On our return visit to Shanghai we didn't really do much worth mentioning, except going to the 'world famous' acrobatics show which turned out to be great fun. The acrobats were all talented enough to pull off all the stunts and wow the crowd, but there was still a sense that everything could go horrifically wrong and that we could have ended up witnessing a mass maiming. Top stuff.
Next on the agenda was the short 23 hour train ride to Guilin to begin the rural leg of our China trek. A mere 3 hour additional bus journey later and we were in Yangshuo, a small tourist town built on the banks of the Li river and set among karst rock formations that really are so much more impressive up close than they are in photographs. There we stayed at a strange little hotel called Fawlty Towers! The bloke at the desk was no Basil, and his English was slightly better than Manuel's although he wasn't as dashing. On our first full day there we went on a group cruise down the Li river in a few planks of wood with an engine nailed to the back and took in the spectacular scenery, stopping off at a riverside village on the way to see how the locals lived. In the early afternoon some of us went kayaking down the same river which was knackering, but a lot of fun, even for Jacqui whose rowing technique actually slowed down time. The bumpy bus ride back was possible the most fun thing ever.
In the afternoon of the next day we took another bus to a guesthouse in the Yangshuo "suburb", where the skies darkened due to massive swarms of flesh eating mosquitos. After exterminating the various minibeasts who had set up residence in our room, we set out again to see the cormorant fishing show. There wasn't much to it; we ventured out along the river in a few planks of wood with an engine on the back, followed by an elderly chinese man on one plank of wood with no engine at all (he favoured a large stick of bamboo as an oar), and watched as his cormorants dived and brought back fish. He'd tied string around their necks so that if they caught a large fish they wouldn't be able to swallow it, and so had to swin back to him so he could pull it out of their thorats. Nice. After that he let us take photos of the birds on each others shoulders, which was more frightening than it sounds (just look at the photo of Jacqui trying to escape a cormorant in battle-mode). All in all, a good day.
The next day was an early start for our countryside bike ride. Our local guide had neglected to tell us that today would be the first time they would attempt to take us through this particular route, and after an easy enough start surprise surprise the terrain got a little on the rocky and narrow side, and Jacqui fell off her bike and ended her face. The the afternoon we went to a Chinese cooking school, but first were taken to a proper local market for a quick tour. The place was disgusting... I mean a worthwhile and eye-opening cultural experience. There were cages packed with chickens and rabbits and tanks packed with turtles, eels and all kinds of fish, all just lying around on the floor. The our guide asked 'you want see dog??' and Jacqui said yes instantly, *I would like to add in here that I thought the guide said ducks*and so we were treated to the sight of roasted WHOLE dogs in various poses, as well as some cut in half and hanging by their necks from meathooks. My personal favourite touch was the pile of skulls on one table, which was obviously also used to prepare dog steaks or whatever in preparation for human consumption, all of which still contained eyeballs. The live ones were stuffed into cages behind the "salesmen" and for some reason didn't seem cimpletely happy. Anyway the cooking school itself was fun, although I didn't really feel like eating five dishes after seeing that.
Our big adventure during our last days in the Chinese countryside was our hike through the longji rice terraces. Getting there was interesting as it was a three hour bus ride along impossibly narrow roads that wound up and through the mountains. There were several instances where I was sure we were going over a cliff, but somehow we made it. Our first guesthouse was still a 40 minute walk away, which was a nice touch. The rice terrance walk itself was amazing, and again is something that really needs to be seen to be appreciated. It took around three hours but the time flew by, as we were told that the terraces only look as spectacular as they did that day for two months of the year. So lucky us! Our final guesthouse was pretty average, but we were treated to a traditional performance by some of the locals, which started a little... badly, but ended up being pretty enjoyable, especially the "bamboo dancing", at which I am now a seasoned professional.
So that's that for China as Hong Kong doesn't really count!!