I chose China for several reasons: I found cheap tickets to Beijing and who would not want to see the Great Wall of China? The autumn season in SW China is excellent for rock climbing - dry and not too hot, and there was also the harvest time with tons of exotic fruits to taste. Chinese greet each other “Have you eaten yet?” and what could be better than an adventure holiday with a great cuisine.
The Chinese history and culture deserves to be explored too, and its political system (we visited during Chinese elections and the military control was evident everywhere, especially around Tiananmen Square.
Beijing has the reputation as one of the most polluted cities in the world. Even the weather report on my i phone was mentioning “Very Unhealthy Air Conditions”, a note I have never seen before. So after a few touristy obligations: Great Wall, Forbidden Palace, Moon Palace and exploration of Beijing’s hutongs, we flew to Guilin and took a taxi to Yangshuo, famous for its beautiful karst scenery and per some reports the best rock climbing destination in Asia.
I booked hotels ahead - this was a part of our visa requirement to provide addresses of all hotels we will be staying at, and also a proof that we have enough finances to cover our expenses. I booked Yangshuo Village Inn located in a small Li village just a few km away from Yangshuo town. Yangshuo is the biggest town in the area and small for China - 300,000 people. Our hotel was lovely, small, but cozy and we were able to rent some old bikes to get around at the hotel. The restaurant on the top of the hotel served “Italian food” - well, ravioli were chinese dumplings and you ate those with chopsticks, spaghetti were chinese noodles, and of course you could order chinese food as well. They had vegetarian meals and the staff was very friendly and smiling. All food was served with chopsticks - Confucius (551 BC - 471 BC) said it is uncultural to have a sharp object on the table (sharp utensils at the dinner table would remind eaters of the slaughterhouse) - so prepare yourself to eat Italian with chopsticks! We even tried chinese red wine - a blend from the Great Wall area, it was pretty good. Wine is an expensive drink in China, so was coffee. On the other hand beer and ginger and other teas were cheap. But back to the track. The best part of the restaurant on the rooftop of our hotel was the view - we were sitting just under the famous Moon Hill. You have probably seen photos of Moon Hill in Climbing magazines.
The assistant in the climbing store told us that a new guide book is coming up and many new routes are being developed in the area. We first looked up Moon Hill since we were within a short walking distance from it, but unfortunately the store assistant told us it is closed to climbing, and also the book had it marked as closed. Moon Hill we ended up exploring only as casual tourists, we saw many routes, but no climbers. They had signs all over that climbing is prohibited and you would have to pay a penalty of 5000 RMB (~ 750 US $).
Excited with the new guidebook and new area to explore we headed for the next close destination: Wine Bottle. The book offered many Smiley Faced climbs in the range from 5.8 to 5.10s. Unfortunately, when we arrived in the early afternoon, there was a large group of people. It looked like guides with their clients. So, we moved to less popular climbs at Wine Bottle and did about 6 routes. The rock seemed sharp initially, and our fingers were hurting. Consider bringing a tape, which I forgot.
The next morning we were determined to get up early and be the first people at the crag. We ate our breakfast (our hotel served climbers breakfast with fried eggs, fruits, and french toasts + cappuccino and yummy ginger tea), jumped on bikes and were quickly pedaling to get there and beat the crowds. We did several recommended (smiley faces) climbs and when we wanted to do more, people showed up and we were not able to complete the all climbs in the area. On the other hand, we did every day 6-9 climbs, biked around, and we were the oldest folks at the crag. I did not realize that in the US we have many old climbers, but in China climbing is a new sport and practiced by young people.
Day 3: We wanted to see something else and some guides recommended us The Egg - different formation with climbs around the tower, so you could always find a shade. Did I mention that while mornings were pleasant, during the day it was hot. Wine Bottle provides shade for the belayer, but the rock faces south and climbing is sweaty!
