After wondering what we’d do with all our time in Yuangshuo we were soon making preparations to head back to Thailand. We had a cheap Air Asia flight booked from Shenzen to Bangkok, having decided to skip a fleeting visit to Laos in favour of more diving in Ko Tao.
Fortunately we managed to get a bus direct from Yuangshuo, and even more lucky was the fact that we shared the journey with a Chinese man who was catching the same flight as us. Needless to say this proved most helpful when we arrived in Shenzen with no idea where the airport was; he helped direct us to a local bus and we arrived in plenty of time and shared a final Chinese meal with him before our flight.
As with the food, it would be difficult to leave out a mention of traffic and driving in China. Having travelled around India, Nepal and various other locations in SE Asia I would have expected little to surprise me as we arrived in China. The roads seemed well maintained and our journey across the border from Vietnam had been largely uneventful. However the 3 weeks in Yuangshuo where we escaped the comforts of large buses and hit the roads ourselves on bikes and motos would change my mind swiftly!
The most striking observation was the ‘rules’ on pulling out into oncoming traffic. Whereas you expect people to look before pulling out , in China this was largely disregarded, with most people pulling out without the least sideways glance! Within a few days we’d already seen one bike crash, caused by someone riding the wrong way down the road - which was ludicrous seeing as it was an almost empty hill road! Most people seemed to drive really slowly (we frequently overtook motorbikes on our push bikes), presumably for fear of an accident. It was relatively common for a single car to pull up and block everyone’s way, just so he could stop and talk to someone he passed by.
After a few weeks where we traveled by road each day I soon found myself cursing under my breath on most journeys, always keeping a watchful eye out - a far cry from the cruising style of New Zealand!
So did we eat any of this ‘exotic’ food? We did attempt to go to an expensive restaurant, but were so baffled by the pictures on the menu - and slightly put off by the turtel dish - that we left. Neither Tom or myself are hugely fussy, but even I couldn’t stomach a noodle soup dish we ordered which looked liked it had pig rectum floating about in it,. Similarly Tom could only manage a few mouthfuls of the chicken foot he accepted (to be polite) off a kind stranger at Shenzen airport. However this is not to sidestep the fact that in over 3 weeks we of course ate plenty of really palatable Chinese food, which didn’t have random animal parts in (that we know of anyway) and steamed dumplings became a daily staple.
In some ways you have to admire the Chinese for not letting any part of the animal go to waste (a throwback to the early communist drive to be fully self sufficient). After witnessing first hand the over-fishing in Cambodia and then the moral questions about meat presented in China, Tom and I made a pact to try and eat only the most ethical and sustainable meat and fish on our return. We want to see meat as a treat, rather than something taken for granted.
Despite some of the stranger items to be found, Yuangshuo still served up some good food - although with so many restaurants its important to pick carefully
We couldn’t really visit China and not write anything about the food….We had been warned by various people that the cuisine in China was an interesting palate of flavours. We could only reference our experience of Chinese takeaways back in the UK, which we’d always enjoyed so we wondered what the warnings were about.
Our first 3 meals in China, mainly due to convenience, were a KFC at Nanning bus station, a McDonalds breakfast (which Damien delivered to us) and a Submarine (Subway rip-off) for lunch. We’re not sure what it says about the western world when the only culinary exports seem to be based around fastfood!
The first hint that there was something different about Chinese food was a visit to the supermarket on our first day in Yangshuo. Amongst the vegetables and varieties of tea, were vac-packed quails eggs, intestines and chickens feet and many other random bits of animals. The most bizzare thing on sale was definitely a bumper pack of ants, which must be considered a delicacy as they cost over £10 a bag! Food that you normally take for granted, such as breakfast cereals and whole wheat bread was nowhere to be found.
The supermarket was a good introduction to Chinese food, but the market was even more of an eye opener. There was a whole section showcasing Chinese fruits and nuts, including many familiar faces such as dragon fruit and lychee as well as other fruit we had never seen before such as tiny oranges with the texture of a peach - yum. There was a section selling cooked meat, with every part of the animal available; later that night we saw several barbecued pig’s penis’ on offer. Finally there was the section selling live animals: the usual poultry was on offer such as chicken, quail, and pheasant (although later in the trip we would encounter grilled peacock). However there were also other live animals found caged, such as rabbits, cats and dogs - and these weren’t mangy looking things waiting to be put out of their misery, they were fluffy cute looking creatures which would not have looked out of place in many a living room back home. The sound of a dog being killed is something that haunted us as we beat a hasty retreat out of the market enclosure…