Between people taking pictures of the big group of foreigners and popping up trying to sell useless trinkets we got a lot of attention in Yangshuo, one of the only useful people we met was Mobin. Mobin, a tour guide around Yangshuo was the most 1950's stereotype of a Chinese accent I have met so far. The Chinese/English accent is distinctive but easily understandable. Mobin spoke like he was Mickey Rooney in Breakfast in Tiffanys. He was brilliant. He seemed like a really nice guy so we organised to spend a day with him on a cycle tour around the town visiting the caves and moon hill.
After meeting Mobin at 10am we rented mountain bikes and set off to the golden caves. As many of our group hadn't ridden bikes since they were children the first bit of the journey through the manic town centre was a bit hellish. If the 60 pence packs of cigarettes hadn't already done their work, the thick smoke billowing out of the near stationary coaches as we cycled between them was enough to have me coughing my lungs up. The closeness of the traffic was a bit unnerving also, especially on the couple of times that my pedal met with the nice shiny surface of a nearby car, causing me to feign stupidity and deafness and quickly zip off away from the often shouting drivers. But eventually, amazingly, we got free of all the cars onto a cycle path heading through rice & cotton fields where we could finally breathe and appreciate the beautiful rolling landscapes.
Our first stop with Mobin (after being accosted by hunched little goblin mountain women demanding money to sit on their water buffalo) was to Golden cave and the mud baths and hot springs that were within.
Of course, as with any attraction with the promise of getting wet and muddy we, logically, stripped to swimwear. Because that is what you do when you are going to go into a wet cave to swim and wallow in mud. Apparently not. Again we found ourselves being cast confused looks and giggles by the fully dressed Chinese holiday makers as we strolled merrily through impressive caverns with overhanging rock formations in our swimwear.
The caves themselves were actually really beautiful, with rock formations with odd names like 'birthing canal' and 'enchanted forest' and I managed to enjoy the walk through the caves without having the usual internal worry that i usually do in confined spaces that if the cave filled up with water I would die a horrible watery stoney death.
Finally, we got to the mudbaths. Like pigs we squealed and splashed around in the chocolate coloured mud, posing for photos and having mud fights. I couldn't really feel any skin benefit and it took two washes to get all the filth out of my hair & swimwear but I would gladly go back to play in the mud baths.
After the mud were the 'hot' springs', though piss warm springs might be slightly more appropriate. They were lovely anyway, a nice bath and another chance to try and get all the slimy mud off.
So after the 'relaxation' of the caves we got back on the bikes (much to our newly sore arses distress) and weaving inbetween the numerous tour buses filling the roads, made our way to Moon hill and the restaurants at the bottom.
Moonhill was impressive. When the area was covered in water (hard to imagine, I may have been decieved) Mobin says that the current caused erosion to moonhill which gave it its distinctive crescent moon shaped hole. All I know is that to get to the top of moonhill takes, I would guess 100,000 steps. I nearly died. I was coughing and sweating and whining like a bitch. Luckily the other guys put up with me and somehow we finally made it to the top. The most shameful bit was when we finally got to the top, pulling ourselves by the handrail all of us knackered, there was an ancient little woman selling coca cola. She had obviously climbed the entire thing carrying a crate of cokes. It was not a proud moment.
After a slightly less worrying but much more sore return journey, a few of our number deposited our bikes and rushed off to the river to board a boat from which we were going to watch traditional cormorant fishing (something I had previous knowledge of purely from the old HSBC advert)
From our boat we watched as the fisherman and his six cormorants took to the water. The black birds were fitted with basically a string a choke collar. A piece if string around their neck prevented them from eating all but the smallest fish. All the other fish would stay in their throat and when he judged them to have had enough, the fisherman would hold out his pole to them, get them back to him and then essentially squeeze the fish out of their throat like pushing toothpaste from a tube. I'm sure there is some kind of knack to it, but it looked pretty brutal.
It was interesting, and being on the river at night was beautiful in itself, far different from the busy scene we had been part of in the daytime. We were the only boats on the river and the fisherman's lamp and our camera flashes the only light. It gave an amazing view of the busy lit up town behind us.
The nightlife in yangshuo was great. Most of the hostels have their own rooftop bars which serve cheap drinks, in Monkey Janes you have an incredible view of the mountains as well as numerous happy hour deals, surprisingly nice and very cheap baijo sunrises and ongoing beer pong tournaments. We stayed in the Showbiz Inn which serves til the early hours and does a pretty wicked mojito. The town really comes alive in the evening with streets of neon lights, bars and street food.
All in all I adored Yangshuo and can't wait to go back.
(A dog we saw at the light show, I want it. A lot.)