Guangxi, China Birding – January 2018

The birding in Guangxi was awesome despite the cold. I am particularly excited that each bird I found was a new addition to my life list.

The birding in Guangxi this month was awesome despite the cold. I lived next door to a farm, so it was easy to spend time after breakfast each day watching the backyard birds. Without my usual apps I had a hard time identifying them all, but with the help of my friends on Reddit, I was able to get most of them.

I do not include caged birds on my Life List, but I do enjoy going to Aviaries and, in China’s case, the market(!). It was difficult to see the treatment of these animals, but it was interesting to see the variety of birds available for both food and friend.

20180123_124806

My favorite bird of the month was the Blyth’s Kingfisher. I saw two different kingfishers in two different towns. Each time, they allowed me to get close enough for a halfway decent picture. One was spotted just off of a busy street. I got some very strange looks for stopping in the middle of traffic to get out my binoculars and camera, but after some bilingual charades, I made it clear that I was after the birds.

I am particularly excited that all seven of the birds I identified this month were new additions to my life list. I have caught a Kingfisher and Night Heron before, but never a Blyth’s Kingfisher or Chinese-Pond Heron. This one month added quite a few more birds to my list. All in all, it was a good month for birding.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Birding Update – January 2018

Identified: 7

New: 7

Life List: 96


  • Blyth’s Kingfisher
  • Chinese-Pond Heron
  • Collared Crow
  • Common Stonechat
  • Crested Myna
  • Daurian Redstart
  • White Wagtail

 

Our First Scooter Adventure – Moon Hill

We rented an electric scooter, braved the Chinese traffic, and set out for a hike up Moon Hill near Yangshuo.

One of the more interesting things we’ve seen since arriving in China is the swarms of electric scooters buzzing about on the roads. I’ve been wanting to try one out for a while now, but Josh has been a bit nervous about driving in the insane traffic (the only rule seems to be “don’t hit anyone else”). Our hostel in Yangshuo rents electric scooters for ¥50 (~$8) per day, so on one particularly warm morning I finally convinced Josh drive me around to see the sights.

20180125_103524
I had a nice, comfortable ride on the back.

Our destination was a stretch of road known as the Ten Mile Gallery. I have no idea why it’s called that, but it seems to be a generic name for these sort of scenic drives. This one was nowhere near ten miles long, but it was certainly scenic, with ornate Chinese-style gates at each entrance and beautiful scenery throughout. There are also many little places where you can pull over and explore a bit. I sat on the back and took pictures while Josh piloted us around.

20180125_110722
View from a bridge we crossed

There’s limited access for cars and trucks on this road, so we had very little traffic to contend with once we got through the gate. Electric scooters are considered bicycles here, so we simply rode through the gate without stopping. We scooted down the road next to tandem bikes, walkers, and other scooters. The ride was easy and the view was out of this world. We stopped at only one of the side excursions on this trip (there will be more), a nice hike up to Moon Hill.

20180125_112003.jpg
Moon Hill from the street

We paid our fare of ¥14 ($2) each to get in, then parked our little scooter inside the gate. We were immediately accosted by women trying to sell us overpriced drinks, but they were very friendly and did eventually let us go our own way.

The hike was broken up into three marked trails: Moon Palace, Moon Pagoda, and the strangely named Dresser. We started up the Pagoda trail and was shouted at by our new soda-hawking friends at the bottom to take the Palace trail instead. As per usual in China, the trail was less of a dirt path and more of an ongoing set of stone stairs, swept clean of any leaves or debris.

Halfway up, we decided to veer off and take the Dresser trail. At least, we think that’s the trail we took; there were two signs at the fork, one saying “Dresser”, and one saying “Vanity”. Regardless of the name, it looked like a fairly easy climb (fewer stairs), and headed toward a nearby rise that looked like it would give a view of the Moon Hill arch. It was a short climb, and at the top, we were indeed treated to a nice view of the arch.

20180125_115004_001.jpg
Moon Hill from Dresser Trail

After our short detour, we turned around and continued up the Palace trail. The stairs became narrow and uneven as we neared the top, and the angle was quite steep, turning our comfortable walk into a strenuous climb. But, right when I thought I wasn’t going to make it, we arrived. We turned a corner and, BAM, we were under the arch.

20180125_121501
View from under Moon Hill

It was much larger than I expected. There were stalactites hanging from the top, dripping onto our heads, and looking ready to tumble at any moment. The arch itself was quite lovely, but the view of the surrounding valley and neighboring mountains was even better.

