National Week, Part Two: The River District
As I mentioned in the previous post, Yangshuo is situated in a part of Guangxi Province that is known for its limestone formations (it’s a UNESCO Heritage Site) as well as the abundance of rivers which run through the area.
West Street, which as I mentioned is the major tourist center, runs perpendicular to the Li River which crosses at the eastern part of town. To the west, a little ways out of town, the Yulong River picks up off of the highway and runs to meet the Li a little ways south of the city center, though the two rivers are connected by a couple of smaller waterways which crisscross through Yangshuo town itself. The Jinbao River also runs further to the south and west as well.
So basically, there is water everywhere. We decided to take advantage of this fact by spending as much time out-of-doors as possible; at mealtimes, we also tried a few of the local delicacies.
Our first evening in Yangshuo, we went to dinner at your basic West Street restaurant– their menu offerings ran the gamut of tourist-y Chinese food (sweet and sour pork, for example) and some Western offerings (club sandwiches, etc), but the real prize on the menu were the fried river snails, one of Yangshuo’s famous local dishes. So of course someone had to order them. Snails in the shell, while surprisingly delicious, are also kind of difficult to eat. This is actually a running theme in Chinese food; meat is always on the bone, fish is always served either whole or cut with no regard to removing the bones, seafood is always in the shell, etc. The snails in particular though can be quite tricky. You’re given a box of toothpicks, and the object is to get a good enough pierce on the snail whilst attempting not to push it so far down the shell that you can’t get at it anymore. Well, suffice to say that definitely happened more than once; so the person who ordered the snails in the first place, and who would not be deterred by logistics, started to get creative. She’d place the shell on the table and whack it with the bottom of her whiskey tumbler, cracking open the shell and leaving an unholy mess of snail shell carnage all over the restaurant table. It was, of course, absolutely hilarious. We may have started calling her “The Otter” for the rest of the night.
The next day we decided to explore the river itself. Heading out of town, if you walk north along the Li River for a few kilometers– about 40 minutes or so– you reach a “restaurant” (which is basically a bunch of tiki huts and a small bar) called the Golden Sands, and if you walk down a set of stairs next to the restaurant you find yourself at “The Secret Beach.” No idea if that’s what it’s actually called, but that’s what we called it, anyway. It’s a smallish beach on the river, slightly overrun with naked Chinese children but still with plenty of beach chairs and places to relax in the sun along the banks of the river. That is, if you can relax with the constant and extremely loud honking of boat horns on the river. Apparently obsessive horn-honking is a traffic phenomenon not just limited to the roads here in China. We think they do it just to say hi. After a bit, though, the boats cleared out and we had a bit of quiet. We got in the water; a couple of people rented inner-tubes and floated merrily about. People were gawking at this group of nutty foreigners who were swimming in the boat lanes; and it didn’t help that Adam was wearing butterfly wings.
Which I should mention here. All week, one of our guys, Adam, was wandering around wearing a big, bright orange pair of butterfly wings. You know, the wire-and-nylon kind that little girls wear with their fairy costumes at Hallowe’en. This is because on our first day in Yangshuo we walked past a store selling them and our friend Gwyn stopped, swung around and said, “Hey Adam. If you buy those wings and wear them for the entire trip, I will buy you ice cream any time you want for six months.” To which Adam immediate replied, “How much are they?” and walked into the store to buy them. He walked out and put them on, and was not seen without them for the rest of the week, true to promise. In fact, now I barely recognize him without them…
We got out of the river and headed back into town for dinner, and decided to do the full-blown Yangshuo-style meal. We’d already had the fried snails, but we went in for the Beer Fish, which is a local white fish cooked in a beer sauce made out of the local brew; Spicy Shrimp, which were actually whole crawfish done in a Chinese-spicy boil. Really delicious. Most of the group had no idea how to eat them, and were pretty weirded out by the idea of sucking on the heads. I actually acquired a pile of otherwise unwanted crawfish heads; it looked like a mini crawfish massacre happened on my plate. There were some other dishes as well, including pork-stuffed mushrooms which were outstanding, and all three of the vegetable dishes that were available on the menu. Which is only surprising because the menu was about 20 pages long. Ah, Yangshuo. Not so big on the veggies there.
Here I leave you one more time, because the next day we went on the most epic bike ride ever, and I don’t want you to tear your eyes out trying to read so many words at one time. Verbosity– it’s a problem. Anyway, I’ll be back soon.