This post is written by Katie, about her solo trip to Yangshuo.
Today was another day of biking! I woke up at 7:10am and ate breakfast around 8am. I had extended my stay at Huanggong Garden Hotel one additional night, and the owner gave me the good news that I could stay in my current room. Yay! Staying at Huanggong Garden Hotel for an extra night was not the cheapest option, but surely the easiest and most well known.
My room is on the 5th floor, which can be a bit of a climb. It’s probably the least desirable room, but it is also really quiet. I’m in one of the four ‘standard’ rooms, but the rooms with balconies look really nice (although they are about double the price of my room per night, so probably not worth it).
The hotel’s breakfast was great as always – I ate in the garden this morning. The fruit was different yet again – this morning I got a banana and some Asian pears from Longji, as his wife and children had just returned from a trip there to see their grandparents.
After breakfast I took off on a pretty epic bike ride. Using the Bike Asia map (available for ¥10 – or free with bike rental – at their 8 GuiHua Lu office in Yangshuo), I picked out the third reasonable looking bike route (since I had done the two recommended routes the previous two days). I asked the hotel owner whether it was reasonable, and he told me it was ‘very hilly – lots of up and down’ but that he thought it would be okay.
Traffic was bad in Yangshuo, so I walked my bike during parts of the route through the city. Shen Shan Lu quickly climbed as I was leaving the city, but traffic had thinned out and it was manageable.
Once I had left the city (ie, there was farm land and not buildings around me), the route really started climbing. Even with a 21 speed bike, I had to get off and push. And these were not short stints of pushing – it was long, repeated stints. I met a Dutch couple who seemed to be struggling a lot more than me – probably partly due to the fact that they rented cheaper, single/few speed bikes! After chatting with them when we had both stopped in the same place, I passed them and never saw them again. The climbing continued, and it was pretty depressing to see how slowly I was moving and how much I had to get off my bike and push. The short downhill stints felt cool due to the breeze, but were depressing because I was losing elevation that I had worked so hard for. And the occasional rest pavilion was always a welcome site, as it provided shade and a place to sit. At points, I was certain this would go among the most difficult things I have done (and if the route had been that uphill for the entire day it would have been). But it took some serious willpower to not turn around or just give up and take a taxi.
I continued on, and was eventually rewarded with some awesome views of tea plantations! This route showed me a completely different side to Yangshuo. The villages I passed through were not set up for tourism at all. When I finally found a place with a refrigerator with water, it seemed like it was more of a local hangout for playing cards and pool than a shop. The lady seemed almost annoyed that she had to leave her card game to sell me water.
Sometime between Jiao Ba Lin and Gu Ban, the uphills became downhills! But some of these downhills were scary steep and long for an inexperienced biker (with the occasional tourist van, farming truck, or moped speeding by). But the downhills were very welcomed. There was one last uphill that I had to walk after leaving a village. Around Cha Hua Qiao I started to notice many tall covered structures, which seemed to be under construction – but in reality I think they were constructed a while ago and are just being used for stone work. It was interesting.
The entry into Bai Sha was a surprise to me, as I thought I still had a while to go. I went straight through Bai Sha following the signs for the Yulong River. There was some serious construction on the road, which made it both rough and dusty. But it cleared up before reaching the Yulong River. When you see a sign for the Dragon Bridge, take it and then make your way through the neighborhood to the water front (this was the one point today where I had to turn around a backtrack a few blocks). Ignore everyone trying to sell you things, and carry your bike over the stone bridge.
Once on the other side of the Dragon Bridge, it was smooth sailing for me as the path is great (well, except for a ~1km section that is just a small, rocky dirt path through the fields). Being familiar with the route (after biking this part yesterday) allowed me to stop and enjoy the scenery and village life more. I stopped for a ¥5 soda at the same lady’s stand as I did yesterday, and this time she invited me to sit down in her house. There was a Dutch couple and their three children already enjoying refreshments inside. We chatted for a while, and it was nice to just sit and relax.
I found the bridge to cross the Yulong easily this time, and stopped in the middle to take a picture. Imagine my surprise/frustration when a little boy shot me with a water gun from a raft and completely drenched my shorts, shoes, and socks! Luckily I was almost back to the hotel, so I did not form any blisters.
It should be noted that I was able to do today’s route with very little confusion. This was due to (1) having live Google Maps with T-Mobile where Google Maps actually had the roads I was biking on, (2) having the Bike Asia map, and (3) having done the last part of the route along the Yulong River yesterday. After being lost so much yesterday, it was nice to not ever feel lost today!
After resting for about an hour at the hotel, I ventured back out to return my bike to Bike Asia. As always, riding into and through Yangshuo felt like a death wish. But I made it safely to Bike Asia just as it started to downpour. I returned my bike, lock & key, pump, and repair kit with no issues and got my Texas driver’s license back.
Then I tried unsuccessfully to find Kelly’s, another Rough Guides recommended restaurant. Since it was raining, I did not make a second pass and instead headed to Lucy’s Cafe (which I had been to twice before) since I knew where it was, it was close, and the food is pretty good. During dinner I experienced the worst of Westerners in two groups – one family who would just speak louder when the server did not understand and a hostel group that spent the entire dinner just talking about drinking and drugs (interesting group – two post-college kids and one older guy who mentioned his daughter at one point). It made me sad – these groups are why Western tourists have such bad stereotypes.
After dinner I walked around the Friday night market that was set up on West Street. I did not linger though, since the crowds and trinkets would just make me irritated. I had planned to take a motorcycle taxi back to the hotel from closer to the hotel, but by the time I started looking for one, there were none to be found. So I just walked, which ended up being a cool experience since there were many locals out walking as well since it was Friday night.