Thursday, October 2: I leave my apartment at 6:40 a.m. and reach the main gate of the university at around 7, where I take the number 10 bus, arriving with the crowds at the Nanning Railway Station about 20 minutes later. There I accidentally meet one of my students, Eva, who had told me on Tuesday that she was taking the 8:20 train to Guilin, her hometown. She tells me she read that yesterday, the first day of the National Holiday, this station “saw 140,000 people.” I believe it. Even today, for this early train, the station is packed.
I get comfortable on an aisle seat next to a friendly Chinese girl. The fast train is comfortable, modern and smooth. My ticket was 111 yuan, or $18.
Even two hours south of Guilin, I begin to see the limestone karsts for which the area is famous. There are thousands of them stretching endlessly on the horizon. We pass beautiful farmland, farmers in conical hats, water buffalo, and neat little paths threading between fields. Some farms have ponds, and some of those have lotus blossoms. I see sprawling groves of tall spindly trees with tufts of green at the top. I’m not sure what they are, but they’re delicate and pretty. I love watching the countryside outside the train window even though I don’t have a window seat and I’m constantly leaning forward to look over my seat mate’s head or lap.
When we arrive in Guilin, I catch a bus to Yangshuo for 40 yuan ($6.51). I think this is the special “holiday price,” because I’ve heard it’s normally 20 yuan ($3.26). Either way, it’s dirt cheap!
By the time we arrive at the Yangshuo bus station at 1:00, I’m desperate for a bathroom. It’s been a very bumpy ride! As always, the public bathrooms are disgusting, the Chinese hole-in-the-floor variety. I encountered one outside the Guilin bus station that didn’t even have flush mechanisms; woman were squatting over a trough with no doors to shield themselves from curious eyes! You can imagine the smell. Yikes! I could rant on and on about this, but what’s the point? I try to pretend I’m not actually using these toilets; I simply imagine I’m somewhere else. It’s how I’ve learned to deal with a lot of unpleasant situations while traveling.
I’ve already asked several people about the whereabouts of my hotel, but I only have it written in English. At this Yangshuo bus “station” bathroom, I find an American girl and ask if she knows where it is. A Chinese girl is standing in line and lucky for me she speaks English. She writes the Chinese name of my hotel on the copy of my confirmation. It’s amazing when traveling that you often find helpers in the most unlikely places.
I find a moto-taxi and show him the Chinese name of my hotel. He ties my suitcase to the back of the bike, and I hang on to his tiny waist as he zips through Yangshuo. It would have been quite a long walk! He charges me 20 yuan for this thrilling ride (~$3.26). I finally arrive at my destination at 1:30, 7 hours after I walked out my front door this morning.
People have told me to expect prices double or up to 5x as much as normal during this National Holiday, because Yangshuo is the ultimate tourist destination in the south of China. Still, in Western terms, I find everything very cheap. I’m not going to complain if someone charges me 20 yuan instead of 10 yuan for something. It seems like penny-pinching.
I check in immediately to my hotel, the Yangshuo River View Hotel. I had booked this ahead of time on Agoda.com. Again, I know the prices are higher than normal, but I wanted to travel during the holiday and I wanted a nice room. I pay around $87.50/night, which is really high for China. I don’t have a river view because it was one of the last available rooms, and the river view rooms were more expensive anyway. I’m actually glad I face a courtyard; it’s much quieter than the streetside river view would be. The hotel receptionists speak excellent English and they’re very helpful. I arrange a cruise down the Li River for tomorrow morning (220 yuan, around $36). Then I go out to explore the town.
First I walk down the street in front of the hotel, which borders the Li River. I get a glimpse of the pretty karsts and boats cruising down the river.
Along the sidewalk, the merchants are in full swing.
The town is very cute and touristy, with colorful shops selling the typical things you find in these kinds of towns everywhere: pashmina shawls, flowing skirts, bohemian tops, hippie handbags, silk scarves, “do your name in Chinese character” scrolls, whimsical lanterns, postcards and trinkets. I’m always temped most by the lanterns, but I wouldn’t know how to transport one, so I don’t buy.
There are scores of fruit juice shops or stands, coffee shops, musicians performing in hopes of selling CDs, flags flying for the National Holiday and views of the karsts at the end of streets. There are also plenty of tourists, including Chinese families, Western backpackers and older couples.
To stroll through the town, click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.
In my walk about town, I come to a cute pond beside the hugest McDonald’s I’ve ever seen. What a shame about that. I have a picture, but it’s so NOT scenic. I’ll leave it out. I don’t think you’ll miss it.
I stop at Cloud 9 for lunch. By this time, I’m starved. I order shrimp with peppers and onions on a sizzling plate, along with white rice and a beer. It’s yummy, but my stomach starts rumbling before I’m even finished eating. Since I feel a little sick, I go back to the hotel to relax a bit before going back out for dinner. I got up at 5 a.m. this morning just to be sure I made it to the train in time, so I’m exhausted from travel.
After I rest a bit, I go back out and walk along the river. Along the opposite side of the road from my hotel, between the hotel and the Li River, is a long playground buzzing with Chinese children. Down by the river are lots of people posing for pictures on a sliver of moon, or walking along the river’s edge and on stepping-stones that jut into the water.
I wander back into town. It’s even more crowded now that it’s approaching dinner time.
I’m keeping an eye out for a bar called Demo, where a young American lady named Audrey bartends. Small world that this is, she is the niece of one of my old classmates. Her aunt put me in touch with her through Facebook. Audrey, who is part Chinese on her mother’s side, lives and works in Yangshuo. She teaches English and works sometimes at Demo. She thinks she’ll only stay in Yangshuo through December; she’s looking for jobs elsewhere. If she decides to say in China, she says there are “limitless possibilities.”
Of course, I haven’t got the lay of the land yet, so I have no idea where to find Demo, but suddenly in my wanderings, there it is right in front of me. I’m not hungry since I had a late lunch, but I order a Kirin beer and some delicious mushroom soup and homemade bread made by the German cook, Peter. I chat with Audrey a while and then she gets to work. We plan on taking a bike ride on Saturday.
I walk back to the hotel and settle in for the night because I have to get up early tomorrow for my boat cruise down the Li River. 🙂