Monday, 30 November 2009

Asian Adventure 12 :: 26-29 Nov '09 :: Kuala Lumpur and Yangshuo

Another long weekend (Hari Raya Haji), another short break. This time, I went off alone to visit a friend who had been living in China for nine months, five of which had been in Yangshuo. To get there without spending a small fortune, I opted to go via Kuala Lumpur on Malaysia's popular low-cost carrier, Air Asia.

Whilst Air Asia flies out of Terminal 1 of Changi Airport, it flies in and out of Kuala Lumpur's dedicated budget terminal (also known as "Hell On Earth" - full of The Damned and all their children).

To kill the time between touching down at 7 pm and departing for Guilin at 6 am, I embarked on the one hour journey into the city (via dusty, smelly bus to the international terminal and super-sleek, looks-like-the-Heathrow-Express fast train) to meet with some friends at Leonardo's Dining Room and Wine Loft.


A few whiskies and some bright blue shots set on fire later, we journeyed off into the night to chow down on some excellent nasi lemak (coconut rice, beef rendang, ikan bilis, peanuts and extra chilli sauce served on a banana leaf - what's not to like at 3 am?) at a busy mamak stall. Then, off I was whisked in a taxi, slowly jolting in and out of consciousness as my driver sped towards the airport.

Arriving back in Hell, it seemed the population of The Damned had doubled. It was utter mayhem attempting to check-in whilst still mildly inebriated and lacking sleep. The Departure Hall was worse than the Arrivals, so it was with a great sigh that I found a suitably hard chair and spent my waiting time muttering about the loudness of the tannoy and the constant flow of imbeciles around me, seemingly travelling with their kitchen sinks and three generations of their families.

It was with pure joy that I stepped out into the cold air at Guilin airport at 10 am. It was the first time that I had seen my breath for a very long time, so I marvelled at that for a few seconds whilst I located the mini-bus that would take me into the city centre. Forty five minutes later, I de-wedged myself and hopped off the bus into the roaringly busy Friday morning traffic.

First stop after meeting my friend and another friend who was on a South East Asian tour, was the Seven Star Scenic Park where we lunched on bland dumplings and started the first of many sniggers at the beautiful command of English that appears on the majority of signs in China.

warm reminding you

Shortly after, we decided to ditch Guilin in favour of the more picturesque surroundings of Yangshuo so hopped on a local bus where I intermittently topped up my sleep credits between the loud honks of the bus horn and knocking my head against the window as we journeyed down the bumpy road.

On arrival in Yangshuo, I immediately sensed the calm and laid back atmosphere in stark contrast to the bustle of Guilin.

The man selling bamboo was having a nap in the street, sausages hung from windows slowly air-drying and the view across the Li River of the monoliths in the mist was breathtaking.

Bamboo man nap time

Monoliths in the mist

After admiring the view from my friend's flat and getting settled in to my home for the next 48 hours, we took a stroll to grab some food at a local eating house off Shen Shen Lu Road, opposite the Tai Chi school where for just six RMB (55 pence/S$1.20), we had our pick of raw ingredients which was stir-fried and served with rice. Simple, but delicious.

Roof terrace view - surrounded by beautiful mountains

Take your pick!

For our after-dinner stroll, we ambled around the most bustling part of Yangshuo, West Street (or to use its full name, "West Plaza hotel shopping food Walking Street") where we were greeted with stares and people wanting to take our photograph whilst we perused the selection of hundreds of trinkets you never knew you needed.

We shot some pool at MC Blues, pondered what could possibly be in a "Pakistan Sandwich" and relaxed in the roof top expat haven of Monkey Janes, complete with dedicated beer pong table, and snake surprise.

Any idea what's in a Pakistan Sandwich? Answers on a postcard. We were laughing too much to be able to ask.

Snake Surprise

The next day, we hired bikes and, after a hearty breakfast of dumplings next door to the "Simmer soup crock Museum", headed off on a circular tour along the Yu Long river. We stopped by the Outside Inn before heading to the Jiu Xian art house via lunchtime. In a falling down hamlet by the Yu Long river, we were led to our eating house with no menu and no other customers.

Sliced pork and potatoes in oyster sauce, fried egg and tomatoes and deep fried battered aubergine with steamed rice. Delicious and peaceful! (^_^)

Best name for a cat I ever heard: Chairman Miaow

After our post-lunch glow had worn off, we travelled along gravelly tracks and concrete roads and had a "Stand By Me" moment. We made up songs, we tried to whistle in tune, we had no map and it felt so good.

Whether it was the mountain surroundings, the air or just something my friend had put in my tea earlier, I can honestly say I was totally relaxed and my smile was a permanent fixture on my face. Then, we reached the ancient river crossing and I soon snapped out of 'free' mode to 'OK, I could actually fall in the water' mode. Clambering down the bank after negotiating our special price for foreigners, I know I leaned a little too hard on the old man about to 'sail' us across the river on his bamboo raft.


Once over the other side, we rewarded ourselves by having a terribly sophisticated coffee in a beautiful riverside house with this sign outside:

"You? Sorry, what? WTF?!"

As the mist was drawing in and the coffee had warmed our cheeks, we decided to get a shift on and hot-biked it back to the centre in time for the 7 pm watershed on our rental. Cold shower, no shave and a quick costume change and we were on course for a deliciously stodgy pizza meal, at Rock 'n' Grill, that would line our stomachs for the evening's entertainment: Sid's Birthday.

On the way to The Alley Bar, we passed by two types of stall found all over Yangshuo: The t-shirt shop and the grill stand.

Osama Bin Raden

The soft palate (l) and penis of a pig (r)... on a stick. Dessert, anyone?

We arrived to see the party in full swing and were in time for the ceremonious tune (I was saddened not to hear anyone singing along in Chinese, but hey, this is expat central). I hadn't envisaged being able to ride carefree through the mountains and then go out clubbing, especially before my flight the next morning, but I am easily led. Especially when on holiday. Thankfully, booming East End warehouse this wasn't. Any club containing a pole, funky teenagers and the odd man in his work suit is usually on the 'no-go' list for me, but I can honestly say it was fun taking photos.


Funky chicken?

Leaving some time around 3 am, we had time to reflect on the evening and the trip in a post-alcohol haze. There is a high turnover rate of expats in Yangshuo. Whether they are lost souls searching for something; running from something; or just hopping in because it's a rare Chinese 'safe haven' and hopping back out before heading onwards to Thailand, the expats are full of anecdotes to share. My over-arching feeling was that Yangshuo is probably one of the few places in China where they have balanced Westernisation with traditional culture. When I return in twenty years, I wonder if I will have changed my viewpoint.

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