Day 26: We were really excited about going to Guilin as everyone we met only had great things to say about the area which was great. Woke up in the train from Chengdu at 8am and looked out the window to see a beautiful river surrounded by hills and traditional houses and little bamboo rafts and fishing boats. What a view to wake up to :) Once we'd arrived at the train station we made our way to Wada Hostel with no trouble (finally a easily located hostel), checked in and napped on the bed which was a mattress set on top of bricks! Very ... swish :S In the evening we had planned to visit the Moon and Sun Pagodas which are set on the banks of Swan Lake in the centre, but we decided we needed to eat so jumped on a bus to the centre. We promptly found signs for 'Paul's Steak and Coffee' so decided to ditch all plans for a cheap noodle dinner and headed in. It was set out like an American diner but included a free all-you-can-eat buffet with every steak ordered. I went for a standard medium-well sirloin steak, and Mike went for a mixed grill (chicken, pork chop and a steak). All seemed great as the waitresses were really nice and helpful (taking multiple plates back to the table from the buffet table) until our food came out. My steak looked rather anaemic on initial thoughts- it was definitely just a pork chop with a spaghetti garnish. Wasn't too bothered tbh. Then Mike's came out: two pork chops this time with a slice of chicken. Brilliant. Think the world definitely wants us to wait for proper steaks at home, though makes me wonder what I'd have got if I'd asked for my steak rare :S We didn't make it to the pagodas as we needed to be back at the hostel before 10 to confirm which tour we wanted for the Dragon's Backbone (Longji) Rice Terraces the next day. Managed to get enough people to rent a car and driver which was great.
Day 27: Up at 6.45 the next morning to get our free breakfast and set off for the village of Daizai 3hours north-east of Guilin. The road was in pretty poor condition so we were bouncing around like on Fraser Island, and it started to rain so the visibility was pretty poor too. The ride there turned out alright though as the three girls we were with were great: two were from good old Coventry (Lauren and Chloe), and the other from Herefordshire all celebrating finishing their masters with India and China tours. We passed through the town of Heping to get our tickets (only ¥70 as the driver git us student tickets) and onwards to Daizai. We were given 5 hours at the Terraces and so could walk to the nearby village of Ping'An too, but as it was we had no idea where was good to go or how long it would take, we headed down one track to the first viewpoint. The rain kept on so was very misty but the Rice Terraces still looked impressive- much like the terraces in the Inca Trail, these were carved out of the hills into steps, but these went around the whole hill and so looked like little green pyramids with houses built into the sides. We walked up the little paths up the sides to the view points and along the narrow paths between the terraces and through little villages- was weird to see so many new houses half built along the way. At the top the mist would occasionally clear enough for a good view. Was a shame it rained so much though I did remember my sister's gorgeous pictures of the Terraces from a few years back in the summer so could visualise what it might be like otherwise. By chance, we met and got talking to a French girl called Agnes who'd been staying at a hostel in a village there so we managed to finally find somewhere to eat after all the wandering around, and as she was heading back to Guilin too we had an extra for the car back. Was a really fun day despite the rain as we'd had a great group. After having dinner and drinks with the guys at the hostel, we again missed out on the Pagodas, but after the long day was happy to head to bed.
