This is the story of a day gone wrong. Travel has all sorts of ups and downs. My experience is that the more touristy the area, the more dramatic those highs and lows get. Yangshuo, one of the tourist capitals of China, the land of the incredible karst hills, gave us plenty of both.
On our second full day in Yangshuo, we walked into town and grabbed some tasty western breakfasts. I even had French toast! From there we wandered through town and stumbled upon a really cool souvenir shop and everybody bought a souvenir t-shirt. (Simon got two.) I think the name of the place translates to Endless Summer (such a classic touristy name!) but I’m not sure. The shirts have great graphics that represent Yangshuo and at 99 yuan a piece, are a better deal and every bit as cool as the souvenir shirts at Plastered in Beijing.
While Simon napped, Mary offered to stay at the hotel so that Joel and I could take a bike ride. On our morning walk to town, we had noticed a nice spot where people were swimming. The plan was for me and Joel to bike there, take a quick swim, and come back. We rented our bikes (the wobbliest one I’ve ridden yet) and cycled towards town. But we were astonished by what we saw at the long bridge. Where yesterday, there had been a single, lonely shopkeeper selling drinks, there were now hundreds of souvenir stands. Why? Because the ferries from Guilin were running and literally thousands of Chinese tourists were pouring out of the boats, across the bridge, and into town. The ferries were clogging the river, honking their horns constantly. Touts were yelling above the crowd and hordes of families filled the street, jam-packed. We had to negotiate our bikes through it all. I tried biking. I tried walking with the bike. No matter, my pulse was racing just from being amongst the crowd. We finally made it through and met up at the other side. But alas, our peaceful swimming spot from this morning had transformed. Gone were the swimmers, the tai chi practitioners, and the grandparents with toddlers. The whole area was packed with tourists. The water was churning from all the ferries passing by, a muddy, wake-filled mess. We took off our socks and shoes and quickly paused for pictures in ankle-deep water. Then, disheartened, we grabbed our bikes and steeled ourselves for the ride home across the bridge.
After regrouping at the hotel, we decided to make one last attempt at sightseeing with Simon. We’d cut through town on the bikes and then visit a nearby village. Meanwhile, Mary went off to a cooking class. We made it across the bridge without incident–the crowds had disappeared–but soon got turned around in Yangshuo. We paused to consult maps and smartphones for directions. Hopped back on our bikes. Not three minutes later, I reached back into my pocket for my phone.
It was gone.
We retraced our path, but to no avail. Lesson learned. Phones do not belong in pockets in a town notorious for petty theft. I thought I’d be OK. I thought we’d be moving fast enough on our bikes. Nope. I’m out one iPhone with all its pictures, itinerary notes, and local Chinese contacts.
We retreated back to the hotel–again–and gave up for the day. Sometimes, you just have to know when you’ve been beat and this was one of those days.