20180125_121532.jpg
View of the surroundings from under Moon Hill’s arch

Aided by gravity, the climb down was much easier than the climb up. We bartered for a coke at the bottom, bringing the ladies down to ¥5 from their requested ¥10 (our hostel sells them for ¥3, but we were pretty thirsty). We bundled ourselves up, enjoyed our delicious soda, and headed back to town. We got there just in time, too, because it started to rain just before we arrived.

I had so much fun riding on the back of the scooter, feeling free and adventurous. The Ten Mile Gallery has a lot of other fun side trips and scenery to offer, and I can’t wait until the sun comes back out so we can go on another scooting adventure!

 

 

 

 

Sudder Street Guesthouse – Yangshuo

We loved our hostel in Yangshuo so much that we decided to cancel our trip to Kunming so that we can spend more time here.

The plan was to stay in Yangshuo for only a few days, then move on to to Kunming to get into some warmer weather. But after spending a single night in this hostel, we knew we didn’t want to leave. This place is heavenly.

A Chinese and Japanese couple own Sudder Street Guesthouse and named it after the place they met and fell in love. It is located a little North of Yangshuo on a quiet street surrounded by fields and local neighborhood. It looks like the road is getting rebuilt to extend out the Western vibe of the city, but for now, it is quaint and comfortably local.

The first floor common room is large, comfortable, and bright. It includes a front desk where they sell ¥3 ($0.50) beer and ¥10 coffee, a writing and game nook, reading nook with fireplace, dining tables, kitchen, foosball table, great VPN for Western internet, hamster in a fun cage, and a friendly cat.

20180123_091444

One of the other highlights of this hostel is the outdoor area. The whole back wall of the common room is made of picture windows overlooking the sitting area, fire pit, neighboring farm, and the infinity pool. Unfortunately, we’re here in January, and have had a stretch of 37º weather, so we haven’t really had a chance to enjoy it as much as we’d like. But in the summer, I bet it’s the perfect place to relax with a beer and make some new friends.

20180123_091154
The chair is more comfortable than it looks.

And speaking of new friends, this place has been packed with travelers since we arrived,  despite it being the off season. Every evening the couches are full of people warming themselves by the fire and chatting. So far we have been enjoying breakfast with a young woman from Germany who is on holiday from her classes as a Chinese student in Southern China. In the evening, we meet up with her and her friends and compare our daily adventures. Recently, a group of rowdy Australians arrived. They’re a bit loud in the evening, but are really friendly and fun.

Along with the first floor common area, the hostel also has a laundry area that is free to use, providing washing machines, soap, and drying lines. The Chinese washing machines have a tendency to shred my clothes, and the spin cycle leaves them sopping wet, but it gets the job done and has kept us smelling only a little bit like mildew.

20180126_131034
Communal drying area on the deck

Our first week here, we stayed in a six bed, mixed gender dormitory for $6 per night. I slept in a top bunk, Josh in the bunk under me, two Chinese men behind us, and a British man and empty bed across from us. It was pretty comfortable with large cubicles, privacy curtains, and bed lamps. The common bathroom was shared among the entire floor, but it was fairly clean and mostly private.

When our stay was over, we checked out of the dorm and immediately checked in to a private room for another week for $14 per night. The room is wonderful and we are very excited to have our own space again. It is large, has a desk, heater, big window, personal kettle, and a private bathroom with a half-enclosed shower.

We are staying here for at least one more week, if not two. We don’t need to be in Chengdu until mid February, so we are playing it by ear. The weather is supposed to warm up in the next few days, so we’ll be out adventuring again soon, but in the meantime we’re happy to be cuddled up cozy warm in our room at this fantastic hostel.

 

First Impressions of Yangshuo, China

I love our new town of Yangshuo. It is only 90 minutes away by bus from Guilin, but still a town of its own.

Oh man, I freaking love this town! Yangshuo, China is super cute and quaint, but still fun and exciting. It is fairly westernized compared to many other parts of China, with loud bars and European restaurants. But it isn’t the western comforts that drew us in, it was the natural beauty that surrounds the city.

Location of Yangshuo

Desktop screenshot

Yangshuo, China is in Guangxi Province and only 90 minutes South of Guilin by bus. That means that we haven’t traveled very far, but it is still quite different from Guilin. Th nearest large hubs are Guangzhou and Hong Kong.

Check out our adventures in Guilin. ♥

What makes Yangshuo special is it’s surroundings. It is located within the South China Karst, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even the flat areas of Yangshuo are lovely, with one side of town edged by the Li River and other areas of town spotted with farmland.

