There is an old Chinese saying: “Guilin’s scenery is the most beautiful in the world. Yangshuo’s scenery is far more superior to that of Guilin’s”. The natural scenery of Yangshuo is beautiful like none other. The clean and clear Li River winds through the countryside. On both sides of the river, magical karst peaks and plush green bamboo trees reflect off the mirror like surface of the water to paint beautiful mountain and water murals. Amongst the mountains and waters are old buildings and old bridges that reflect the rich cultural heritage of Yangshuo.
We visited Yangshuo on April 25-27, 2010. We cruised down the Li River from Guilin and arrived in Yangshuo in the early afternoon. We docked just off West Street, the oldest street in Yangshuo with a history of more than 1,400 years (above). Yangshuo is a mountain city. Surrounded by mountains, it’s said to look like the pistil of a lotus.
We stayed at the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, a sustainable inn located on the Dragon River and staffed by locals whose mission is ”to be a source of inspiration for guests, through the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our service, and the sustainability of our business practices.” Clockwise from the above left: Laura enjoys an early supper at the hotel; Lou enjoys an afternoon wine; Lou relaxes on the balcony of our hotel room; Laura walks the inn’s gronds alongside the Yulong River, a tributary of the Li River.
That afternoon we took a bamboo raft down the Yulong River (above). The Yulong has a series of weirs (small dams) and the boatman pole the raft down over these (above middle).
That evening, we On we saw Impression de Sanjie Liu, a visually extravagant and technically dazzling outdoor opera (above). The hour-long, $26-million production takes place on a 1.6-kilometer stretch of water in the world’s largest open-air theatre, with seating for 2,000. The performance utilizes the natural surroundings to create a spectacular outdoor theater which is, at the time of this writing, supposedly the largest of its kind. The Li River itself is the stage and twelve mountains serve as the backdrop. Mist, rain, moonlight, the hills and their inverted reflections in the river all become the ever-changing natural background. The sound equipment is kept hidden from view as the theater is designed to blend, merge and work with the natural environment. The show is directed by Zhang Yimou who also directed the famous 2002 movie Hero and the 2008 Beijing Olympics’ opening and closing ceremonies. The show includes modern and classical music composed by famous musicians in China. There are over 600 performers.
The next day we took a bike ride—what became the infamous bike ride—along the Yangshuo countryside, through many small villages, to the Dragon Bridge. The bike ride turned out to be much longer than we anticipated and, as it turned out, a bit more strenuous than Laura expected, earning it the “infamous” monicker.
This notwithstandig, we did travel through some breathtaking scenery and remote villages.
We reached the Dragon Bridge in late-afternoon and took in a quintessential Li River view: a cormorant fisherman against the backdrop of rice patties and the dramatic karst landscape. The local fishermen here use the cormorant to catch their fish. To control the birds, the fishermen tie a snare near the base of the bird’s throat. Though this prevents the birds from swallowing larger fish, which are held in their throat, the birds are still able to swallow smaller fish. When a cormorant has caught a fish in its throat, the fisherman brings the bird back to the raft and has the bird spit the fish back up.
In the evening, we played Rummy Cube and Scrabble in front of the Inn’s fireplace. The friendly staff turned me onto baiju. Baijiu, which literally means “white alchohol,” is a distilled liquor typically made from glutinous rice and is generally over 100 proof.
Yangshuo typifies the crystal clear rivers, limestone crags, lush vegetation, and traditional Chinese architecture and customs which have been immortalized in Chinese classical landscape paintings and poetry for centuries. Its special geography and pastoral landscapes give it a breathtaking beauty and idyllic charm that is unlike anyplace else we’ve seen.