Tag Archives: cycling

Yearning for Yangshuo


There are some cities that are simply magical. Places where, from the minute you first set foot on the ground, you are instantly in love and know you want to linger. Where first impressions are both exhilarating and angst-filled with an excitement to explore, yet also a panic with the knowledge you’ll eventually have to leave.

I’ve been fortunate enough to find these places all over the world in cities like Edinburgh, Scotland, York, England, San Gimignano, Italy, Munich, Germany, Perhentian Islands, Malaysia, McLeod Ganj, India and even in my own state in Ann Arbor and Mackinac Island, Michigan. And now after two months in China I’m happy to add one more to the list: Yangshuo, China.

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Just a small town an hour and a half out of Guilin, Yangshuo is a charming backpacker’s haven full of pedestrian streets, Chinese architecture, cozy restaurants and enough outdoor activities and courses to keep you occupied for weeks. But the town’s most stunning feature is its natural scenery. The minute you get off the bus to the city, your jaw drops as you stare at the massive limestone cliffs that encompass it throughout. These karsts are so close that they literally hover over the streets like protective guards you can go up and touch. Aside from providing an incredible backdrop, the karsts also provide lots of opportunities for outdoor exploration including beautiful bike rides, hikes and my new favorite: rock climbing.

My two-turned-five days in Yangshuo were some of my favorite in all of China and I took well advantage of the activities offered.


The cycling around Yangshuo was perhaps the best bike ride I’ve ever been on. The ride through the countryside takes you along the river through a series of small villages, between the karsts on one side and the rice paddies on the other. Absolutely stunning scenery!

Rock Climbing

Rock climbing was a new experience for me and one that I found strangely meditative. Something about hanging in the air, clutching to the side of a rock cliff has a very focusing effect, and I found my mind completely concentrated on not falling. Half-way through I remember thinking, “I’m never doing this again,” but sure enough, I went up nearly three times! What a rush!

Yangshuo Rock Climbing

Rock climbing in Yangshuo


While I’m not a big fan of needles, I decided to try acupuncture as a stress-relieving technique. The whole process took 40 minutes: 5 minutes to insert the needles, and another 35 holding still, letting the needles do their work. I did not find the insertion of the needles particularly painful, but I soon learned that when the acupuncturist says, “hold still” she means it! Honestly, I found my anxiety levels rise during the process, since I wasn’t completely comfortable with the idea of having eight needles stuck in me as I sat alone for more than a half hour (anyone else seen Final Destination 5?). But I will say that I did feel much calmer afterward. But who knows, maybe just sitting still for that long will calm anyone down?

Acupuncture in Yangshuo

Acupuncture in Yangshuo

Kung Fu

In India, I do yoga. In China, martial arts? I decided to try Kung Fu after meeting a nice Bruce Lee-looking man in town who not only gave me lessons, but helped me to book my next train ticket and invited me to dinner with his friends. I can’t say I learned much during my hour-long lesson with him, but I did learn a fairly cool “dance” routine, which was pretty fun.

My Kung Fu routine:

What my Kung Fu routine is supposed to look like:

I’m pretty sure Yangshuo just might be my favorite place in all of China ;).

Breathtaking Bagan


There are a few times in life when everything just seems to come together to create a truly incredible experience. For me, that was Bagan.

Situated in Western Myanmar, Bagan is THE destination to visit in Myanmar and definitely a highlight of all Southeast Asia. While itself just a small town, Bagan is famous for having possibly the world’s most concentrated collection of temples, pagodas and stupas, most dating from the 11th- 13th centuries. In fact, more than 2,500 temples are scattered among a 13 by 8 km area, leaving endless opportunities for exploration.

While in itself Bagan is a spectacular destination, what really made the experience incredible were the people. For this trip, I was able to meet up with my former India travel buddies, Gloria and Sirisha, as well as a few new friends, Waldo, James and Tom. Together, the six of us spent an incredible three days, cycling around the temples, arguing over what time to get up for sunrise, getting lost and, eventually, cycling back together, four out of six bikes with flat tires (a special thank you to Waldo for cycling back with me in the back seat WHILE carrying my bike when both my tires went flat!). There were also plenty of fun non-temple moments, watching movies, cutting up “80s” t-shirts, and making a strange pact to volunteer to dig up dinosaur bones in Utah with the paleontologists we met at breakfast…

At the end of the day, Bagan is much better seen than described, and below I have the best pictures of the temples, and fun, of Bagan.

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The Good, the Bad, the Bali: Part 3


The rest of our time in Ubud was really nice. As Bali’s culture “capital,” Ubud is the place people go to learn about Balinese art, dance, traditions, yoga etc. (as opposed to surfing and partying). As Bali’s other tourist hotspot, it is also full of really cute boutiques and restaurants, and it seems everyone is willing to drive you somewhere or give you a massage.

Though we definitely indulged a bit in the shopping and spa treatments, we also made sure to try to explore the local culture. One of the things on my must-see list was to watch a traditional Balinese dance. The bright side of staying in a tourist area is there were plenty of options. The down side is that it’s hard to differentiate between the more authentic Balinese culture and the pre-packaged tourist garbage (we learned on day one that our hired driver had his own agenda in mind to take us to places where he’d get a commission. We had to give him very clear directions after that…). When it came to dancing, my guidebook had warned that there were a number of “B”-list dance troupes around and that authentic Balinese dance should not look like you could do it yourself…

We ended up selecting a dance hall near our homestay, and honestly, I cannot tell you which “level” of dance troupe we saw. To their credit, the setting was amazing. Located behind a lily-pad covered moat with a gold, regal-like backdrop, the open-air stage had a magical, enchanting feel to it. The dancers themselves were absolutely beautiful as well with exotic, colorful costumes and make-up.  The performance also had on-stage musicians who play these unique gong and xylophone-like instruments, which is pretty cool to see.

The dance itself, however, was, in a word, unique…  It is made up with a series of precise hand, arm, head and hip movements with a lot of bent-angle aesthetics that are often used to tell a story. What I found particularly interesting is that they actually use their eyes to dance by opening them wide and looking right to left to the music. It’s quite fun to watch, though slightly creepy…After watching the same few movements over and over and over again, however, it gets a bit redundant and I wouldn’t exactly describe much of the activity as anything that would require you to break into a sweat…Still an interesting experience though.

In addition to Balinese dancing, we also had the chance to explore some more local culture in Ubud with a half-day bike tour through the outside villages. What was great about the tour was that you get outside the tourist zones and get to cruise down the hillside (yes, all downhill!), past the rice paddies, past the women carrying baskets on their heads, and past all the local communities. We made several stops along the way to explore on foot, and I must admit, it was really cool to see what rice paddy looked like. Turns out, it looks kind of like wheat or any other grain, who knew?

Me and the Paddy Fields

One of the coolest parts of the trip, however, was our visit to the coffee plantation at the beginning. We got to check out where they grow coffee, vanilla, cinnamon and cocoa before sitting down to sample a few brews :). What was especially interesting, however, is that we got to try civet coffee, or what I prefer to call, “luwak-poo” coffee. For this delicacy, a weasel-like animal called a luwak first eats the berry surrounding the coffee bean, then poos it out. These beans are then roasted and made into a very expensive coffee. There seem to be several theories on why this coffee is so special. Some say enzymes in the luwak’s stomach changes the flavor of the coffee, while others say luwaks naturally choose the best berries, and therefore, the best beans in the wild and make the coffee roaster’s job easier. Either way, the coffee was good, strong, though I’m not enough of a coffee connoisseur to appreciate all its unique flavor :).