At the time of writing this post, we are rolling through the Chinese countryside on a train. Outside are pretty terraced rice fields with small hills rising between. Inside, people are smoking cigarettes, spitting, (seemingly) yelling, and throwing all of their trash onto the ground, including peanut shells, wrappers, and plastic bottles. However, our seat mates are friendly; one even bought water for us from outside the train at a stop! Another practiced her English with us and gave us little moon cake snacks. Such are the pleasures and difficulties of our time in China.
Jon and I had been in Southeast Asia for about 6 weeks at the time we entered China, plus the last 4 days spent in Hong Kong. However, arriving in mainland China was still culture shock akin to a slap to the face…with a fermented fish.
We flew into Guilin, China, and pleasantly surprised to have no issues with Visa or arrivals whatsoever – we can probably thank the arrival at the small Guilin airport for this. We were instantly attracted to the mountains surrounding the town, and eager to explore one of the top tourist cities of China. There was a night market that ran up and down the two streets that are hotel was on, which was cool, but other than that and a very artificial setup downtown with pretty lights all around the downtown lake. Overall, the town of Guilin was “meh,” but the surrounding scenery was gorgeous.
We did take a one day tour to “the Dragon Rice Terraces”, about a 3 hour bus ride from Guilin. Situated deep in a river valley then rising up the sides of the mountains were centuries-old rice terraces. Jon had a lot of fun hiking and exploring the trails and villages that winded throughout the terraces; Jen took the gondola due to an ankle injury.
We did have to endure the Chinese-style tour. We quickly learned that this involved a Chinese tour guide speaking incredibly loudly for incredibly long stretches through a loudspeaker, in addition to being shuttled around like cattle. Even the oft-used horn on the bus seemed to be at volumes many times the U.S. standard. All volumes in China – speaking, phone calls, car horns, microphone, etc – seemed to be at much higher volumes than we are used to in the Western world. Or, perhaps the rest of the world. We learned our lesson…no more tours!
Our next stop was Yangshuo, which according to our guidebook is now often the preferred tourist city over Guilin. To get there we took a “bamboo boat” river cruise down the Li River. It was gorgeous scenery: the river is even featured on the back of the Chinese 20 Yuan bills!
Yangshuo was one of the highlights of China. The “town” (which in China still means a population around 300,000) is surrounded by mountains and a river, and the central part of town is a pleasant place to stroll around and explore. The lively walking street had it all: bars, restaurants, live music, and even archery!
Best of all, Yangshuo is the perfect place to bike around. We took off from our hotel just outside town, biked through town, crossing rivers and valleys leading outside of town to a mountain hike. On the way back, we followed the Yilong river, which winds among the mountains and back rounds end up back in town. One of the best (road) bike rides ever!
The karst limestone mountains around Guilin and Yangshou were stunning, despite the culture shock. We headed for more mountain views in Zhangjiajie, China!