In the morning I awoke, again, unrested and definitely not chomping at the bit to get out and hit more Chinese tourist attractions in Yangshuo. But I mumbled through breakfast and jumped in the mini-bus to push onward in this strange journey into China's growing world of natural tourist attractions. Where to next? I had no idea.
Our first stop was actually quite enjoyable and had me in a good mood. It is called Banyan Tree Park on the Jinbao River. With some grazing water buffalo, scenic rock formations along the river, and an enormous banyan tree that is over 1500 years old, I started to feel I was viewing some worthwhile attractions. The tree was planted in the Jin Dynasty and is the subject of some romantic legends told by the Chinese. So I gazed at it for a while with the sun on my shoulders and, if only for a moment, got a sense of wonder about all the events that have transpired around this tree in it's long life, from the Jin dynasty, to the 21st century. Now it was the object of countless tourists and their digital cameras.
I was brought down to earth by the sight of a man nearby the tree with two dressed monkeys for picture taking with tourists. I won't get all worked up about animal rights, as the monkeys seemed fine, though the man did yell at them and bat at them with small stick to make them climb up tourists' shoulders. Nonetheless, I couldn't resist, and paid the 5 yuan fee to have a photo op with the monkeys.
What followed after Banyan Tree Park is a bit of a blur, but I do recall the minibus made several stops at different tourist destinations outside of Yangshuo. They included two different caves, a cultural village with some more caves and an ethnic minority cultural show, and a very strange tourist village that was about 20% museum documenting the prehistorical peoples that lived in this area thousands of years ago, and 80% village recreation of how they may have lived, featuring lots of people dressed in cheap, fake leopard skin outfits chanting. I wanted dearly to take photos of this highly unusual scene, but alas, my camera had run out of batteries. While there, I couldn't help shake the feeling the place wasn't true to prehistory. I don't know what gave me that idea.
So here's a quick recap of my thoughts on it all: the caves could have been cool, especially the second, which truly did have some awesome and magnificent views of giant stalactites and sweeping, underground caverns. Of course it needed some light to be seen, but it's builders and organizers had chosen to cover it completely with rainbow colors, laser lights, and strobe lights. This did not feel so natural to me, and would have John Muir rolling in his grave. Of course I couldn't understand our tour guide, and even with fluent Mandarin I doubt I could have ciphered through the static of her loud megaphone-like contraption. I just put on my iPod, and tried to enjoy myself.
Next, the cultural village was just so-so at best. Its caves were minor in comparison to the other two, though it did have a cool draw-string bridge between two karst structures. And the cultural show was fine, small, but with pretty dresses, dancing, and drums. I'll give them the credit, as it was well rehearsed. Pictures afterward with the dancers were 10 yuan a pop, of which a little village girl got me for three. I felt a bit swindled, but she could use it more than me (though I have the funny feeling she just spend it on a Coke or something).
Finally, the pre-history cultural village was bizarre, beyond anything I've seen before. It's initial museum was actually pretty good, with lots of old artifacts dating back tens of thousands of years to the stone age, like needles made of bone, elementary hammers, and arrowheads. But with our guide, we mostly breezed through all that, and into the 'recreation' of the ancient village. As I mentioned, the villagers were wearing tacky leopard skin clothes that could have been out of an 80s glam-rock music video. Even the dumbest tourist would have to realize they weren't even trying to be the slightest bit accurate to what villagers at that time would have actually worn. Nevertheless, we proceeded onward, through the village where we observed actors recreating behavior of the ancient villagers, like making artifacts. We were also invited into a weird dancing circle, and were subsequently hip-thrust by the villagers (I was their most popular target). They also gave out souvenir skull necklaces, but then we had to quickly cough up 10 yuan for them, or return them. And as we were leaving, there was more dancing and even some fire-breathing, and actually a chained-up bear to take photos with. Gosh I felt weirded out. As the final act of dancing and fire-breathing went on, I just sat in the back and read the New York Times on my iPhone. I had done this while waiting for the earlier cultural show to start. I didn't mean to be an asshole, but this is where my attention had ended up.
But the long, long day had finally ended in Yangshuo. The bus was to go take us back to Guilin, where we would finally have time to ourselves, and away from this tourist world. I wouldn't have been so dismayed with it all if I had just had someone with me to share in the lunacy, someone to laugh at it all with. But alas, I was alone. I don't think another westerner could be dragged on to such a tour.
In Guilin, we had dinner as a group, but first we had to sit through a presentation on the many wonders of bamboo (again, I read the news on my phone), and a mandatory walk through an extensive gift shop full of bamboo products (I should mention we had to make this walk at all destinations that day).
After a quick shower, me and the Canadians went into town for a bowl of noodles at a famous noodle shop, and a walk around the lake that held the famous Guilin pagodas. After some good noodles, a beer or two, and with an ice cream bar in hand, I was finally liking my trip to Guilin. Funny, that these were all it took, but unsurprisingly the food was favorite part.
When the breezing around the lake was done, we taxied home and went to bed, with still another day of activities awaiting us. I prayed for no more cheap, touristy crap, and my prayers were answered. Half of them, anyway.