leaving ping’an for guilin: an afternoon at elephant hill park

Saturday, November 22:  This morning I wake up in Ping’An to blue skies, the first I’ve seen in China in weeks.  Unfortunately, I’m checking out of the hostel this morning as I have a hotel for this evening in Guilin.  I suppose I could have stayed longer, but I already made up my mind to see some sights in Guilin.  It’s too bad I made that decision, because in retrospect I would have loved another day, especially a sunny one, in the rice terraces.

No matter.  I leave the hostel around 8:30 to walk down to the parking lot, along with the little Chinese lady carrying my bag on her back, to catch a local bus that leaves at 9:00 a.m.  When I get to the parking lot, I find a small bus that will take us down the mountain to Heping.  It costs 10 yuan, rather than the 70 yuan I paid that driver to bring me up here on Wednesday.  I tell the bus driver I am going to Guilin, rather than to Longsheng, where this bus goes.  The hostel receptionist already told me that the bus driver would help us out in getting situated to catch the bus to Guilin.

On the bus ride, I have a long talk with a young man named George from England who is traveling around the world for a year.  By the time we’re on the bus, the blue skies have disappeared and there is a haze in the air.  He says, “Is this constant haze in the sky pollution or is it humidity?”  I say, “I’m not really sure.  I used to think it was humidity because it is very humid here all the time, but now I’m beginning to think it’s pollution.”  He has a disappointed look on his face that I know all too well.  Sadly, I do have to admit that I rarely see really clear blue skies in the south of China, although I hear the south is better than the north.  Some days in Nanning we get blue skies but they always do seem to be hazy as well.

At the main ticket office in Heping the bus driver motions for George and I to stay on the bus.  I figure he knows we’re going to Guilin and will do right by us.  The bus continues on up the hill to where I got dropped off on Wednesday, but the driver bypasses that spot.  About a quarter-mile later, he drops us off in the midst of some shops and a gas station and motions for us to stand on the opposite side of the street.  We hop off and within minutes, we get on a local bus to Guilin, paying 21 yuan for the trip back.

I finally arrive back at Qin Tan Bus station, and I catch a taxi to the Sapphire Hotel, getting ripped off as usual by the taxi driver for 30 yuan.  It should be about 15, but the taxi drivers waiting at the train or bus stations in Guilin, since it’s such a tourist destination, nab foreigners and brazenly rip them off.  I check into the hotel, ask about a dumpling place, and walk down a pedestrian street to enjoy a lunch of dumplings with pork and chives.

Then, with a tourist map in hand, I head to Elephant Hill Park, as it’s one of the tourist spots listed for Guilin in The Rough Guide to China.

On the street, I pass some pretty buildings.  I love this red one.

pretty red building in Guilin

pretty red building in Guilin

It doesn’t take me long to find the park as luckily my hotel is centrally located in town.  I can tell this is just another of China’s touristy attractions, which have been done up to the hilt.  I really do prefer the off-the-beaten path places in China, like being out in the countryside around Yangshuo or hiking through the rice terraces, which are more natural.  Although these are also tourist places, they don’t seem as commercialized as this.

Entrance to Elephant Hill Park

Entrance to Elephant Hill Park

Elephant Hill Park

Elephant Hill Park

pretty little bridge

pretty little bridge

Elephants galore

Elephants galore

tree of lanterns

tree of lanterns

riverside lanterns

riverside lanterns

elephant relief sculpture

elephant relief sculpture

Close up of elephant sculpture

Close up of elephant sculpture

I come to a little shrine, but I’m not sure if this is a Buddha or what.  One of the statues is of the god of wealth, or at least I was so informed by one of my Chinese students.

Little shrine

Little shrine

Little shrine

Little shrine

The god of wealth

The god of wealth

pagoda at the shrine

pagoda at the shrine

I walk up Elephant Trunk Hill on some very steep steps, where I get increasingly better views of the Li River and Guilin.

bamboo boaters in the Li River

bamboo boaters in the Li River

I think this must be the boat launching dock for the long cruise down the Li River.  I will have to do this entire cruise in the spring.  I hear the water on the Li River dries up in spots over the winter, and the entire cruise is impossible at this time.

boat launch on the Li River

boat launch on the Li River

From this viewpoint, I can see some of Elephant Hill Park and the city of Guilin.  Guilin is a big sprawling city similar to Nanning, but a little smaller in population.  Where Nanning has about 6.7 million people at the Prefecture level, Guilin has a population of about 4.7 million.  The main draw to Guilin is that it’s a hub for trips down the Li River to Xingping and Yangshuo and trips to points north such as Longsheng and the Longji Rice Terraces. As you can see from this picture, the karst topography surrounds the city, but I can barely see it today because of the haze.

