How to Get Lost in Yangshuo, China

Limestone karsts swathed in ambrosial flora rose from the landscape like the spinal plates of a sleeping dragon. Amidst the lolling fog, they appeared to shift and breathe; the dragon sighing in its slumber.


I was atop Moon Hill—a particularly gigantic karst famous for its crescent-shaped gap—in Yangshuo, China. Stretching before me were corrugated fields and antiquated cottages nestled in luscious vegetation. Standing beside me was a gaggle of Chinese middle-schoolers gazing in wonderment—not at the sublime view, however, but at my father’s stately beard.



“Papa Christmas,” whispered one, and the rest tittered. Dad grunted.


My father and I had been traveling through China for three weeks, causing a ruckus wherever we went. In fact, “Papa Christmas” was an applicable moniker; Dad had posed for more photos with local children than a department store Santa Claus. After the ornate labyrinth of Beijing’s hutongs and the spicy bustle of Xian’s markets, Yangshuo was a breath of fresh air—which, in China, was not something to be taken for granted. Located in Guangxi, people flocked to rock-climb its dramatic cliffs and bamboo-raft its languid river.

But Dad and I decided to do neither—opting instead to explore the terrain via a hand-drawn map bestowed upon us by a backpacker from our guesthouse.


“It’s indecipherable. You’ll get lost,” warned the backpacker.


“Oh, your generation just doesn’t understand anything if it’s not tweeted.” Dad rolled his eyes. “Gimme that.”


Descending the hill, we passed towering bamboo etched with Chinese graffiti. The characters looked beautiful carved onto the wood and I pretended that it was poetry and not (more likely) regarding the promiscuity of somebody’s mother. A light rain began to fall as the footpath led us alongside unnatural knolls adorned with tinsel and ribbon.


“They’re graves.” Dad pointed. “See? That one has a shrine.”


Suddenly, we stumbled onto a field where shy seedlings poked up from the soggy ground. I looked around warily. “I think we’re on somebody’s property. This isn’t on the map.”



Dad turned the crinkled paper sideways. “Uhh… this is a short-cut. To that cave over there.”


“That cave isn’t on the map ei—”


“Shh!” He held up his finger. “A bull!”


It was one hundred meters away, nibbling at the ground and looking otherwise bored and disenchanted. But I was a city girl whose knowledge of bulls had been acquired solely via cartoons and so I broke out into a terrified sweat. My sneakers were red!


Covertly—as not to disrupt the beast—Dad and I scampered over the mud to the yawning cave embedded in the karst-side. Stalactites gnashed above us like teeth as we explored the shadowy grotto. From there, we continued past clay domiciles where dogs yapped and chickens pecked and kids gawked at the strangers traipsing through their yards. When we accidentally wandered into another field, the elderly woman tending her crops pointed us in the proper direction. By the time we reached the serpentine river, we had abandoned the map entirely.


“Whoever drew this thing was an idiot,” muttered Dad.


“Hashtag: not a cartographer,” I added.


Six hours later, we finally staggered through the guesthouse door—knees aching, toes blistered, and grins radiating.


“You know, I think we should pass that map along,” said Dad as he shook the rainwater from his beard.


“What? But… we got lost!”


He laughed. “And aren’t you grateful that we did?”



Sue Bedford Author: S. Bedford is the newest addition to the growing ranks of Vagabond Travel writers. Ms. Bedford is a Toronto, Ontario, Canada resident and an avid traveler, having already backpacked through 50 countries. In fact, to call her a resident of anywhere is misleading. It would be more accurate to describe Ms. Bedford as someone returning from somewhere, on her way to somewhere else. Sue will be contributing articles to the soon to launch new Vagagond website at The new website is not replacing this one, but rather complementing it. Sue Bedford on Twitter: @SBedford86