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4-5 June 2018
This time I know I’ll be able to do it because I’ve already done it in Xi’an. It was only a few months after hip surgery, and years since I’d done any cycling worth mentioning, but in Xi’an I rode fourteen kilometres without any trouble so I’m confident facing this half-day ride in the countryside of Yangshuo County in southwest China’s Guilin Province.

In Yangshuo you step right into the scenery of dozens of iconic Chinese paintings of mist-veiled peaks.

Everywhere you look there are the craggy karst mountains that have been eulogised by poets, and that appear on the 20-Yuan note. Flowing between them is the meandering Li River.

The landscape, so inescapable, so dazzling, seems to swallow you whole.

It is commonly said that: Guilin has the best scenery under the heaven, but Yangshuo is even more beautiful.

Before cycling, a slow boat in China, up the lazy river, taking us into the heart of the countryside,

past stark white egrets patiently fishing along the shore, lush green hillocks with grazing buffalo,

and thick riotous forests of bamboo, each frond a luxurious feather for a cavalier’s hat.

The next day, away from the busy roads of Yangshuo Town, we cycle through the rice fields

on narrow pathways alongside irrigation canals, passing ponds aglow with pink water lilies, small farms and vegetable gardens,

a village,

and rice farmers.

Baskets of new young rice plants are delivered by hand or by motorcycle,

and a young buffalo is herded home.

And always, always there are the rice fields; the green is so bright and new, so bold, and there’s so much of it, that it seems to shout at you, and beyond them the thousands of knobbly jade-blue hobgoblin hills, layer upon layer, marching off into the distance, and reflected in the watery plots awaiting planting. Yangshuo is among the most unspoiled scenery in all of China. It is a place of such aching beauty that my heart sings as I ride, and I am filled with joy.

Leaving the rice fields we continue alongside the river where bamboo rafts drift silently downstream,

a working waterwheel aids irrigation,

women do their laundry, a flock of ducks drifts by, and buffalo swim in the cool waters.

We finish our ride with a view of the famed Moon Hill, one of the most recognizable sites in Yangshuo.

Twelve hundred years ago Han Yu described Yangshuo thus: The river winds like a green silk ribbon, while the hills are like jade hairpins.

Some time ago a persistent photographer climbed to the top of one of the karst hills. His reward was an unparalleled view of the Li River snaking around the mountains. His photo won awards and became famous. There are now 456 steps to the top of that mountain and we climb all of them. Even a grey day and a heavy sky cannot diminish the unique beauty of the landscape,

or the sunset on the way back to town.

Next post: Yangshuo Town (more than backpacker central), Fu Li village, and a visit to a tea plantation (more dazzling scenery).

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2019.