Posted by: Sam Olsen | July 14, 2012

Visiting Avatar Country – Part 2

Day three. A solid night’s sleep later, and with our bicycles all fully pumped and oiled, we were set the next day for a nice long ride.

Farming hasn’t changed too much

We were on the way to Moon Hill to have a look at its lunar shape. A beautiful, tranquil ride the guidebook said. Which it was, apart from the hollering stream of tourist coaches and cement lorries that trundled past. Larry, perched on the back of Daddy’s bike, looked quite insouciant, even with his nice pink 5-year old girl’s helmet flapping in the breeze. Lucky him. On the plus side, we did find some rice fields at last, complete with farmers carrying heavy loads on poles.

Holey mountains: overrated

The bicycle death-test would have been worth it had we found a pot of gold at the end. What we actually discovered was a mountain with a hole in it. And a 40-minute hike up a vertical slope to get a proper look at it. Cycling home suddenly looked like a better option, which it was until it started raining with us still 5 miles from home.

After all this we deserved a good slap-up meal. We had been recommended a restaurant in Yangshuo called Cloud 9, which looked from the outside a lot better provisioned than the neighbouring “Haven’t Got It Café”. And full of food it was, except not quite what we were expecting. As readers of Strange Chinese Delicacy of the Week have previously noted, the bamboo rat was a bit of a surprise, but just about edible to someone that’s gnawed on guinea pig haunches in Peru. The dog hotpot though was out of the question.

A Yangshuo street: not many stray dogs

At last, we had something to enjoy without fearing for animal welfare. For we were going to what has been labeled as the best sound and light show in the world. Designed by the man behind the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, the Liu Sanjie performance is set on the Li River itself. Using a cast of around 500, the show uses the karst peaks as its remarkable backdrop – only in China could they light up half a dozen mountains to enhance a musical. As three of only a couple of dozen laoweis amongst thousands of Chinese, the fact we couldn’t understand the main girl singing about how nice it is to work in the fields surrounded by numerous representatives of the province’s minority groups didn’t matter. We could, after all, still see the 90 raftmen twirling thick red ribbon, and the hundreds of young girls illuminated as skeletons by strip-lights carefully hidden in their underwear. The appearance of the live cows blotted the human-entertainment-only aspiration but at least they weren’t slaughtered on stage.

Day Four.

We returned to the river for our last day, but this time for a motorized tour. We decided to go in search of the picture on the 20-Yuan note, located at one of the most magnificent stretches of karst scenery in the area a few miles downstream of the Li River Retreat. Bright and early a driver took us down the dusty, pockmarked roads to a small village to board yet another raft. The helmsman smoked endless cheap cigarettes as he twitched the outboard’s tiller, meandering through the thick crowds of Chinese tourists also afloat. It was time to sit back and absorb the really quite stunning view.

River cruising

Every now and then a 100-foot river cruiser would shoot past, its wake making our pilot shake his fist a little, and the smell of cooking from its stern-located outdoor kitchen drifting across the river. There was a slight riverine ruckus when a small police speedboat appeared from nowhere, its approach noted by all the river men as they forced their passengers to quickly don their obligatory lifejackets.

By the time we had finished our three hours of idleness we had quite forgotten about finding the money scene. We must have passed it at one point, but the whole trip had been so serene that it was really not worthwhile picking out one particular spot – whether famous or not.

Then it was time to return to Hong Kong. We had absolutely enjoyed our few days away, as easy as it was relaxing. Given its proximity to Hong Kong this is a trip that any visitor should think about doing. Just make sure you know what you are eating.

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