After our hike around Emei Shan we decided to avoid extreme hiking for a while, so instead when we got to Yangshao we decided to get on our bikes and explore the area, although this time we left the tandem behind.
Yangshuo is famous for its dramatic landscape scenery of limestone outcroppings called Karsts. When you see one it’s a great sight, when you see a couple you are impressed, but in Yangshao there are hundreds and you are blown away by the breathtaking scenery. We were staying in a small village outside Yangshao in the heart of this fantastic landscape and the best way to get out and see it was by bike.
On day 1 we asked the folks at the hostel for advice and we got conflicting answers about the route we wanted to take, one said we should do it on a motorbike as there were hills and we should go the other way and another said we would be fine and the hills were not bad! We set off and got to the junction, we were unsure still which road to take (we had a chuckle wishing David was here so we knew whether to go left or right), so we decided upon the road we originally planned for and set out and hoped for the best.
We hit some hills, they were pretty long and winding and they certainly tested us but we were treated to some fantastic landscapes and scenery, and thankfully very few tourists! The route we ended up doing was about 40km and wound us through the hills around Yangshuo and down to the river and between the Karsts where we were able to go off-roading through farmers fields, rice paddy’s and small rural villages, it was a great experience.
On day 2 we opted for a more relaxed cycle and a shorter one according to the map….This was to turn out not to be the case! After spending sometime cycling to find the ferry to cross the river we were well and truly off-roading through the surrounding Yangshuo district, again through farmer’s fields and even more remote villages, we followed the “directions” until we got to a village surrounded by a wall of Karsts. Seemingly with no where to go we asked a villager - they pointed straight on – this meant up an over! Skeptical we continued and for the next hour we were ‘lost’ amid the dense plant life of the steepest, rockiest and muddiest track we had ever been on. We ‘cycled’ for awhile unable to see around and no sign of life, it was an interesting journey to say the least as we contemplated two options, either retrace our steps up a big fuck off mountain or we go on down what must have been China’s equivalent of the Ho Chi Minh trail – we took the trail. Eventually we came across a small holding and I went in search of life, I found the farmer and we descended into a conversation of my bad town pronunciation and sign language vs. his Mandarin. We came to the conclusion we were going the right way but it could be 40 minutes, 4 hours or 4 days, the old man just kept holding up four fingers, I can’t complain my is mandarin is non-existent, so we continued.
This was the format for the next 30mins as we went through some amazing landscapes that definitely were not on the tourist map and slowly but surely started to discover life again, each person we asked did the same four fingered sign every time we asked for Fuli – who knows what this meant!? Thankfully eventually after what seemed like a lifetime we hit the main road to Fuli…the four fingers meant 40 minutes thank goodness! By the time we got back to our little village we had cycled another 40km this day.
Day 3 came around and there was some definite saddle sore on this Tour De Yangshao, but we opted to go out again and try another route which promised to have roads all the way, and the Belgium manager of the hostel assured us that it was only 8km one way, this was the same man who had assured us his directions were good from the day before with a “Gentle” cycle.
As it turns out the Journey was flat and on paved roads and well signposted, so well in fact that the entire tourist population of Yangshao must have been on this road walking, cycling or on a Bus! This is where everyone had been the previous two days! But like all adventures we have come to learn in China, if you put in a little effort you can get away from the crowd, this effort happened to be a 800 step climb up Moon Hill which a fellow traveler had recommended, I broke my promise to myself after the thousands of steps on Emei Shan! It was worth it, dripping with sweat and saddle soar we arrived at the top and were greeted by amazing views of the surrounding Karst landscape, something that dreams are made off!
Once we were back down the hill I almost felt like the cycle had been too easy, so I decided to suggest another longer off-road route back, I could see Steph would appreciate a soft seat right about then but as we do we pushed on and were treated to more fantastic scenery and a peaceful cycle back into Yangshao.
Whoever thought traveling was about lying on sunny beaches drinking cheap local beer was wrong, its about cycling over mountains and through dirt tracks doing 80km in 3 days and then celebrating with a 6-pack of local beer for $2!