Beautiful, if truth be told, is an understatement. It’s hard to put into words the beauty and spirit that Yangshuo radiates. You really have to experience this bustling town for yourself. Nestled in the heart of China’s legendary, lush limestone mountains, Yangshuo is a photographer’s fantasy. Dreamy and picturesque.
Despite being popular amongst tourists, Yangshuo boasts a strong sense of culture and tradition- virtually an amalgam of the past, present and future.
I arrived last Friday I believe, the 24th. I’ve lost track of the days. There are various routes to get to Yangshuo, but many travel from Guilin. My flight from Beijing to Guilin arrived at approximately 10:30am. I didn’t get much rest as a baby, seated two rows in front of me, screamed at the top of her lungs the entire trip. And, I had pleasure of eating expired food. Delicious. From the airport, I had to catch a bus to the city centre.
Like China’s northern capital, no one or not many speak English or Cantonese. I didn’t encounter any at the airport at least. So I started the trial and error thing again with gestures and body language. Some were happy to help but couldn’t, while others ignored me and kept to themselves. I eventually found the correct bus.
Nearly 70 minutes later, we arrived at our destination. From the city centre, I had to catch another bus, near the train station, to Yangshuo. However, the railway station was not within sight.
“Bus to Yangshuo – do you know where?” I asked the bus attendant.
She pointed in a direction, but I wasn’t confident I’d find my way based on a simple signal. I tried to get more details from her.
“You take taxi – ¥10.”
I gathered my courage and hopped into a cab. Less than 10 minutes later, we pulled up underneath a bridge. The cab driver pointed across the street. “Bus. Yangshuo.”
I didn’t see any buses and at this point it was pouring. The frustration started creeping back. Another 15 minutes passed and a bus appeared across the street. Joy. I paid the taxi driver and hurried over.
Seventy-five minutes later, we pulled into a bus station. I was expecting to meet a local guide there, Richard. However, I didn’t know what he looked like and I’m sure he didn’t know what I looked like either. Thankfully, I did have a number to call, but unfortunately, no one would let me use their phone. Round two of charades. Finally a kind lady at the mobile shop came to my rescue. Her English was very limited, but she understood enough to let me use the phone. After all was said and done, Richard’s friend Jerry picked me up.
We walked 15 minutes to the hotel. It’s nice and clean and the staff is friendly. Plus, I was thrilled to learn that one of them speaks decent Cantonese. Upon settling in and freshening up, Jerry and I went for lunch, as I was starving at this point.
My first meal in Yangshuo was noodle soup with beef and greens. The noodles were freshly made. Everything was prepared, from start to finish, in less than 90 seconds. Incredible. Noodles in soup is a staple here. The locals, including myself, have it for breakfast every day. Sometimes lunch and dinner too. There are many types of noodles and it costs anywhere from ¥4 to ¥6 for a bowl. Not even a dollar! I’m really going to miss the cheap eats when I return home.
I had heard through the grape vine that the locals eat dog here. My curiosity begged me to validate and see it for myself. The food market that carriers this ‘delicacy’ is off a main street. Upon entering an opening laden with squatting women shouting at you, in an attempt to sell you all types of fresh seafood and veggies, you enter a huge room, lined with tables of even more fresh fare for sale.
Many of the vegetables and greens looked familiar – cabbage, carrots, eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, etc. However, I was less familiar with the reptiles and amphibians, and this was where the squirming began. One lady was preparing fresh snakes, one by one, each approximately 30 centimetres long, whipping their heads against the cement, then poking them through a blood-covered nail, and finally skinning the little creatures with a knife. I was quite surprised at how fast and efficient she was getting through her basin of snakes. They also had pouches of frogs.
Moving along into a separate area, I reached a room filled with caged animals. Ducks, rabbits, chickens and dogs. I’m sure I would have discovered more if I stayed longer. The poor animals were crammed into the metal crates, without much or any room to move. There were butchers stationed around the perimeter of the market. Walking by each one, I witnessed the bloody aftermath of many executions.
When I arrived at the dog vendors, I nearly cried. It was absolutely horrific. Deeply disturbing. So many dogs in cages, weeping. They must have been aware of their destiny. There were tables of jaws and pieces of meat hung from cords. One butcher was scrubbing a wet, stiff, dead dog on the ground. It honestly looked like a stuffed animal.
If you’ve ever wondered how dogs are prepared (more like murdered!)… they’re beat to death with a mallet first. Primarily at the head. Then they’re blowtorched to remove all the hair. The corpse is hosed with water and scrubbed to remove any excess hair or residue. At this stage, the exterior is virtually cooked, while leaving the interior fresh and raw. The intestines are removed and kept for sale and the remainder is chopped up in pieces.
I received the validation I went to seek, and had to leave. I was speechless for a while. I even contemplated being a vegetarian again. If I have the courage and opportunity to return, I’ll try to get some proper pictures. Many of the butchers yelled at me for sneaking shots. Apparently you need to have a license to sell dog meat and not everyone does.
Later that evening, I witnessed the famed cormorant fishing. This traditional method of fishing has been around for hundreds of years, and practiced in other parts of the world. A snare is tied to the base of the bird’s throat, allowing them to swallow small fish, but preventing the cormorants from gobbling the larger fish. When a larger fish is trapped in the throat, the fisherman brings the bird back to the bamboo raft and has the cormorant spew out the fish. I’m still undecided as to whether the practice is ethical. The birds don’t seem to be in any pain. Nonetheless, it was interesting, but a bit touristy.
The night ended with a few drinks at a bar, where I was serenaded by two dudes and their acoustic guitars; followed by a plate of fried noodles at Gan’s Noodles again. The texture of the meat was felt funny. I hope it was actually beef.
Even though day one in Yangshuo was only a half day, it was a rather eventful one. I’m having an amazing time and could easily spend two weeks here. Stay tuned for more updates.