After our first train journey in China it became apparent that security weren’t keen on Bea’s pocket knife being on board and we were risking confiscation with each trip. Bea put out a face book SOS to any friends that maybe coming through Kunming to take it back to Thailand for us, the knife had been a farewell gift from SRK 15 years ago, so it had sentimental value. Fortunately John Anderson was going to be in Kunming in a few weeks and was willing to transport ‘Excalibur’ back to safety. The new route allowed us to stop over in Kunming and drop it to his hotel, which was way more posh than anything we had seen recently!
The Li River below Guilin and the towns of Yangshuo and Xingping are famous for the vast area of granite Karsts that surround them. We had read that with the sudden growth of domestic tourism, Yangshuo had gone through a growth spurt and had lost most of its charm, so we booked into a guest house in a small village a little out of town. A decision we didn’t regret as the bus drove through. We regretted it even less after 2 hours and 6km of walking to find an ATM that would take international cards... and was working!! $#%@‘ng banks. (Ask Lek how much I hate banks). It was the first time in a month and a half that I started to loose it. Luckily the guest house was lovely as was Lilly the host. After a walk and a couple of JD’s at a small riverside bar, I began to appreciate the landscape we were in.
On our return Bea read a description of the walk “A 30-minute –extremely sweaty –climb up steps to the magnificent natural arch that adorns Moon Hill is rewarded with both lost calories and some exhilarating views” a perfect description.
After lunch we headed to Xingping an ancient town on the banks of the Li River, where we would spend the weekend.
After checking into the ‘This Old Place’ Hostel, a very cool and well run hostel on the edge of the old town next to the main boat landing on the Li river, we took a wander around the old town. Xingping old town is over 1750-years old and while it’s small, has attractive old streets and loads of history, unfortunately behind these streets new developments are rising that could destroy its beauty. The landscape in which it sits, on the banks of the Li river amongst the stone karats is quite spectacular, in fact the view from the boat landing is printed on the back of China's ¥ 20 banknote, allegedly (some artistic license has been taken).
Unfortunately we were only able to stay one night in ‘This Old Place’ so the next morning we headed down a lovely old street toward our new accomodation, turned the corner out of the lovely street then another corner into a scarily ugly area of new construction being built in the heart of the old town to the Hi Grey Hostel. Which was both high and grey, and totally unsympathetic to its surrounding, a real shame.
Later that afternoon, armed with some dodgy directions, we headed off to fish village a one and a half hour trek away. The directions were even more dodgy than we imagined so after several U-turns and back tracks and 2 hours of walking up hill we realised we weren’t going make it to the fish village so we headed back down to dinner, a nondescript bowl of vegetable soup and a plate of bones masquerading as duck.
The next morning, unperturbed by the previous days fail we headed across the river to walk to the Tengjiao nunnery and Shawan village. This was a very scenic trek along the banks of the Li river slowly climbing along the sides of the hills that surround it. Halfway to the nunnery there were panoramic views down the river toward fish village - looked dull, glad we didn’t go!