Moving from Guilin city to Yangshuo via cruise down the river affords us views of some beautiful scenery. Four hours later after arriving in Yangshuo (meaning ram or goat's horn) we explore the alleyways and have dinner at a local restaurant where we feast on local specialities like beer fish, bamboo sticky rice parcels and osmanthus wine. Yangshuo is also the location for the Liu Sanjie show, a beautiful show given a stunning background of the mountains. The 70 minute show celebrates four of China's ethnic tribes.
Tourists visiting China are said to discuss three topics fervently:
- The Food
Whilst I can agree with those three topics, if I were to add another for visitors of Guilin, the fourth most discussed item would be the mountains that appear in every landscape photo either as the star or a faded backdrop. This morning we are leaving Guilin City and heading towards Yangshuo.
Our Wendy Wu Tour Guide Maggie tells us that in the local dialect Yangshuo means Goat's horn because there is a mountain shaped like ram horns. To get there we take the most scenic route via a four hour cruise on the Li or Lijang River (Li meaning separate). Starting at Cat Mountain in Xing'an County in the north of Guilin the Li River spans 437 kilometres or 271 miles flowing past Guilin, Yanshuo, Pingle and Wuzhou and finishing in the West River.
The boat travels past Cao Ping, Yang Di and Xing Ping town, three picturesque towns. The latter is the location for the famous view on the back of the 20RMB note. In the sweat beading heat, we snatch moments upstairs to take pictures and retreat back down to the cooler cabin.
They offer us osmanthus wine (along with snake wine complete with snakes in the jar) and we snack on lunch boxes prepared by the Shangri-la hotel. There is also catering available on the boat but they advise us against this. We pass by orchards growing cumquats. Farmers like growing this citrus crop as it virtually guarantees a good income. Cumquats are said to be good for clearing lungs from the effects of pollution that is such an issue for China. Kum means gold and quat means lucky.
Our boat's arrival in the Jiu (old) town area of Yangshuo means action stations for the many hawkers that offer goods for sale. They're persistent and if you express any sort of interest or even a quick glimpse, they are hard to shake and offer sweet compliments for any potential customers. Once money is exchanged their beaming demeanor turns sour quickly and they are onto their next customer.
There is a large collection of tourist shops around this area offering trinkets and both antiques and reproductions. The prices for the antiques are steep but the pieces are beautiful and there are plenty of reproduction perfume bottles, tea pots and knick knacks.
I spot a copper teapot that I fall in love with and it is then a matter of bargaining with the vendor. She starts it at 380RMB and we end up at 150RMB. It seems the trick is not to express too much interest in an item and be prepared to walk away.
Groups of people sit playing cards and smoking. It's too hot to do anything strenuous. I buy some small fruit that look like a cross between a blueberry and grape. It has a slightly fermented taste to it and is sweet with a slight graininess to it.
We scurry down alleyways like Gui Hua Lu. Meaning Osmanthus it's an alleyway with accommodation and cafes and there's a fascinating little cafe that serves coffee and tea. However it's not all old town charm as the fast food giants have moved into the area.
We watch a man pulling taffy studded richly with ginger pieces and sesame. They offer us a sample and it is delicious so I buy a packet of it for Mr NQN back home. The heat is oppressive and sweat drips down our backs. We make our way to the hotel for the next two nights; Yangshuo Resort located about 15 minutes out of town.
It is a large resort. We're on the bottom level where the rooms have a small balcony and face the pool. I'm in room 6105. The bed is large and it's a good sized room especially with the additional balcony area. Most of the problems are confined to the bathroom with very weak shower pressure and a sink that doesn't drain at all. Several pleas with the front desk do not result in any change.
Dinner this evening is at a local farmer's restaurant. This is a place where there are no airs and graces, just good food. With the temperatures pushing 35°C/95°F and 75% humidity, shirts for men while dining are optional. Plates and cups come shrink wrapped for hygiene. At a nearby table we see the discarded shells of river snails on the tablecloth. Rice is served in a huge cast iron pot.
Our food arrives incredibly quickly, just ten minutes after we order. The first dish is the beer fish, already everyone's favourite dish. This fish is similar to the other one that we had yesterday except this has chilli added. The chilli in Guilin is hotter than in other parts of China and it provides a fantastic heat. The fish is wonderfully fresh and the sauce ambrosial and strong with plenty of garlic and beer.
The next dish is steamed sticky rice parcels wrapped as little batons. You simply remove both ends and poke out the sticky rice from the centre of the bamboo. It's slightly sweet and delicious.
The poultry in China isn't particularly meaty and it is often served on the bone. It comes with a rich soy and garlic sauce with plenty of spring onion that is made for mopping up with rice.
The next dish is another favourite at the table and although it looks like radish and carrot, it's actually potato and carrot cooked so that the potato has still a bit of crunch to it and isn't too soft. It is simply flavoured with garlic and provides a good contrast to the flavour-rich dishes.
I chose the next dish because it looked interesting as it is a local's favourite. It's made up of pickles and other vegetables chopped up into small pieces and then stir fried. It has a good flavour from the pickles and the vegetables retain a crunchy texture.
The eggplant is soft and sweet and melts in the mouth appealingly. Why is Chinese eggplant always so good no matter the version?
We get to try one of Guilin's specialty items-osmanthus wine. It's a strong wine with an alcohol content of around 20%.
Most people stay in Yangshuo for one night and take in the performance of the Liu Sanjie where Beijing Olympic opening ceremony director Zhang Yimou and his team of 67 artists has created a breathtaking show using the Li River and a dozen mountains as a natural stage and backdrop.
It covers an area of 1,654 square kilometres and 2 kilometres of river and is said to be the largest natural stage in the world. There is space for 3,000 people to watch the show every evening. Debuting in 2004 the show involves 600 performers performing the dances and customs of four of China's ethnic tribes. The stadium is full this evening.
The performance is named after Sanjie Liu, the fairy singer of the Zhuang ethnic tribe and progresses onto the Miao, Zhuang and Dong ethnic tribes. Although all narrative is in Chinese, this is mainly at the beginning and like opera, the movements take over and we are all enthralled by 70 minute long performance.
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever been to China and if so, which area? Would you try snake wine or the osmanthus wine?
NQN visited China as a guest of Wendy Wu Tours, Cathay Pacific and Dragonair
Wendy Wu Tours
Wendy Wu Tours escorted group tours offer an extensive range of fully inclusive and comprehensive itineraries throughout China and focusing on Guilin. Including the popular 17-day Southern Odyssey which includes visiting Guilin, Longji, Yangshuo and Hong Kong. For further information contact Wendy Wu Tours on 1300-727 998 or visit: