[Yangshuo, Xingping] The hills are alive

THE SMILING STAFF OF YANGSHUO MOUNTAIN RETREAT are always genuinely willing to help. The guesthouse costs more than hotels found on West Street, it is not easy to travel by foot to any of the attractions, and there are no views of the Li River. However, the beauty of this guesthouse is its authentic countryside vibe, its quiet ambiance and most importantly, its hospitable staff that makes you feel at home.

I’ve missed the Impression Liu Sanjie show two nights in a row due to the rain, and so I’m prepared to go river rafting at whatever cost. The rafters stopped their business because of the murky and somewhat turbulent waters. Fortunately, the staff helped contacted rafters in Xingping and they are back in business.

Xingping is an hour away. This small town is getting more popular nowadays as a backpacker’s haven. The main attraction here is to board a bamboo raft, and float away on the Li River, taking in the amazing karst landscape. This being a must-do activity, you won’t find yourself at peace because there will be dozens of other tourist rafts around you. Nonetheless, it is where you can view the 20 dollar bill painting in person.


Cozy bed with electric warmer, spacious bathroom with a view of the mountains.IMG_5278

A motorized bamboo raft brings you near the karst hills on Li River.

20 dollar bill viewIMG_5096

Eurasian baby, his parents are the owner of this guesthouse


[YangShuo] Ways to be aloof

THE SMALL TOWN OF YANGSHUO IS NOT AS SMALL AS I THINK IT WOULD BE. I came to realize that subjective measurement standards differ across countries and cultures. The low-key rustic charms stereotypical Yangshuo appeared to be a commercialized downtown with more traffic than the Dalin township back in Taiwan.

When I arrived last night, the streets were wet from days of rain. First, I had a tough time negotiating for a motorcycle ride to the Impression SanJie Liu performance site. This night show is Chinese director, Zhang Yi Mou’s masterpiece, a colorful interpretation of the Zhuang minority culture. Cold and drenched, me and my sore butts stood in front of its entrance disappointed because of a cancelled show. I then had to find someone who was willing to bring me back to my guesthouse, which is quite a distance from town. I ended my day with a faulty shower which tried hard to be lukewarm.

THE TRAVEL GODS HEARD MY PRAYERS. It was almost sunny the next day. My breakfast was done perfect, two eggs sunny side up, which I whole-heartedly believe to be a good sign. This was a perfect day for biking, so I hired a bike from the guesthouse, keeping in mind to choose one that has proper gears and brakes.

The staff were very helpful. They gave me a map to an exclusive secluded path that is only shared with hardcore cyclists. Wanting to steer clear from unwanted drama, this was the ideal way I would want my travel day to be. This path followed a countryside road, which was at times unpaved and muddy. It was not easy navigating the map on one hand while balancing the bike on the other. This was all worth it because I was rewarded with views of the Yulong River and the karst hills up close.

I once got lost and arrived at a dead end. I took a wrong turn a couple of miles back. Feeling lazy yet adventurous, I carried the bike on my shoulders and I trespassed through a stretch of rice fields. Out of nowhere, a kind old man appeared and gave me directions. Fortunately he was unarmed.

SATISFIED WITH MY PEACEFUL BIKE RIDE, I went on to explore the Yangshuo downtown area in the evening. A far cry from its quiet serene countryside, Yangshuo downtown is crowded and very touristy. Most people gather at West Street, a loud pedestrian only block of shops catering to travelers. My advice is to avoid the overpriced food and souvenirs here, and head to the many bars offering good quality live music.

I prefer tranquility to clamor all the time, but I do know that it is all about the balance. Yangshuo may seem chaotic at first, but there are pockets of stillness waiting to be explored.


My perfect breakfastIMG_5244

Cycling through countryside roadsIMG_5086 IMG_5256 IMG_5236

Nightlife in YangshuoIMG_5235 IMG_5094

The busy and noisy West Street


[Guilin] Making a guest feel at home

THE BEAUTY OF TRAVEL is how a dull long journey can turn into a pleasant surprise. It started out as an uneventful breakfast buffet back at the hotel. It was my first morning in Guangzhou and I was determined not to be put down by the uninspiring choices of cheap coffee and tasteless buns. I did my homework and noticed that there are more than one railway station in the city, and bus stations are all spread away from each other. Due to the huge distances, I surrendered my RenMinBi to the local taxi driver so that I do not need to haul my bags all the way.

After a 45-minute ride and another hour of waiting in line just to retrieve my pre-booked pre-paid ticket, I was on board the train to Guilin. It was me, a young family, an old lady and a middle aged lady crammed into the cart. It was here that I started small talk with Ms. Tang, whom caught my eye, as she looked friendly and helpful.

Being a Guilin local, she gave me valuable advice on where to dine, shop and stay. Once I realized that I would never be able to visit all the attractions she listed, she went ahead and asked me follow her home for lunch. Apparently, she is coming back from a week-long business trip and today is the housewarming celebration of the new apartment she bought for her in-laws. It is auspicious to have guests visit new houses and she insisted that I am doing her a great honor.

