The Outside Inn is an initiative of Herbert Bloembergen. He was born in the Netherlands in 1964. After high school he studied law at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. After his masters exam he went on a 6 month tour around the world. The world turned out to be too big to be explored in only six months, so many more long trips followed. In 1997 he first visited China on a half year Asia tour that included the Philippines, Japan and Korea.
"My first encounter with China was in the harbour of Tianjin. I expected thousands of unfriendly Chinese turning their heads on a foreigner, but instead the people were very friendly and helpful. Beijing had an amazingly relaxed feeling. It was these surprises (and many more would come) that made me fall for China."
Instead of travelling on to Vietnam he stayed in China as long as his visa and money permitted. The following year he revisited China for another six month. First steps were taken to learn Chinese. One of his friends, a painter, renamed him Aka, after he bought a painting about a boy named Aka. The painting shows the faces of the villagers when Aka returns from his first hunting trip.
Being fed up with his job in computer software, in the summer of 1999 he decided to give it up and return to China. He found a job with a Dutch tour company and started taking groups around China. "I always find that tourists spent too much time in big, often enormous cities and very little time in the countryside." Even Yangshuo, not long ago a small county town has changed rapidly. With over 300 hotels it is not as peaceful as it once was. During weekends and holidays the streets are crowded with thousands of tourists.
In the winter of 2003 he started cycling around the area, either by himself or with Pam Dimond an Australian tour leader. On one of his cycle trips through the area he found the more or less abandoned old part of the village of Chaolong. Most people had moved to their new houses along the main road that had been paved in 2002. Soon the idea was born to try and rent some of these buildings and convert them into a guesthouse.
In the beginning of 2003 negotiations started with the local farmers to rent their buildings. They could not believe that anyone was interested in these old houses. Even Yangshuo residents frowned upon hearing about this idea. But of course money is money, so why not rent to this crazy foreigner? Since every house and every piece of land belongs to different families, it took quite some time before everything was agreed upon with everybody (about 25 people). On May 1st 2003 the renovations started. At first Aka worked alone, to get a good feeling for the place. But with 6 houses to be renovated, help was needed. As SARS put a stop to all tourism in the area, local farmers had time to come and help.
What needed to be done? Everything! Roofs relayed, walls rendered, windows inserted, new floors and ceilings built. Windows had to be put in. The water supply and sewer system was also a big job. The guesthouse pumps water from a well to a tank in the mountain. Bathrooms had to be constructed; hot water and electricity were put in. A kitchen had to be build, and of course the outside areas needed mending. What is now the front garden, used to be a neglected orchard.
By the end of august 2003 enough of the work was completed to allow the doors to be opened to guests. On September the 3rd 2003, the 7th day of the 8th month on the lunar calendar, the whole village was invited for lunch and his Chinese and foreign friends for dinner.
In May 2004 with the building of a wooden, Longji style teahouse the renovations were finished. Well any one owning an old house knows that you are never really finished, but all the major jobs were done: 12 rooms with attached bathrooms, 6 rooms with shared bathrooms; a restaurant; beer garden and teahouse.
Since then a lot has happened: Radio and TV stations, newspapers and many Chinese officials travel the road down to Chaolong to see what is happening here and businessmen and women come and study our concept: small scale business, involve the locals, preserve and restore. And of course we have added more buildings and rooms and keep making the Outside Inn even more beautiful and comfortable.
More and more tourists find their way to the Outside Inn. Not only foreigners, but guests from all around China, come here to escape the big city buzz and enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the village and surrounding nature. Pam Dimond also rented a house in Chaolong, where she opened Yangshuo's first cooking school.