Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Guilin & Yangshuo

Sorry to hold out on you, but things have been so hectic since we got back that I haven't had a spare minute to tell you all about our little vacation to Guilin & Yangshuo.
First, let me set the scene...

Guilin is one of China's most picturesque cities, with a population of 670,000, situated in the northeast of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China on the west bank of the Lijiang River (also called the Li River). Its name means "forest of Sweet Osmanthus", owing to the large number of fragrant Sweet Osmanthus trees located in the city. Its scenery is reputed by many Chinese to be the "finest under heaven", or directly from Chinese: "the mountains and rivers in Guilin are the number one under the heaven."

So there you have it, we were headed to one of the most beautiful places on earth!!

Friday night we flew out of Honkers and of course, our DragonAir flight was customarily delayed as has been the case with EVERY single flight we have ever taken with this airline!!!

Nonetheless, we eventually arrived in Guilin and settled in for the night at the Sheraton. Guilin travel tip number 1: the Sheraton has a 'new' and 'old' wing and you definitely want to insist on staying in the 'new' wing.

Early Saturday morning we took a 3.5 hour cruise down the Li River to Yangshuo. When you think of traditional Chinese paintings, you will generally conjure up images of rugged mountain terrains. Well, those paintings are of Guilin!!

So famous is the view that it even appears on the Chinese 20 yuan note.

At the end of the river cruise we arrived in the town of Yangshuo and made our way up the main street to Paradesa Resort, which I might add is perfectly located just off the main 'West' street.

The guy above is a local fisherman. They use the Cormorant birds to catch the fish, but because they have string tied around their throat they can't swallow it so the fisherman gets to keep the catch!! Pretty nifty hey...

Saturday afternoon we headed out into the countryside, visited a farm house where Will attempted to make bean curd, watched the farmers working their fields, drove up to Moon Hill (bet you can't guess which photo that is!!), picked some peanuts, and thoroughly enjoyed the fresh air and green pastures.

Interesting fact: did you know that peanuts grow under the ground, not on trees!!

Guilin travel tip number 2: While Yangshuo is relatively untouched beauty, the locals are very keen to take advantage of the tourist market. We were completely shocked that a lot of the people 'working the fields' were doing it simply to attract photographers, after which time they had been snapped would pounce on you asking for money. Luckily, our tour guide Jasmine was nice enough to point this out and save us some dosh. She would also point out which ones were 'real' workers, who were more than happy for us to take their picture for free. Whether 'fake' or not, I managed to sneak a few freebies when they weren't looking (he, he)!!

Saturday night we went to see Liu Sanjie, a major production with a cast of 500 singers, dancers, bamboo boats and cormorant birds. The production is performed on the Li River with a backdrop of 12 karst peaks. It was designed and directed by Zhang Yimao, a famous Chinese director who has been awarded to task of directing the opening ceremony at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The performance is based on a Chinese musical movie made in 1961. The story is about a lady called Liu SanJie who lived in the city of Liuzhou (2 hours from Guilin) where she worked in the fields. Liu Sanjie was well known in Liuzhou for her great singing voice. She would always sing while she worked in the fields. One day she left Liuzhou and came to Yangshuo on a bamboo raft and settled here. Then under the Big Banyan tree, Liu Sanjie tossed her love ball to her loved one, which he accepted and they lived happily ever after.

The production was truly AMAZING and I can say probably one of the best performances (of any kind) I have ever seen.

Sunday we hired bikes and cycled around Yangshuo, into the countryside again (we couldn't get enough of it), went bamboo rafting, visited the water cave, and road home in the pouring rain.

The bamboo rafting was definitely a highlight!! We road through rice paddies down to the river bank where we climbed aboard our raft for a 1.5 hour cruise down the 'mini' Li River with mountains towering on either side of the bank in between rice fields, vege crops and beautiful old traditional houses. Along the river were raft shops which sold all sorts of weird and wonderful things. We drifted past the shops collecting a few Li Qui (local beer) along the way which we sipped as we floated done the river talking about anything and everything. It was the most relaxing and scenic hour and a half and we didn't want it to end.

After the rafting we hopped back on our bikes and headed to the Water Cave. Now that was an adventure!!

Sunday night after arriving back absolutely drenched from our ride in the countryside we dried off and headed into town for dinner. Not liking to rough it to much (as those who know us well will appreciate) we indulged in a little french bubbly and wood fired pizza's before heading to the local disco bar. After a little duff duff we headed home for some well earned rest.

