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Posts Tagged ‘Guilin’

I stand in line waiting to be allowed back into China. It is the third and final time on our journey I shall do so. For some unknown reason I always get a little nervous in immigration. What if they don’t let us in, what happens if we are delayed and miss our onward connections? Such are the misgivings of the Trans-Global traveller. I needn’t have worried as our entry back into the mainland is swift and without concern. As I walk further into China I can feel the convenience of Starbucks and 7-Ellevens ebbing away.

Hard Sleeper carriages in China

Hard Sleeper carriages in China

We pass through a friendly barrage of touts offering bus tickets to Guilin. This is a rarity in China and a welcome relief in many aspects. But we have already purchased train tickets travelling overnight in hard sleeper class. The name does nothing to inspire a good night’s rest. The beds are open plan stacked three high and at least have ample luggage racks to stow our bags. We leave Shenzhen with a mostly empty carriage which is a blessing but our personal space is short lived when two hours later we stop at Guangzhou; a city once known throughout the world as Canton. Guangzhou is a giant in China which makes it one of the world’s most populated cities. This is certainly in keeping with the army of passengers that board the train. And when I say army I do mean army. Dozens of young soldiers fill up the empty berths with excitement and vigour. They note our presence and take turns saying hello. One chap who can speak a few more words of English is encouraged to communicate on behalf of the platoon. I sit up and we both do our best to converse for a while.

Hard Sleeper China

Catching up on some reading

We plough through the night heading west to Guilin. The soldiers are noisy but it’s entertaining to hear them laugh. I’m not used to seeing the Chinese have so much fun, maybe I just haven’t been looking hard enough. Then all of a sudden the laughing stops and the men with military precision retire and switch off the lights. An officer walks through the carriage and gives me a small nod as if to reassure the Chinese army won’t be of any trouble to us civilians.

Heading west to Guilin

Heading west to Guilin

We arrive into Guilin station shortly after 7am. I check the sheets and the blankets thoroughly to make sure nothing has been left behind. I think I shall find it a hard habit to break when I eventually return home. The soldiers form into immaculate lines on the platform while we walk without bearing into another city. But the bigger the tourist destination the easier finding transport and this is certainly the case in Guilin. We emerge into a hot and humid square and are immediately beckoned to a bus headed to Yangshuo about 60km south of bustling Guilin. This is almost too easy but I never take such opportunities in China for granted and gladly pay 20 Yuan each which seems a bargain. Yangshuo is smaller than Guilin and where most of the large cruise boats finish their trip down the spectacular Li River. But it is by no means a secluded piece of paradise. So with this in mind we take a private taxi a further 6km out of town along the Yulong River to the Yangshuo Mountain retreat for 40 Yuan. The bus was good value after all.

The Hotel is small and sits sympathetically in the sublime landscapes. We have now entered a realm of giant limestone karsts, a feature found throughout South-East Asia and not to the best of my knowledge anywhere else in the world. But here in southern China they are very tall and thin and bloom is vast numbers. No wonder then that these lands are found on the back of the Ten Yuan banknote. Along with the Yellow Mountains and the Potala Palace this is now the third such place of currency we have visited.

Bus ride to Yangshuo

Bus ride to Yangshuo

It’s still early in the day when we arrive but already the temperature is rising steeply. The air is thick with water and the insects in the surrounding jungle sound like they are being tortured on a rack. We are in the tropics now and from here down to Singapore it’s only going to get worse or better depending on your love for such conditions. There can be no doubt that balmy tropical nights are the stuff of dreams but during the middle of the day it can be a nightmare. It’s difficult to see into the distance the air above us is completely saturated and bursts with a heavy down pour while we take a late breakfast. Given the heat it’s a soothing sound and the drops fall warm and heavy to the ground.

The middle of the day is reserved for only the foolish or hard at work, we are definitely not the latter so spend most of the hot hours inside watching condensation and rain run down our windows. Going from an air-conditioned room back outside is shocking and confronting. If not for being in an exotic and foreign location I should put my shoulder to the door and force it shut. Even my camera is having trouble adjusting and fogs up inside the lens. I remedy the problem by leaving it in the bathroom which is acclimated to something like the conditions outside.

