June 14, 2015 – June 18, 2015
After checking out the remote rice terraces of Dazhai, we hopped aboard a bus to our next destination, a place I was very excited to reach, the mountainous region around Yangshuo, China. The popular destination city is surrounded by hundreds of near perfect conical peaks, towering over lush rice fields and the wandering rivers, for as far as you can see in any direction. It turned out to be one of most beautiful landscapes we have encountered on our trip, and the perfect place to ask Krista a question.
Despite the remoteness of Dazhai, it turns out there is one van which conveniently leaves daily at 9am from the road below town, direct to the city of Yangshuo, several hours away. The road out of Dazhai winds its way down a steep river canyon, in places half the road has been cut away by the river, leaving jagged pavement hanging over nothing, but don’t worry, orange cones have replaced the fallen guard rails. Needless to say, the steep winding route is not for the faint of heart, or anyone prone to car sickness.
You will know you are approaching Yangshuo as you begin to see hundreds of knobby karst peaks sprouting up in the distance. There is just no other place on earth quite like Yangshuo. The surrounding land is almost completely flat and broken, seemingly at random, by tall conical jungle covered peaks, with tiny traditional villages dotting the wandering riverbanks below. The views have inspired artists for centuries, and if you have ever seen any Chinese art with narrow cloud covered peaks, chances are it was inspired by the hills around Yangshuo.
The city of Yangshuo is a modern city in the vast mountainous region, and it is set right in amongst the tall peaks spreading and weaving out around them. Besides the beautiful scenery, the city is well known for foreign language schools, cooking classes, hiking, bicycling and has a rather large nightly party scene beneath the lit up mountains.
If you are looking for great view which is easy to reach, in the middle of town atop the tallest of the peaks sits a TV tower, and a viewpoint which seems to be known only to locals. Just ask at your hotel or hostel or walk to the center of town and ask around for the way to the TV Tower. There is a relatively steep 30 minute hike, but at the top is a view which is well worth it. Just knock on the gate which reads “no visitors” and bribe the lady who babysits the tower with a few Yuan and she will let you in. Go at sunrise or sunset for the best views, we went at sunset and the place was actually fairly crowded.
About 20 minutes out of town you can find Moon Hill, one of the karst peaks which has been eroded by water, and partially collapsed creating a towering land bridge, or half moon. The hike is short and not too steep until the very end. Ignore the people trying to sell fake tickets out front and go straight to the ticket booth.
We continued our love of cooking classes here, with our final cooking class of the trip, and it turned out to be the best! We signed up for a class with the Yangshuo cooking school, which is just 10 minutes out of town, their van will pick you up from your hotel. The school is set up with a great view down the river valley between the peaks, so you can enjoy an amazing view while you are learning the secrets to Chinese cooking, which incidentally is fresh ingredients, lots of oil and high gas heat.
Climbing a mountain in Xingping
The nearby town of Xingping, about an hour away by bus, is set along a particularly picturesque bend in the Li river, and offers some of the best views of the surrounding mountains. The views from Xingping of the mountains rising up from the river’s edge are even pictured on the back of China’s 20 yuan bill. The small town still has a traditional pedestrian only market street, though it is filled with fancy coffee shops and restaurants.
The best reason to visit the sleepy town however is actually sitting high above it, the viewpoint atop the peak just a few blocks from downtown. The trail, which is accessed by walking through a small white arch next the town’s main boat launch, leads to the top of the one of the tallest peaks around. The viewpoint offers beautiful uninterrupted views in every direction, and was one of the best views on our entire trip. Though the peak is unmistakable, rising high above the village, the trail leading to the top appears to be largely unknown, we had the viewpoint all to ourselves. And it was from this viewpoint that I decided to ask Krista to marry me! I knew before the trip that I wanted to propose on the trip and I surprised her by pulling out a ring that I had had hidden away for the last 15 months…
…and she said yes!