After we saw the movie “Painted Veil” with Edward Norton and Naomi Watts, we knew any future trip to China would have to include a visit to the scenic karst mountains. We don’t remember much about the story line of the film but those rocky formations were definitely memorable! The mountains are iconic in China – depicted in classical art and now on the 20 RMB bill.
We settled into Yangshuo as our base, a little tourist town on the Li River, ready to hike, bike, and float down the river on a raft. What did we do instead? We both got colds with sore throats and coughs. Our activities turned into sipping hot soup, drinking ginger-honey tea, and reading in bed – day after day. Still, we smiled, if we had to be sick – the lovely Yangshuo Magnolia Hotel was a good place to be.
On the fifth day we caught a small local bus to Xingping with our guide, Marian. The 30-minute ride provided a scenic view of the countryside. Lots of rafts lined the dock on the Li River – all made now with PVC tubes, that replaced the traditional bamboo poles – and powered by little engines. Marian quickly found our driver, a woman (!), one of the few working on the river. These small rafts have a maximum capacity of 4 passengers, so we three nearly filled it. The driver poled us away from the dock into the fast moving water and off we went.
The weather could not have been more perfect. The mountains sharply rose on both sides and mist softened their color. Many other rafts passed by and watching all those people only added to the fun.
The Xingping market lived up to our expectations: a very foreign experience. We couldn’t identify many of the foods we saw whether vegetables, fruits, meats, or fish. The former were beautiful to look at; the meats were on display in conditions we Westerners wouldn’t consider close to sanitary. We saw chickens, ducks and dogs for sale to be butchered at home.
As we strolled through town, we heard firecrackers and saw a decorated car awaiting the bride and groom. Not far away we saw preparations for a funeral. Mourners donned white shrouds with red circles on their heads.
Of course, we’ll always remember the karst formations and think of the movie, “Painted Veil,” but the many scenes of the little village of Xingping would make a fine movie, even without the karst formations.