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Independent Travel

The Pointed Hills in China

Sunset over Yangshou, China
Sunset over Yangshou.

Everything you’ve heard about China is wrong starting with the best place to see its most famous scenery, the funny pointy hills soaring a thousand feet over misty waterways. This paradise actually exists. Fishermen float on five bamboo poles, lashed to impersonate a raft, and spear fish through cone-shaped nets. Red lanterns reflect off perfectly still waters.

The waterways, rafts, conical nets, and red lanterns are magical. But contrary to what you’ve heard, this spectacle isn’t best sampled from the sprawling city of Guilin, but from Yangshou, 60 kilometers south, a compact village with a mile-long street that Chinese tourists flock from thousands of miles around to see.

The dozens of sidewalk restaurants with 30-page menus in English are cheap like everything in China outside Beijing and Shanghai. I never spent more than four bucks for a multi-course, scrumptious dinner, except at La Votre, the big French restaurant run by two brothers from Paris, where it costs five bucks and up for three courses.

So skip Guilin and go directly to Yangshou. Take the tour directly down the Li River from Yangshou for reflections of pointy hills to practically die for. The boat captain will let you take a turn at the wheel while Chinese tourists beg to immortalize your Western face. You’ll have to tear yourself away in order to take your own incredible shots. Then sign up for a leisurely float down the Hulong River on one of the famous rafts of five bundled bamboos, surfing over meter-high waterfalls to splash into tranquil waters for a languid drift downstream under a colorful umbrella, so peaceful and quiet a dragonfly fell asleep on my knee. Boat merchants hawked cheap Chinese beer and outrageously oversized fruit while locals on the shore pursued games of mahjongg.

Traveling Down the Li River, China
Traveling down the Li River.

Definitely opt for a bike ride around the countryside. Mountain bikes are on hire for $1.25 a day. You‘ll see wonderful sights including perfectly photogenic reflections of funny pointy hills, gorgeous rivers, the famous Moon Hill, butterfly caves, and caves for baths of mud.

To delay a departure from Yangshou I booked a day trip north to the cascading rice paddies of Longsheng. But I was drawn back to the funny pointy hills, every evening climbing the closest one to catch the colorful sunsets above Yangshou.

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