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It was time for a truly authentic bamboo raft experience on the Yulong River, which is a tributary of the Li River in  Yangshuo. These rafts are smaller and only take two people plus a helmsman who guides  you down the river using a long bamboo pole. It was sold as a romantic tour with no engines or big ferry boats to disturb you but in China the biggest challenge is simply the number of people so it’s rare to ever have something all to yourself. That having being said it was beautiful and there was some excitement as you go over these 3-4 foot weirs on rafts that certainly haven’t been designed with that in mind. Our guide actually fell off the raft twice going over said weirs. The first time I felt sorry for him but after the second time I concluded that he just wasn’t very good.

all the rafts at the Chaoyang Dock starting point

beautiful calm water and scenery HDR

approaching the first weir

getting closer

going over the weir

and splash! (this was the point I realised having my camera out wasn't such a good idea)

one of the many floating restaurants you pass

some of the other boats having water fights with lots of screaming

looking back at other rafts going over a weir

The money shot - we are oblivious, our guide in the water & the people behind in shock

our guide fell off on this one too

bamboo forests on a narrower section of the river

getting a little crowded

Despite the crowds, restaurants and souvenir photo stations after every weir (which actually got a priceless shot of our guide falling off) it was a nice way to spend 2 hours with some more beautiful views of the Karst peaks beside the river and a little excitement going over the weirs.

We had actually hired mountain bikes to get to the Chaoyang Dock and they arrange for your bikes to be driven to the end of the cruise. They weren’t the most comfortable though, or perhaps I hadn’t been on a bike for a long time, so after riding back into town for lunch we decided to chill out that afternoon and enjoyed some Scrabble games on the deck at the hostel while sipping on some delicious honey-banana milkshakes.

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We arrived in Yangshuo and caught an illegal taxi to our hostel but I had to give him credit as he had a stack of business cards from all the hostels which he handed to me and said “which hostel?” I simply found the card for Tripper’s Carpe Diem and we were off. Our welcome wasn’t the best at the hostel but it was completely out of their control. There was no electricity from 8am-7pm (the government was putting in new pylons), there was construction on the property behind (the farmer building a new house) and a terrible drumming racket coming from across the valley (an 88-year-old women had died and funerals here go all night with intermittent fireworks). This didn’t really matter as we were planning to do lots of activities over the coming days. This hostel also has an unbelievably comprehensive activities guide so we didn’t waste time and booked a horse ride for the following morning.

Margaurita on the white horse

our guide did a good job to getting this angle

lovely day for a ride

thirsty work for the horses

beautiful place for a horse ride

this coordination wasn't easy

trying to coax the horses out of the water

Looks like the horse has done this before

"good horse, good horse"

posing with our guides cowboy hat

check out the white horse smiling

In the afternoon we walked into town to catch a bus to Xingping where we were booked to go “Drifting” which is a form of white water rafting. Having rafted in Victoria Falls I was sceptical as to how good this would be but I was pleasantly surprised. They have taken a river and created weirs strategically at various points down the valley. and in some parts they have built up the river to create channels. This is all necessary because there are no guides as such, it’s just two people per raft and you hold on while you drift down the gorge. We didn’t take cameras and the souvenir photos were expensive so here are some photos I found on the net to give you an idea of what it was like.

Drifting in Xingping - photo by Dan Ouyang

the river was quite rough in places

crowded weir while drifting

Despite the crowds it was a lot of fun and rougher than you would think with some big drops on some of the weirs and a great way to spend 2 hours in the summer heat.

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Or at least something that looked like a bamboo raft. They are actually made from PVC tubing but they look similar. We got collected from our hostel at 10:00am and taken by bus to Yangdi Pier. Along the way the tour guide who spoke reasonable English gave us some info on the area and the things of interest to look out for during the cruise on the river. We lucked out and got the front seat on our raft which was 1 of 6 in our group. It was nice to be on the water, despite being the middle of the day a breeze kept us cool and the scenery was just what I expected and hoped for.

