4.1.2: Guilin and Yangshuo

Day 145: Hong Kong to Guangzhou

I checked out this morning and went to the Office of Chinese Affairs in Wan Chai to pick up my passport and visa. All was well so I headed over to Hung Hom station near Kowloon and got a train to Guangzhou. I arrived in the station and looked around for the ticket offices so that I could get a train ticket for Guilin tomorrow. All the train timetables were in Chinese and I couldn’t find any English speaking counters so in the end I went to a tourist information desk. The girl there spoke very good English and she said that the trains for tomorrow were fully booked but she could book me a bus ticket. The bus left at 4:30 and it would have been difficult to get to from my hostel at that time in the morning. She then found a cheap plane ticket leaving tomorrow afternoon so I decided to get it. I then got the metro across town and checked into my hostel. I got changed and took a walk through town. The area of town around were I am staying has a lot of European colonial architecture and it felt a little like wondering through Paris or similar.

145.1. An afternoon’s stroll through Guangzhou.

I stopped for coffee so that I could use the internet and then went for dinner. On the way back I stopped for a beer and met some Australian travelers who were staying in the same hostel as me. We bought some beer from a shop and went back to the hostel and joined another group who were sat outside. I went to bed when someone headed to the shop to buy a bottle of baijiu (Chinese rice whisky) and play drinking games.

145.2. A bridge in Guangzhou illuminated at night.

Day 146: Guangzhou to Guilin

As I was leaving the hostel to head to the airport I met a Dutch guy who I was talking with last night. He said that the Australians who we were with had gotten really drunk on the baijiu and started smashing all the empty beer bottles on the ground. I was quite glad I went to bed when I did. We walked towards the metro station together but he went off to get some breakfast and I headed on. I arrived at the airport on the shuttle bus and checked in. The baggage check was very strict and I had to give up my sunscreen and insect repellent as they wouldn’t let me take any liquids on the flight. The flight was only about 50 minutes but when I got off in Guilin it was quite cloudy and cold. It had been really warm and sunny in Guangzhou. At the airport I booked a ticket for the river trip to Yangshuo tomorrow. At 400 RMB (about £40) it was quite expensive but I’d wanted to do it as it was well recommended. I got a bus into town and when I got off I was quite disorientated and the two maps I had didn’t help much. It took quite a bit of wandering before I eventually arrived at my hostel. After dinner I went to the train station to book a train ticket to Kunming for after my trip to Yangshuo. I had carefully written everything in Chinese characters: Feb 9th, Guilin to Kunming, train K393, hard sleeper, mid-bunk. I went to the counter and showed the paper to the lady and she spoke English anyway!

Day 147: Guilin to Yangshuo

I was up early this morning to meet the driver who would take me to the meeting point for the boat trip on the Li River trip to Yangshuo. He arrived just as I was being served breakfast so the staff at the hostel offered to box it up for me. It wasn’t easy trying to eat a bacon omelette with chopsticks on a minibus driving through the streets of Guilin. It stopped at a hotel where I met the guide for the trip. Her name is Xiaoping and I went with her to another bus that drove us to the jetty. I got on the boat and met a Canadian guy called Ben who works as a bar manager at the Sheraton Hotel in Nanjing. When the boat left, Ben and I went to the top deck to get better views of the scenery, which was spectacular all the way. The trip reminded me a little of the Nam Ou trip in Laos. Xiaoping came over and told us about some additional tours that were on offer. I decided to go on a tour in the afternoon of some of the villages near to Yangshuo and Ben decided to go to a lightshow in the evening. At about 12:30 we came down for lunch. We had some beer and Ben tried the snake whiskey. During lunch the announcer said ‘we are just now passing through the most beautiful stretch of the river’, which was great as we were having lunch and couldn’t really see.

147.1. The Li River boat trip.

We arrived in Yangshuo at about 14:00 and were met by loads of tour touts and souvenir sellers. Ben taught me to say ‘wo bu yao’, which means ‘I don’t want’. I arranged to meet up with Ben later in the evening and went to my hostel to check in.

147.2. You are never to far from a souvenir in Yangshuo; Ben and the snake whisky.

147.3. Around town in Yangshuo.

I went back into town and met with Xiaoping and some of the other tourists for the afternoon tour. We went by minibus to a small village outside of Yangshuo and then went to visit the Dragon Bridge. We then took a brief trip on a bamboo raft and saw a guy fishing with cormorants. We than came back but I had to get a local bus as everyone else was going back to Guilin. The tour was OK but not worth the 200 Yuan I paid for it and I wished I’d gone instead to see the evening light show which Ben said was very good.

147.4. On the afternoon tour of the villages near the river not far from Yangshuo.

I met with him in the evening and we went to his hostel which has a bar on its fourth floor roof. We met the owner of the hostel, Monkey Jane, who is a lively Chinese girl who speaks good English but speaks very fast. We played beer pong, a drinking game which involves throwing a ping pong ball into the cups of the opponents which are arranged in a triangle. Later I came back and talked with the guy working in my hostel. He was keen to get hold of foreign money so I gave him some from Laos, Nepal, Thailand and Singapore that I had left over. I later realized I had left my bag at Monkey Jane’s so I had to run back to get it.