Cycling in Yangshuo

Cycling in Yangshuo

The heavy rains have cleared the air a little and we cycle north through farm fields and old Chinese villages. I think when travelling I look so often for clichés. They are after all the stuff of travel dreams and here in Yangshuo those dreams come true. We stop for a drink in Jiuxian at the aptly named Secret Garden guesthouse. The village is adorned with red lanterns and sloped Ming dynasty roofs. The surrounding karsts are now shrouded in the humid air while a group of Chinese runner ducks waddle by in formation. We continue after a life preserving drink onto the Yulong Bridge which takes considerable more patience and navigation to find. A short detour onto the main road and many questions and map pointing gets us to our destination.

Yangshuo

Yangshuo

The Yulong or Dragon Bridge may be old and could be an attractive scene if it were not for the small amusement park that has been set up around it. The crowds seem un-proportioned to the structure. The old bridge looks almost embarrassed by all the fuss. At first I am disappointed by the calamity but then I remind myself that this is China and this is how they like to do things. I become more fascinated by the local tourists and how such mayhem seems completely oblivious to them. I sip on a rather good pineapple juice and survey the scene.

Jiuxian village

Jiuxian village

A man who guided us along the last section is now wanting to take us on a river cruise back down stream. We politely decline but the thought of a long ride back in adverse heat is not appealing. He recruits a young Chinese girl to speak with us but she turns out to be an American working in China. The man is clearly a nice chap and instantly likable and he jokingly lectures us as to why we should take a ride on his raft. He points up to the sun and back down river making soothing noises, then points to the road and waves his hand. Fern our translator can speak half decent Mandarin and begins to negotiate on the 200 Yuan asking price about $30.00 USD. He then begins to lecture her and directs a doubtful tone and wagging finger in her direction.

He relents a little on the price and drops it down to 180 Yuan and somehow as part of the deal we are each given a cold bottle of beer. I can’t help to feel the price is still a little steep but who can turn down a complementary bottle of beer while cruising down a river on raft.

With Fern about to start our raft cruise

With Fern about to start our raft cruise

You don’t imagine you might be in peril when setting off on a river cruise but dangerous animals lurk everywhere in the tropics. You might consider crocodiles, tigers or even angry buffalo but how many of you have ever given thought to…Caterpillars.

As we drift down the serene river Emma complains of a biting sensation on her neck. I take a look but find nothing then she lets out a sharp cry. Still we can find nothing but notice a small innocent hairy caterpillar drop to the ground and think no more. By the time we get to our landing a large red rash has risen on the back of her neck and across the shoulders. It looks suspiciously like the heat rash that plagued her back in Zanzibar, but Emma is convinced it’s a result of the caterpillar and won’t be deterred. It looks very red and painful and the sweat is not helping. Our boatman walks to a shop and procures a small bottle of local medicine which he applies to the rash. It would seem that along with beer, medicine is also complimentary. Emma spends the rest of the afternoon researching deadly caterpillars on google and over the coming days becomes quite an expert on the subject. She develops a complex theory on how it became scared during my feeble search and injected fine hairs into her skin. I have to admit my search was somewhat lame and the photos of the rash do look similar.

Our boatman come bartender and Doctor

Our boatman come bartender and Doctor

About 30km north of Yangshuo the Li River bends almost 360 degrees before straightening at the small settlement of Xingping. I have been doing my own research and worked out that the famous bend and the amazing views of the distant karsts can be best observed by climbing a small mountain called Loa Zhai Shan. I say small but in reality when we arrive it soars about 200 meters above us. The sign indicates a thousand steep stairs to the top. I think under normal circumstances it would register as a tough effort but these are not normal circumstances. The sweat pours from your skin and even your eye lids and ears. Every part of your body is conscripted into keeping you cool but it’s a losing battle. Emma is burdened by the extra task of… caterpillar surveillance.

Xingping

Xingping

Forty minutes of solid and somewhat clammy struggle brings us to the top and an outstanding view of the Li River and its surrounds. I don’t think it’s possible to be this wet even when taking a shower but the setting sun over the karsts is ample reward for such discomfort. It’s a difficult place to turn your back on but we descend and make preparations for the next leg in our journey…

 

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