We took the sleeper train from Shenzhen to Guilin.
Our bus was scheduled to leave at 930, it left an hour later. This is common.
We had our own tiny bed on the bus all forty of us plus two Chinese people.
Our compartment was cramped but it worked. The sleeper tilted upward.
Each person’s feet had a compartment in a plastic or metal enclave.
The person’s head would be on the top part.
I fell right to sleep soon after our bus got rolling.
When I woke up I was surrounded by gorgeous green villages, rolling peaks of pointed mountains, and small rivers. Essentially, how I had always envisioned China to be.
As soon as I stepped out of the bus I noticed the swirling smell of sweet.
I learned later Guilin means the “forest of sweet Osmanthus.”
Osmanthus trees grow all over Guilin and they leave a most delicious smell. It was such a nice greeting after being in Shenzhen for two months.
We arrived in Guilin after eight hours of bus travel. Christy and I traveled together.
We booked a hotel almost right next to the bus station in Guilin.
Our hotel met our needs and we dropped everything and took off for exploring.
We strode to the city center and were admiring all the shops and sites.
While heading toward the Li River and people ballroom dancing in the street we were approached by a man named Colin.
Colin spoke with a British Chinese accent and greeted us with the normal, where are you from, how are you, type of thing. Finally he started asking us if we had signed up for any tours. Our hotel had given us prices on tours and the prices seemed excessive and we decided to wait.
My first thought was Colin was a scam. Thankfully he wasn’t he led us to his tour agency and signed us up for a Li River boat cruise to Yangshuo and a tour to the “Longji terraces” — Rolling fields of rice in north Guilin.
Colin then drove us to some caves and to Moon Cave. It was fun but a tad bit underwhelming compared to our Luray caverns. It seemed like most of the cave hadn’t been preserved like it should have been. Many people were touching all the stalactites and stalagmites…I always thought if you touch the stones the oils from your hand will prevent the stones from forming naturally. Nevertheless we’re in China.
After the caves Colin drove us to “Solitary Peak.” It was a big Ming resort that the Emperor would come to. It was gorgeous. There were many caves that poets would retreat to, to read or write. These caves surrounded the peak. The lawns were all fresh and the Osmanthus smelled even more powerful. Christy and I hiked to the top of the peak. The stairs were very narrow and small, reminded me of parts of the Great Wall. At the top we were greeted with a breathtaking view of the mountains that line Guilin. The wind was blowing and it was beautiful.
Colin told us about a nightmarket in Guilin. It happens every night vendors from all over come out and sell their goods for about 1 mile of street! The streets are lined with vendors and people from about 8pm-2am. The nightmarket was fun and a perfect place to bargain and get good deals.
Christy and I woke up extra early for our boat cruise the next day. A lady named Trudy picked us up and she was so nice. We drove around picking up other tourists who had signed up for the boat cruise.
We met a man from Memphis who works in Dongguan–about an hour or two from Longhua. His Chinese girlfriend was with him. We also met a family from Finland. The son works at the Finland part of the Shanghai World Expo and his sister and father were visiting him for the holiday.
After about an hour of waiting we finally boarded our boat. The air was fresh and the water clear, sailing down the Li River. The water cut through the jagged peaks of mountains. We saw fisherman, people feeding the ducks, people bathing, and Oxen bathing in the river eating the kelp. It was a sight! The oxen looked like hippopotamus’!
We ate lunch on the cruise and signed up for a tour in Yangshuo. David, our American friend we met, told us of a show in Yangshuo. He claimed it was the best in the entire world. Christy and I were skeptical but we kept it in the back of our minds.
Yangshuo was a delight. Even though I have never been to Colorado it reminded me of a tiny Colorado tourist town on the water and through the mountains. It was also filled with Westerners and foreigners from all over.
Christy and I had a tour of a village and went over a bridge that’s featured in the movie, “The Painted Veil.” It’s also featured on Windows Vista operating system as one of the pictures you can choose.
The village homes were made from mud which our tour guide told us is representative of the Cultural Revolution. There was a mirror above each door to keep the ghosts away and wooden posts to show if the husband or wife brought more money to the family.
Christy and I then took a bamboo raft down an inlet cutting through the many fields and mountains. A local fisherman put on a show for us with his geese. His geese would sit on his bamboo raft with him as he balanced standing up. He would throw the geese into the water and they would catch fish for him. Then they would spit the fish into his bucket and do it all over again.
The raft was very pleasant, we careened through the water right before sunset. We went down a few manmade rapids which were a thrill.
We saw Youzi hanging on the trees waiting to be picked. Youzi looks like a giant orange or grapefruit. It’s light green. It tastes like a very slight citrus though. Not as sour as some citrus.
We finished our bamboo raft tour at a village. I bought fresh peanuts from a little boy for only 5 kuai. I’ve never had uncooked fresh peanuts but they were so good!
All I could think about was my mom and how much she would love Yangshuo/Guilin and this bamboo raft ride.
The following day Christy and I went to the rice fields in Northern Guilin–“Longji Terraces.” Our guides told us about the “Yao” women. The government did not know they were living in this area until 1997. The Yao women grow their hair very long. They only cut it once–when they get married. They wash their hair in rice water. They do all the work in the village and the men stay at home and are told what to do by the women.
In order to show a man a Yao woman likes him she pinches his butt. The man in turn steps on a Yao woman’s foot-very lightly.
Before this tour we visited Ping’an village. We took a shuttle bus up a dirt road hanging off the side of a mountain! It was extremely bumpy. Funny part by the time we had spent 3 hours in the village, the workers had PAVED the road!
Ping’an village was beautiful. Guilin is also known for its peppers. We saw peppers growing and sundrying. I bought some peppers from a lady and she showed me her house. I ate one pepper and it wasn’t so bad. The second one I ate, I had eaten all of the seeds. It made my entire face just about numb for about ten minutes. I will never underestimate peppers again.
We hiked through the village and for lunch ate rice that was cooked in a bamboo stalk. The stalked was charred on the outside. The rice tasted fantastic. It was very sticky–maybe from bamboo sap? The fields flowed through the mountainside and it was absolutely gorgeous.
Christy and I had a free day the following day so we decided to venture back to Yangshuo. We also decided at the last minute to see the show David told us about.
We called Colin and he immediately arranged tickets for us! We walked through Yangshuo and went to the “Hello” market where all the vendors yell “hello” at you, come buy!
The show was pretty good, maybe not the best in the world. We sat on a mountain and on the water there were dancers on rafts with lights and torches. The mountains surrounded the water and the mountains were lit up as well. It was a beautiful show.
Finally we made it back to our hotel ready to head home the following day.
We boarded our sleeper bus to go back to Shenzhen on Wednesday evening about 6pm. This time it was not a direct shot to Shenzhen like it had been coming, and there was no bathroom on the bus. Apparently the bus would be making frequent stops for the bathroom and picking people up! Though all the sleepers were taken the bus picked people up from the side of the road and they sat and laid in the aisle! What originally takes 8 hours it took us 15!
At one point we stopped to use a gas station bathroom because everyone needed to go and the toilet was a giant trough lined through all the stalls so you saw EVERYTHING…
Twenty minutes after that stop we had to stop at a scheduled stop.
Our driver yelled TEN MINUTES ONLY! An hour later we were still waiting there. Apparently he was eating HOT POT! Which takes a good hour or more if you’re lucky, to eat.
The whole bus-ride I was worried we’d die. I would wake up infrequently and think we were driving in circles still picking people up. Thankfully I had baijiu…
It was quite the adventure! I made it home unscathed and filled with happy memories of Guilin.