So this post is a long time coming. I think the reason I hadn’t posted until now is because this is one of those trips that I know I’ll never forget. There aren’t words to describe how unbelievably awesome this trip was, but I’ll try my best to capture it here. It’s been almost 2 months since traveling to Guilin, yet I can remember the whole experience vividly.
I went on this trip with one other person. Matt and I had briefly talked about visiting here, but we hadn’t commited to anything.By shear luck, we found really cheap tickets. It’s probably the most impulsive purchase I’ve ever made. It took me about 2 minutes from seeing the flight deal to Guilin to actually purchasing a flight there. Oh yeah, did I mention I skipped class to go here. When I told my teacher I’d be missing a Friday class, she was thrilled about my excuse. She even gave me pointers about what sites to see!
One of the main attractions of Guilin is taking a raft down the famous Li River. If you read the travel guides, everyone says to avoid the large tourist ferries leaving from the city center. It recommends taking a small PVC pipe raft from a small village. To get to the village, we hopped on a local bus. To be more precise, we actually chased this bus down a 4 lane highway behind a beckoning Chinese lady. She must have been in cohorts with the bus because the driver handed her some cash after we boarded the bus. The bus driver kicked us off the bus at an intersection in the middle of nowhere. I repeat, in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. We spent a few minutes pondering how we were going to have to hitchhike back to Guilin, but soon another small van pulled up and showed us pictures of the Li River and raft dock. Clearly we weren’t the first tourists searching for this hidden gem. We climbed aboard and headed towards what we thought would lead to the river.
Ok, time for a disclaimer. Normally, I wouldn’t recommend getting in a strange vehicle in a foreign country with limited language skills and have no clear idea where you are going. Nor would I recommend sprinting down a highway after a crazy lady to catch a bus. Actually, I highly discourage it. Looking back at it, those choices were actually pretty stupid. At the time, it made sense. Maybe it was the fact we were caught up in the hype for adventure or we were lost puppies in this foreign land. But most likely, we were just being plain dumb (Sorry Mom). Thankfully, nothing bad happened.
Now that’s cleared up, back to the good stuff. We got to the raft dock and were bombarded by the local women trying to sell flower headbands. Suffice to say, I was not interested. We purchased our tickets and climbed aboard the raft. You might be sensing a trend with my trips in China, but words cannot describe how breathtaking the views along the river were. I mean it this time! The river was surrounded by tall limestone bluffs shrouded in mist with the peaks disappearing into the clouds. You can look at the pictures below, but those pictures aren’t that good. Honestly, even the world’s highest resolution camera couldn’t capture how magical the river was.
The raft trip flew by and we were dropped off at a junction on the side of the river. Women sat along the roadside trying to sell dried fish and craft goods. There was one elderly woman in particular who caught my attention. Actually, she demanded my attention. She must have sensed my hunger or, more likely, heard my stomach rumbling. In response, she came running up to me with a bunch of bananas. I politely declined her and she scurried away. Within a few seconds she returned with a grapefruit. Once again, I said I wasn’t interested. She must have been embracing the concept that the third time is the charm because she returned with a bag of peanuts. After declining once again, she made a futile last attempt and opened the bag of peanuts. If showing the items to me wasn’t going to work, surely throwing individual peanuts at me was going to sway my decision! I wasn’t mad. The whole experience was quite comical.
Matt and I decided to continue to follow the river and walked along the bank. It is not a common method to see the Li River, but walking gave us a chance to experience the countryside. Small farmhouses lined the bank and locals passed us by. The tourists riding on the boats were also fascinated by us. We must have been more exciting than the scenery because Matt and I must have been in hundreds of photographs. By walking along the river, we got to see the view that is on the back of the 20 yuan bill. Also, we saw a local stall selling honey cubes. The shopkeeper hacked these golden sugar cubes off of a large brick covered in bees. It was so good!
After the river, we made our way to Yangshuo. It is one of the famous towns in the region and is a booming tourist spot. The landscape is similar to that of the Li River. Buildings are built in between the mountainous peaks. It is quite surreal. We took a cab out to the trail-head for Moon Hill. We climbed to the underside of the arch and had the opportunity to look out over the vast countryside. Small villages dotted the horizon. As we were taking in the scenery, it began to rain. We made our way down the slippery trail and found the cab waiting for us at the bottom even though we hadn’t told the driver to wait for us. It was a nice surprise. After a long day of adventure, we had a local dinner in Yangshuo that included river snails.
We woke up the next morning and walked along the roads outside of Yangshuo. Most people opted to ride bikes, but our lack of planning led us to walk 10+ miles to take in the scenery. Every turn in the road led to more outstanding views of greenery. Amazing. After spending the morning taking in the sites, we hopped on a bus back to Guilin.
In Guilin, we had a cheap meal of Guilin rice noodles. They tasted so good. This local dish can be found on nearly every every street corner in the city. Basically, it’s more common than finding a Walgreens in the States. Bonus: it’s super cheap! As I write this, I find myself wishing I had a bowl of the deliciousness right now…. We also visited the Sun and Moon Pagodas in Fir Lake. At night, they are lit up and it makes the site even more impressive. A local band was playing by the lake. It was fun to observe, however people didn’t clap when the songs ended. Rather, the audience clapped when someone went to place a donation in the musicians’ cases. It must have been cultural.
Going to the bathroom in China is always an adventure, but Guilin took the craziness of using the toilet to a whole new level. When my small bladder couldn’t take it anymore, I opted to use the bathrooms at the local bus station. You usually hear horror stories about Chinese bathrooms being unsanitary. Yes, I had run into a few of these gems, but this bathroom was actually very well kept, with the exception of the surplus of grandmothers running up and down the isles.I kid you not, there had to have been 20+ elderly Chinese women running up and down the isles of the bathrooms. Every time a stall opened up, the stampede of grandmothers raced for the open doors. Clearly, these women did not understand the concept of efficiency. Craziest part was the pack kept growing in size. It was like “monkey see, monkey do”. After watching this circus for 15 minutes, I gave up and decided to stand in front of an occupied stall. When it opened and its inhabitant vacated the stall I braced myself for the charging herd. One lady sneaked past me, however out of frustration, I picked her up by the shoulders and placed her outside the stall doors. It helped that I was at least 6 inches taller than any of the women in the bathroom. Finally, I was able to relieve myself, however escaping the stall was a whole other challenge!
We boarded a bus for the famed Longsheng Rice Terraces. On the bus, I sat next to a cage of chickens. Yep, you heard that right. A local boarded the bus, dropped the chickens in the seat and walked off the bus. The bus ride led us to the Longsheng rice terraces. We arrived in a local village surrounded by rice patties carved into the hillside. Talk about an engineering feat. The water filled terraces stretched for miles. In deciding our hiking route, we decided to take the road less traveled. We set out to hike between two neighboring villages. With no map, we chose to trust our gut and began the 4+ hour walk. Along the way, we passed through abandoned fields and many grave sites. We took a few wrongs turns here and there, but the locals were often quick to steer us in the right direction. We made it to the final village by nightfall and chose to stay the night in a hostel situated in the middle of the rice terraces.
It was the best feeling to wake up surrounded by the endless fields of green. We spent the remainder of the morning exploring the village and terraces. Unfortunately, our plane was leaving that night and we had to leave. I could have easily stayed another day or two in the Longsheng area.
The trip to Guilin was, by far, the best trip I took in China. It is one that won’t be easy to forget. This trip alone, made the study abroad trip well worth it.