It is said that Guilin is China’s most beautiful province, and Yangshuo is Guilin’s most picturesque town. I’m not altogether sure that is accurate, but Yangshuo was a favorite stop on Imprint’s China Tour, and it certainly is “staged” in some of Guilin’s most dramatic karst landscape. I say staged, because Yangshuo is greatly developed for tourism (of course) and it is starting to feel like a Hollywood set rather than the sleepy, charming village tucked among karst stacks it once was. But there is enough charm left and if one ignores the Starbucks, McDonalds, shopping mall, and string of uninspired hotels, it makes for a lovely home base to enjoy the surrounding scenery. To arrive in Guilin, our group endured and early morning for an 8:00AM flight, but the sacrifice paid off in an entire free afternoon. About half the group opted for the classic, bamboo raft excursion down the famed Li River. OK, the rafts are now engine powered with comfy seats, railings, awning, and the construction merely hints stylistically at bamboo. But the experience is still marvelous. I’ve seen karst geography in Thailand and Vietnam, but I have to say the Li River “drift” is the classic karst experience. I felt like I was gliding through a Chinese watercolor painting as we passed karst mounds and mountains, both dramatic and simple. A couple of stone villages drifted by and farmers brought their cattle to the river to drink. Ubiquitous white cranes escorted us for long sections and the cares of the world faded away.
For our tour excursion the following day we all mounted bicycles for a leisurely ride through the “dreamscape” of the valley. The trail was flat and mostly devoid of traffic and I found it almost as relaxing as the Li raft trip. We pedaled along with views of the river, a large variety of karst features and shapes, and the occasional rice paddy. The sky was blue and the air fresh. It was the perfect rolling idyll and refreshing to the spirit as well as our pollution-burdened lungs. We finished our wheeled journey at a countryside cooking school. First cold beers, and then we had a class in Sichuan cooking.