Saturday, 25 October 2014

China: Guilin

After yet ANOTHER sleeper train (20 hours) we arrived in Guilin, in Guangxi Province, although at night time it definitely felt like we were in Benidorm - the streets were lined with light up palm trees, and the buildings were adorned with LED signs making the entire place glow. We should mention that it was National Holiday week during our time in Guilin so it was extra busy and absolutely packed with tourists! We noticed this as we were constantly being photographed and oo'd and aaar'd at more than ever before. After over 3 weeks of this our patience was beginning to wear thin so admittedly we found ourselves having more and more downtime at the hostel to escape the hassle. 

Our hostel was called Green Forest Hostel and was about a 10 minute walk from the train station, and very close to the central bus station in the city. The staff were a bit useless - their English wasn't very good and they didn't really seem to know much about what was going on in the area. Aside from that, the hostel was pretty good; there was a really nice 'movie corner' where we could watch films in the evenings with a cup of tea and the frequent Snickers bar.

We were told that we could do a cruise along the Li river (so famous it found its way onto the back of the ¥20 note) from Guilin to Yangshuo on a bamboo raft which we were really excited about, however, we were unable to find anyone who would take us for less than ¥200 for 4 hours which yet again was a little out of our budget. Instead we decided to visit Yaoshan Mountain, the highest peak in the area, which was around 40 minutes north of Guilin by local bus - we were able to get there for just ¥1 which was much more satisfying for our budget! There is an option to get a cable car up to the top of the mountain and/or a toboggan back down (¥100) but we thought it would be more fun to climb up a path which has been formed over time from people walking up and down. It was quite difficult because there is no actual path so most of the way involved climbing through trees and long grass and over rocks but it really made us feel like we were trekking through the jungle. Unfortunately we chose to do it on quite a misty day so although the views in the near distance were great, we couldn't really see too far which was a shame. We felt well exercised afterwards though, we were climbing and walking for around 3 hours in the midday heat (which was definitely a mild form of torture) but it was definitely worth it.

Guilin is also famous for its Elephant Trunk Hill which has come to be known as a symbol of the city. It got its name because it looks like an elephant drinking water. It is now part of a park so can only be seen properly if you pay entrance into the park which was around ¥75 and allowed you to climb up the hill for panoramic views of the city. Trees have been built all the way around to stop people from freeloading the view so the best views are from the river cruise. Apparently at night you can also see the moon through the hole in the 'trunk' and it reflects in the lake making it look like its floating in the water. Just a little further up the road from the Elephant Trunk Hill are the Sun and Moon pagodas. These are particularly pretty at night when they are lit up and reflect in the lake that surrounds them. You can't actually get inside them but they are a nice place to visit away from the traffic and noise of the city centre.

Another attraction is the Reed Flute Cave which is also away from the centre of the city (about 45 mins by local ¥1 bus). Entrance is ¥120 (looking back we're SO pained by this price). We spent the entire time being photographed - at one point we decided it would be a good idea to charge ¥5 per photo to which a woman actually asked Sam for a photo with her child! (NB: we didn't actually charge her). While the cave was quite spectacular being lit up with lovely hues of blue, green, pink, and purple, and some really cool rock formations, we still felt it was rather overpriced. There were further charges whilst inside to visit certain parts which we weren't told about before entering e.g. the turtle cave. Also, people are let in in groups of around 15 so we ended up amongst a group of Chinese people with a Chinese guide so the information that was given was ever so slightly unintelligible. There is a lovely lake just outside of the cave where you can take a bamboo raft and drift along for a while in the peace and quiet - a welcome change to the hustle and bustle of Guilin city centre.

The weather during our time in Guilin was amazing although very tropical and humid. We wanted to take advantage of this by relaxing in a park but apparently it is impossible to sit in a park without first paying around ¥30-50 - annoying. We did find a lovely spot by the river near our hostel where we managed to avoid having our photos for all of 15 minutes before the stares and creeping began - standard. This even included a man sitting about 1 metre away from us and staring continuously for about 5 minutes before we shoo'ed him away. He then decided to move to the other side of where we were sitting and proceeded to do the exact same thing. At this point we had a small hissy fit and he promptly left. #smugface.

Guilin was probably the worst place as far as finding delicious food goes - the local cuisine consists of mostly fish/seafood so it was difficult to find much else. Many of the restaurants and shops along the river are selling their freshly caught fish - heads and eyes in tact - not exactly what we would call appetising. A few of the local delicacies include horse hoof cakes, rice with mung bean paste, snail, and stinky tofu. However, we did find a few really delicious places to eat (and were saved multiple times by a few not so Chinese joints *KFC cough*) so it wasn't sooooo bad.

Here are a few of our favourite snaps from our time in Guilin.

Sun and Moon pagodas
The view from Yaoshan Mountain
Yes the climb was tough but still plenty of time for smiles! 
Reed Flute Cave..
......
....in all its cheesy glory!
¥5 profit - win!
Bamboo raft ride
Crossing the river was too much for some.
See you later Chinaaaaa!!

Happy Wanderers 



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