It's a somewhat arduous task to be amazed by a place that's been built up in your travel dreams for over 2 years. You've seen photos. You've heard stories. "It's the most beautiful place ever!" "Bloody awesome!" "I wish we'd stayed there longer!" "Ok! I get it! I'm going already!" I guess it's how people feel when they finally get to see Rome, the Great Barrier Reef, or Cleveland, Ohio. I've been to 1/3 of those places and let me tell you the hype wins over the actual experience. (I'll give ya a dollar if you can guess which one!) This fortunately wasn't the case for me in Yangshuo, the small town karst peak paradise of southern China, but for reasons beyond the epic scenery.
I met a New Zealander on my Li River tour from Guilin to Yangshuo. The Li River is that river scene you picture when you think of south Asia: Calm waters, mountains on the horizon, man with funky hat paddling oh so zenlike across the sea. It was a warm sunny Saturday on the Li River and the views were almost too postcard to digest. Beautiful, but surreal. My New Zealand buddy Alick had no place to stay in Yangshuo so when we arrived I led him to the Showbiz Inn ("...it's bloody awesome! I wish I'd stayed there longer!") where I had booked a bed for a week. "Ok, I'm there already!!" All of the hype I'd heard about Yangshuo was centered around the AWESOME scrape your jaw off the ground view from the rooftop of their hostel. Showbiz Inn just off of West Street seemed to be one of the best providers of the rooftop experience.
Sidebar: West Street is the busiest block in Yangshuo. It's rumoured to be called West Street because of the amount of foreigners (or Westerners) who walk up and down it everyday. The Chinese tourists definitely outnumbered the European retirees and 20-something scruffy backpackers when I was there...so maybe the West side of the world was just having a slow week, travel wise? If not, then I feel this street name to be unfair. Our Chinatown neighborhoods all over North America certainly don't exaggerate.
So when Alick and I checked in to Showbiz we immediately headed up to the rooftop. I had been telling him about the Yangshuo scenery throughout the entire river tour like I was an expert. We got up to the rooftop and while his jaw dropped I just nodded my head, "yep. This is what it's supposed to look like." I was a little jealous of Alick's fresh take on the beautiful place; one of the most beautiful places on the continent, probably. Then I browsed the photo wall they had on the floor below the rooftop and I saw pics of MY FRIENDS! It was two of the guys I'd volunteered with in Shandong province 2 years prior, the experience which sparked my infatuation with Mainland China. There they were, Rupert and Harry, hugging and posing with other travelers on a typical night on a Yangshuo rooftop. It had been over 2 years since I'd last seen them but I felt united with my volunteer buddies again and all the reasons why I chose to return to China came back to me. Maybe I'd lost some of the perspective somewhere in the swarm of motorbikes. Perhaps it was water. Maybe the meat was getting to my head (yes, I eat meat in China). I needed Yangshuo, and the breathtaking scenery I got to enjoy for 6 days was just an added bonus.
I quickly met other travelers. All kinds of strangers were making plans to do cooking classes, take bike rides, go rock climbing together, or just sit on the comfy couches in the lobby and watch a movie while waiting for the rain to subside. Like clockwork everyone met on the rooftop at 8 p.m to start a night of swapping travel tales while playing card games, pool and beer pong. This was my first experience in southern China. Up until then I'd only been east, and not many backpackers do eastern China. I'd forgotten what it was like to be with a community of backpackers. It had been a while since I'd felt truly united with a group of strangers. Amidst all kinds of chaos that life inevitably brings, for me meeting some like-minded strangers helps me get some perspective on what's next and is the best way to grow.
Yes it's super touristy. But (gasp!) that's a big part of what makes Yangshuo well..Yangshuo. Let it be man. It's freaking beautiful. Just go and have a blast...whatever that means to you.
|The iconic rooftop scene|
Labels: china, Guilin, LiRiver, rooftop, showbizhostel, southernchina, WestStreet, Yangshuo