ON my first day in Yangshuo, southern China’s karst mountain landscape so overwhelmed me that I rushed to take a boat ride on the Li River. This is the scenery immortalized on the back of the 20 Renminbi note and attracts millions of visitors each year.
Yes, the scenery from the boat is so spectacular, it will stop you in your tracks. I saw women doing their laundry and an old boatman wearing the traditional conical bamboo hat and a buffalo hide cape.
But where people were once poled downriver on bamboo rafts, the boats now are made from plastic piping and the constant sound of the outboard engine is in the air. I visited Yangshou in the off-season but from the rows of large cruise boats tied up at regular docking stations along the Li River, I could tell that it must be absolutely rammed in the summer.
After the Li River cruise I caught a taxi from Yangshuo town to my accommodation at the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat.
This only took around 15 minutes but what a difference a few kilometers can make. Away from the bustle of touristy West Street and the calls of hawkers, the eco-lodge is on the banks of the Yulong River, a tributary of the Li.
Feathery fans of bamboo arch over the water and from around the bend came a raft. A raft made of bamboo, silently poled along with a passenger relaxed in a deck chair. I don’t have to tell you what I did the next day!
This is a great base for exploring the countryside by bicycle, trying your hand at rock climbing or just relaxing and enjoying the delicious meals.
The eco-lodge is staffed by young people from the local villages, creating opportunities and community involvement. The commitment to environmental preservation is impressive, with a zero-contamination septic system, solar panels and a strict ‘no single-use’ policy.
In the midst of a China that at times seems to be one huge construction site, here is a little piece of authentic paradise set among lush rice fields, forested hills and the karst peaks of Yangshuo.