Monday, June 30, 2014

8 reasons why Yangshuo, China felt like home

No matter where we go - day trip, weekend excursion, or month long trip to somewhere in the world - outdoor adventure, travel, and experiencing local life is always a part of the journey.  We are lucky to call Vancouver Island, BC, Canada home, arguably the best place in Canada to live when it comes to enjoying a wide range of outdoor pursuits with a diverse selection of landscapes and lifestyles.  It is because of where we live we are are able to incorporate our passion for outdoors, travel, and experiencing new things into our regular daily lives.

Travelling to China as a family was a first for us all.  I have written several blog posts about the experience but have been saving the best for last. The cultural experiences we encountered along the way were life changing and walking along the Great Wall of China, appreciating the history, was surreal.  Then there was big cities, the food, the reason why we chose to travel to China and how we prepared for the trip.  But it was our stay in Yangshuo, the northeast part of the Guangxi province, where we felt most at home. We found life here to to be very similar to our life way back in Canada.  Sure, there were differences but the fundamental connection to nature, outdoor recreation, and way of life was the same.  I felt at home and comfortable in Yangshuo.  

Here’s why:

1. Lifestyle - Vancouver Island is very laid-back.  Traffic jams are timed with ferry arrivals only, more likely to happen upon wildlife walking home than a person, and people are happy just doing what they love to do.  I found this to be true of Yangshuo locals.  No one rushed around.  Yes, there was traffic constantly, but it moved in one continuous speed.  Parks were full of elders playing cards, crochet or participating in aerobics.  Toddlers were running around playing happily.  Street vendors were busy setting up their produce to sell for the day, never missing to smile and say Ni Hoa to everyone that passed by. 

2. Quiet country roads - The island is not blessed with well paved roads and wide shoulders like Alberta, for example, but there are plenty of quiet roads that wind, weave, and climb through the landscape.  Yangshuo was similar.  The roads in town were busy with bumper to bumper traffic (always moving) but travel to a neighbouring village and we were pretty much the only motorized vehicle.  We chose to tour the countryside on scooters.  Never have I driven a scooter, let alone with a child on board.  Locals ride these things with babies strapped on their back, cargo hanging every which way, and sometimes with 4 people! Surely I could drive one! I did, but it was not quite as smooth or graceful.  Neither Ben nor Liv wanted to ride with me.  Maybe Dad should have taken them both! Just thinking of this now.  Darn. 

3. Agriculture - Local food is easy to come by on Vancouver Island.  Produce, fish, meat, poultry, cheese, wine… you name it, Vancouver Island grows, produces, or makes it! I can drive to work and just about do my grocery shopping at local farms.  Yangshuo takes this to a whole new level.  Aside from the produce growing on any patch of soil that is to be found, the area is a major producer of kumquats and mandarins. The countryside hills are completely covered with kumquat farms. Streets are lined with vendors selling a wide variety of produce. Diversity in the types of food present with the Li river and Yulong River providing fish. Complimenting the fish are chicken and pig farmers.  Highlight of our agricultural experience in Yangshuo was visiting the Seven Star Tea Plantation and the Dragon Backbone Rice Terraces in neighbouring Longsheng.  What we took away from visiting these areas was the stunning landscapes used to grow the tea and rice. 

4. Grocery Shopping - You may be asking how grocery shopping in China made me feel like I was home? The answer is that we did in fact grocery shop, just like we do at home.  Whether it is somewhere local or across the world, going about day to day tasks allows you become a part of the region you are exploring.  Liv and I took this to a whole new level by taking a cooking class in Yahgshuo.  We were able to grocery shop in local markets, buying our ingredients fresh, and then spent an afternoon learning how to cook authentic Yangshuo dishes.  So yummy, so fun!

