As we were teaching and talking to Chinese locals a place called Guilin kept being mentioned as the “best in China”. With confirmation from some teacher friends that Guilin and more specifically the smaller villages of Yangshuo and Xingping were amazing, we started doing research to visit it. After finding that a round-trip flight would cost more than the whole trip if we took the train we booked our 20-hour (each way) train tickets. In China, foreigners can’t buy train ticket until 10 days before the tip, so when we booked the train the only available sleeper beds were the top bunks of a three bunk set, and we couldn’t book our return trip yet. The thought of the top bunk for 20-hours was not exciting, until we tried to book our return trip and found out hard-seats were the only tickets available (we will revisit this a little later).
Boarding the train to Guilin was a scene as many Chinese families bring their weight in food with them. After securing our top bunks and the two small window seat in the aisle we were ready for the long trip. While playing cribbage and interacting with the family underneath our bunks we noticed something that made us laugh. The family brought 6 round watermelons and the woman gave the first one to the man with a pair of to-go chopsticks. In the U.S., this would be the beginning of a joke. I watched the man use the back end of the chopsticks to break the rind around the equator of the melon then tear it in half. I was amused but also had a pocketknife with me and offered it to the family to use for the remaining melons. They were very grateful and insisted that we share their fruit with them.
Guilin is small city in China meaning it has a population around a million people. Too big for us, so as soon as we arrived we jumped on a bus that was flagged down for us in the middle of a 3-lane busy road to go to Yangshuo. On the bus ride we were sitting in the far backbench seat next to a Grandmother with a baby. About 15 minutes into the trip the woman pulls out a plastic bag and starts vomiting into it. Luckily, the baby was calm and napping, but I was amazed at the composer of the woman vomiting into the bag. 45 minutes later the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere and we (just Katie and I) were instructed to get off and change to another bus that arrived behind us. Knowing only a handful of word in Chinese we were just hoping we were being lead to the correct destination, and we were.
Once in Yangshuo, we made our way to a hostel outside of the bustling tourist trap called Trippers Carpe Diem Hostel. From there we made arrangements go on a bike ride to a bamboo raft site where they took our bikes to the end of the 3-hour bamboo raft trip (a must do when visiting the area). Then we biked to Moon Hill, which was super cool with amazing views, and then to the golden water caves. We had a personal tour guide that lead us through the caves under 3 mountains, then we soaked in mud bath, which was so weird, and then relaxed in a hot (warm) springs. The next day we took a 3-hour kayak trip down a secluded part of the main river with no other motorized boats (very awesome and a reminder to re-apply sunscreen).
Our next visit was to an even smaller town on the river called Xingping. We arrived to the main Hostel in the town called “This Old Place”. The roof top patio had a stunning sunset view and super cheap beers, which is a dynamic duo. The views from this town are legendary and dawn the Chinese 20 RMB note. Katie and I had one of the best trail runs we experienced in China, but got our skin fried from non-sweat proof Chinese sunscreen (the only sunscreen sold). The next morning we woke early and hiked to the top of a near by mountain for the sunrise, perfect cap for a wonderful trip. But, one of the saddest parts of the natural beauties in China is that they are literally littered. There is no ‘Pack it in, pack it out’ education taught here.
Our last experience of this trip set the bar for worst train ride, which we will measure each bad travel experience to. As mentioned before, all of the sleeper beds were sold-out, so we were forced to book a 20-hour hard seat home. We were prepared for an uncomfortable ride, but what we weren’t prepared for was the 15-20 people in each car that had booked standing tickets. These people made going to the bathroom or just standing to stretch your legs uncomfortable and imposing. Once it became night they were laying on top of the sinks, in the aisles on others seats, everywhere. This coupled with a laundry list of Chinese behaviors was almost unbearable. These are the experiences we signed up for and now understand more about the local Chinese culture than we had ever imagined.
Enjoy the pics! https://picasaweb.google.com/105315223482012434599/Guilin#