Edit: In the 10 months we lived in China, we traveled a lot and realized how hard it is to find accurate, detailed information online. While this blog was originally intended to keep friends and family up-to-date and is often conversational in tone, I’ve decided to go back and add more in-depth information for those planning their own trip! If you have any further questions, feel free to shoot us a message!
Time moves at a different speed in China. It’s like you’ve gotten thrown into a weird alternate dimension that throws you back and forth in time, sometimes feeling like it’s been two months and other times two days. In reality, we’ve been here for about two weeks. We’ve gotten bizarrely adjusted to being constantly surrounded by an unrecognizable language and different looking everything, but each day we still encounter some small new adjustment that throws us for a loop and reminds us that we’ve only just started this adventure.
Luckily for us, our first week and a half was spent in Yangshuo, only half-jokingly referred to as the airlock into China. While we had never heard of it before, Yangshuo is actually one of the most-visited destinations in China and is therefore very Westernized by Chinese standards. It is a “small” town built amid absolutely stunning karst mountains. There was a McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and Starbucks all conveniently centered around West Street, which was the main entertainment street containing small shops, restaurants, and bars. The level of English was basic in most places and the locals who only spoke Mandarin were clearly used to charades and poorly pronounced attempts. It still felt like a culture shock to us with all the signs in unrecognizable characters, the blatant every-man-for-himself disregard of traffic laws, and the abundance of cheap foreign food and goods that encouraged impromptu sidewalk gatherings. After moving to Sinan this past week, however, we are definitely coming to realize it was fairly different from “real China”!
While we were in Yangshuo, we were trained by Buckland (our placement agency) on teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) and basic Chinese culture. We spent our free time exploring the city. Some of our highlights were:
- Hiking to the top of one of the TV towers – in 80° weather with 90% humidity, the 1,142 stairs completely kicked our butts! But the view was absolutely unbeatable.
More information: Getting there is a little confusing. Save the great directions with photos on the ILP blog, and review the directions with your hotel/hostel to make sure you understand where you’re going. It’s a short “hike,” but still remember to bring water – don’t mess with the heat!! We have heard from others that the absolute best time to go is sunrise, and we’re kind of bummed that we missed out on the dramatic foggy morning scenery. But even if you can’t drag yourself out of bed that early, the afternoon view is still quite gorgeous!
- Walking into a market and walking out almost immediately when I saw/smelled the many varieties of raw meat hangings.
- More information: This market was on the way to the TV tower, although I’m sure you will see others.
- Biking along the Yulong River and watching the “bamboo” (PVC) rafts float along.
More information: This outing was organized by Buckland, so I’m not sure of our specific route details other than that they took us through town, past some karst mountains, and along the Yulong River. Tommy and I were on a junky tandem bike that cost about 20RMB (~$3) for the entire day. You can find more information about routes and better places to rent bikes on Nomadic Boys, Top China Travel, or Yangshuo Insider. Alternatively, check with your hotel or hostel once you get to Yangshuo! Remember to take a photo with the 20RMB note, which has a picture of the karst mountains on the back!
While we did not go on a bamboo raft tour, it is a very popular activity in the area. You can find more information about this at Yangshuo Insider and China Highlights. It is important to note that this is different from the Li River boat tours, which are started closer to Guilin. (More information on Li River tours at Teacake Travels, Crawford Creations, China Highlights, or The Planet D.)
- Visiting Yangshuo Park at night to find huge groups of people dancing in sync, a children’s carnival, and moonlit views of the karst mountains. We have now learned that choreographed dancing in parks is a very popular form of exercise in China, referred to in English media as “dancing grannies.” Who knew?!
More information: This is near West Street, and is a good activity both during the day (pretty gardens, nice views attainable with a short climb, see tai chi or card games) and at night (moonlit views of the garden, see dancing and singing) . Find out more at Travel China Guide.
- Roaming West Street – Day and night are literally completely different experiences. In the day it is sleepy and relaxed, and at night it turns into a Disneyland-esque carnival!
More information: West Street has lots of shops and restaurants. Some love it and some think it’s way too crowded and touristy. If you have to choose between going during the day or at night, I recommend at night.
- Traditional Chinese street barbecue hosted by Buckland.
More information: Sorry, this one may not be attainable for the temporary tourist! An alternative is the famous local beer fish.
- Relaxing at The Lounge, a popular expat bar. So nice to have a sandwich with proper (AKA not sugary sweet) bread!
More information: As of August 2017, the owner was considering moving, so ask around to see if it is still there. They host open mic and trivia night.
This week we’ve started teaching in Sinan, which has certainly been full of adventures but is going well. I’ll have more on that later, but for the most regular updates check our WeChats. We post frequently there as internet is very slow in China, but WeChat seems to be the exception. 🤔 Until them, much love! 💞