 Check out a little video from our cooking day: Yangshuo Cooking School Video 

5. Cycle - With moderate temperatures thoughout the winter, cycling is a year round sport on Vancouver Island.  In Yangshuo, it's also is a year round activity but the focus is transportation, not recreation.  Now, we have not done much cycling as a family.  We own mt. bikes but do take a bike pack trip once a year that could be viewed as cycling. It usually involves riding quiet country roads on the small islands that surround Vancouver Island.  In Yangshuo, we did what the locals do.  Hopped on some bikes and rode through the city and countryside.  Riding the busy streets was a challenge but somehow it worked out.  We rode through a busy traffic circle, down busy freeways, and through crowded streets.  Once we hit the countryside, we considered ourselves pros.  Cycling through the countryside showed us how locals live.  They are hard working people, either farming or building, and live in modest multi dwelling structures.  The experience of cycling the countryside was a learning experience not only for me, but for Ben and Liv as well.  It’s one thing to read about how different living in another country is, but to see it with your own two eyes is powerful.  

6. Caving - Vancouver Island Vancouver Island is so rich in caves, with more than 1,000 recorded, that it is sometimes referred to as the "Island of Caves”.  A few years ago we began caving and are members of the VI Cave Exploration Group.  The caves here require you to be geared from head to toe in water and dirt proof clothing, rubber boots, gloves, helmets, and wear headlamps complete with back up batteries.  A spare light source is recommended and if venturing deep in to the darkness, it is a good idea to have ropes, harnesses, and training on how to ascend and descend.  Ben and Liv are huge fans of caving and were pretty excited to get the chance to explore a cave in Yangshuo.  Unfortunately, the cave experience was not what we thought.  Instead of crawling into darkness, we walked on paved sidewalks and admired the cave formations enhanced with multi coloured lights.  Music was playing and we even passed by a couple snack booths and a gift shop while in the cave! Not quite what we were looking for.  Ben and Liv were not impressed, to say the least.  We did however, see amazing cave formations and the sheer size of the cave was impressive. 

7. Mt. Biking - Vancouver Island is home to some of the worlds best single track bike trails.  Expectations of mt. biking in Yangshuo was not high but the fact Joel and Ben could rent some decent mt. bikes and ride some dirt trails in the hills was worth it.  Bike Asia set them all up for a day of riding.  The owner drew a map for them and shared his local knowledge on where to ride.  Through bamboo forests, over hills, and on farmers paths they rode.  After a long day of riding, they came back with huge smiles on their faces.  This is exactly how they return from a ride back home.  Some things never change no matter where you are. 

8. Rock Climbing - Climbing is our newest outdoor pursuit.  We have plenty of outdoor climbing under our belts and Ben and Liv are huge fans of climbing.  We knew ahead of time that we could rock climb in Yangshuo and that was one of the reasons why we chose to travel there while in China.  Thank god it turned out to be what we were expecting and not the cave experience we had.  It was true outdoor rock climbing on a spectacular rock face in a stunning location.  I learned here that language barriers quickly disappear when enjoying common outdoor pursuits.  Not a single word of English was spoken to us and our Mandarin was not understood but it made no difference.  We were able to communicated with our guides beautifully.  I truly felt at home.

Complete photo gallery: Yangshuo, China


  1. Awesome and inspiring! What a neat trip. Have you found as the kids have got older that they are easier to travel with and perhaps more interested in the history and culture of places?

    1. Thank you! Always nice to hear feedback form readers. I find the kids have always been easy to travel with, right form babies til now. Things just change as they age. Helps that both parents are motivated and wanting the same thing. They hear the same speech from each of us. They are very into the history and culture right now. Easy to get them excited with things by reading books and looking at photos of where we go/adventure. They also get a say in what we do and see. What I am preparing for is when they reach the teenager years and would rather be with friends than mom and dad or are bored with us constantly talking about the history and culture. I plan to invite their friends with on some adventures so hopefully that will keep us adventuring. What is your experience?

  2. Oops, delayed response....my daughter is just turning 18mths and we recently got back from a trip bike touring on the south island of NZ. Tenting was a bit rough for sleep but the scenery beautiful and it was a neat mode of transport to cover a fair distance. It is something i want to do more of as my daughter (and oerhaps a sibling???) gets older, obviously with a little mor particpation on her part:) from what i have read of others blogs your kids are at that perfect age, as you say, right before teenagerdom....i just read of your rainy day adventure and am looking forward to that kiind of trip as i sweat it out in Vancouver today!!! (Sorry for spelling, ipad doesn't allow me ro go back and correct)....