Hot and humid but pleasant Guilin

Guilin Travel Blog

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After the language problems in Chengdu, I decided to check into the Sheraton in Guilin.  It's really nice!  Everyone speaks great english here and it's located right on the Li river.  The only downside is the mildewy smell from the air conditioning units.  It permeates the rooms too.  Anyway, Guilin is not a large city.  The people here are very relaxed.  It's evident in the traffic, less aggression and honking.

Anyway, after arriving, I signed up for a Li River tour with the Sheraton.  They have excellent, english speaking tour guides.  Our guide's name was David, but apparently, so was all the other guide's names.  I was looking forward to this tour from the images I've seen from Chinese photographers and a BBC show on China.  I really wanted to see those fishermen with the fishing birds.  Well, our trip begin at 8:30am.  Not a good sign.  From the images I've seen, I can tell they were all taken around dusk.  Needless to say, I saw only one fisherman, but it was from the boat's window during lunch time, and the boat wisked by too quickly for a photo op.  Regardless, the Li River's mountainous peaks still made for a great landscape for a leasurely ride along the river.  The trip ends in Yangshuo, which the Lonely Planet called an old backpacker's haven.  Hmm...  If so, that time is long gone.  Yangshuo gets approximately 1 million tourists a year and is now pretty wealthy.  There are upscale shops and numerous McDonalds and KFC.  There is quite a bit of construction to build out the tourist part of the town.  It felt a little contrived.  If you want a more authentic old Chinese town experience, head for the Yunnan province.

There is a fantastic show (word of mouth) on the water in the evening.  I heard it was created by the guy who directed the Beijing Olympic pre and post-show.  Supposedly, it has his dramatic, grand scale fingerprints.  I really wanted to stay into the evening to watch the show, but the humidity in Yangshuo was off the charts that day.  If you decide to take the Li River trip to Yangshuo, you can stay for the show, and take a minibus or taxi back to Guilin.  You should get back to Guilin by 11pm.  Oh, my tour guide suggested that to see the fishermen, you need to stay overnight in Yangshuo and get up at dusk the next day and take a bamboo raft ride out onto the river.  There's lots of accomodation on Yangshuo.

Skipping the Yangshuo show was not too bad, I ended up meeting some ethnic minority Miao people later in the evening who spoke English and who helped me out the rest of my trip.  The next day, I went to see the Reed Flute Cave.  I probably could have skipped it.  It was interesting, but I've already seen so many of these caves all around Asia.  After the cave, my new guides convinced me to visit the Dragon's Backbone Rice Terrace.  The price they negotiated was less than half what it would have cost at the Sheraton.

Ok, about the rice terrace.  There is quite a long climb from the parking lot to the top of the scenic spot.  Fortunately, the path is paved with steps, and if you're super lazy, there are people who will carry you up the mountain on your own bamboo chariot.  Don't worry about bringing food or water.  The climb winds through a mountain village with a lot of shops, hotels, tea shops, etc.  The climb takes a bit out of you, but it was worth it.  However, it ranks only second in the list of terraces I've visited over the years.  There's a more massive, breathtaking, and more accessible terrace that is seldomly visited in Yunnan.  If you can, try to get there by dusk.  Be aware, the long climb to the top makes it hard to do this at dusk.

On the last day in Guilin, it rained so I spent the time just relaxing by the Li River and exploring Guilin's cuisine.  I tried several local and tourist restaurants during my stay.  I tried the Yi Yuan restaurant suggested by the Sheraton and Lonely Planet.  My new friend and I both agreed the food was pretty mediocre.  I tried the Good Luck Restaurant on walking street.  Again, very mediocre.  Both restaurants apparently targets tourists, both Chinese and foreign.  My friend introduced me to a local restaurant (don't know the name) on walking street serving Guilin noodles.  Amazing!  It was so good.  Guilin noodles are thick white rice noodles with some herbs, peppers, some meat, and an oily spicy sauce.  By comparison, I tried Guilin noodles at Good Luck resaturant.  It did not look or taste anything like the local version.  Price for the tourist version - 20 Yuan.  Price for the delicious local version - 2 Yuan.  I also had some goose and fried fish at a local chain of goose restaurant.  It's well known -- ask around.  Again, the food was delicious.  It's interesting that all the delicious local food I've found in China taste nothing like the American Chinese food in the US, which I only eat in emergencies.

In Summary, Guilin lived up to its reputation.  It's both beautiful and relaxing -- a town to just hang out in.  I would love to come back and spend more time exploring the sights and tasting more of the local cuisines.  I'll be back.
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photo by: davidfeng