Kayaking in Yangshuo

To find relaxation amidst the chaos, Emily and I found peace in a kayak on a rare part of the Yulong river that wasn’t yet teeming with Chinese tourists on rented bamboo rafts. It was the two of us and our guide, gliding on open water through karst mountain scenery with an irredescent fog hovering above, threatening to break our sweat with a cool drop of rain.

We paddled along, taking in the fresh air, the silence, the beauty. It was an escape from the bustling “small town” of Yangshuo during the busiest holiday of the year – National Day. Due to the lunar calendar system, this, China’s Birthday, was combined with another popular celebration, Mid-Autumn Festival, to give most of the country an eight-day vacation.

We wanted to take advantage of our time off. Unfortunately, so did everybody else.

Bamboo rafting was so popular we opted out. It looked more like bumper boats.

The bus journey that took only eight hours on the return, wasted 16 to get there. Traffic was completely stopped and families were outside playing badmitton and relieving themselves on the road we were supposed to take, so we rerouted. When our bus finally pulled into the well-lit city around midnight, it became so lodged in traffic that our driver gave up and told us all to exit right there, in the middle of the street.

We awoke the next morning to a herd of Chinese tour groups renting bikes from the sidewalk business below our second-floor window. The noise sounded like somebody had slipped us into a packed amusement park as we slept, and placed us on a roller coaster full of screaming adults.

Later, we made our way back into the maze of traffic on our own rented bicycles. It was as if the roads never cleared and we couldn’t tell how many lanes of traffic were supposed to exist. Buses, trucks, cars, pedestrians, motorbikes and bicycles all weaved in and out in an attempt to remain in motion. Emily and I gripped our handlebars and plunged into the masses – an experience in itself – to escape the town and stroll through the picturesque countryside we had heard so much about.

It did not disappoint. The deserted villages (presumably everybody was in town, making money on tourists) provided a glimpse into Chinese life we hadn’t seen before. Chickens roamed about freely. Windowless huts sat barren. Narrow dirt and cracked cement pathways led us from one small village to the next, exposing bits and pieces of daily life: rice fields, dangling fruit, laundry hung to dry and lonely puppies eagerly awaiting the return of their families.

We filled our nights with local delicacies such as beer fish, beer duck, noodle soups, stuffed snails (which rank quite highly with the most unexpectedly delicious foods I’ve tasted) and plenty of actual beer. We checked out the city’s famous West Street, among  throngs of Chinese tourists, and popped into a club where a table full of locals filled our glasses until we could be encouraged to dance on stage to America’s top pop songs.

It was the next morning when the bike frenzy agitated our already-throbbing heads and we knew we needed an escape from the crowds. We rented kayaks and a guide who promised to take us to unpopular waters and we soared past grazing cows and water buffalo, small fishing villages, and even a bride out for a photo shoot, all against a backdrop of limestone mountains that, by sheer quantity alone, threaten to put the similar scenery in Krabi, Thailand to shame.

Yangshou would have been the ideal getaway, if only so many other people didn’t agree.

Brides in China take their pictures seriously. There were countless photography shops specializing in weddings.

These dragonflies mated on my kayak for nearly the entire journey.

Locals out for a fishing day.

The rice fields were in the process of changing colors.

Probably one of the ducks we ate for dinner…

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