The Egg proved to be an excellent recommendation, also we struggled some to find it. First, it was a long bike ride, ? 15 km, then we missed the turn off and biked on the main road about 5 km further than we were supposed to. When we finally figured out which way to go, the road appeared to be leading into some fields, but luckily an old Chinese man came to us and pointed us the right way. The setting is nice - fields and fish ponds. The climbing was great - we did several routes in the range of 5.9 - 5.10s, and we were in the shade. A few young americans showed up, they lived in China, and this was their vacation. We spent the whole day there and when finally exhausted, covered in bruises, and feeling sore fingers we biked back to the village, where we bought pomelos for a refreshment. The fruit stands were plentiful and pomelos are locally grown. We could have probably picked it ourselves while biking through the fields and orchards, but we wanted to support local farmers and not to be thieves. Another advantage of buying at the fruit stand was that they did cut it up for us and sometimes even gave us a bucket with water to wash our hands.
Day 4: This day was complicated, we had to move to another hotel since our village inn was undergoing a renovation. This shortened our climbing time. We decided to go back back to Wine Bottle to finish the climbs with smiley faces, we had only 5 left. Wine Bottle was conveniently located between our old hotel and new resort. We basically climbed all routes at Wine Bottle and could feel a great satisfaction from the full exploitation of this crag. Or perhaps we did not want to get lost again and spent time looking a another crag as we did the day before. After climbing we biked to Swiss Cheese area just to see what it has to offer and then into our new hotel. Our new resort, Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, was fancy, full of tourists, more busy and the staff was not smiling, rather running around to please their demanding guests. The advantage was different location, different crags to explore, dinners by Yulong rivers with bamboo rafts passing by.
Swiss Cheese - this is another popular crag, pretty small and frequented again with guides and clients. We got there early and got to climb everything we wanted, all smiley faces. This crag has even some easier routes: 5.6, 5.7, 5.8, several 5.9s and several 5.10s, which seemed easy - perhaps I got used to climbing on limestone. Biking followed climbing, my partner had really bad allergies, so we biked to Yangshuo to buy an allergy medicine. The conversation at the pharmacy was electronic except Nihao (=Hello) and xiexie (= thank you). I typed in English on pharmacist mobile phone and it translated into chinese characters. We finally got cetirizine (=zyrtec, allergy medicine). When I asked about a decongestant, the answer was that decongestant is a drug and not allowed. Then he offered Amantadine with paracetamol, which surprised me. He asked about our symptoms prior offering medicines and I wrote: clear runny nose, no fever. Amantadine is an old medicine which was used to treat influenza A and paracetamol is fever reducer (tylenol in the US). Anyway, an interesting experience, and it is good to have an application for Chinese characters since most tourists do not read Chinese and most Chinese do not read Latin alphabet. Should I mention the fun of taking a taxi in Beijing and showing the taxi driver my Expedia reservation of the hotel? It meant nothing to him, luckily there was a phone number and he called it and got the address that way.
The last day we spent at a less frequented crag and we enjoyed it by ourselves. What a change! The Baby Frog area - I have not seen any frogs there - was in shade all morning and the approach was adventurous. Biking, parking at the car park, walking through a village and through someone’s yard. Yes, there was a man working in the yard and we were passing just next to him, he ignored us. I enjoyed Baby Frog area, it was small, about 8-10 climbs and we did them all except one 5.7 - it had no smiley face.
After climbing we went on with our routine of biking - this time exploring the valley along Yulong river. We ate at the “tofu lady stand”. We had bought from her previously drinks and tofu and she was pleasant. The tofu was cooked and she served it some sweet syrup. We found an old bridge from Ming dynasty and some sort of ruins on one of the limestone towers, which we had to access through someone backyard and kitchen!!! I wish to give you a name of that place, but we got only Chinese characters written name. We gave them some money and they gave us tea and persimmons, a novelty fruit for me. I ate I think 4 of those. An od Chinese lady was cutting up persimmons and placing it on the sun for drying. Our time was up and I was not ready to leave. I hope to come back one day. There is so much to see, so much to explore.
Such a huge country and I know so little about its people, history, and culture. A part of me is arrogant and thinks, you should get by while traveling with English, but China is different. I was using body language, smiles and occasionally mobile applications. Cell phones are everywhere in China, Facebook and You Tube are blocked by the government. Gambling is tolerated, have you heard of Cricket Fights? I need to learn more. Afterall everything is MADE IN CHINA.