I expected to love it.
Located an hour away from Guilin on the famous Li River, Yangshuo is known for its stunning scenery and laidback, small town atmosphere. Yangshuo is tiny by Chinese standards, but it’s immensely popular among foreign and Chinese tourists alike.
In fact, my guidebook advised I skip over Guilin all together and head straight to Yangshuo. That’s how much everyone loves Yangshuo. Even guidebooks are like, “Guilin, Shmuilin. Nothing to see there. Go to Yangshuo instead.”Yangshuo was to be my last stop during my three-week-long trip through China.
And I was pretty sure it was going to be my best.
I was even planning the title for the blog post I would write about it before I arrived there. (Yes, I am that nerd.)
Maybe something like:
“Yangshuo: Saving the best for last.”
“Yangshuo: Love at last sight.”
“Yangshuo: The Reason Why I Never Left China and Now I’m in Prison for Violating My Visa”
I didn’t end up loving Yangshuo, though.
I can’t even say I liked it that much.Instead, Yangshuo turned out to be that guy that you meet while you’re online dating.
You know, the guy that you have so much in common with? The guy who looks perfect for you on paper. The guy with the cute glasses and the clever responses to even the stupidest questions and the list of the same favorite books as you. The guy who would never, ever use “LOL” after statements that are TOTALLY NOT FUNNY.
And while you’re sending him flirty little emails, you’re already planning your wedding and all the cute babies you’re going to have together even though you don’t even want babies. (Not that I ever did this. It’s just an analogy, people. Sheez, stop taking everything I say so seriously, okay?)
And then you finally meet the guy, and you’re like, “Meh. Not so much.”
Yangshuo was that guy for me.Not that Yangshuo and I didn’t have some good times together.
In fact, for the first couple hours that I was in the city, I thought I was in love.
Granted this was mostly because of my lunch. But I’ve fallen in love for lesser reasons, really.
You see, I arrived at my hostel in the late afternoon, long after the hostel’s kitchen had closed. And because my hostel was located a fair bit out of town, and I was desperately hungry, and I was certain I would never make it into town without some kind of sustenance, I begged the waitress to bring me something. She brought me lasagna — super, duper, cheesy lasagna. And beer. Because you have to wash down all that cheese somehow.Fortified with cheese and beer, I decided to make the trek into town, where I was greeted instantly by touts trying to sell me bamboo raft rides on the Li River.
Reggae bars blared out Bob Marley music at four o’clock in the afternoon, and restaurants advertised wood-fired pizzas and draft beer.
Tourist trams whizzed through the streets whisking Chinese tourists from their hotels to the town’s main drag.
Vendors were lined up selling everything from scarves to t-shirts with a bizarre collection of Chinese words printed on them. Because nothing says, “I missed you and here’s a little souvenir from my travels” like a t-shirt with the Chinese word for “encephalitis” on it, right?
And I hated it.
Like, really, really hated it.
Like, I-couldn’t-get-out-of-there-fast-enough hated it.
Which doesn’t even make sense, you guys. Because I am not one of those people who hates tourist traps.
I am one of those people who totally loves tourist traps.
I mean, remember that time I went to the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai, which has to be like the tallest tourist trap in all of China, and I totally loved it? Because there was a roller coaster inside and a history museum full of bewildering displays like this one:
And remember the time I went to Harbin for the Snow and Ice Festival? The whole city was like one big frozen tourist trap, and I totally loved it even though I couldn’t feel my face or any of my toes for the entire weekend.
Or that time I went on a group tour to the Longsheng Rice Terraces, which was packed full of other tourists on group tours. And I did this:
Seriously, you guys, do I look like a girl who doesn’t like a good tourist trap?
I think not.But, for some reason, as much as I wanted to like Yangshuo, I didn’t.
I tried to give the city a second chance, though.
On my second day, I ate a huge omelet on the patio of my hostel while staring out at the beautiful limestone peaks.
I took a long pleasant walk into town past bright green, rice paddies.
I lounged back in a café sipping on a Snickers shake. Which is exactly what it sounds like — a shake made out of Snickers. And it’s amazing.
I then wandered into a small park in the center of town, where children hung off a carousel and a ragtag bunch of musicians played their instruments in a shady corner.
And just as I was about to be won over by Yangshuo, a man ran past me while being chased by two other men. The two men jumped on top of him, beat him to the ground, and repeatedly smashed his face into the concrete sidewalk. It was easily the most violent thing I had ever seen happen in China the entire time I lived there.
After a good five minutes of face smashing, the two men produced handcuffs which lead me to believe they must have been plain clothes policemen. Or gang members. Or random thugs who just liked to beat people up and handcuff them in the park.
Either way, any warm fuzzies I was starting to feel for Yangshuo quickly disappeared.My last day in Yangshuo, I decided to stay far away from the hustle and bustle (and possible thug smack-downs) of town.
I rented a bike from my hostel and grabbed a map that listed a number of different suggested bike routes – all of them promising beautiful scenery, quaint villages and winding, country roads.
I figured that may be just what I needed so I could finally start loving Yangshuo the way I felt I should be loving it.
I set off on the route that seemed to offer the least opportunities for me to get lost.
And things started off really well.
There was, in fact, lots of beautiful scenery.
And quaint villages.
And lots of winding country roads.
And then as I was starting to open my heart up to Yangshuo, I almost died.
Seriously, you guys, I did.
I mean, I know I’m always saying I almost died. But this time I really almost did. I swear. It’s like Yangshuo didn’t even want me to love it.
You see, I had been riding along one of the winding roads when I spotted a motorbike coming around the bend ahead of me. So I tried to veer out of his way. But then he spotted me and tried to veer out of my way.
But we were both veering in the same direction, so even though we were both trying to get out of each other’s ways, we were only getting even more in each other’s ways.
And the direction we happened to be veering in was in the same direction as a steep drop-off.
I was pretty convinced we were either going to collide into each other or tumble off the side of the hill or both, when he screeched to a violent stop a mere inch or two from my front tire causing his motorbike to fall over.
On top of him.
Which could not have felt very pleasant.
And, while I couldn’t understand the assortment of words he muttered at me, I had a feeling that none of them were complimentary. I also had a feeling he thought that I was the cause of the accident.
Which is, admittedly, a bit possible because, you see, I was kind of on the wrong side of the road when this whole thing happened. But, I’m blaming that on China, really. Because people in China never seemed to care that much about things like the right and wrong sides of the road. So, if anything, I was just fitting in with the locals, and he was being the weird one for actually following traffic laws.After squeaking out an apology, I got back on my bike and kept riding even though my entire body was shaking.
I wasn’t really sure what else to do. I was more than a bit worried he would come after me looking for retribution for the damages I had caused his motorbike. Or, worse, come after me seeking out the unique brand of Yangshuo vengeance I had witnessed in the park the day before.
So I just kept riding.
But it was not exactly the peaceful bike ride through the bucolic Chinese countryside I had earlier envisioned. Instead, I just felt scared. Being on my own out in the middle of nowhere didn’t make me feel at peace. It made me feel really vulnerable. If a band of face-smashing street thugs showed up, I’d clearly be easy pickings. And, even though I knew this probably wouldn’t happen, I still couldn’t help feeling scared.
Eventually, I calmed down, turned around and made my way back to the hostel.
After a shower and a nap, I ventured to the hostel dining room, where I ordered the lasagna for dinner.
I knew that Yangshuo and I were not meant to be.
But at least we’d always have the lasagna.Have you ever gone somewhere expecting to really like it but then you didn’t like it? Like, at all? Where was it?