The plan that day was to hike for 16 km from the town of Xingping (Mandarin : 兴平市) to Shuiyantou, which was just across the river from the town of Yangdi. The hike was to be along roads that flanked the scenic Li River for almost the entire way, and involved two river crossings--the first crossing over from the east bank of the river to Lengshui, and the second from Quanjiazhou and back over to the east bank of the river once again.
The area around Xingping, aside from the karst peaks beyond the banks of the river, was relatively flat so we were to expect very minimal elevation gain. I had also mentally divided the hike into those three parts (Xingping to Lengshui, Lengshui to Quanjiazhou, and Quanjiazhou to Shuiyantou), but before we even began, we had to first get to the town that is probably most known for the view on the back of the CNY20
Buses depart from Yangshuo's southern bus station fairly frequently, every 15 minutes or so. The journey takes only 45 minutes so you do not need to purchase tickets beforehand, just pay the CNY10 when you board the bus. Buses depart from Yangshuo from 06:00 to 19:30, and from Xingping till 18:30. But if you are going on a day trip to Xingping, I would recommend getting the 18:00 bus back to Yangshuo at the latest. Just in case.
We woke up early that morning and began to walk towards Yangshuo's southern bus station. We had planned to get food along the way and ended up getting bao (CNY4
) and rice (CNY6
) for breakfast. It was drizzling once again and the mist that wafted in brought the temperature down considerably. It was 08:20 by the time we got on the bus for the 45-minute journey.The infamy of Xingping's touts had made its way to the online accounts and it had left me with a feeling of dread. I like my personal space and my nerves are always on edge whenever I have to deal with invasive touts that do not seem to have any concept of personal boundaries. That was actually the main reason why we planned to go from Xingping to Yangdi instead of the other way around, as the touts that had infected the Yangdi jetty were apparently quite notorious. The touts did not just stop at the jetty though; if you did opt for the very expensive boat ride (CNY200
), you would most likely encounter them on the river too, offering drinks with exorbitant prices (often multiple times what they were worth). The touts would then try and make you feel guilty if you declined their initial offer, and would instead try and convince you to buy a drink for your boat operator (for lack of a better gender-neutral term). I just did not feel like getting angry that day. Besides, the touts that lined the sides of the Li River (Mandarin: Lí Jiāng, 漓江) with their pet monkeys and cormorants would already be hard enough to deal with as it was.
Xingping is actually quite well-known for their fisherfolk who can still occasionally be found using great cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo
) to catch fish. The way they do this is by first attaching a snare around the bird's neck before releasing it onto the river. The restriction on the neck prevents the cormorant from swallowing larger fish, and the fish is instead removed from its mouth. Cormorant fishing along the Li River is basically for demonstration purposes for tourists though, as fishing has been restricted on the river due to conservation reasons. Not only are the number of fish in decline due to the activities of humans, but the number of cormorants were once in decline too. Not too long ago, the birds were seen as a competitor for fishing and humans ended up hunting it nearly to extinction. Fortunately, the numbers have rebounded since, thanks to conservation efforts. Welcome to the Anthropocene!
After successfully dodging all the people at the bus stop who looked like they could possibly have been touts, we began by making our way towards the old bamboo-lined bridge
that crossed the river to the north bank. Rows of motorised PVC rafts lined the river and forests of bamboo (Tribe : Bambuseae
) absolutely covered the river banks. The deep brown colour of the river water was to be an indication of what we were to face up ahead, but I just did not realise it at the time.We continued walking north-west, along the road that ran parallel to the river, and came upon the first 'attraction' soon after. The '¥20 View', which lay about a hundred metres or so from the bridge, is one of a few spots in which you can observe Gold Ingot Hill, or Yuanbao Shan, from across the river. This hill, or rather the viewpoint, is the inspiration behind the art on the back of the 20 yuan note. The spot was empty when we arrived there, which was most likely attributable to the drizzle. The river was also very brown and fast flowing and the raft touts that normally stalk these kinds of places waiting to ambush off-guard tourists were simply nowhere to be seen. We had heard a lot about this viewpoint, but the mist that had engulfed the karst towers in the background just ended up making the whole experience somewhat anti-climactic.So much for the 20¥ view!
We then continued westward, along the bamboo-lined river bank. The mist still hung low in the air and the pavement remained slick and slippery from the rain. Small three-wheeled 'rickshaws' that were called 'san ren che' (Mandarin : 三人车), which were similar to the Thai
'tuktuk' and Indonesian
'bajaj', would slow down occasionally to see if we needed a ride. The walk itself was fairly uneventful, and aside from the river, the bamboo forests, and the karst backdrop, was also a little unremarkable.Layers upon layers of karst towersKarst towers that are obscured by the mist, rise up above the lush bamboo forests below
We eventually reached the end of the first third of the hike, which was the jetty
at the end of the road. The level of the water at the jetty was very high to the point that it submerged the walkway. The flow of the brown water was also very rapid, and worryingly so. There were not many people around, and the only person that we did come across indicated to us that there were no bamboo rafts at all and that the only crafts on the water would be the much bigger cruise boats from Yangshuo to Guilin. The platform at the '9 Horses Fresco' (also known as 'Mural Hill') was apparently also submerged, so all we could do at that point was to just turn around and make our way back the way we came.The slick and slippery road
As we were walking, one of those 'san ren che' vehicles stopped by the side of the road and we decided to squeeze ourselves in (CNY7
per person). The vehicle struggled almost the entire way and we were forced to get out and to help push it up one of the steeper sections of the road. We clambered back on as it rounded the top of the hill, just before the gears started screaming as it made its way back down the other side.
