The sky was ink black, we discreetly passed money to the shifty woman and were ushered into the back of a car that had just pulled up. We turned onto decrepit side roads and were jostling up and down as the car drove over the pebbled path. A gang emerged, lit up like firecrackers as the headlights beamed bravely in isolation. The gang consisted of several granny’s that had created a blockade. It was here that these sour, crumpled faces would grab us out the car and smash us with bricks…
…well that’s the thought that passed through my mind anyhow. As our car screeched to a halt, I slid down in my seat and hid my pale complexion (being white can have its drawbacks). Our driver paid the gang off and we drove through wasteland. The car engine turned off and we stepped out blind into the middle of nowhere. We were then directed down a short, bush laden hill that led to the wide and expansive river. On the opposite side was the world famous theatrical extravaganza the ‘Impression Sanjie Liu’, a performance that took place on the water. We had come to this dodgy area to watch the show for the much cheaper (illegal) price. We had paid women to let us watch the outdoor show on the opposite side of the river where we could avoid the overrated ticket price.
I felt like a criminal, a drug mule. Acting covert is not my greatest strength. The granny thugs were there to ensure no other scrupulous individuals would begin the same practise; it was their turf. Fortunately, no blood was shed and my ex and I got to watch the show. It isn’t the greatest show and our view was not the greatest either but we still could follow the gist of the story and be left in awe at the looming mountainous backdrop.
Don’t let my opening worry you though, for Yangshou isn’t all dodgy dealings. The small and charming place resembles a priceless oil painting as the lush and rugged mountains rise up from the flat land like goliath deities.
The best way to view Yanghsou is by hiring an inexpensive bike or electric scooter. My ex and I decided to opt for a tandem bike (aww sounds so adorable) but it soon became the worst decision we had ever made. It became clear that our bike belonged in Arkham Asylum because when ether my ex (sitting in the back) stopped pedalling the front pedals would jar, which, in turn caused the steering to go through an exorcism.
Whilst pedalling down the scenic ten mile gallery – a road surrounded by beauty – my ex became lax at pedalling and the bike decided to have a psychotic episode at the exact moment a coach had decided to pass us. This scared my ex to death and nearly resulted in us eating a face full of tyre. Fortunately, we didn’t crash but an argument ensued. I would have loved to have cycled away from the problem but on a tandem the problem would have followed. In a matter of minutes we diffused the tension and learnt to hate the bike and not each other.
The Un-giving Tree
This trip was definitely eventful! The ten mile gallery that we had been cycling on was where a lot of the scenic attractions were located…sadly, the people in charge of Yangshou have put a price tag on everything…an overpriced price tag. So despite China being very cheap, the attractions in Yangshou were expensive, fortunately the food was not.
One of the more bizarre attractions was the ‘Big Banyan Tree’ that has consistently cropped up as a place of interest everywhere you look. It was described as being ‘amazing’. Well if the ‘Amazing Spiderman 2’ was anything to go by, the meaning of ‘amazing’ has been changed to ‘crappy’. I am still bewildered as to why we paid to see a tree. It was a tree. A medium sized tree. But it was just a tree. Even worse was that the tree cannot be touched. This was a shitty tree. Even squirrels and birds avoided its depressing branches.
The area around the tree featured tied up monkeys that would instantly rise for a tacky tourist photo – fee needed of course. This sight in Yangshou was really the worst and should be avoided at all costs. Even if trees give you wood, you would be bark-ing mad to enter!
Japanese Not Welcome
Heading into the main centre of Yangshou you realise a sharp contrast to the ten mile gallery. The centre is a hive of activity with enigmatic salesman flaunting their wears, snacks and juices. One such drink I had to try was a mango juice poured into a baby’s bottle. Yup, sucking on a teat like a toddler is extremely bizarre, but this is China.
The most astonishing thing about the centre, was their lack of respect towards Japan. Ok, I know they don’t get along, but the local supermarket was offering discounts as Japan had just been hit by an earthquake. One seller skipped the pleasantries and simply wrote a sign saying ‘all welcome, no Japanese’.
I may sound negative towards Yangshou, but I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. The views are breath-taking. At the Butterfly Cave, which featured no butterflies, you get to climb up high to get panoramic vistas of the surrounding area. It really is one of the prettiest places on Earth.
After ditching the tandem bike we secured an electric moped that had two comfortable seats and a roof. This was much more my style of travelling (lazy). We drove it down random backstreets and ended up at secluded locations with no one in sight. We got off to do a little walking next to streams with just the glowing sun accompanying us.
The food in Yangshou is cheap and delicious. We didn’t have a single bad meal – it was great. We may have gained more than a few pounds on the trip.
Yangshou has its downfalls, especially the fact that any attraction has a high price tag. But Yangshou itself is charming and incredibly gorgeous. It is a location where you can relax and feel completely lost in the Chinese countryside. I would happily return.
All pictures taken by myself. Follow me on Instagram: Arik_Dane