view of Guilin and some of Elephant Hill Park from Elephant Trunk Hill

view of Guilin and some of Elephant Hill Park from Elephant Trunk Hill

On the top of Elephant Trunk Hill sits a pagoda named Puxian Pagoda. It is 14 meters high, and was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The pagoda looks like the hilt of a sword sticking out of the back of the elephant. According to legend, in the ancient past, the Emperor of Heaven set out to conquer Earth commanding his troops from the back of the elephant. The elephant worked so hard to provide transportation for the Emperor of Heaven, that it became seriously ill. The local farmers nursed it back to health. The elephant being extremely grateful, decided to desert the emperor and stay on earth to help the farmers plow their fields during a time of famine. The Emperor of Heaven was so angry, that he thrust his sword into the elephant’s back and turned the elephant into the rocky hill. The pagoda erected on top of the hill stands for the hilt of the sword. (China Odyssey Tours: Guilin Elephant Trunk Hill)

Puxian Pagoda??

Puxian Pagoda

view of Guilin down the Li River with karsts in the distance

view of Guilin down the Li River with karsts in the distance

Guilin and karsts

Guilin and karsts

In typical Chinese fashion, a girl cheerily says hello and plops down beside me at this spot, where I’m trying to catch my breath after climbing a million steps. She gets her boyfriend to take multiple photos of her hugging me, leaning her head against my shoulder, holding my hand. I feel like I’m a famous statue, existing for the sole purpose of being a prop for her photo. The Chinese seem to have a different concept of personal space than we do! Another funny moment in China.

viewpoint with pretty fences

viewpoint with pretty fences

As I usually do when a Chinese person wants to take a picture with me, I ask the photographer, in this case the girl’s boyfriend, to take a picture with my iPhone.

my new Chinese best friend

my new Chinese best friend

After the photo session, I continue along the path.  I love the old fences along the path.

I love these fences

I love these fences

At the bottom of the hill, I come to these brightly painted bells with ancient Chinese characters on them.  I’m still looking for the elephant-shaped hill, which, though I was on top of the hill, I haven’t been able to see.

colorful bells?

colorful bells?

Chinese guy

Chinese guy

Ancient Chinese character

Ancient Chinese character

colorful tourist rafts

colorful tourist rafts

colorful rafts reflected

colorful rafts reflected

Chinese bells

Chinese bells

Chinese bells

Chinese bells

Finally, I see there is a footbridge across the Taohuajiang River and a path that looks to be a continuation of the park.  I head across that, and finally I see the shape of the elephant hill emerge.

Elephant Trunk Hill is situated at the junction of the Li River and Taohuajiang Rivers. Rising over 55 meters above the water, it is a limestone karst hill with a naturally shaped cave at the bottom. The hill, standing on the western bank of the Li River looks like a huge elephant dipping its trunk into the Li River to quench its thirst.

Finally, the view of the elephant of Elephant Trunk Hill

Finally, the view of the elephant of Elephant Trunk Hill

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a country where so many people love to take photos of themselves in front of anything and everything. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people who brazenly love to take selfies, after much primping and puckering of lips and seductive smiles.  I have seen girls sitting on buses or standing along the side of the road or in front of a tourist attraction taking ten or twenty selfies, with all kinds of coy smiles and fluttering of eyelids.  They have no embarrassment at all about doing this.  I hate selfies and only rarely take them, preferring instead to find some stranger to take a photo of me, or to do without.  But the Chinese will take selfies, and hundreds of them, in any situation imaginable.

Chinese tourists posing with the elephant

Chinese tourists posing with the elephant

Elephant Trunk Hill

Elephant Trunk Hill

Bamboo boats waiting for passengers

Bamboo boats waiting for passengers

last view of Elephant Trunk Hill

last view of Elephant Trunk Hill

I continue walking along the walkway through the park, where there are pretty little bridges to little islands along the Li River.

pretty bridg

pretty bridge

I don’t cross every bridge, but I do go over one to find the Mysterious Village.

bridge over a canal

bridge over a canal

flowering trees over the canal

flowering trees over the canal

Mysterious Village

Mysterious Village

It is very mysterious as to exactly what this Mysterious Village is supposed to represent.

lovers in Mysterious Village

lovers in Mysterious Village

I wonder who these hands belong to.

a handshake instead of a kiss?

a handshake instead of a kiss?

strange creatures

strange creatures

Finally, I leave the extensive Elephant Hill Park and begin to make my way back to my hotel.  My legs are getting tired from all this walking.  I pass by Shan Hu, one of two tree-lined lakes that originally formed a moat around the inner city walls of Guilin’s medieval city.  Shan Hu is overlooked by forty-meter-tall twin pagodas named Riyue Shuang Ta, one of which is painted gold and the other a muted red and green.  I have trouble distinguishing the colors in the poor hazy light.  Apparently they’re supposed to be attractively lit at night, but I don’t make the effort to come out at night to see them.