Our flotilla leaving Yangdi Pier

Lots of rafts up ahead approaching the first bend

Interesting peak all on its own HDR

enjoying our front row seat

sheer rock face beside the Li River

and then the sun came out HDR panorama

The famous section seen on the Chinese 20 Yuan bank-note

short pit stop at riverside curio sellers

supposedly you can see 9 horses in the side of this peak, I'm not so sure

a Cormorant on a stick

Water Buffalo in the water

"You get the view and I'll get you."

One of the large cruise boats that don't look very nice

Two Karst peaks watching over the Li River HDR

cruising in style on a raft down the Li River

The bamboo raft cruise from Yangdi Pier to Xingping (where another bus took us to Yangshuo) lasted about 2 hours and was one of the highlights of my trip.

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These photos are all the end result of combining several photos together. I am not going to show you the before photos and if you want to know more about process you can look at my earlier post on HDRI. Still new to this type of photography I made some mistakes but here are a few of the ones that I thought came out pretty well and I hade fun creating. Enjoy!

NB Click on the images to enlarge

Sunset and vapour trail over Guilin HDR

Guilin & Solitary Beauty Peak viewed from Fubo Hill HDR

The Li River at the exit of the Crown Cave HDR

Elephant Trunk Hill landmark in Guilin HDR

Looking through the Elephant Trunk up the Li River HDR

Margaurita & I at dusk in front of Elephant Trunk Hill

Sunset behind the Sun & Moon Pagodas HDR

Margaurita & I at sunset on the roof of Ming Palace Hostel HDR

OK, the last one is a bit over-processed. I discovered that taking HDR images with people is difficult but I’m having lots of fun experimenting with this process. Most of these were taken hand-held without a tripod and I’m still learning how to tweak the various settings. However these photos make the normal photos look so boring it makes me want to take HDR all the time and I hopefully my photos will improve even more as my technique improves.

 

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The first order of the day was breakfast and so we set out to wander the streets in search of a very cheap Chinese breakfast of steamed buns and rice porridge. We turned left and walked around the block finding nothing and as we got closer to the hostel having come full circle we found what we were looking for but our Chinese failed us or perhaps it was a misunderstanding between dialects. Instead of pumpkin buns we got spicy pork but the red bean buns were good. Then it was on to Fubo Hill just around the corner from the hostel which we chose over the Solitary Beauty Peak because entrance was half the price (40 Yuan), it is next to the Li River and from a distance they look to be the same height.

Panorama of Guilin looking West from the top of Fubo Hill

Panorama looking South over Guilin and along the Li River from the top of Fubo Hill

Margaurita and I on the top of Fubo Hill, Guilin

The temperature was already up in the thirties and it wasn’t even 10 o’clock so we took an air-conditioned taxi and headed for the Reed Flute Cave which is a little way out of the town. Once again there was lots of tawdry lighting but the cave itself was quite impressive with some large caverns, formations and even a laser light show casting shapes on the ceiling of the largest hall. We tagged onto the back of another tour group who had an English-speaking guide to pick up on a few things although there was nothing about how old it was or how it formed but rather what imaginary thing the formations resembled. They even pointed out a mound of limestone that they had labelled Father Christmas.

Some of the impressive formations in the Reed Flute Cave, Guilin

One of the large caverns with coloured lighting

The lighting actually made this cityscape formation and reflection look pretty cool

