On the third day in Yangshuo we hit the bikes again, cruising through random villages and farming areas. Lots of stuff growing out here... rice, sweet potatoes, chestnuts, taro root, sesame seeds, chili peppers, mint, mandarin oranges, pomelo, bamboo (for food and construction), tea, eggplant, and more. Gops brought along and lit of a string of 1000 firecrackers in a pleasant little valley and immediately afterward caught a flat and had his handlebars come loose... how's that for karma? Fortunately, there was a small village less than a kilometer away and in this area it's all too easy to find someone to repair a flat as bikes are the number one mode of transportation.

Once arriving at Guilin Airport we still had another 90+ minute ride to Yangshuo. The Guilin area (Jianxi Province) is known for being scenic and relatively free of air pollution (mostly agricultural). Unfortunately we ran into some bad timing as it was smack dab in the middle of the rice harvest and every farmer was burning off leftover straw. This produced a semi-transparent white haze over the whole region. My initial impression of Yangshuo itself was that it wasn't all that charming, compared to say... Lijiang, but it is practical and convenient.

October 17th was mostly a travel day, packing up, etc. I did a little catching up on the site while Cody and Don made a last round through the old city, etc. At about 10:30am we were off to the airport to catch a flight to Hangzhou (about 1600km south). The pollution on the way to the Taiyuan airport was even worse today than when we first arrived. Hangzhou is one of many 'former capitol' cities, a distinction shared by over a dozen Chinese cities. It's also the city that Marco Polo called the most beautiful city in the world. It's located about 2 hours SW of Shanghai and its most well known feature is West Lake, a big and very scenic lake that the city has grown around. It's a very modern Chinese city, much along the lines of Shanghai.

October 15th mostly involved travel to Ping Yao. October 16th was all Ping Yao. Ping Yao is in Shanxi province, west of Beijing, and part of the Chinese rust belt which produces the huge dust and pollution clouds that float all the way over the Pacific to our neck of the woods. Ping Yao is a UNESCO heritage site, meaning that (like Lijiang) it's required to maintain a certain degree of authenticity. A newer city has been built around it, but the area within the ancient city walls remains mostly the same in appearance as a hundred years ago, except that the functionality of structures has changed (e.g., what once was a Ming era family home might now be a hostel). Ping Yao is the site of the first bank in China, and was the financial capitol of China in the 19th and 20th centuries until Shanghai replaced it.

Today Wei offered to take us to the next destination, the Simatai section of the Great Wall. It took a two hour bus and another hour in a cramped taxi (normal) to arrive there (taxi ride roughly 65km, cost of taxi 100 yuan or about $14). The Simatai section of the Wall is much less visited than the more famous Badaling and Mutianyu sections, which are swarmed by tourists and vendors. One reason may be because it's more exercise than the average tourist is interested in. There's a steep climb if you want to start at the top and walk down, otherwise plan on climbing a few thousand irregular steps that are almost as steep as the mountainside. Looks like they picked the hardest place for an army to cross, and to build a wall, and slapped one down anyway.

On the other hand, the views are much better at Simatai and it's in a more original condition. Some sections you have to skirt around as they're not safe enough to use.