Today we visited the Moon Hill which is close to where we're staying in Yangshuo.
The hill is so named because of the circular opening in one point in the hill which affords different moon-shaped views through it depending on where in the surrounding area one is standing.
Following a fairly energetic hike to the top, the views from under the arch of the hill were excellent.
After climbing back down, we visited some local caves with dramatic rock formations, which also contained both a natural mud bath and hot springs- very relaxing!
After a quick lunch at a restaurant near our hostel, we were scheduled for an afternoon hike followed by dinner in a local rural village. I chose to sit this one out, so I'll let Dev take over from here...
I was a little sceptical of this visit in general, it seemed to me to be a little exploitative and I wasn't fully sure of the benefits of our visit for the local people.
On our way to the village we stopped by the location which appears on the 20 Yuan note. After being told that various stalagmites and stalactites looked like various animals during the cave trip, I was very dubious as to whether or not it would actually resemble the note - but it did!
At the village we talked with the guide about the life of the average farming family. It was interesting to learn that most people who lead this life even today haven't travelled further from home than to the next village, about 1.5 hrs walk away. It is a hard life; the road leading up the steep mountainside had only been in place in recent years and electricity only reached the village 20 years ago. This meant that people were now able to pump water to their houses rather than carry two heavy laden buckets of water up steep muddy paths. Our guide mentioned that women would often carry 80-100 kg of water at a time.
The village people are almost entirely self-sufficient; they grow everything they need to live, and sell the extra in markets to buy what they cannot grow or make themselves. I was surprised to learn that they even grew cotton to make their own clothes!
The basic housing in the village was slowly being replaced with rather impressive modern buildings which showed improvements to standards of living, but also a departure from more traditional styles of building.
Perhaps the most insightful part of the visit to the village was the discussion with our guide where we were able to ask open and honest questions about what it's like to live in modern-day communist China. In a nutshell the upshot of the discussion was that she felt that the people were better off on the whole but understood there were restrictions in place in China that people in Western world would not face. It was thought-provoking to hear the discussion from her point of view and not just the take of the western media.
We paid approximately £8 each for the trip, some of which went on ingredients for our meal, some to the bus driver, some to the family who hosted us for dinner, and we were also able to buy drinks in the village to help supplement the income of the village people.
When we returned from the village, we thought it would be good to set a curfew for our evening frivolities as this was our final day before the gruelling 26 hr train form Yangshuo to Chengdu. We went out with some of our group but left at midnight.
26 hrs on the train
Well...this was never going to be great, but surprisingly it was bearable. There were two options for the train, either 'hard' or 'soft' sleeper. When booking our trip the additional amount to upgrade the train didn't seem to be that much, so we went for it.
The standard 'hard' sleeper was arranged in a 2 x 3 berth format, two columns of three beds. These filled the whole carriage but each person had one wall to themselves. Nevertheless, there wasn't a lot of privacy as there were no curtains or doors, and no power sockets. Apologies for the picture quality, it was taken at the end of the journey through the window when we were on the train platform! (We forgot to take one earlier).
The upgraded 'soft' sleeper beds were 2 x 2 berth and had a door which could be closed off and locked. The beds had greater padding and there was a power socket in the carriage. This picture was taken at the beginning of the journey (so perhaps not a fair comparison!).
At this point we thought our luck was in! However, close to bedtime we were faced with twin (screaming) newborn babies, one of which ended up in our compartment. Luckily the babies settled beautifully after the initial scream fest, and they must have got off the train shortly after we fell asleep as we were able to get a few hours in uninterrupted!
As far as 26 hours on a Chinese train goes, it was pretty good! However, I would probably try and find an internal flight next time...if they exist.