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We were up and out early and made it to the bus station by 8:10, half an hour before our bus to Yangshou was due to leave. Fortunately, a lady from the bus station came and asked us where we were going and we then found out shy the woman who had sold us the tickets yesterday had told us to be there are 7:50. Our bus leaves from the other bus station on the outskirts of town and the free shuttle bus to get us there left at 7:50. The lady helped us get a cab and we got to the right bus station and on to the bus with time to spare.

Having added “fast” to the list of bus ticket buying questions, a new one “luxury” gets added to the list after today’s experience, as does “does this drop you at a bus station?”. Even though our bus looked smart from the outside the inside was well and truly worn. The seat cushions had been compressed and moulded from endless hours of being sat on and when a chap across the aisle got up he took the seat next door with him it was so loose. They were also firmly clapped out in the fully reclined position and we both spent a pretty uncomfortable seven hours getting to Yangshou.

Leaving Wuzhou you are very quickly and very definitely in the countryside where people are poor. Agriculture is the main activity and terraced rice fields lined most of the route. Bright patches of green yielded salads and vegetables but they were in the minority. Dirt and rubbish lined the roads; the first time in China I have noticed this. IT was not quite on a par with India but then cartloads of rubbish are not tipped out onto the streets here to provide food for the cows. Small communities lined the road with people living in what looked like very basic conditions. Even where newer blocks were going up the rooms inside looked soulless and bare with large and garish light decorations hanging down from the ceilings.

Limestone karsts, like the ones we had seen in Zhaoqing, lined the route increasing in number the further west we went. They are a really unusual sight to and to me looked like huge dragons teeth. I could believe them being the source of a whole range of myths and legends especially if they had caves with hidden secrets. Neither of us knows the process of their formation and we are intrigued. I just hope that they retain the beauty of the region as it (inevitably) develops. Roads are being built all over the place to bring expressways to the area. SO far just the concrete supports are visible. They should be an improvement on our journey which was part good road and part bad.

The change in road surface seemed to be the prompt for natural breaks in the journey. At the start and end where the roads were good we had a pretty crazy driver who liked to overtake anything pretty much regardless of what else was on the road and what was coming in the other direction. The middle section was more of a windy road and the road surface was pretty poor. Thankfully the driver on this section was more careful, almost overly cautious. Half way through the bus pulled up for a fifteen minutes break, a long stop because lunch was thrown in as part of the fare. Not trusting my stomach on a bus with no loo on board I declined food but Stef tucked in heartily declaring it to be very good. As the others passengers also tucked in visions of pigs scoffing away sprang to mind. I know chopsticks are not the easiest of implements to use but the slurping, chomping and snorting sounds that accompany twenty Chinese people eating are almost on a par with them retching and spitting on the street.

I decided in South America that travelling by bus is one of my least favourite modes of transport. The seats are invariably uncomfortable and/or broken and you are subjected to endless noise either from the other passengers or from films and music blaring out from the TV. That said the first film on this bus was not too bad, romantic boy falls in love with girl and they get married at the end, although the second film was pretty violent. Stef’s romantic visions, notions and ideas of travelling by bus also waned quite quickly as the discomfort set in.

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Taking a break on the long bus ride

We finally arrived in Yangshou at about 4pm. Having assumed we would be dropped off at a bus station we were both surprised to be bundled out at a road junction with nothing around to help us get our bearings to see which was to go to get to the town centre. Lonely Planet warms about touts in this area, as it is a big tourist spot, and unfortunately our experience for the first fifteen minutes of being off the bus was a bad one. AS soon as we were on the pavement a tout latched on to us. Initially it was just the usual “where are you from” but then the increasingly persistent “where are you staying? You have reservation? Look my hotel very good” type of questions. We tried to get the girl on the bus to help us get a taxi. All she did was turn to talk to the tout that we were trying to get rid off.

She pointed vaguely in the direction of the other side of the junction and off we set, tout in tow. We repeatedly said to hi that we did not need his help or a hotel but he would not take it. And then he turned very nasty and aggressive. I had seen a police car back the way we came so we headed for it but they drove off before we reached them. With no taxis in sight, and the tout still on our heels, we made our way into the nearest hotel and asked them to get a taxi for us, itself a difficult process due to the lack of a common language. The tout was still outside ranting to other people, watching us in the hotel. The taxi finally arrived and took us to the centre upping his initial Y2 for the fare to Y15 and also getting nasty when we refused to pay more than Y10. It was not a great started and left us both feeling a bit shaken. I for one did not really feel inclined to stay and spend money here if that it was we will encounter.

It is really hard to think when you are being hounded like that and neither of us really got our bearings before we started to look for our chosen hotel, the Morning Sun. As such we walked the full length of West Street before we realised we were on the wrong road. When we got to the hotel a Dutch lady was checking out and as we chatted she told us she had got her room for Y120, useful as we were able to bargain them down to that too. We had a friendly welcome and the hotel was charming. Set around an open courtyard, dark wooden balconies and stairways lead you through to the rooms. Our room was tastefully decorated but we again found it cold and to have solid beds. Spare duvets helped to soften the mattress but the only way I could keep warm in the room was by getting into bed.

We chilled out for a while to recover from the bus journey and then headed out for dinner. The main street is pretty much full of bars, restaurants and tourist shops and even relatively early in the evening music was blaring out. We were glad we had not gone for a hotel on this street. We opted to go to Le Votre Café, a French restaurant where we had great Chinese food. The building looked like it was an old meeting hall and it was packed full of statues, sedan chairs, old furniture and other trinkets. A heater under the table kept us warm, much needed as it was a cold night. As we finished eating Stef pointed to the ceiling where a couple of rats were running around totally ignored by the staff. I was glad we had seen them after we had eaten and not before!