It was well before midday by the time we got back to Xingping, so we still had the whole day in front of us. So after an early lunch and some soya bean drink (CNY17
), we set off to climb one of the closest karst towers to the town--Laozhai Mountain (Mandarin: 老寨山). A gazebo that is called 'Bird's View Pavilion' is located at the top of the tower, and it took us only half an hour or so to get there. The vertical gain however, was 296m over a distance of 600m, which meant that the climb was fairly steep. This 47% or 25 degree gradient was made much easier though with the presence of over a thousand stone steps that led to the top. *Cick here to learn more about the difficulty rating.**Despite the incline, the rating for the terrain was reduced due to the stairwell that leads to the peak
We returned to the riverside right next to the old Xingping bridge and began walking west along the quay, next to the public toilet. The walkway then swung south (since it was on the corner that met the river), before coming up to the trail head right after. The beginning of the trail
is marked by signs as well as a large map with the word "Go" that has been painted across the wall. Camphor trees (Cinnamomum camphora
) and banyan figs (Ficus benghalensis
) can be found growing around the trail head, which made for a refreshing change from the forests of bamboo that are so ubiquitous. Camphor has traditionally been used as a culinary spice as well as an incense, although I have mostly used camphor topically as both an analgesic
and an antipruritic
.The stairs began soon after and became steeper and steeper the further we went. We passed gravestones and another gazebo called the 'Peace Pavilion' before the stairwell slowly began to narrow as it made its way up the steep slopes. It was still raining then so we had to take extra care in sections that were quite slick. Once again, as was done for Pantao Hill
, we bowed our heads to escape the rain, and focused on all the insects that were all around us.The steep stairwell; and metal ladder
I found numerous examples that illustrated different developmental stages of insects. One of the terms that is used is 'instar', and it refers to stages between each moult until the larva reaches the adult stage, or rather the stage of sexual maturity. Moths, like other insects, have five instars: the first instar is right after it hatches from the egg, and the fifth instar is right before the larva forms its chrysalis (pupa stage). The five instars of cicadas (Family : Cicadidae
) are spent underground though, and for several years at that. The fifth instar of the cicada nymph finally emerges from the ground and latches onto a tree, before beginning its final moult. The adult cicada, now winged, then lives for another few weeks above ground, solely for the purpose of reproduction.Third or fourth instar of a lappet moth caterpillar (Trabala sp.); the fourth instar nymph exoskeleton (called 'exuviae') of a cicada (Family : Cicadidae)Early instar of a tussock moth caterpillar (Tribe : Orgyiini)Early instar larval cluster
The stairwell eventually made its way to a metal ladder. The ladder ascended almost vertically for perhaps five metres or so, and felt very secure and sturdy. The route to the top emerged out of the forest canopy shortly after that and directly to the 'Bird's View Pavilion'. The fresh air that greeted us was a welcome change from the stifling humidity of the forest, and the views that came right after were incredible! The view faced east towards the grid of houses and roads that made up the town of Xingping, as well as the meandering tributaries that led to the Li River and the numerous green fields that lay behind. The real panoramic view on the other hand, lay completely on the other side.
The view from the other side was nothing short of spectacular. This vantage point looked out to the west instead, which would make it perfect when the sun sets. In the distance, the low-lying fog hugged and swirled amongst the karst pinnacles--a real-life rendering of the classical China that is always depicted in traditional Chinese paintings (Mandarin: guóhuà, 国画). The pinnacle that took the limelight however, was none other than Gold Ingot Hill (Yuanbao Shan), the most prominent hill on the back of the 20 yuan note. The karst towers that flanked the river on the left were called the Wuzhi Hills, and, from that vantage point at least, seemed to create an impenetrable wall of limestone.Right in front lay a very flat expanse of land, a 'flatness' that stood out starkly amidst the towering pinnacles around it. The land was mostly covered in fields, with the buildings of the small town of Dahebei speckling its edge. The huge and very conspicuous oxbold curve of the Li River swept around it. Oxbold curves such as this first begin to form when the river begins to meander due to the erosion of the riverbanks, and the bend ends up becoming more and more pronounced with the passing of time.The magnificent view of the Li River (looking west)
To get to the viewpoint, you need to head towards the antenna by clambering up and over large piles of boulders. Some of the boulders come with fairly long drops, so there is an element of risk involved. I would only recommend it if you are fairly confident both with heights and balance. One of the rocks even had a Chinese poem inscribed into it, entitled 'Laozhai Shan', which roughly went:
The 'Bird's View Pavilion'; the boulders with the 'Laozhai Shan' poemThe view of the town of Xingping from the 'Bird's View Pavilion' (looking east)
Go higher with every step you take, with visitors from afar that step into the clouds, Though this peak may not have any gods, you will feel heavenly nonetheless.
It was way too early to even consider waiting for the setting sun, and the mist had begun to roll in and was starting to obscure all the views. We also had a bus to catch, so we began our descent down to the base of the hill.The bus back to Yangshuo cost CNY10
and the stir-fry dinner (yes, once again!) cost CNY13