Entering mainland China from Hong Kong is an absolute breeze. We took the metro system the whole way to the border from the city for about $5. Once at the border, we went through immigration and customs and were extremely thankful that our Chinese visas we obtained back in December actually worked! They were such a pain to get, we were anxious that something may go wrong and we would be denied entry. All went well and we soon crossed into Shenzhen, our first city in mainland China. Crossing the border from Hong Kong to mainland China is like stepping into a whole new land. Shenzhen is known for being one of the “copy capitols” of China; a place where you can get a knock off Rolex or fake Gucci purse without trying very hard. Hong Kong gave us a week long break from constant haggling and bargaining and we weren’t too excited to enter back into a land requiring us to be on our guard or otherwise be ripped off. We had no choice but to get right back into the game because our first task was obtaining a night bus ticket to Yangshuo.
Right outside of the train station was a large square bustling with people. There was a bus station, tourist kiosks, restaurants, and a mall all crammed into this one area. A man in an officer uniform asked us if he could help us and we asked about bus tickets. He directed us to a woman who was pleased to offer us tickets for Yangshuo for 250 Yuan each (about $40). This seemed pretty steep to us, so John and I kept walking and looking around. We were approached by all sorts of people saying “Yangshuo?!” This was very odd considering Shenzhen is a big city with transportation to many destinations all over China. Soon we realized that basically everyone in a two-block radius knew that two foreigners were trying to get to Yangshuo and all were now competing for our business. We weren’t actually sure how much a bus ticket to Yangshuo should cost (we forgot to look that up the night before…amateur mistake). So, we meandered into the mall on the right-hand side of the square.
Our senses were immediately overloaded with all sorts of sounds, flashing lights, new smells, and staring faces. There were hundreds of toys and gadgets for sale that we didn’t even know existed. We aimlessly wandered around the mall in awe as we attempted to find someone who spoke english. Eventually we found a gentleman at the fake-Boom-headphone store that was able to connect us to wifi so we could check the going rates for night-bus tickets to Yangshuo (which were much cheaper than $40, as we imagined).
Armed with this new price information, John and I split up to find the best deal. John went outside to see if there were other bus companies selling tickets around the square, while I went upstairs to the bus station. Now, if we have learned anything about buying bus tickets in foreign countries, it’s that you should always buy them yourself at a proper bus station. Anytime you buy them from a third-party you end up getting screwed one way or another. Unfortunately, John had the iPhone with the translator app, so I wasn’t able to communicate to the ticket vendor where I wanted to go. John came back empty handed as well so we decided to circle back to the first lady who offered us tickets. On the way we continued to be hassled by people trying to sell us tickets to Yangshuo (and being followed by the same people in hopes that we might change our minds). To put an end to a long story, we were offered all sorts of numbers up to 260 yuan and we finally ended back at our first stop and got the price down to 190 yuan, nearly $10 cheaper per person. We locked up our bags at the ticket office and grabbed a quick bite to eat a strange and mediocre restaurant.
We returned to the ticket office and we were told to follow a man who walked around to a few different offices to pick up other tourists (sound familiar?? Southeast Asia déjà vu!). As we started to wonder if we were really going to be taken to a bus, a strange American dude who lived in China assured us this was the normal process he goes through each time. He was traveling on the bus with his wife of about 6 months who doesn’t speak any English and he doesn’t speak any Chinese. Somehow he says it all works and you can’t help who you love. Anyway, after taking a cramped shuttle bus ride, we eventually ended up on the night bus and were sent to the very back (déjà vu again!). We learned from a Chinese student that we were sold “leftover” tickets at a heavy discount and the people who bought “real” tickets got to pick their seats. After some research, I can confirm we did pay less than the usual ticket cost and we both had a bed to sleep in, so overall I think it was a good deal even though the process was weird (as usual).
We set off onto the highway which looked pretty similar to a US highway except all the signs were written in Chinese (surprise!). We made a few bathrooms breaks along the way and arrived in Yangshuo at about 5am. We knew that many people in China speak very little English (although there are definitely exceptions to this rule) and expected to have more trouble in China with communication than any other place we have been. With that said, we were immediately skeptical of a Chinese man who greeted us with perfect English, as soon as we stepped off the bus (side-note: it’s super annoying to have to deal with hoards of people trying to sell you shit at 5 AM just after you wake up from a bumpy uncomfortable ride). We tried to ignore him, walk away, and tell him we weren’t interested, but none of it was working. The man was trying to sell us a ride on one of the two taxis behind him. We didn’t know how close we were to the city, how much taxis should cost, or anything along those lines. Clearly annoyed by our lack of interest, the taxis drove off and the man finally pointed us in the direction of the city and we set off on foot to find these yellow mini busses we were told could bring us to town. After a good deal of searching and attempts to communicate with our translator app (Jibbigo), we learned that the annoying man by the bus pointed us in the wrong direction just to be a jerk. To top it off, the mythical yellow busses apparently weren’t running yet and we couldn’t find any reliable taxis…so we walked about 2 km to town and then another 1-2 km to our guesthouse called the Cozy Garden (ugh…so…sweaty).
The guesthouse was nestled in an awesome village just outside of town with gorgeous views and a really friendly English speaking staff. We were so glad to finally be there and we checked into our comfy room and headed downstairs to ask about the included breakfast we were expecting. Apparently hostelbookers incorrectly listed them as having free breakfast, but they allowed us to have it anyway which was fantastic. It was make your own breakfast until 11am with fresh eggs, tomatoes, toast, yummy yogurt, granola, orange juice, coffee, and tea. We ate until we couldn’t eat any more, took a brief nap (…slash John trimmed his alarmingly long mustache..he ate one too many of his own hairs), and then explored the town by bicycle. Yangshuo really is a nice city, well set up for tourism. It even had a plaque in the middle of town denoting it as a well done tourist location in China. The city is relatively clean, has nice walking streets, and tons of shops, restaurants, and cafés. We stumbled upon a little gem called Top Cup which is a place that sells all types of good drinks but specializes in milk teas. They mix the drink, seal a piece of plastic on top of the cup, and punch a hole through the top for you to enjoy the beverage. Their milk teas were fabulous (and less than $1!) and their shaved mango ice with fresh mango was another one of our favorites. We just hung around town the rest of the evening and enjoyed some dinner at the guesthouse across from ours called Trippers Carpe, owned by the same person as our guesthouse. They had a really good restaurant and had some great dishes specific to the Yangshuo region (like spicy dragon eggplant!).
After dinner, we headed back at our guesthouse to get a ride to a light show that Yangshuo is famous for. The show takes place on the Lijiang River with karst formations in the background. Hundreds of performers participate in the show and they light up the faces of the karst formations in the background. It is definitely one of the most impressive and unique shows I have seen. That says a lot when we only got to see part of it too! Before the show even started, the clouds looked like they were threatening to unleash on the crowd. Right around twenty minutes after the show began, it started to rain harder than anything I have experienced. Hundreds of people ran from their seats to the tunnels that lead to the auditorium. It was a pretty hilarious situation. After drying off for a minutes, we decided to head back to the main street to find a cab ride home.