Guilin and Yangshuo
Guilin weather on arrival was the same as our flu and moods. Wet, dripping, dark and grey. This gloom and weather stayed with us for our first two days there. It was raining so heavily even the street vendors gave up, so there was no decent street food to munch on. Not that we ventured far from the hotel, it was just too wet to see or do anything other than eat and shop for hotel room supplies.
Our original plan here was to visit Guilin for a couple of days and then move onto spend two nights in Yangshuo after meandering down there on a river boat and bikes. Our wasted two days put a stop to this self managed Li River tour and we were left with one night and one day before our evening train left to Shenzen.
We had learned our lesson of trying to book sleepers only a couple of days in advance so we had this journey programmed in for a while. We knew we could get a refund on the ticket for a small admin fee (5%) but the chance of us getting on another sleeper train a couple of days later were zero, we tried. So we were stuck with a much shortened time in which to squeeze our sightseeing on the River Li, Guilin and Yangshuo. We ended up taking a tour option and paying a bit of a premium for the experience. In the end we didn’t mind too much, we got to see what we wanted, even if we would have loved to soak up a bit more of Yangshuo at our own pace.
Guilin City River Cruise
Guilin is a lovely collection of lakes and rivers which connect the various areas of the town. Apparently they were not all connected until the town council finished the job of God/Buddha and blasted some land to connect them to make for a seamless tour of the cities waterways that you enjoy today.
We did this Guilin waterway trip in the evening as we were promised some spectacular evening lighting of the pagodas, bridges and rocks which line the rivers and lakes.
It was good if a little touristy. We ended up having a bit of a row with a European princess (and her large party) who thought the photo taking spot I had found on the back of the boat was to be relinquished the minute she decided she saw something interesting. No way girl this is my spot, you might get your way at home but not here. I would have moved, but her constant prodding along with her rude and arrogant remarks meant it was an easy decision to make. John took the opportunity to inform her party that she was obnoxious and not to believe a word she says etc…. this meant for a bit of frosty atmosphere although we did end up with most of the deck to ourselves.
We enjoyed the night tour and as we were feeling slightly less achy, we had some drinks in one of the riverside bars and chatted into the early hours with some fellow travellers. John insisted on samples from the Chinese wine list in the bar, but then didn’t buy a drop as it all tasted a bit like university cheap wine. We braved our headaches the next morning, we put them down to the flu rather than our over consumption in the bar last night, and stored our luggage at the hotel. The first job of the day was to meet our tour guide for our trip down the River Li and a few hours in Yangshuo.
Should I do a Yangzte River Cruise?
We did lots of research before making our decision on whether to do a Yangtze Cruise. Checking out our favourite travel blogs, and looking at reviews and other China itineraries. The jury is still out on the value offered by this excursion, it can be very expensive. However, based on our own experiences of travel within China and the rapidly growing popularity of this excursion we decided it wasn’t going to offer the idyllic and stunning views we were seeking. We’d heard reports of congestion, pollution and overall we decided it wasn’t worth the risk and expense of gambling on this option. Our research did reveal a clear an exciting alternative being the River Li cruise. Some people who had done both cruises clearly preferred their River Li experience, so our decision was made.
A Fabulous Cruise Down the River Li
The river Li has some stunning scenery and not surprisingly is very popular with the Chinese. The sights of some of the rocks feature on the 20 Yuan note so all Chinese people know about this place. As a result the boats are very busy and there are lots of them, mostly filled with Chinese tourists and a handful of us westerners.
Bizarrely quite a few Chinese played cards for most of the journey instead of watching the stunning scenery, whatever floats your boat I suppose. This pleased us as it kept the decks reasonably clear and we spent the entire journey up there gobsmacked at the beautiful weather and scenery we were blessed with on our final day.
We read a few reports that people found this trip a little too long at four and a half hours , but with the exception of the last half hour where the scenery flattened off before arriving in Yangshuo, it was mesmerising. Your lunch buffet on the boat in the middle of the trip breaks up the day quite nicely. The food was OK too although the drinks prices were ridiculous, they wanted twenty Yuan for a can of coke which costs three Yuan in the shops.
I learnt something new on this trip – I was introduced to karsts, they are not animals, but the method by which the rock formations that make up this quite unique scenery in this part of China. The process has created some quite stunning formations.
Yangshuo, Sleepy, Pretty and Fun
On arrival in Yangshuo we were even more disappointed that we had to miss out staying here as the place is really quaint, perhaps more than Pingyao .
Our guide was terrific, she was just out of tourism college, spoke really good English and was a bit bonkers. Best of all we had her all to ourselves so we had a great time visiting the Butterfly caves, named after the oversized stalactite that has formed in to the shape of a butterfly inside. Here you are also treated to a cultural show of local singing and dancing which is very professionally done, the Chinese crowds loved it. My favourite was the drum dance, lots of jumping about and spinning to the drum beat on traditional instruments.
The highlight of the Yangshuo sightseeing trip has to be the Bamboo raft down the river. We did this trip as the sun was setting providing a brilliant lighting effect on the karst formed limestone rocks that line the river (see what I did with my new knowledge there).
The peace is dinted somewhat by the chance to ride some of the ‘log flume’ drops in the river which guarantees you will get wet on the way and have the chance buy a snap of the experience from the carefully positioned photographers. You will need to negotiate on the price of your saved JPG file or printout – they start at 50 yuan. We got ours for 20 in the end. If this hasn’t got you wet enough you can play water fights with water pistols with other punters, we declined as we are far too grown up for that – no really we are.
After this it was a quick trip to see a 1400 year old Banyan tree which was pretty impressive, especially as its branches have grown to the ground and taken root over the many years.
Then the 90 minute drive back to Guilin for our night train. We spent the time chatting with our guide about life in China and the UK and the differences in our cultures. She was quite astounded that the government does not tell us how many children you can have after we told her we were both from families of five children, and she was astonished the levels of tax that we pay.
Our Yangshuo Regret
The driver and guide kindly waited for us to grab our bags from the hotel and dropped us off at the station for our night train to Shenzen. Thankfully we were travelling soft sleeper on this one (you see why we didn’t want to change ) and were looking forward to a pleasant journey. We boarded he train and were soon comfortable and warm relaxing with the sights of the River Li and Yangshuo to dream about as we drifted off to the sound of the train scuttling along the tracks. Our Guilin Yangshuo trip ended up being rushed in the end, but we got to see what we we wanted and thankfully shed ourselves of the worst bits of the flu so we left feeling happy with some great memories of our trip here. We came here after deciding against a Yangtze cruise that we had heard far too many horror stories. In the end I think we made the right choice. Our only regret was not having time to stay in Yangshuo which we would have liked to have explored further.