City of Yangshuo

As a whole, the city is very touristy, clean, and quiet (all by Chinese standards, of course). I definitely get the feeling that it is the Aspen of China.

The main part of the city is squeezed between two major roads with a pedestrian-only area in between. The sidewalks are packed full of cute shops, foreign restaurants, cafes, and tourist side shows similar to what I’ve seen in Vegas (3D rides, ice bars, etc).

20180123_133002.jpg

We’ve already enjoyed dinner at a Thai restaurant, a lunch at McDonalds, and an amazing dinner at an Indian restaurant. We are hoping to save up some money for an evening at The Brew, a well-known Western restaurant with steaks and burgers, and also a stop at a great-looking German restaurant owned and run by a German expat.

Read more about the food we enjoyed during our time in Yangshuo. ♥

Outside of the main area, it is a little more akin to the rest of China, with small shops, crumpled sidewalks, and honking traffic. We even spotted a fun KFC ripoff.

20180125_082548
KFD, complete with a Chinese Colonel Sanders. Because if your thing ain’t working, steal from someone else!

It looks like we will have no lack of things to do here in Yangshuo, China. We have plans for places to eat, shops to explore, people to meet, and sights to see. We are still unsure whether we will stay here for two weeks or three, but I like that we have the freedom to decide as it suits us. Until then, I will enjoy every moment in Yangshuo.

 

 

 

 

Yangshuo, 阳朔

I love our new town of Yangshuo. It is only 90 minutes away by bus from Guilin, but still a town of its own.

Oh man, I freaking love this town! I feel like I am cheating a little bit because it is so Westernized, but I guess I can’t change who I am. It is located in Guangxi Province and only 90 minutes South of Guilin by bus. We haven’t traveled very far, but it is still quite different from Guilin.

Desktop screenshot

The town is snuggled between karst mountains and rivers. As a whole, the city is very touristy, clean, and quiet (all by Chinese standards, of course). I definitely get the feeling that it is the Aspen of China.

20180123_133002

The main part of the city is squeezed between two major roads with a pedestrian-only area in between. The sidewalks are packed full of cute shops, foreign restaurants, cafes, and tourist side shows similar to what I’ve seen in Vegas (3D rides, ice bars, etc).

We’ve already enjoyed dinner at a Thai restaurant, a lunch at McDonalds, and an amazing dinner at an Indian restaurant. We are hoping to save up some money for an evening at The Brew, a well-known Western restaurant with steaks and burgers, and also a stop at a great-looking German restaurant owned and run by a German expat.

Outside of the main area, it is a little more akin to the rest of China, with small shops, crumpled sidewalks, and honking traffic. We even spotted a fun KFC ripoff.

20180125_082548
KFD, complete with a Chinese Colonel Sanders. Because if your thing ain’t working, steal from someone else!

It looks like we will have no lack of things to do here in Yangshuo. We have plans for places to eat, shops to explore, people to meet, and sights to see. We are still unsure whether we will stay here for two weeks or three, but I like that we have the freedom to decide as it suits us. Until then, I will enjoy every moment in Yangshuo.

 

 

 

 

The Journey of a Lifetime: Li River Cruise Part Three

The final installment of my journey of a lifetime along the Li River.

I apologize for keeping you all waiting. I know how you feel. After years of dreaming, weeks of planning, and hours of being shuffled around, I was dying to get on this Li River cruise! In the last installment, we were nine hours in to our six hour Li River Cruise. Finally, we were loading onto the boat, given the cryptic instructions, “You, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.”

Catch up on Part One or Part Two ♥

4:30PM The Li River Cruise

We piled into the boat and found that the only remaining seats available were numbered one through six. Ahhh… we are seats “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6”. That made a lot more sense. We took a seat facing the Germans around a small square table. Contrary to what we had been promised, the tables were not covered by lovely white tablecloths, nor were the picture windows very large. No, the windows and the tables can be described using the same adjectives: small, dirty, a little sticky. So, par for the course, really.

I was not going to let my travel agent’s broken promises bring me down. I saw those mountains from afar and I knew I was finally having the moment I had been dreaming of for all of these years. So I held my head high, remained patient, and waited for our Li River Cruise to begin.

I remained patient while the hostess requested that we stay in our seats for 30 minutes. I was patient when the lovely scenery was passing me by in a blur of days old spit and condensation. I was patient when we stopped the boat after only five minutes of sailing so that we could all cram to the front of the boat and stand in line while every single passenger got their picture taken with the staged fishermen and the power line-littered scenery.

