Bing Yu Gou doesn’t mean ‘Ice Fish Dog’ as my initial attempt at translation went. The trouble is no Chinese person has yet to tell me what it does mean. It’s become an obsession for me. The most convincing answer I’ve had so far is ‘Ice Mountain River’, with the name conjuring up (in Chinese minds anyway) images of idyllic scenery and fresh mountain streams. Many locations in China have been given such a name to attract the tourists. Bing Yu Gou is apparently very ‘haoting’, nice-sounding, which was enough to appease me. It’s also known as ‘Little Guilin’, Guilin being on the backpackers trail in Southern China, though I’ve only seen photos so it’s difficult for me to comment. .
The first 20 minutes there were perfect. After entering through the East Gate we boarded a small boat and quietly passed along the river. The scenery really was idyllic and unspoiled, and we didn’t need a name to convince us of this. I thought ‘Yeah I can take more of this.’ As we disembarked and came across the mid-river islands and green peaks, we discovered why it was compared to Guilin (from the photos I had seen). ‘Gorgeous and natural, not spoiled’, I thought.
Unfortunately a surprise was in waiting around the corner. The plan was to find a site for breakfast to enjoy the view, but we walked into what can be best described as an activity centre. Bungee slides, bumper boats, large, inflatable balls on the river (like they use to have in Gladiators) – all demanding a high premium for their usage. Off in the distance was the sound of gunfire from the nearby shooting range. Silence was broken. A golf buggy carrying some tourists zoomed past us, nearly knocking me into the idyllic water. A real shame that such a beautiful site had, in my opinion anyway, been tainted by such a charade.
We moved on and settled down on some rocks for our meal. This was very enjoyable. Water swept past us and some Chinese people were using plastic bags to catch fish. One was eventually caught but only at the expense of a few pairs of soaked trousers. I fell asleep for a while.
Having said all this, I would go back. As we prepared to leave, I encountered a map which contained some hikes up into the mountains. Time didn’t permit us to do this, but I expect it would be lovely.
The highlight of the weekend was staying in the countryside in someone’s house. Avril really had to persuade me into this – I was up for a hotel – and I’m glad she did. We rented a whole room for 50 Kuai and had a couple of large ‘kangs’ to ourselves. Kangs are beds made of stone and in winter you can build a fire underneath to keep you warm. A thin mattress is laid on top to provide a little comfort. It was the most peaceful night’s sleep I’ve had in a while – I awoke to the sound of animals and the sun breaking through into the room. No horns, no TVs and no building noises, my usual wake-up call. Lovely.
The only slightly harrowing part of the whole thing was the toilet. We arrived after sunset and the owner took me outside to the toilet, well, the hole in the ground. As I prepared to relieve myself, suddenly a large, round snout appeared at my foot, accompanied by a loud grunting. Rather taken aback, I was lucky not to fall in the hole. A friendly pig greeted me next morning.
I’d go back just for the accommodation. A couple of nights there and some walking in the countryside would be a most relaxing weekend.