Just outside of Daxu Ancient Town is a narrow red road, decorated with gardens and cycling themed sculptures suggesting to trail users that this is a dedicated bike path. It’s part of the new Guilin Greenway
From my hotel window in Daxu new Town, I can see the bright red bitumen overlaying an old railway embankment. Morning walkers love it. Farmers transport baskets of ducks on motor bikes down to the river – skirting the lumpy blue stone pavers of the old town – dedicated is a relative term in China, but the brightly coloured pathway do make navigating easy. Turn left, and your on the beginnings of a journey down the famous Li River in the direction of Yangshuo.
It doesn’t go far yet – just 15 km down to Caoping, but paired with some mountain roads, or a couple of river crossings and a boat ride, this ride not only keeps you clear of the hordes in Yangshuo and Guilin, but gives you the essence of what these towns were like before they drowned in tourists.
Daxu is Yangshuo in the early nineteen nineties. 20 km down the Li River from Guilin, its a forgotten village, with a few antique shops and a couple of cafes. Old men fish from the thousand year old bridge. Women with baskets of ducks, wait for the ferry to away take them to their farms on Mao Zhou Dao, an Island in the middle of the Li River, five minutes by ferry. These rituals of daily peasant life have been hijacked in Yangshuo and Guilin by the need to hustle tourists in these high rent towns.
But Daxu is also not so traditional that you cant get a cup of coffee.
We sampled all two coffee shops – the first one trying to pass off a luke warm three in one nescafe sachet as Italian style Cappuccino, but the second one a gem by a passionate barista called Ms Huang, who’d returned from the big city (Guilin) to be with her ageing parents.
Business is slow says Huang as she hand ground our coffee beans, measured them up precisely,before brewing them at a speed that matched the outside torpor.
Most people skip over Daxu for Yangshuo she explained. We too would no doubt have skipped Daxu, but for the red-road, which we’d heard about and which has now put the town on the map for cyclists at least.
Even the locals were telling us to skip it.
Having arrived the night before, our hotelier on the main road had told us that it was too dark in the old town and to eat something along the brightly lit highway.
But dimly lit streets make for quality voyeurism. Big open front clan homes are gently illuminated tableaux’s of families preparing and sharing food.
We were spotted and invited to drink a beer with a group of friends on a raised platform that somehow caught the air from the open courtyard design. In the past there would be performers in the open courtyard, they explained.
In the morning these scenes are obscured by stall holders selling smooth river stones and water colour paintings of daxu’s old stone bridge.
Daxu Old town is not on the bike path itself – nor is it the start which is several kilometres up the Guilin Road, but its just a few hundred metres beyond the town to get back on it. The beauty of the path is that it is not shy of the lowlands that are frequently flooded. In fact it dissects the flood plain, cutting off huge loops that the road must skirt.
It doesn’t yet go far, but it does tie in well with other rides that are possible high up in the karsts along ridge line roads that offer incredible views back down onto the Li.
These high country roads mean some tough ascents, but getting up high gets you away from the lawn mower like engine roar of package tourists on the obligatory Xing Ping to Yangdi motorised raft ride. These rafts are a boon if you need to shortcut your ride, but this section of the river is best scene from up high.