HAPPILY, I TAGGED ALONG, venturing into local residential areas that looked absolutely “normal”. The apartment was filled with welcoming smiles. Ms. Tang’s husband hurried into the seemingly empty kitchen and started to serve all sorts of food on the squeaky new table. Her in-laws started asking questions while her son and son-in-law entertained me with information of the daily lives.

One of the more peculiar dish is Oil Tea 油茶, a hot broth made out of tea, accompanied with condiments ranging from roasted peanuts, rice popcorn, fried scallions and rice crackers. Such a perfect way to compliment the cool wet afternoon.

QiQi, Ms. Tang’s curious 7-year-old son confessed that he disliked learning English in school. His favorite sport is football, but since it was raining, he could not show me his moves. I ended up eating more than I should have. Spending time in a local’s home is an educational experience that I will cherish for a long time.

DESPITE HOW I WISH TO COMPLAIN ABOUT THE RAIN, I had to remain grateful because the warmth and hospitality of Ms. Tang and her family eased my transition into China. After several hours of feeling at home, it was time for me to depart. I shook hands with the entire family, congratulating and thanking them for their generosity. I was a guest feeling at home, yet my journey awaits. Hence, off I go, reminiscing these memories on my long bumpy bus trip to YangShuo.


Ms. Tang “kidnapping” me back to her house.IMG_5069

Simple yet satisfying condiments for the Oil Tea below.IMG_5070

I love rice popcorn!


Something spicy, not sure what it is made of.

QiQi loves selfies.


[Guangzhou] The Struggles of a City Mouse

CLEAN AIR, PERSONAL SPACE, COURTEOUS DRIVERS. All the things you will miss once you arrive in the Guangzhou metropolitan area. “I hate China,” strong words from my brother, Kennie. He claims that he will avoid visiting China again at all causes. I however, do not hate China. Amazing sceneries and hospitality are available outside of the major cities. However, our past experiences with the Chinese urban cities were unfortunately too bad to remember. Chaotic transportation, fussy touts and bouts of diarrhea left us with a bad impression.

Guangzhou, a Cantonese city with a colonial past and a commercial present, offers more for the business traveler than the leisure one. Me and my colleague, Dr. Zhang, travelled here for the annual Functional Medicine conference (AFMCP). This Asian version offers a convenient alternative to the more expensive ones held in the USA. During our week-long stay, I find it hard to stay stress free since every part of the city is congested with either cars or people. The metro ride from our hotel to the conference venue is an event not for the faint at heart. For someone who is not used to squeezing my way to buy a ticket, “compartmentalized” along with dozens of strangers, then “elbowing” my way out of the trains, this is truly a challenge.

The conference is an amazing learning experience and the new friendships made it more than worthwhile. Bearing an open mind and patience, we explored the city without any predetermined expectations.

PEOPLE EVERYWHERE. And that includes all sorts of animals, both alive and recently slaughtered. The Cantonese are widely known for their cuisine, from the dishes that dominate foreign stereotypical views of Chinese food (think Dim Sum), to the controversial cruelty that puts off most people (think monkey brain and shark fin soup). Guangzhou is the hub of all things edible. The great upside of being here is that due to tough competition, poor quality food is rare. The best Cantonese and international cuisine are found here at relatively affordable prices. However, be prepared to be bombarded by unappealing sights of dog meat soup advertisement and bloody pool of meats from unknown origin. An additional warning for vegetarians, this is not an easy place to be.

Several interesting museums are available in Guangzhou. Yuexiu Park 月秀公園, the largest park in downtown Guangzhou, has the Guangzhou Museum, Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall and the famous Five Ram Sculpture all within its vicinity. Just across the highway is the Museum of the Western Han Dynasty Mausoleum of the Nanyue King. This museum holds the oldest tomb and excavations from the Western Han dynasty. The free guided tours in Chinese are highly recommended. Another fun museum is the Chen Clan Academy, which now doubles as the Guangzhou Folk Art Museum.

This being a commercial haven, there are a few pedestrian streets offering a range of products for the determined shopaholic. For example, the BaiMa wholesale fashion district 白馬服飾批發市場 near the Guangzhou Main Train Station covers several blocks of both wholesale and boutique shops. Traditional cookies can be bought at the ShangXiaJiu Pedestrian Street 上下九步行道. If you yearn for electronics, a trip to XinShangGe Electronics 新賽格電子城 and you will find mobile phone brands that you have never heard of (half the price of familiar brands).

DR. ZHANG AND I FOUND AN UNEXPECTED MOMENT OF PEACE while on board the new Light Rail, traveling along the Pearl River. This allows us to view the skyline at night. Pearl River cruises are available from the port near the colorful Canton Tower, but the light rail is a cheaper and less crowded alternative. With only a handful of passengers around us, we sighed in satisfaction as our Guangzhou trip comes to an end.


Me at the conference.
The Chen Clan Academy
Cookies anyone?
Skyscrapers galoreIMG_5105
Grandiose-looking temples
IMG_5108Tiny mobile police stations
The Canton Tower displaying her neon lights