Day 28: Checked out and headed to the bus station for our bus to Yangshou in the pouring rain. As we were desperate and couldn't see any ticket booth, we asked one of the many touts shouting "Yangshou!" and got hurled onto a coach only for the guy to try ripping us off. We knew from the guidebook and hostel that it should only be ¥20 but he wanted ¥40 each! Managed to make him go away with ¥50 for both of us as the bus pulled away. An hour later we arrived in Yangshou -we'd got directions to our hostel from the bus station but we got kicked off the bus on a random street by a gas station in the rain. Thinking we could find our way back (and that we probs were close to the bus station) we continued down the road in the rain, ignoring the rickshaws that followed us down the road for four blocks. We tried asking for help at a shop, but when we started to walk ahead to the shop, the guy went inside and closed the door. One lady stopped and saw the address and told us to continue on the same road. After 30 mins of walking, completely drenched, we went to a fancy 'international' hotel and asked if they knew where we were. Nobody could speak any English, and nobody knew where our hostel or even where the Li River ( the centre of the town) was! We gave up and got into a heavily inflated rickshaw for ¥20 (same price as the bus from Guilin!) to our hostel (5mins away- totally wouldn't have found it alone.) Finally at En Attendant Godot, we checked into our private room complete with sink that leaks everything onto your feet from the bottom whenever you switched it on, but it also had a rocking chair so guess things even out :D After the crazy day, we headed to West Street (tourist area) to get some food. Everywhere was expensive and the streets were full of vendors selling scarves, cat pillows and jade by the kilo. We settled for a empty place for our first lemon chicken of the trip. Was disgusting, like cough syrup, which has reminded us to eat at busy places where the locals go from now on. What was interesting about this place was that it's Western Menu was "created by Elizabeth - a British chef, classically trained by the Queen Mother's head chef". She apparently also personally designed the menus for around 15 other restaurants all in a row on West Street (can't believe the Queen Mother loved beef stroganoff and chicken kievs so much :S)
Day 29: The next day we headed off to a village called Xingpin which we'd heard was really nice and further up the Li River. We got up reasonably early and caught a local bus up to Xingpin via an extremely bumpy track very reminiscent of our 4x4 journey on Fraser Island. There was a girl on the bus who was holding a huge birthday cake she'd brought in Yangshou for dear life while we were jumping around. Not sure it'll have survived though :( After the hour long bus ride we arrived in the village. It was like what I imagined Chinese towns to be: tiny with narrow streets and heaving with people. There were many souvenir stalls, more than I'd thought there'd be, and lots of bamboo boat touts "You want bamboo?! You want bamboo?!!!!!" Even with a polite "no thank you" they would follow you on for a few minutes til they found another helpless tourist. We found our way onto the Li River walking trail that leads to three ferry crossings before reaching another town further north up the river. It turned out to be a gloriously sunny day and was worth the whole trip to China- it was absolutely stunning. The huge limestone mountains/ karsts dotted around everywhere and framed the rivers edges beautifully. Away from the rivers edge we walked through rice paddy fields and amongst the fruit orchards and houses. Que bonita. Xingpin is most famous for having the landscape image on the back of the 20 yuan note which we got to see. Real thing was definitely better. We walked about 2hours to the first ferry crossing then headed back to Xingpin following the rivers edge the whole way, watching the bamboo boats wizzing past. Once back in the town, we stopped off at a backpacker hostel for beer and a pizza on their rooftop terrace which had the best view over the rooftops and river. Topped off a brilliant day. We headed back to Yangshou on a less bumpy but ridiculously packed bus ( this time we had no seats, so made do with a box while others were on little baby-sized stools. After the previous nights poor dinner, we grabbed dinner from a nearby canteen where I got a 'budget chicken noodle soup' and Mike had a huge pork, mushroom, rice and pak choi concoction served in wooden shell for 18 yuan (£1.80) while everyone else ate out of metal bowls. Bargain.
Day 30: We'd been looking forward to joining the rest of China by getting onto our bikes for ages, and they have so many bike trips from Yangshou it seemed a perfect time to do it. We'd been recommended to do a 20km (4hour) round trip to the Dragon Bridge up the Yulong River, through rice paddies and karst mountains like at Xingpin. We hired our bikes, grabbed supplies and set off. I was pretty nervous initially knowing my luck with bikes, but we made it through the city with no problems, and into the lush countryside. We were told to turn right at the first intersection and carry on through and straight along on road along the river. We did and eventually came to a block in the road with a pile of branches on which we climbed over. An angry Chinese man then started to shout "no!" at us, but as the other route was through a field we were perplexed as to where we needed to go. He then came over and pointed for us to go over a dirt track and through a rice paddy field. Over the field we found a stone track and some other tourists so presumed we were good to go. At one particularly pretty point, we stopped to take photos on a narrow track set above a field. Another cyclist was coming up so we decided to move our bikes off the track to let him pass. But obviously, this