Sunday, August 18, 2013

Meet the River Dragon (China trip part 3 of 6)

Our story continues on the way to Yangshuo (south of Guilin) where we spent 3 days exploring the natural wonders of this area (see Travel Map).

We left the Longji rice-terraces (north of Guilin - link to previous post) mid-morning and drove for 4 hours before we reached our next mode of transport - bamboo rafts. However, in this case it was the more modern version, made from plastic pipes and a motor boat engine. Nonetheless we still had an epic trip down the famous Li river with the exotic karst mountains embracing us from every direction. Scenery from the Li river occurs frequently in films, but if the mountains and their uncanny beauty seems unreal in the films, experiencing them first hand surpass any description in words. Hopefully our pictures and video do them some justice.
Modernized bamboo rafts on the Li river
Karst mountains on the Li river
Nothing can beat the utility of a pink umbrella
Nine horses mountain - How many can you see?
Rain pouring down
The Chinese 20 Yuan note displays the Li river scenery on the photos above and below

After the amazing trip on the Li river, we had another hour, on a reasonably bumpy road, to reach the Giggling Tree guest house where we stayed for 3 nights. The Giggling Tree is owned by a Dutch couple who renovated the old buildings and created a unique guesthouse. It has an excellent location (5km from Yangshuo town) and a lot of information on activities in the surrounding area are provided. Although we were surrounded by rural China, this guest house had a strong fusion with European culture (
Ronnie at the Giggling Tree

On the 2nd day in Yangshuo county, we started with a brisk morning walk through the rice-fields, fruit orchards and small settlements in the vicinity of the guest house.
Taking a morning walk -  rice field in the background and a water buffalo grazing

We had a light lunch that prepared us for our second river adventure, the beautiful Yulong river. Yulong translates to “encounter dragon” and according to our personal tour guide (Zheya :) it relates to a myth that when a dragon saw the Yulong river and its surroundings it was so enchanted by its beauty that it decided to stay there. Thus, while the Li river was awe-inspiring and magnificent, the Yulong river was beautiful and tranquil. We also experienced real bamboo rafts here, and the slow journey added to the peaceful surroundings. A bit of adrenalin was triggered by the 8 small waterfalls that the bamboo rafts had to master before we reached our destination and transferred to another exciting new mode of transport - tandem bicycles.
Bamboo rafts on the Yulong river
Ronnie the rafter
Dragon fly on the Dragon River
Another storm brewing
Stuck on the wall

Video of our river adventures:

Switching from the relaxing bamboo boats to tandem bikes we set out for a joyride through the rural surroundings. This was our first try on a tandem bike, and after a few testruns, we sorted out the mechanism and off we were to Yangshuo town for dinner and shopping.
Tandem bike in Yangshuo town
View from the back of a tandem bike

Reaching Yangshuo we were quite ravished and Zheya quickly located a promising looking restaurant (a selling point “we have air-conditioning”). The food was also fantastic and we had the honor of picking out our own delicious looking fish from a small aquarium where it was caught and subsequently prepared for the pot. Besides the fish, the dinner included, mushrooms, deep-fried shrimps, rice cakes, green beans with ginkgo seeds, and rice with pork cooked in bamboo wrapped in lotus leaves (delicious!). After we this scrumptious dinner, we had a evening of shopping before we took a taxi back to the Giggling Tree guest house.
The fish we chose from the aquarium in edible format (right), mushrooms (left)
Rice cakes (top left), fried shrimps (bottom right), bamboo-fried rice and pork wrapped in lotus leafs (centre)
Inside of bamboo-fried rice and pork wrapped in lotus leafs
Shopping in Yangshuo

The next day started with another tandem bike ride from the guesthouse to Yangshuo. We parked our bikes and got onto a bus that took us to our next activity - the Silver Caves. The silver caves stretch through 12 hills in the karst mountains and contains wonderful stalactites and stalagmites and crystal clear underground lakes.
Our second tandem bike (a bit small)
Silver caves
Reflecting pool in Silver Caves
Snacking for lunch after visiting the Silver Caves
More shopping in Yangshuo
Returning from the caves, we had another shopping spree in the streets of Yangshuo and we got on our tandem bikes back to the Giggling Tree. On our way back we stopped at an interesting restaurant for dinner. Surrounded by karst mountains and fields of lotus flowers, the restaurant consisted of several small “rooms” built on stilts on the water and connected by walkways. We had our own private room where we were served our dinner of duck, whelks with pork stuffing, tofu and vegetables, fried shrimp and rice. We also had some of the interesting asian fruits we bought on the streets of Yangshuo. The beautiful dragon fruit and the amazingly delicious manogosteen. It is the first time I tasted both of these fruits. The mangosteen really blew me away with it’s intense sweet and fragrant taste. I think this will be my new favorite fruit - it is such a pity you don’t often get these in the rest of the world. Apparently there are strict import restrictions due to the Asian fruit fly that may accompany fruits.
Dinner restaurant on the way to the Giggling Tree Guest house
Duck (in pot), whelks (front), tofu with vegetables (back)
Dragon fruit

After the wonderful stay in the valleys of the dragon river we left early the next morning for Guilin airport to catch a plane that took us up north to Shanxi province...


Monday, August 5, 2013

The Dragon’s Backbone - Longji Rice Terraces (China trip, part 2 of 6)

We continue our story on the 2nd day after our arrival in China (7July). We arrived in Guilin after a 3 hour flight from Beijing (link to previous post).

However, on exiting the airport one member of our party sustained a small foot injury after a minor stumble. Luckily Zheya arranged for a car with a driver and we were able to quickly find a pharmacy before continuing to the Longji rice terraces.

