Guilin and Yangshuo are 1, 700 kms from Beijing and it’s not even as far south as you can go in China, and come to that Beijing is not as far North. So there you go, it turns out China is massive, who knew? But China being the home of the cheap train it’s a mere 22 hours on a sleeper and 10 hours on the bullet train and so it was off we went for a week long escape from the big smoke. Me and the boys decided to give mom a rest and go solo, so the three of us squeezed into a sleeper carriage with a bag of ramen noodles and Snickers.
The ride through China was long and well, not very scenic. It was all brown and greys, muddy fields and forests of tower blocks. It made me think of the poor buggers who are sent by agencies from English speaking countries to teach in the some of the third tier cities we passed through. I reckon if it’s not Beijing, Shanghai or one or two other places, then I would avoid at all costs.
We arrived after a night of half sleep in Guilin, which is the kick off point for all things Yangshuo. We stayed in a hostel on the world famous never-heard-of-it before lake in the middle of town. You could probably spend a pleasant couple of days in Guilin but it did have more of the air of a made for Chinese tour groups kind of feel. Still we managed some grub in an Irish pub (natch) with some conversation with a calligraphy writer thrown in. Then it was one round the world famous lake and take a couple of photos with our fans.
Yanghuo is only 70km or so from Guilin but to get there we took a tour that included a boat trip part of the way and a look at some one-horse but honestly really old village. I suppose I was expecting something more low key, but this being China we ended up on a coach with a load of other tourists, some domestic and some foreigners. Still we made some buddies and had a bit of banter. The weather was bloody cold and with that and the fog it took the edge off the raft trip a bit, but I would recommend it in better weather for some picture postcard shots if nothing else.
The river Li is featured on the 20 Yuan bill and it’s certainly distinctively Chinese it’s the one where you get dudes in conical hats fishing with weird lumpy hills in the background.
It turns out you can climb those weird hills, which are limestone something or other. So we did a bit of that, which was plenty fun and wobbly leg inducing. Have a look at the photos and play ‘Where’s Wally’…
We also did a bit of cycling with a bunch of new friends to an old bridge which seriously underwhelmed the boys and didn’t do that much for me either. Still, we managed to get a tuk-tuk van back to the hostel (it was 15 Km) and the comedy value of the experience (retrospectively) made the trip worth it. It didn’t help that it had taken me five months in China to finally realise that Chinese people can’t read maps. I know, I haven’t met ALL of them, but if I can extrapolate from the volunteer ‘guides’ then they must have been too busy solving complex equations in school to look at their online map and realise that there is an alternative route to the one along a major highway. Still in all other respects they were quite charming, but when your hands are frozen to the handlebars and the kids have been whinge-moaning for about 7km then I find falling back on gross generalisations to be the most comforting way forward.
We also did some hot springs swimming and moon hill climbing which once again was a very Chinese affair. It started with a walk into town with a young American called Delila who decided to join us. The plan was some breakfast and then a cab to the hot springs. So, we had a delicious traditional Chinese MacDonalds and then tried to find the address to the hot springs. Do you think we could? Correct. Next, we called the hostel for them to send us the address, do you think they could? Correct. Next it was go to tourist Information, do you think it was open? Correct. Finally I can’t honestly remember how we found the place, but find it we did. Of course we arrived in a taxi and got out only to find out we had to get another taxi up the hill (why? No idea). Anyway taxi guy number two laughed a lot and chatted away in Chinese all the way to the hot springs, so by the time we got there our travails had been forgotten.
So, the hot springs were in a cave system, we paid to get in and then when we tried to walk in were told to wait for, you guessed it our ‘guide’ AND 50 odd Chinese tourists, Then off we went clop clop and got shouted at in Chinese by our guide, then we posed for a picture with Piggy and Monkey from the Tales of Monkey (we decided not to buy the pic) then in the middle of the artfully lit caves was of course a huge souvenir market. Jaws were dropped at the sheer audacity of Chinese Kitsch, but anyway it didn’t matter because we were almost at the hot springs. In fact look there they are! A pool of what looks like hot water let’s go! Except when we make for the piss stinking ‘changing rooms’ we get shouted at again! Now what to do? Well when in doubt ignore, so we got changed and jumped in the knee high warmish water for a splash around. It turns out we were the only ones stupid enough to do this and so we quickly became part of the attraction for the groups of Chinese tourists who kept filing passed us on their cave buying extravaganza tour. Still there was also the freezing cold mud bath to enjoy, which we did and then barely escaped without getting hypothermia. Anyway, off we went out of the caves feeling refreshed to get back in the car, BUT WAIT! Our chirpy driver takes us to a huge hall without at least 300 people waiting for a show to start! And it’s all included in the price! And guess what else is included? Rice wine, which they bring for all of us, including Tommy and Danny, who knew 10-year-olds could drink shots? Well they can’t, but their dads can and did. And to be honest it took the edge off the show a bit, which came complete with participation, the banging of large drums and singing and a big portrait of Chairman Mao. We managed to slip out before losing the will to live completely and then go off for a pleasant hike up moon hill guess why they call it that? Because it has a round hole in it and the moon is round, right?
The rest of the week was taken up in the fantastic Mountain Stream Hostel, which admittedly wasn’t on a mountain and I couldn’t see any streams, BUT it did have darts, pool, an arcade machine a massive TV, bikes to rent and best of all, brilliant hosts. The weather was frankly terrible for the entire week of our holiday, but the welcome at the hostel meant we never missed the sun (that much). We made dumplings, drank (me) perfected pool (the kids, I’m already a pro) and hung out with the guests, volunteers and hosts.