My cousin Coby is studying abroad in Hangzhou (about an hour from Shanghai) doing an intensive Chinese immersion program. His mom and brother (aka my aunt Debby and cousin Beck) wanted to see us in China, so they tagged along on a high school tour (they had connections) and we had a family reunion…IN CHINA.
The tour made stops in Beijing, Yangshuo, Hangzhou and Shanghai. I have never been to Yangshuo (and have been wanting to go forever), so Yangshuo it was! Debby and Beck traveled with the tour group from Beijing to Yangshuo, and Coby and I met up at the airport in Guilin (the closest airport to Yangshuo…about an hour and a half by bus). Our bus ride to Yangshuo went by insanely fast because we had so much catching up and “China talk” to do. It is so wonderful to have a cousin studying in China. We have many common experiences that nobody else in the family will every really understand or appreciate. We have that “China bond”. We talked in Chinglish most of the ride. Some words are just more fun to say in Chinese. Upon arriving in Yangshuo, we headed straight for food. Unfortunately, our first meal was a bit of a letdown. The sweet and sour pork Coby ordered was a bit too bony, and my green beans had more MSG than beans. Oh well. Once we were fueled with oil and grease, we made our way to the Jasper “International” hotel, so that Coby could take a much-needed shower. Yes, the hotel has “International” in its name, yet no one there really spoke English.
A few hours later, Debby and Beck arrived with their crew of high schoolers and their parents (definitely the most mature and intellectual group of high schoolers I have ever encountered…I was quite impressed). I could not believe we were all reunited in China! It felt like a dream. Coby and I joined the tour for an evening out to some of the worst “Western food” we have ever eaten. Chinese are all about “Western” pizza (Pizza Hut is a very popular go-to in China). The local Chinese tour guide brought us to a restaurant serving nachos with ketchup and fake cheese, frozen chicken strips, and some sort of canned spaghetti with “meat”. The Chinese around us seemed to enjoy it. Debby, with her New Mexican upbringing, had a hard time calling those “nachos”. (See pics below)
The pizza restaurant was located in the heart of West Street, the popular (more touristy) walking street in Yangshuo. We walked off some of our lovely dinner and explored the souvenir shops before heading back to our hotel.
We woke up around 7am the next morning to enjoy our complimentary hotel breakfast buffet before starting our jam-packed day of excursions. The hotel breakfast was certainly better than our “nachos”. We enjoyed some noodles, fried eggs, steamed buns, sticky peanut butter green mochi type thing wrapped in a leaf, yams…A pretty typical hotel breakfast in China. We then loaded the tour bus for our first adventure: bamboo rafting on the Li River!
The bamboo rafting was just plain awesome. The rafts each held two people, so Debby and I shared one and Coby and Beck shared another. Each raft had a personal driver, who used a long stick to glide us through the shallow water. We were told we would not get wet, but when Debby and I went down a small rapid, our feet were FULLY submersed in the river. (Oops! We did not realize we were supposed to lift up our feet when we went down the rapid…) No one told us! Somehow, Deb and I were the only ones in the group who got our feet soaked. Nevertheless, we had an amazing rafting journey together surrounded by some of the most gorgeous landscapes. It was an honor getting to ride on a bamboo raft down the Li River with my aunt. Certainly a moment I will forever cherish. My bladder was about to explode after the raft ride, so Debby and I made a quick pit stop (aka a squat in the ground). Like the toilet? I snapped a photo for you below.
There was no time to waste. We all boarded the bus and set out for adventure number two: a hike up Moon Hill. When we arrived at Moon Hill, there was a torrential downpour that lasted about 10 minutes. We then began a slippery, but 100% worthwhile, hike to the top. The hike was all stairs, but it was a piece of cake for Debby and Beck who had done The Great Wall of China the previous day. These stairs were nothing compared to The Wall! The view from the top was magnificent. The pictures below are nice, but the real deal was just unbelievable. I had never seen anything like it. It is truly remarkable how many different landscapes you can find in China. There is boundless natural beauty in this country. You just need to come and see for yourselves. Book those plane tickets now. By the end of our hike it was lunchtime, so the group gathered for lunch at the Moon Hill Café. Another so-so meal. The four of us shared some bamboo shoots (these were actually quite tasty), some eggplant, and some boiled lettuce swimming (no, drowning) in oil. That’s an understatement. I ordered “seasonal vegetables”, but we got boiled lettuce. I guess it was in season…
No, the adventures did not end there! It was only 1:30pm and we had already rafted and hiked up Moon Hill. Next was an excursion through the Yangshuo countryside. We loaded the tour bus to go get a real look at the life of Chinese rice farmers.
We switched vehicles when we arrived at the countryside. The group loaded onto various tractors that led us through the dirt roads. Farmers, water buffalo, and rolling green hills surrounded the dirt roads. We also came across several graves built of piled rocks. As you can see below, firework pieces scattered across the graves. Fireworks were constantly going off, perhaps warding off the evil spirits? (The smoke you see in the photo below is firework smoke). The tour guide even showed us the interior of a countryside home – how do you like that Mao Zedong hanging on the wall? We sampled some fresh shelled water chestnuts and stepped into the kitchen of a farmer preparing a dinner of peppers stuffed with pork and bamboo shoots. The weirdest part…inside the home was a GIANT flat screen television! It looked so incredibly out of place. Also, Mom and dad, you treat our chickens like extreme royalty compared to those chickens feasting on garbage (see below)!!!! Oh, and fun fact: the tour guide talked to us about rice farming told us that Chinese people only like to eat white rice and that they used to feed brown rice to the prisoners (so now all the prisoners are healthier, ha).
The countryside was the last of our major excursions. We then traveled back to the hotel for a 10-minute stopover (only enough time to change out of our wet socks from rafting) and hopped back on the bus for another stroll down West Street. We leisurely browsed the stores, sampled some Chinese desserts (sesame treats and moon cakes) and made our way to a vegetarian Chinese restaurant that had 4.5 stars on Trip Advisor. The restaurant took forever to find due to terrible directions from Google maps. We were getting a little grouchy by this point…hungry and tired…Where in the world was this restaurant?! We finally found it after asking every Chinese person we saw for directions. It was okay, but definitely not worthy of its title as “Top 10 Restaurants in Yangshuo” on Trip Advisor. We may not have eaten the best food in Yangshuo, but the trip was one of the best I have ever had. Great company and unforgettable sites. A trip I will carry with me forever!
Thank you to Debby, Beck and Coby for making this such a memorable adventure. I am looking forward to more of the family coming to China in the near future to experience "my country" with me :)
I am back in Shenzhen after leaving Yangshuo at 5am this morning to make an 8am flight. I made it back to my dorm by 9:45am… In time for my classes and group projects. Time for a good sleep!
Enjoy all of the wonderful pictures below.