Yangshuo is a small town by Chinese standards – practically a village, with only 300,000 people. It sits by the bank of the magnificent blue green Li River and is surrounded on all sides by those incredible limestone peaks. They have great names, as all Chinese peaks do – Dragon’s Head Mountain, Nine Horse Painted Hill, and Young Scholar Mountain.
At the town’s heart are the twin peaks of Man Hill and Lady Hill (the fancy names apparently do have a limit), and not far from here is pedestrian-only Xi Jie (West Street), lined with shops selling antiques, souvenirs, and clothing and artifacts from the minority Miao and Dong tribespeople. Although the remaining ethnic minorities live in villages some way from Yangshuo, their culture is strongly felt here. Each embroidered piece of clothing tells a history about the wearer’s family, their past, and their hopes for the future. I would love to find some small beautiful piece while I’m here, but I’m hoping to buy from the villagers themselves, rather than line the pockets of a wealthy Yangshuo tourist shop owner.
We head further down Xi Jie to the Li River’s bank to try and catch a breath of breeze. Make no mistake – southern China bakes like an oven all summer and July is the hottest of all. It’s 40 degrees and close to 100% humidity. Normal activities, like, say, breathing, generate a layer of sweat that only increases with any activity above simply standing still. Now I know how those buns inside the steamer basket feel.
Down by the river the clear water looks cool and inviting, and on the water’s edge is a local character – the cormorant fisherman – who will pose for a photo for 2 yuan. Every now and then he dips one cormorant or the other into the river to cool it down, and I wonder to myself if I were to hang on tightly to one end of his bamboo pole, whether I too could have a dip without finding myself swept away by the current and into the South China Sea…….