May 1st is Labour Day in China so we got a 3 day weekend. I joined a group of foreigner friends on an adventure to Yangshuo, a small tourist-friendly town in Guangxi Province on the Li river. 

Friday (April 29, 2011) night we took the 10:30pm bus from Guangzhou to Yangshuo. As it was an overnight trip we had hoped for a sleeper bus with beds but were disappointed to discover that the only bed on board was for the drivers. There were two drivers and they alternated driving and sleeping between them.

Matt, James, Jo and Pippa on the bus ride to Yangshuo.

We had been told that the journey would take 8-9 hours so we were expecting to arrive in Yangshuo around 7 in the morning. At 4:15am we were abruptly awakened and informed that we had arrived. We blearily stumbled off the bus into the dark and near-empty street. The bus continued on to Guilin leaving us standing in the dark, laughing at the unexpectedness of the situation. What now? It was the middle of the night, everything was closed and we had nowhere to go.

We figured we might as well try and find our hostel, not that we would be able to check in any time soon. It seemed as good a destination as any. There was a man who met us as we got off the bus, trying to sell rooms at his hotel. Perhaps our refusal offended him because when we asked if he knew how to get to Monkey Jane’s (our hostel) he pointed us in what turned out to be the completely wrong direction.

As we wandered down the road I happened to glance up and was startled to realize that I could see the silhouettes of sharp, imposing mountains looming above us, seemingly just beyond the buildings of the the street. As we gazed around us in the darkness we became aware of these mountains in every direction.

We eventually found the hostel after a fair bit of wandering through the dark and silent town. We couldn’t check in but we were allowed to leave our bags. The reception area was occupied with a few obnoxious drunks so that didn’t seem like a good place to hang out. We asked the desk clerk if he knew of a good place to go to watch the sunrise. He told us it was too cloudy so there wasn’t going to be a sunrise.

“Oh, so the sun won’t rise today?” I asked as innocently as I could. Apparently the joke didn’t translate as he replied that no, it wouldn’t.

We walked down to the river. It wasn’t far.  We may not have been able to see the sun but it rose anyway, contrary to the hostel clerk's prediciton. It was beautiful to watch the gradual brightening of the misty world. The jagged mountains slowly became sharper and the strangely clear water (clean natural water in China??? What is this place?!) seemed to almost glow in the half-light of approaching dawn. The gentle rain only added to the peaceful beauty.

Matt crouches on a stepping stone in the Li River at dawn 

The Li River at dawn

Watching more and more mountains appear through the morning mist along the Li river 

By 6am it was raining in earnest so we retreated to a dumpling shop for breakfast. 

Jo, Matt, Ashley and Pippa ponder the menu at a dumpling shop

West street in Yangsguo as the sun (which wasn't supposed to rise at all!) breaks through the rainclouds early Saturday morning