From the airport to the rice terraces was a 2 hour drive and we had our first experience of driving habits in China (more on this in part 6). The last 40 minutes we traveled on a single-lane dirt road with sharp bends, which took us deep into the mountains.
En Route to Longji rice terraces
After the somewhat unnerving drive we arrived at our next stop, the Wisdom Inn ( This beautiful hotel is situated in a small village surrounded by mountains covered in rice terraces. All the buildings in the village were connected with wooden walkways with rice paddies occupying every possible open land in-between buildings. The view from our room was most probably the nicest hotel room view we ever had.
Small stream that flows by in front of Wisdom Inn
View from room in Wisdom Inn
Bridge in front of Wisdom Inn
We left the injured individual in the hotel while the rest of us went scouting for a late afternoon snack. Close to our hotel we found a small shop with many interesting things to eat. All the transactions were calculated on an old abacus. We returned to eat, take a short break and were soon re-energised and ready for our next outing. Luckily the injury appeared to be minor and the full party set out to climb the surrounding rice paddy hills and mountains.
Purchasing snacks
Drinking a very refreshing drink - Milk tea
(Very tasty and available everywhere from different brands - wish it becomes more international)
Our climb started out on a small path, that winds up through terraced rice paddies and gradually climbs higher into the mountain. The views were awesome and became even more so. It was very interesting to see how the rice paddies looked close-up and how the irrigation down the terraces function.
Close-up of a rice paddy
Starting the climb
Narrow rice paddy terraces and irrigation
Climbing higher and higher
Quite tiring in the hot and humid conditions
Beautiful views
Halfway there
Locals working the rice paddies
Almost there
After a steady climb in very hot and humid conditions, we reached the top, and were rewarded with even more amazing views. The rice terraces on the surrounding mountains are called the Longji rice terraces, translating to the Dragon's Backbone ( From the top, the rice terraces resemble a dragon's scales, while the summit of the mountain range looks like the backbone of the dragon.
View from the top - The full party of five
The tour leader :)
Cable car down
There were several clusters of houses on the paths with the families tending the rice paddies close to their settlements. We were greeted by the friendly local Yao people ( Yao women never cut their hair and wears it in a knot on their foreheads.
A local Yao woman
After taking in the scenery and having a refreshing drink at the snack shop on the summit, we took the cable car down. We were a bit worried about getting on the cars, since the cable cars does not stop and you have to jump into them while they pass through the station. Everything worked out fine though and the views of the paddy-covered hills passing below and the surrounding mountains were awesome.
Cable cars passing continuously in the station - had to jump in quickly
View from cable car - Mats and Olga in the car in front
Short video of the Longji Rice Terraces:

After the quite active afternoon we were more than ready to eat and we walked over to the restaurant opposite the Wisdom Inn. We sat on the restaurant porch, looking across the rice paddies at the dusk activities of the village-locals, with the sound of croaking frogs in the background. Zheya ordered a feast for us, including; rice cooked in bamboo, frogs (locally caught in the rice paddies), whole chicken cooked in bamboo, bacon and vegetable stir-fry, omelet, pork liver soup, herbal tea and locally made wine. Comments on the more unique dishes: The rice cooked in bamboo was excellent with a very nice, grassy/nutty/wooden, flavour of the bamboo. It was very interesting how the whole chicken (head and feet included) is cooked in a bamboo tube. The bamboo lends its unique taste to the chicken and the flavour was excellent. We never had pork liver before, but the pork liver soup was very nice with a deep, rich liver flavour. While hearing their brothers croaking in the background we, hesitant but bravely, sampled the frog meat. It was extremely delicate and very tasty, akin to chicken but soft, delicate and delicious (not at all slimy and rubbery as I imagined it to be). Overall this was an absolutely excellent dinner and my (Carina) favourite of the whole trip. With the surrounding scenery, background sounds and tasty local cuisine the atmosphere that evening was magical and we were truly in another world.

View of the Wisdom Inn from porch of our dinner restaurant
The whole chicken being poured out of the bamboo in which it is slow cooked over the fire. To the right - rice cooked in bamboo
Enjoying ourselves
Almost finished - what is left of the frogs (on the left) and chicken (on the right)
Frog Remains
The next morning the aim was to climb the other side of the mountain to see the sunrise over the Dragons Backbone. We got-up early and mastered another mountain before sunrise. However, the weather let us down and clouds covered the sun rising over the mountain peaks across the valley. We still had very nice views and another very good workout.
Conquering another mountain before sunrise
Awaiting the sunrise (but....a no-show)

Beautiful views going down again. The small village with the Wisdom Inn visible below.
We replaced our expended energy with another “small” Chinese breakfast of locally made rice noodles, fried egg and pork broth with various vegetables.
Helping ourselves to local vegetables, beans and noodles
Breakfast - Home-made local rice noodles, vegetables, fermented bamboo shoots, beans and pork broth. In the background, peanut milk to drink.
After breakfast we spent the rest of morning strolling through the village, shopping and sitting on the hotel “stoep” (porch) watching the locals go by. We noticed that most of the people who passed us, while we sat outside on the floor, were staring at our bare feet and giggling (some of the children actually pointed to our hairy toes). We are still a bit unsure if we made a cultural faux pas but we were informed it is just unusual for foreigners to be sitting on the ground, outside, without shoes.
Displaying our very interesting feet to passing local villagers
Visiting the Longji rice terraces was an amazing experience and we could happily have spent more time in this beautiful valley. However, our transport arrived at 11am and we left on our journey to see more of China (link to map).
To be continued…