So much for beating the midday heat as we were finished at the Reed Flute cave before 12 o’clock. The heat was pretty stifling so we took the opportunity to head back to the hostel and ask for help booking our train tickets home, still not sure how many days in advance we could buy them. They said they could help us but with a 30 Yuan service fee (for the middle man to take a taxi to the train station and stand in line) which we thought was a bit steep. We decided we would try on our own as well as trying to find a travel agency to book a bamboo raft to Yangshuo. After walking around for half an hour we still hadn’t found a travel service when I looked at a pamphlet we had and recognized the building and where it was. They couldn’t help with the bamboo raft but they had a train ticket office however they said the soft sleeper tickets were all sold out until the 15th and we needed to leave on the 11th. They then suggested we try the train station offering no explanation as to why, if they had no tickets, the train station might. Slightly panicked we caught a taxi straight to the train station were the queues were all 20 people long and the board with the train schedules above the tellers showed no tickets for any of the trains on the dates we needed. After standing in queue for a while it became apparent this was going to be a lost cause and so we went outside. Not knowing what to do we tried an official looking China International Travel Service (CITS) office in the station parking lot. The guy behind the desk spoke very good English and said the trains were indeed all sold out but why don’t we take a soft sleeper bus. He told us it was faster (15 hours), slightly cheaper(10%) and there were 2 buses everyday. Sold we handed over 840 Yuan for two tickets and got a hand written receipt with his cellphone number on it and he told us to come back at 3:00pm the following Monday (30 minutes before the bus departs) to collect our tickets. My suspicion was first aroused when I handed over the cash and he gave me change from his wallet and the lack of actual tickets concerned me somewhat but what else could we do. We thought about a flight but that would be twice as much. Having helped us with tickets home we asked about the bamboo raft but his prices were no better than the hostels and with my doubts on the authenticity we decided to just book the raft through the hostel.

In all the panic and stress we hadn’t had a chance to get lunch so we had a late snack at 4 and deemed it too late to get to Tunnel Hill Park so settled for the Elephant Trunk Hill, a must see according to guide books, and it was actually pretty good. We were lucky enough to catch the afternoon show of a cultural performance and the soft late afternoon light which made for some good photos.

playing a Reed Flute

standing on knives

Elephant Trunk Hill with Tunnel Hill Park and pagoda in the distance

posing with some Cormorants that locals still use to fish in the river

Looking down the Li River from the top of Elephant Trunk Hill

Karst peaks surrounding Guilin, silhouetted in the afternoon sun

Margaurita and I in front of Elephant Trunk Hill

It was a nice way to end off what had been a stressful afternoon and once back at the hostel we booked our bamboo raft cruise to Yangshuo for the next morning with pick-up at a decent 10:00am.

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So we started the second semester at school which was bit of a shock to the system but there was light at the end of the tunnel because in a few weeks time the school was taking all the staff on a trip, something to look forward to. I asked where we were going only to be told some unpronounceable provinces and that we would see some flowers. What flowers I asked and the local teachers said “Rape Flowers.” At first I thought it was just an error in the translation of the Chinese name but I remembered our gardener in Zimbabwe used to grow Rape as a type of spinach and it is also known as Canola. So it has a very unsavoury name but a beautiful bright yellow flower which is what we were planning to see.

Rapeseed flowers

I say planning to see because the weather forecast wasn’t great and temperatures were still in the single figures, not conducive for blooming, as we left school on the Friday afternoon. We climbed onto one of the three buses only to discover that children were allowed too. The whole tour group totalled 160 people with lots of young kids hyped up on sugar and a 3.5 hour bus ride ahead, it wasn’t looking good. (more…)

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I’ve finally had a chance to sit down and click-through the 3000 odd photos I took while on our 3 week holiday in Africa. As well as choosing the good ones and deleting the many bad ones I have also taken the time to digital stitch several photos, that I took intentionally, to produce panorama images of some of the landscapes from Victoria Falls and Cape Town with some fantastic results if I say so myself.

NB Click on the images to see them larger

Panorama of the Devil's Cataract at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

I have been researching what lens to buy next for my new Canon 550D SLR camera. Of course it would be great to have a wide-angle lens for photographs like these but with amateur results like this from digitally joining photographs together perhaps I can put that off for a while. If you like the photo above check out the rest here. (more…)

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