Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Guangxi Province in Southern China

The local tourist board describes the area around Yangshuo as the world’s single most beautiful natural tourist attraction. While that’s overselling it, this sub tropical region is certainly lovely and very beautiful, if undeniably touristy. Indeed, Yangshuo seems to be the Western traveller capital of China and is packed full of cafes and bars holding Happy Hours and selling banana pancakes and Oreo milkshakes. And it’s easy to see why the area has become so popular. Yangshuo has a dreamy and lush green landscape, with thousands of dramatic limestone spires rising out of the otherwise flat land around the Li River, and which looked particularly otherworldly in the mist that dominated the skies during our time here.

The reportedly 2000 limestone peaks in and around Yangshuo were formed as a result of erosion from carbonic acid and the erosion opened up cracks in the limestone, which widened to form caves, the tops of which eventually collapsed leaving just the tall sides standing.

Still seeking respite from urban China, we opted to stay a short walk outside town in a quiet guesthouse set amongst paddy fields which was lovely. We’d hoped to try rock climbing but unfortunately it was too wet, so instead we went for long walks and cycle rides in the countryside, went for invigorating early morning swims in the river, and took a boat trip down one of the most dramatic sections of the gorgeous Li River, past the landscape featured on the 20RMB note.

Also in Guangxi Province we visited the staggering Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces, carved into hillsides rising over 1000m: an amazing feat of engineering and endeavour which must have taken decades and thousands of hours of work to cut by hand. China is the largest rice producer in the world with Guangxi one of the most productive areas of the country. In total, China produces around 26% of the world’s rice (187 million tonnes in 2007), of which most is consumed domestically.. Amazingly however, the vast majority of this agriculture is carried out on a very small scale, with China’s agricultural land famed by around 200 million households, each with an average land allocation of just 0.65 hectares (1.6 acres).

Even now, visiting at the “wrong” time of year (after the harvest and before the fields are flooded) the terraces were stunningly beautiful – like an enormous Andy Goldsworthy strectched across the mountainside. And visiting in November did mean that for the first time in China we saw almost no other tourists, not even the domestic Chinese tour groups that we’ve seen everywhere else with matching baseball cap wearing tourists and megaphone wielding tour leaders and who seem to outnumber us Western tourists about 50 to 1.

We decided to stay overnight at the terraces and found a guesthouse with fantastic views out over the terraces and the small village of Tiantouzhai, down into the valley below, and spent a lovely evening sitting on the terrace enjoying a beer and watching darkness fall and the stars come out.

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