From Zhangjiajie, we take a train where we meet Jiawei, a student from Inner Mongolia with whom we talk the whole 5-hour trip to Changsha. Not only he invites us to come visit any time, but he is so nice to take us to the subway and make sure we find our way. He speaks very good English and gives us the bugs to get to know more about his region. We might take his word 😉
The following day, we take another train to Guilin. About 1 hour before we arrive, our seat partner (her name is Wu) uses her mobile translator to talk to us. A woman in the seat in front, and the 2 girls and woman behind us end up talking to us as well. We think they all travel together because they are so chatty to each other, but nope! This is so common in China: complete strangers share, talk and help each other while making like they have been acquainted for years. Wu lives really near to our hostel and she offers taking us to her favorite noodle place and accompanying us to the very door of our hostel—which turns to be the best accommodation of our trip so far.
We have come to Guilin in search of the beautiful views of the Li River and because we are told it should not be missed. However, we will spend a lot of our time at the hostel because we need to book the following week and a half in advance due to the upcoming national holiday and because this city is a touristic trap. All sites “of interest” are super pricey and we don’t feel like wasting our money that much.
One evening we catch a city bus and stroll around the city pagodas.
Ending up in the touristic hub, full of restaurants and bars, we discover a street market to have dinner at. When the bill comes, they try us to pay twice the price of a couple of vegetable dishes, but we make a tiny scandal and have the price reduced a bit. We get honestly pissed off and swear to never come back again. We also learn the hard way how important it is to get a clear understanding of the final price (25 RMB means… 25 RMB as the total price, or 25 RMB for every dish?).
So one day the cruise to Xingping through the Li River arrives. Touristy as hell, but worth it nevertheless. The landscape is stunning. At the front of the boat, there is a young Chinese couple who can speak English. At the rear and behind us, our “captain”, a youngster who we ask to turn off his loud electronic music. There are houses spread along some sections of the river. When we ask him whether he lives there, he confirms. I’d love living so close to such a beautiful area, although I admit it must not be an easy life.
The cruise lasts 1.5 hours and ends at the site represented in every 20 Yuan bill. Of course, our guide allots time for everyone in the group to take the mandatory photo and explore the touristy priced food stands around the place.
We continue on towards a small village, where we take a real bamboo raft. This part of the river is quieter because there are no engines used, only manpower. Here we can find the picture suposedly used in one of the windows XP wallpapers.
There is a super cheesy demonstration of how fishermen used to catch fish with trained cormorants. Tourists are gathered around a guy on a raft with 3 birds. He takes a dead fish, tosses it to the water, followed by a cormorant that swallows and regurgitates it for the fisherman to retrieve. This demonstration is done about 4 times and that’s it, bye, bye. It is sad to see such beautiful and skilled birds being used for such lame purposes as mass tourism; it is not even real, for god’s sake, since fishing with this method is not practiced any longer.
Our hero captain takes us then to the quiet part. He rows next to another guy who starts to tease us a bit. He splashes water at me on several occasions, leaving my clothes all but damped. One of the times I reach down to the water to splash water back on him, my sunglasses fall in the water and our driver gets them back before they reach the bottom… Phew.
This section of the river is at different levels, so there are some kind of rolling ramps that help rafts go up and down, like an attraction park. When we are coming back up, the last one is not working, so again, our heroic captain pulls with his bare strength the raft with the two of us on it. We had a blast.
Before going back to Guilin, we fed a water buffalo. She had this long eyelids, beautiful big eyes that looked so charmingly at you. I just wanted her all for myself! I think I am going to adopt one as a pet for the future, they are so adorable. Proof below:
On our last day in Guilin we take a stroll around the West Hill Park. It costs the mere price of 75 RMB, more than the Forbidden City in Beijing, and it can be seen in 1 hour. It feels nice to be away from the crowds, though. There is a big collection of Buddhist statues in small caves and a small shrine devoted to the gods of marriage and offspring. There are also several paths you can climb and have a view from above. Locals are strolling around, exercising or playing in the park.
So yeah… We skip the “highlights” of Guilin: The Elephant Trunk Hill (a rock formation with the shape of an elephant that costs a fortune to see from a boat – but can be seen from the bus), the Reed Flute Cave (having seen other amazing caves such as the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico or the caves of Cacahuamilpa in Guerrero, Mexico, we passed), the Seven Stars Park (basically a zoo – you can guess why we didn´t go), and the Dragon Backbone rice terraces (we chose to go to the Yuanyang area in Yunnan, post coming soon!). Nonetheless, it is nice having time to relax and plan our following footprints, and the striking views of the river made it worthy.