20180122_154334
The best shot I could get… with strangers in the photo, a boat with a beggar on it asking for money, another boat making the same stop, and a guy smoking a cigarette. Cool cormorants, though.

5:00PM – Waiting Is

The scenery continued to blur by while the other passengers ate or played on their phones. The hostess stood up front and showed us the various picture opportunities we were going to have and how much she would happily charge us for said pictures.

Josh was not very happy with me, but I forced him to ask the hostess again if we could go outside. My patience was at an end, and I was ready to throw a bitch overboard if I didn’t get my amazing pictures!

5:15PM – The Adventure of a Lifetime

And then it happened. The doors opened and everyone rushed outside to view the scenery we had been dying to see. I got elbowed in the face as I walked up the stairs, but I had no time for pain. This was my moment.

I stepped onto the roof of the boat with everyone else and felt the floor buckle. No shits were given. I would see this view if it meant I had to do it with my butt in the river. This was my moment!

20180122_162321

And so I took a million and one pictures of the beautiful scenery with a foreground full of heads. Everyone was excited and pushing to get the best views. A child ran around throughout the entire boat ride playing with a wooden slide whistle. But I didn’t care. This was my adventure of a lifetime and I was going to make the most of it.

20180122_163313
When life gives you lemons, make jokes.

Shortly after being allowed to go outside, the boat turned around and headed back upstream. There was another meal call and most of the Chinese tourists went back downstairs to demolish their snacks. This left me wondering where we were going, but also with a view nearly all to myself. This was my moment, and it was worth the wait.

20180122_162343.jpg

20180122_164805.jpg

20180122_170659
When we can see the air, we wear masks.

The view from my Li River cruise was everything I dreamed it would be, with hills layered for miles and foreign looking bamboo forests peeking around the stone cliffs. It truly was amazing.

7:00PM – Trip to Yangshuo

This chapter was supposed to be about our stop in adorable Xingping. Nope! Once again, our expectations were thrown aside. We never ended up going to Yangdi. The bus dropped us off in crummy-old Xingping and our boat cruise took us on an extremely slow, 90 minute round-trip ride. At least that meant I didn’t lose my backpack.

The tour guide asked if we were going to be riding the bus out of Xingping. I told him that we were and expected to be dropped off in Yangshuo. He nodded his impatient nod and let us back on the bus. The ride to Yangshuo was pretty quick and pleasant. All of the Chinese tourists were in a great mood, singing songs and munching on their purchased snacks. I enjoyed the music and the time to review my photos.

We made a couple of stops at who knows where to drop various people off. Finally, as the bus was about to leave from one of the stops, our tour guide jumped up in excitement and yelled for us to get off the bus. “Yangshuo! Yangshuo! You go Yangshuo! Here!” We got off at a gas station on the far end of town.

I had done quite a bit of research about the best way to get to the hotel from the bus station (where I was told we would be dropped off) so we, once again, put on our smiles and just hoped for the best. Thankfully, it paid off.

8:00PM – Our Six Hour Tour Finally Ends

After walking only a couple of blocks in the general direction of the hotel, a taxi pulled up and offered us a ride. And by taxi, I mean a modified motorcycle with a makeshift trailer attached that was covered with plastic. The price was fair and our bags were really starting to feel heavy. We crushed ourselves into the back of the tiny trailer and were whisked away on a bumpy ride through the city. Josh and I both agreed it was the most adventurous and most fun thing we have done in a while. Despite my love for those mountains, the taxi ride was my favorite part of the whole day.

We made it to the hotel in excellent time and with only a few bumps and bruises for our trouble. The hotel is wonderful and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Check out our review of the Sudder Street Guesthouse in Yangshuo ♥

After 13 hours, we were pretty tired of our six hour Li River Cruise adventure. It was a long and difficult day. I would still recommend the trip to anyone who has a tolerance for China-Life, but would recommend booking only when you know exactly what you are going to get. Be patient and remember to have fun along the way, no matter what. I may not have gotten the “view of a lifetime” I was hoping for, but it was definitely an adventure I will never forget, a true Journey of a Lifetime.


 

The Journey of a Lifetime – Part 3

The final installment of my journey of a lifetime along the Li River.

I apologize for keeping you all waiting. I know how you feel. After years of dreaming, weeks of planning, and hours of being shuffled around, I was dying to get on this cruise! And in the last installment, we were finally loading onto the boat, given the cryptic instructions, “You, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.”

The Ride of a Lifetime

We piled into the boat and found that the only remaining seats available were numbered one through six. Ahhh… we are seats “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6”. That made a lot more sense. We took a seat facing the Germans around a small square table. Contrary to what we had been promised, the tables were not covered by lovely white tablecloths, nor were the picture windows very large. No, the windows and the tables can be described using the same adjectives: small, dirty, a little sticky. So, par for the course, really.