Monday morning we were scheduled to depart at 9am on a 4 hour drive to Longsheng to visit the terraced rice fields and minority village of Ping'An. So keen were we to get back into the countryside and soak up the fresh air before we left Yangshuo that we hired electric bikes (similar to mopeds) and burned out of town for one last glimpse at the amazing scenary and beautiful fresh air.

As some of you may know, I have wanted to hire a moped for years but never got around to doing it. Well to tell you the truth partly (mainly) because my godmother was in a horific motorcycle accident when she was young and for my whole life she has told me not to EVER get on a motorbike. Well, I have struggled for years to remember whether I actually PROMISED her, or whether I just told her I wouldn't do it (and it does make a difference) but nonethless after some serious contemplation, I decided that even if I did promise her, electric bikes were not afterall motorbikes, and I was therefore safe to ride one without fear off breaking a promise (geez, is that a very lawyerish analysis or what!!!).

The bikes were great, albeit that mine was the slowest and we ended up getting back to the resort late, much to the dismay of our driver/guide who had been promptly waiting for us since 9am. I can tell you they weren't much happier when we told them that we had found this great little cafe in town which sold good coffee (believe it or not) and that we wanted to go there for breakfast before leaving town. As you can imagine (and for the Hong Kongers amongst you, can appreciate), they really struggled to understand why the hell we were going out to pay for breakfast when breakfast was included in our room rate. Crazy gwielo's!!!!

Impressed?? We haven't seen coffee this good since last time we were in James St in good ole Bris Vegas.

Well we eventually hit the road in pursuit of Longshen, home of the terraced rice fields and minority village of Ping'An. Apparently there are 2 roads to Longshen - a windy one through the mountains and a more direct route (which was unfortunately closed because the bridge had fallen down!!) Guilin travel tip number 3: always make sure your guide has checked the route to ensure no accidents will be encountered along the way before you head off.

We were about 3 hours into our journey when we encountered stand still traffic. Having absolutely no faith whatsover in Chinese driving ability (our present driver excepted), we soon discovered that one of the hundreds (no thousands) of trucks we had passed along the way had fallen down the hill. This was to be the start of a 3 hour delay, which was very frustrating indeed. We would need to tell you the story in person for you to appreciate the absolutely ridiculous situation we were in save to say that the Chinese drivers are not the smartest in the world:)

We eventually arrived at our destination (albeit 3 hours behind schedule)!! It was worth the hassle and we fell in love with the beautiful relaxed atmosphere of the Ping'An community (not to mention the view)!!

Yes, thats us doing the typical asian tourist pose, which our guide thought was the only possible way to have our photo taken in such a beautiful spot!! We obliged and there you have it...
We stayed on the hill for the late afternoon, sipping Li Qui on the deck of a beautiful mountain tree house and contemplating the simplicity of life in the country. Guilin travel tip number 4: unless you want to sacrifice a chicken who until 30 mins previously had been roaming the countryside free, do not order chicken in Longshen!!

The ladies in the photos below are local Ping'An village women. That is their real hair!! They grow it until they are 18, cut it off (keeping the hair) and then start growing it again. Married women wear it one way, and unmarried another but essentially they incorporate the up-to-18 hair, and there current hair into a bun which sits coiled high on their head - interesting.

It was late by the time we got back to Guilin (and yes, the truck was still in the same spot and the people had still not worked out what to do). Luckily though, for our 2nd stay in the Sheraton, we managed to get a room in in the 'new' wing which was far superior to the 'old' one and even had a semi-soft bed!! For China, this is no small feat.
Tuesday we did a tour of Guilin city visiting Reed Flute Cave, Elephant Trunk Hill, Seven-star Park, Fubo Hill and the Princes Mansion (now a Arts University).

In the afternoon, we visited a Tea Institute and attended a traditional tea ceremony which was fab!!

That was enough for one day, so we headed back to the hotel, packed our bags bidded farewell to our Driver and Jasmine, and flew out (albeit an hour delayed thanks to our friends at DragonAir!!).

We absolutely loved Yangshuo and if I can manage to convince Will to let me release the farmer I have trapped inside, I would love to buy a little farm house there and chill out for a few years - growing every kind of produce imaginable (the ground is incredibly furtile), and generally taking an 'escape' from this crazy roller coaster ride we call 'life'...
Of course, any such roughing it would need to include champagne!!

1 comment:

Karen said...

very interesting! I'm now even more determined to go