China Travelogue-15: Tourist clusters

Posted in Travel at 7:29 by RjZ

Bicycles are easy to rent in Yanghsuo. Your budget hotel is surely hoping you’ll rent from them to make some extra cash, and they can surely offer you a guide to take you to the sights as well. Even fancier hotels, which really expect you to take a taxi or a coach to the local sights still has bikes (much better ones) available. It’s such a common way to see the scenery; the limestone cliff and rice fields, of the area that it’d be a shame to miss it.

We thought we’d get a tandem. We’d seem them rolling around town and thought this would be the chance to try one. There are bikes everywhere for rent, and they’re very inexpensive (as little as 10 RMB per day) but don’t expect a high performance machine for this kind of cash. Actually, depending on where you’re going, you can get a mountain bike or a “lady bike,” a tough old single speed with a sloping top tube, coaster brake, and a sit up and grin attitude. The tandems were the same style, but the selection was poorer and time was slipping away while we were trying to find one that had the pedals sync’ed up enough that we wouldn’t have to wobble along while learning how to ride together. Eventually, we gave up and got two beat up, but reliable bikes from our hotel. They sold us a map (5 RMB) and offered to guide us too, but, we figured we’d find our own way. Hope springs eternal and all.

Maps are not, however, the strong suit of the Chinese. This one, combined with lots of extra cycling, got us where we were going, even if we were rarely sure we were on the right route. We rode along the main tourist thoroughfare, once we’d found it, and when we’d had enough, we turned around and went back the same way.

Yangshou is like many touristy towns around the world. In Thailand I was surprised that the elephant tour, monkey show and snake display were all on the same street, but then, it makes sense and I’ve seen this clustering of things to see and do as far as India and as close as the queen of clustered tourist attractions: Orlando, Florida. Like any market, clustering means you compete more vigorously for customers, but you save on marketing since people may not know about the snake tamer until the happen to see it across the street from the elephant soccer match.

In Yangshou, we checked out the Big Banyan Tree (20 RMB), a park with a big banyan tree, a rock exhibit (Chinese love picking up large pretty rocks that look like they could be paintings, shining them a bit and then exhibiting them on very fancy stands. It’s great, actually.) There was also a chance to go punting on the the trash cluttered little river flowing through the park, pay some locals to make some tortured little monkeys perform for you, or by souvenirs. We skipped most of the attractions, but naturally bought a souvenir. There weren’t many western tourists here which might explain the surprisingly good price (20 RMB for a fake bone carving and a statuette of a Chinese traditional god.)

We then hiked up to Moon Cave (15 RMB), famous for it’s views of the area, which, even through the haze were impressive, and only mildly marred by the women who, in spite of the full water bottles we were already carrying, followed us pretty far up the hike pestering us for more the whole time.

We were puzzled by this behavior; the hike is vigorous and the women following us up were heavily laden with water bottles (and ice!) It was back breaking work, and clearly, just waiting strategically for thirsty tourist might be just as effective. We finally concluded that essentially this is a sort of begging; many who don’t need the water are so impressed by the efforts of the old women following them up the hill that they likely buy water to save them another trip. This doesn’t work, of course. The determined ladies continue following hoping for another handout in trade for water. They are certainly working for it. Mind you, we simply insisted, strongly, we weren’t going to buy any and that it would not be worth it to follow. (Yes, I know, I am heartless; but unless this is the first post you’ve read in the blog, you already know that. Think of it this way: I try not to support child labor or hard labor for seniors by not perpetuating the problem.)

Finally, on our bike back, I couldn’t help stop at spot with a top-rope and a big sign advertising climbing. The Yangshou area has many impressive climbing opportunities. These top ropes along the side of the road probably weren’t the best of them, but it was convenient. It was also expensive, 105 RMB for three climbs! It almost makes sense. There are almost no fixed costs at Moon Cave, save for cleaning and maintenance of the trails. Here, these guys actually have some belaying skills and are renting you their equipment which, you hope, is in good shape.

I didn’t quite want to pay this much to climb easy routes, but I was able to convince a passing Australian to join me. He’d never climbed before, but was considering a bigger tour the following day. After negotiating with him and our Chinese guides, I went on two climbs and he one. It was incredibly simple climbing on big bowl holds, like those at Heuco Tanks, Taxas. The rock that had a bit too much vegetation to make for optimum climbing but it was great fun, and worth my 70 RMB for the experience alone. Of course, if you made it to the top, you could grab a stuffed creature. Too bad, I couldn’t convince my traveling partner to keep the pink kitten-bear and carry it all the way back from China. No accounting for taste.

Awesome pink kitten-bear, a worthy reward for a climb well done.

Awesome pink kitten-bear, a worthy reward for a climb well done.

It was nice to get a compliment from the Chinese about my climbing. One of the many perks of living in Boulder (where my skills are eclipsed by the average 10 year old girl.)

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