I was not going to let my travel agent’s broken promises bring me down. I saw those mountains from afar and I knew I was finally having the moment I had been dreaming of for all of these years. So I held my head high, remained patient, and waited for the cruise to begin.

I remained patient while the hostess requested that we stay in our seats for 30 minutes. I was patient when the lovely scenery was passing me by in a blur of days old spit and condensation. I was patient when we stopped the boat after only five minutes of sailing so that we could all cram to the front of the boat and stand in line while every single passenger got their picture taken with the staged fishermen and the power line-littered scenery.

20180122_154334
The best shot I could get… with strangers in the photo, a boat with a beggar on it asking for money, another boat making the same stop, and a guy smoking a cigarette. Cool cormorants, though.

Waiting Is

The scenery continued to blur by while the other passengers ate or played on their phones. The hostess stood up front and showed us the various picture opportunities we were going to have and how much she would happily charge us for said pictures.

Josh was not very happy with me, but I forced him to ask the hostess again if we could go outside. My patience was at an end, and I was ready to throw a bitch overboard if I didn’t get my amazing pictures!

The Adventure of a Lifetime

And then it happened. The doors opened and everyone rushed outside to view the scenery we had been dying to see. I got elbowed in the face as I walked up the stairs, but I had no time for pain. This was my moment.

I stepped onto the roof of the boat with everyone else and felt the floor buckle. No shits were given. I would see this view if it meant I had to do it with my butt in the river. This was my moment!

20180122_162321

And so I took a million and one pictures of the beautiful scenery with a foreground full of heads. Everyone was excited and pushing to get the best views. A child ran around throughout the entire boat ride playing with a wooden slide whistle. But I didn’t care. This was my adventure of a lifetime and I was going to make the most of it.

20180122_163313
When life gives you lemons, make jokes.

Shortly after being allowed to go outside, the boat turned around and headed back upstream. There was another meal call and most of the Chinese tourists went back downstairs to demolish their snacks. This left me wondering where we were going, but also with a view nearly all to myself. This was my moment, and it was worth the wait.

20180122_16574720180122_16234320180122_16524120180122_170132

20180122_170659
When we can see the air, we wear masks.

It was everything I dreamed it would be, with hills layered for miles and foreign looking bamboo forests peeking around the stone cliffs. It truly was amazing.

Trip to Yangshuo

This chapter was supposed to be about our stop in adorable Xingping. Nope! Once again, our expectations were thrown aside. We never ended up going to Yangdi. The bus dropped us off in crummy-old Xingping and our boat cruise took us on an extremely slow, 90 minute round-trip ride. At least that meant I didn’t lose my backpack.

The tour guide asked if we were going to be riding the bus out of Xingping. I told him that we were and expected to be dropped off in Yangshuo. He nodded his impatient nod and let us back on the bus. The ride to Yangshuo was pretty quick and pleasant. All of the Chinese tourists were in a great mood, singing songs and munching on their purchased snacks. I enjoyed the music and the time to review my photos.

We made a couple of stops at who knows where. Finally, as the bus was about to leave from one of the stops, our tour guide jumped up in excitement and yelled for us to get off the bus. “Yangshuo! Yangshuo! You go Yangshuo! Here!” We got off at a gas station on the far end of town.

I had done quite a bit of research about the best way to get to the hotel from the bus station (where I was told we would be dropped off), so we once again put on our smiles and just hoped for the best. Thankfully, it paid off.

After walking only a couple of blocks in the general direction of the hotel, a taxi pulled up and offered us a ride. And by taxi, I mean a modified motorcycle with a makeshift trailer attached that was covered with plastic. The price was fair and our bags were really starting to feel heavy. We crushed ourselves into the back of the tiny trailer and were whisked away on a bumpy ride through the city. Josh and I both agreed it was the most adventurous and most fun thing we have done in a while. Despite my love for those mountains, the taxi ride was my favorite part of the whole day.

Final Wrap Up

We made it to the hotel in excellent time and with only a few bumps and bruises for our trouble. The hotel is wonderful and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

It was a long and difficult day. I would still recommend the trip to anyone who has a tolerance for China-Life, but would recommend booking only when you know exactly what you are going to get. Be patient and remember to have fun along the way, no matter what. I may not have gotten the “view of a lifetime” I was hoping for, but it was definitely an adventure I will never forget, a true Journey of a Lifetime.