My first memories of China were rice paper scrolls hanging on the wall in a local library.
Two fire-breathing dragons flanked some bizarrely shaped mountains, and a little stream ran through the hills, and there was a curved stone bridge over a lazy little stream, and it was all very dreamy, and I assumed it was just pure fantasy. It was only recently on a trip to Yangshuo that I discovered to my amazement that such a romantic landscape could actually be real.
Yangshuo is a little town in southern China. The Chinese describe the entire Guilin district as “the most scenic place under heaven” for its dramatically shaped hills, fantastic caves, pretty rice paddies, and the meandering rivers that act like mirrors reflecting the beautiful hills. The Lijiang River wanders through this fantastic landscape in loops and curves for over a hundred kilometres and here you’ll find riverboats, bamboo rafts and paddle steamers drifting downriver with tourists and lovers gazing in awe at the magical sight. The river and surrounding hills are so beautiful they are featured on the Chinese 20 yuan banknote.
Floating downriver you’ll find water buffaloes wallowing, villagers washing and fishermen floating by on bamboo rafts with their cormorant fishing birds like some scene from previous centuries. Numerous caves and underground rivers dot the local hills and plains where stalactites, stalagmites, and columns create dreamscapes of another magnitude. There are underground forests of crystal trees, others that look like underground mountain ranges and even crystal cities. Colourful and strategically placed lighting only adds to the effect of being in another world.
The entire Yangshuo region is full of little streams down which you can float on bamboo rafts propelled by local fishermen like the gondoliers of Venice. Bike rentals are available in the town. Armed with a map and a local guide you can peddle endlessly through rice paddies and remote villages, through tiny farms and rustic homes and by tiny shops where the villagers will gladly sell you ice cold beer and a lunch of hot spicy food. It’s a picnic from another planet.
No matter where you look, in all directions you’ll see the weirdly shaped rolling hills popping up everywhere like mushrooms, and you’ll feel like Alice in Wonderland having nibbled on a magic mushroom yourself. The overall affect of the hills, rivers, villages and streams is simply hallucinogenic, and its no exaggeration to say that in Yangshuo fantasy does comes true.