Day 148: Yangshuo

I met with Ben at Monkey Jane’s and we went into town and hired mountain bikes. We cycled out towards Yueliang Shan, the Moon Hill, and stopped on the way outside a cave which had a huge butterfly figure outside it. We bought some sticky rice and peanut things from a street seller there and they weren’t very nice. We continued on to the Moon Hill and walked to the top. It is called the Moon Hill because of the crescent of rock at the top looks like the different phases of the moon depending on the angle from which it is viewed. There was someone rock climbing on it when we were there which seemed pretty crazy. We walked back down and then cycled back towards the river.

148.1. On the road to the moon hill.

148.2. At the top of the moon hill.

We came to a bridge over the river and took a road through a huge gorge before coming out at a path going along the river. We followed it for a while until Ben spotted a sign which said ‘cold beer – this way’, so we followed it. We came out to a house and garden by the river. There was no one about so we grabbed some beers from the fridge and sat in the garden. When the guy came out we ordered the beer fish, which is the local speciality. It was very good and there was plenty of food for two people. We paid and then continued on our way along the river but the path soon came to an end. Apparently the only way to progress was to cross the river by bamboo raft, which some locals charged us 15 Yuan for, to go about 5 metres. We cycled along on the other side and couldn’t see the road for Yangshuo. We stopped and Ben asked some people for directions and they pointed us in the opposite direction. We decided to head back and luckily saw the bridge going back across the river and a road in the right direction. From here it was only another 20 minutes or so back to Yangshuo.

148.3. Cycling through the gorge and our Beer Fish lunch.

We handed back the bikes and went for a beer at Monkey Jane’s. I went back after one and headed back to the hostel for a shower and Ben stayed in the bar drinking Long Island ice teas as cocktails were on offer as it was happy hour. When I came back an hour or so later he was wrecked. The cocktails must have been pretty strong. We went out and had some food and then came back to Monkey Jane’s for a little bit before I headed back to my hostel.

148.4. Sunset as we cycle back to Yangshuo.

Day 149: Yangshuo

Ben and I decided to hire bikes again today as we had both really enjoyed yesterday. I was originally going to go back to Guilin today but I much prefer Yangshuo so I decided to stay one more night here. Today we cycled east and tried to find a path going alongside the Li River but we couldn’t find it. We continued along the road which became fairly quiet once we had gotten out of Yangshuo and it made for a pleasant ride. We cycled to Puyi town, a small town about 17 km out of Yangshuo. We stopped there for a beer and then tried to find the path back along the river but again we were unsuccessful. In the end we cycled back along the same road we had come out on. On the way back we cycled down a narrow side road and came upon a small village. We met a family there and one young child seemed very scared of us foreigners and started to cry.

149.1. Our bikes parked outside the store while we take a beer in Puyi town.

149.2. Making friends with the locals in a village near Puyi town.

When we arrived back in Yangshuo we went to Monkey Jane’s and met up with some other people there to climb a hill in town with a TV tower on it. The views from the top over Yangshuo were really impressive. We had gone up for the sunset but it had become a bit cloudy by the time we reached the top so the sunset was unremarkable.

149.3. View from the TV tower hill over Yangshuo.

We walked back down and I went back to my hostel before meeting with the others at Monkey Jane’s where we all had dinner together. Later on Ben played beer pong with Monkey Jane and they won six games in a row; a feat that earned Ben a Monkey Jane’s T-shirt.

149.4. Beer Pong. Ben in his T-shirt he won for six straight victories.

Day 150: Yangshuo to Guilin

Today I got the bus back to Guilin and arrived at the Flowers hostel at around midday. I was thinking to rent a bike again in the afternoon but the last one at the hostel was taken while I was having lunch and I couldn’t be bothered to seek out another rental place. Instead I went for a walk around town and visited the Solitary Beauty Peak and park, which was expensive to get in to and less impressive than I’d hoped. I walked to the top of the solitary peak with it’s temple at the top and looked out over Guilin. I then walked back along the river and saw the twin pagodas and the park for the elephant trunk cliff. They had planted trees around it so that you couldn’t see the cliff properly without paying their fee to get into the park, which I didn’t bother with.

150.1. Solitary Beauty Peak; The temple and the intertwined snake and tortoise, symbols of longevity.

I then walked back along the river and saw the twin pagodas and the park for the elephant trunk cliff. They had planted trees around it so that you couldn’t see the cliff properly without paying their fee to get into the park, which I didn’t bother with.

150.2. The twin pagodas by the lake in Guilin.

Day 151: Guilin to Night Train

Today I went to Qixing Gongyuan, the Seven Star Park, named after the seven hills within in it. It was another rather expensive and not particularly impressive park in Guilin. I walked into the hills and escaped the crowds for a bit. I came back down and saw the pandas, which are kept terribly. They were locked in glass cages with a few handfuls of bamboo on the stone floor. They looked dirty and depressed. I then walked through the zoo which was equally depressing, with sloth bears locked in cages and deer living in their own filth. It was the worst zoo I’d ever been to.

151.1. The Seven Star park; a temple building and Camel Hill.

After the park I came back to the hostel and went for lunch at the Cantonese place around the corner that I went to on my first night in Guilin. After that I picked up my bag and went to the train station. I got the sleeper train to Kunming, a journey of 18 hours. I had the middle bunk in a six berth cabin sharing with a young family and one old man. I sat out in the corridor and looked out of the window until the sun went down and wrote my journal until the lights went off. I then lay in my bunk listening to music and watched the world go by in the moonlight.