator of contact getting slaps of approval on his or her back.
… one of my neighbors, the bicycle repairman…
In the evenings, the crowds of tourists, whether Western or Chinese, all walk down to West Street and wander around in the walking district. West Street is blocked off from all vehicular traffic and its walking streets are lined with stores, restaurants, cafes, clothing shops, bars, and all sorts of other vendors. While the streets weren’t too crowded, two months later, during Chinese New Year, I would find just how crowded they could be.
I really enjoyed my stay in Yangshuo. I am sure that I will be back again. If you are travelling in China, do make it a point to spend at least a few days here. When you include all of the “side” activities, you could easily fill two weeks and never find yourself bored.
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