Twin pagodas called Riyue Shuang Ta on Shan Hu

Twin pagodas called Riyue Shuang Ta on Shan Hu

Finally, I walk back along a wide walkway among the Osmanthus trees after which the city is named.  According to The Rough Guide to China, Guilin means “Osmanthus forest.”

walkway along the Li River, bordered by osmanthus trees

walkway along the Li River, bordered by Osmanthus trees

I pass by one modern hotel that looks very fancy.  It’s probably way out of my price range.

a fancy modern hotel

a fancy modern hotel

Earlier in the day, when I was eating at the dumpling restaurant, I noticed a massage place near the restaurant.  Because I have felt so rotten during this entire trip, I think I need some pampering.  I go there for an hour-long whole body massage and a pedicure; together these cost me 100 yuan ($16.25).  I’ve had Chinese massages before and they’re not relaxing but very painful, but I do feel afterward that it does me some good.  This Chinese pedicure only involves cutting my nails and taking care of my feet, but my old nail polish isn’t removed, nor do I get any new nail polish.  I still have yet to find a place in China that does pedicures like I can get in the U.S.

As my stomach is still acting up, I forgo dinner and relax in my hotel room, reading and going to sleep early.  My train back to Nanning doesn’t leave until 2:30 in the afternoon on Sunday, but I don’t know if I feel like doing any more sightseeing in Guilin.  I think a foot massage sounds appealing, but I’ll have to wait till 11:00 a.m. as the massage guy told me he doesn’t open until that time on Sunday. 🙂

 

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Categories: Asia, China, Elephant Hill Park, Elephant Trunk Hill, Expat life, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Li River, Puxian Pagoda, Riyue Shuang Ta, Shan Hu, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “leaving ping’an for guilin: an afternoon at elephant hill park

  1. Elephant hill park looks wonderful once you’d left the blue elephant behind, did you enjoy the day?

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  2. I hope you got your foot massage, sounds as though you deserved on after all that walking! And I do hope you are over the stomach problems, nothing worse when travelling. Not a fan of this place, too much like a theme park for me, but I did like the rice terraces. I can’t believe the way people take selfies – they don’t even bother to look at the view behind them! So bizarre!
    I guess you are back in the classroom now, or have you finished for the Christmas holidays?
    Take care Cathy 🙂
    xx

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    • I did get my foot massage, Jude, and it felt fabulous. I’m thinking I need to get massages more often!! My stomach problems have been off and on ever since I arrived in China. I’m convinced it’s the recycled oil which I’ve heard some of the cheaper establishments use.

      I wasn’t crazy about this park either, Jude. You’re right, it was much like a theme park. There are a lot of places like this in China; even Detian Waterfall had a bit of theme park feel to it. I like to avoid that kind of place as much as possible, so I try to read what I can before going. But not all the information is reliable. Unless you can find unbiased bloggers who write about a place, most things are written to promote a place, no matter how bad.

      I am back in the classroom now. We get Christmas Day and Christmas Eve off, but the students still have class, and we have to prepare lessons for them in our absence. Not much of a holiday, to my mind. Our semester ends on or around January 18, after which time I’ll have 5-6 weeks off. I’m starting to plan my travels for that time. Mike will be here for two weeks and the rest of the time, I’ll be on my own. 😉

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      • Well you should be able to do a fair bit of travelling in that amount of time off – can’t wait to hear what your plans are. You must be looking forward to some company after all this time alone.

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      • I can’t wait to plan for my travel over all this time off, Jude. As long as I head south, I should be okay with the weather, but there are some fabulous places I want to see in the north. I just hope I can see what I want to see at that time of year. 🙂

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  3. In Beijing it seemed each of the shopping malls had a space where you could get massages, manicures and pedicures – including polish. I usually opted for half hour leg massages and a pedicure – $5 each.

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    • Wow, that’s cheap. When were you in Beijing, Carol? I have a feeling prices have gone up considerably since then. Nanning is pretty cheap, but I’ve heard Beijing has become much more expensive. Even when I was in Beijing in 2010, I had to pay more than that but it was for a whole body massage where the girl came to my hotel room. That massage was just as painful as the one I got in Guilin. 🙂

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      • It was in 2010. I got one whole body massage, and while the kids love it, one was enough for me.

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  4. It’s all a bit Chinese Disney, isn’t it, but the Elephant Hill rock formation is stunning, Cathy! You have some lovely shots (the blue roofs with karsts in the distance and I specially like that close up of the green details on the pagoda roof). Have a happy weekend, darlin’ 🙂

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    • Thanks, Jo. I’m staying close to home and resting a lot this weekend. I want to start feeling good, and don’t have much energy right now. I’m glad you like the rock formation; it’s too bad it wasn’t in a more natural setting. 🙂

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  5. What amazing sights you saw, Cathy. I think it’s the blonde hair that’s the fascination, and why she wanted her photo taken with you. I had similar experiences. 🙂

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