being me, my foot slipped off the edge, and I tumbled off into the field below (about 2metres down) and landed on my back with my bike on me. Luckily I was fine with nothing but a couple of bruises. I managed to climb back up ok, and we set off again at a slow pace back to another track. Was pretty nervous on the way there, but eventually we made it, with a few helpful directions from a local woman who seemed to slow down to help out. The Dragon Bridge was surrounded by locals touting "you want bamboo?" again at us, including the local lady who'd given us directions. The views over the water were lovely as you could see people setting off on their rafts down the river. We also spotted Jake and Helen from Chengdu sat by the river bank so we joined them for a celebratory beer and set our bikes by a wall. The whole time Bamboo lady sat behind us then as we were heading off asked again if we "want bamboo?" at which point we said yes. For 150yuan (£15) we could have a hour boat ride then pick up the trail again for a hour or so bike ride back. We hopped onto the raft, loaded up our bikes on the back and floated down the river. Was lovely. The scenery was great and the bamboo boat guy took lots of photos of us too which was nice. He dropped us off at a random spot and pointed out the direction for Yangshou. We had to carry our bikes over a bridge before we could set off down the road. At this point we realised that Mike's rear tyre was completely flat. There was no one around, and as we knew it would be getting dark soon, Mike grabbed the bike on his shoulders and ran with it for about 20 minutes whilst people drove past us pointing and laughing. At no point did anyone stop to help, even the guys in a 4x4 slowed to laugh and drove away. One boy followed us for a bit and tried to fix the bike and realised we needed a pump. He then indicated for us to follow him back to his, which we did. His grandad came out with his tools, and checked the tube for a puncture three times, before we realised there was no puncture. Was obvious now that someone had maliciously let down his tyre. Once it was inflated we were ready to hand this guy some money, but he drew his fee in the ground "20". Felt grateful for the help, but we're quite taken back that he hadn't done it out of kindness. Made me wonder if someone had done this because they knew someone could charge us further down the road. Either way we knew we had to get going so we handed some money over to the man, and gave some money to the lad who helped us. He really didn't want to take the money, but eventually accepted and then led us on his bike to the road leading to Yangshou. Was getting darker quickly, so we sped off down the unsealed roads. Eventually we came up to the end of the road, where they were tarmacking, so we had to turn off back through the narrow paths between the rice paddy fields. This time the tracks were really boggy, so we were getting pretty mucky. This was until a point where the path stopped with a water-logged ditch to our right where the road was, and a little ridge to the left where we could walk around to the other side. Mike went on ahead carrying his bike and asked me to wait so he could come back and get mine. Being wary of nightfall, I decided to try and get across carrying my bike. My foot slipped, and I went sideways, bike and all, into the ditch. Was awful. Was totally covered in mud and my foot started to cramp so Mike had to pull me out. Seemed to sum up the day at that point. Some guys who were in a house laughing at us then decided to help us over a wall and pointed out the way to Yangshuo, and we continued on a familiar road in pitch black darkness lit only by the odd car or motorbike headlights. It was another hour before we made it back to the city. On the way we did see two tourists and decided to try to share our bikes and give them a croggy (or backy as Mike likes to call it. Bloomin' Southerners) but didn't seem to work so we left them to walk back in the darkness. Was so relieved to see the city lights and didn't mind so much the chaotic traffic with bikes and cars criss-crossing lanes. Once back we also realised that we'd lost our bike lock, probably somewhere in a ditch, so were nervous about handing the bikes back. Luckily the guy was too busy laughing at how muddy we were to notice. Quick shower and out again to meet up with Jake and Helen on West Street. We were pretty shattered but actually had a great night. Turned out they'd got back at 6pm and we'd arrived back at 7.30 because of our shenanigans. We had some lush local food and dumplings-a-plenty in a restaurant, which for most of it was in darkness due to a city-wide power cut. Thinking our luck couldn't get worse, we walked back home to find the hostel locked, and no answer. Brilliant. We banged on the door for ages before Mike tried to break in by climbing over the wall. Luckily some guy was up and on his computer, heard us and opened the door. What an end to our time in China.
Day 31: Last day in Yangshuo and after the previous day, we really couldn't bring ourselves to rent more bikes for a trip to Moon Hill, so did nothing but relax, then head out for a meal before our trip on the sleeper bus that night. This would have been our first time on the buses so we didn't know what to expect. We were picked up in a taxi then taken to the bus station to wait for the bus. Just before we left though, the receptionist from our hostel told us there wouldn't be a toilet on our 12 hour bus journey. Brilliant. We got on with another German guy, and found our bunks. The bus was like a normal National Express coach, but it had two aisles, and three rows of bunk beds. The beds were tiny - hobbit size really, and with our bags we were really squashed. I managed to sleep on and off, but Mike being giant-sized, couldn't stretch out at all and was awake for most of it. Never again (we thought).