Guilin

a final journey to ping’an and the longji rice terraces

Friday, June 26: I have been determined to see the rice terraces one more time before I leave China, but the idea of it has been daunting.  The journey takes so long, with numerous transfers and hassles, and I have no more 3-day weekends to spread out the effort it takes to get there.  Besides, after fighting hordes of people in Shanghai on the Labor Day holiday in early May, I resolved not to travel on any more holiday weekends in China.  Nonetheless, I gather my courage about me and commit to the journey by buying the train tickets and reserving my hotel in Ping’An.

This afternoon, immediately after my classes end at noon, I make haste to the front gate to catch the bus to the train station. After catching the 1:15 p.m. fast train at Nanning Railway Station, I arrive in Guilin at 3:45.  I go out to the bus stop on the street directly in front of the Guilin train station, where I take bus 91 to the Qin Tan Bus Station, arriving there at 4:00. Then I take the next local bus at the bus station for Longsheng, telling the ticket agent I want to get off at Heping. When we finally get underway from Qin Tan, it is 4:33.

When I arrive at Heping at 6:15, it’s too late in the day to take the regular bus up to the Ping’An parking lot, so I pay a driver at Heping to take me up the mountain 35 minutes to the Ping’an parking lot. It’s a long and winding road over mountains, and I am finally dropped at the Ping’An parking lot at 6:50.  From there, I pay the entrance fee to Ping’An and walk through the gate and up and up and up to the Longji International Youth Hostel, arriving at 7:05.

a woman at work in the garden in Ping'an Village

a woman at work in the garden in Ping’An Village

Even without much delay between the various legs of the trip, it’s a 7 hour trip door to door, as I left the university at noon and arrived slightly after 7:00!  Upon arrival, I immediately order a Tsingtao beer and have a seat on the deck of the hostel to watch people scurrying about in the village.

View of Ping'An Village from the deck of the Longji International Youth Hostel

View of Ping’An Village from the deck of the Longji International Youth Hostel

After my beer, I order dinner as I haven’t eaten anything all day.  With all the stomach problems I’ve been having in China, I didn’t dare eat anything that might upset my stomach when I had such a long trip ahead of me.  I eat some eggs with leeks, and settle in at an early hour, reading my book, The Sandcastle Girls, by Chris Bohjalian.

Ceiling art in the common room at the Longji International Youth Hostel

Ceiling art in the common room at the Longji International Youth Hostel

I have to get plenty of rest because I have a long hike before me tomorrow. I’m so happy to be here once again, because after all the traveling I’ve done in China, I’ve decided the rice terraces are my favorite place.

Categories: Asia, China, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Longji Rice Terraces, Longsheng County, Nanning, Nanning Railway Station, Ping'An Village | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

a short weekend in yangshuo (& another li river boat cruise) ~ the third time’s a charm :-)

Friday, May 29: This weekend, only one of two times that I have traveled with a friend in China, I go to Yangshuo with my friend, Erica.  She has lived in China for seven years, but only started working at SCIC in Nanning at the same time I did, in September, 2014. Though she’s traveled all over China, and around southeast Asia, she has never been to Yangshuo.  This is my third time:  the first time I stayed four days during the National Holiday in early October, and the second, I stayed three days with Mike in January.

This weekend, we only have about 1 1/2 days, as it’s not an extended holiday weekend and we have to spend about 6 hours traveling at each end.  Erica decided long ago she was done traveling on China’s public holidays; I only just came to that conclusion after my last trip to Shanghai.

Erica and I leave directly from our classes at noon and spend the next 6 hours in transit, by bus, by train and by bus again.  The time goes by quickly though as Erica and I chat nonstop about anything and everything, and we share a lot of laughs.

Finally, at the Yangshuo bus station (well, not really a “station” but a dusty parking lot where we get deposited), we search for a vehicle to take us to our hotel, the Cosy Garden.  We try several drivers in vehicles of every make who want to charge us what we think are exorbitant sums, and finally, this gentle man takes us in his bumpy vehicle, where we sit on a plank of wood placed across the truck bed.  It’s a very bumpy and noisy ride through town and down a long pavilion over a cobblestone walkway to our hotel, which is quite a distance outside of town; in the end I think we got him at a great price!

Erica sits on the wooden bench in our transport to Cosy Garden

Erica sits on the wooden bench in our transport to Cosy Garden

As Erica is normally much thriftier than I am, I asked her to choose the place, and this is what she found.

Cosy Garden

Cosy Garden

The Cosy Garden allows free use of their bicycles after 4:00, and since it’s about 6:00 by the time we arrive, we hop on the bicycles and ride into Yangshuo for dinner at the Rock-n-Grill, and then we take a walk around the streets of the town.

Mangoes in Yangshuo

Mangoes in Yangshuo

Gentle vibes

Gentle vibes

It’s a little more difficult riding our bicycles back to the Cosy Garden as the long pavilion is quite dark and the road after we leave the pavilion is even darker.  We can hardly see a thing in the black night!  I don’t know how, but we somehow make it safely back to our hotel without riding off into the Li River.

Saturday, May 30: To optimize our condensed time in Yangshuo, we’ve arranged to go on the Li River boat ride first thing in the morning.  At the hotel, we can have breakfast, but we have to cook it ourselves; this turns out to be quite challenging as it’s always difficult to cook in someone else’s kitchen.

After breakfast, we ride our bicycles into town where we catch the bus to Xingping.  Our boat ride begins here.  Below is Erica with the boats and the Li River and karst landscape of Xingping behind her.

The boat dock at Xingping on the Li River

The boat dock at Xingping on the Li River

Erica at the Li River in Xingping

Erica at the Li River in Xingping

Of course Xingping is known as the most scenic area along the Li River, and because of that, it is on the 20 yuan bill.  Erica holds up the bill in the front of the bamboo raft.

Erica holds the 20 yuan bill at Xingping

Erica holds the 20 yuan bill at Xingping

And then we’re off.  We’re sharing the boat with two young Chinese men; Erica and I go directly for the front seats as this is her first and last time to do the Li River cruise.  She’s planning to leave China for good at the same time I am.  I do feel a little guilty for grabbing the front seats, but I also figure the Chinese tourists can easily come back.

Heading up the Li River

Heading up the Li River

The scenery is breathtaking as always; each time it brings tears to my eyes, it’s so stunning.  I can see Erica is quite moved by the experience too.

Li River Cruise

Li River Cruise

The Li River

The Li River

upriver on the Li

upriver on the Li

Ever since we arrived in Yangshuo, it has been threatening rain, but we’re lucky it doesn’t rain a drop while we’re on the cruise.

grassy patches in the Li River

grassy patches in the Li River

islands of grass

islands of grass

boats on the Li River

boats on the Li River

Moving up the Li River

Moving up the Li River

karst landscape along the Li River

karst landscape along the Li River

karst landscape along the Li River

karst landscape along the Li River

boat jam

boat jam

karst landscape along the Li River

karst landscape along the Li River

overwhelmed by beauty

overwhelmed by beauty

Li River scenery

Li River scenery

Li River karst scenery

Li River karst scenery

karst scenery along the Li River

karst scenery along the Li River

The Li River

The Li River

Li River cruise

Li River cruise

looming karst scenery along the Li River

looming karst scenery along the Li River

up close & personal

up close & personal

We can see the Li River boats that come from Guilin go zooming past toward Xingping.

still heading upriver

still heading upriver

The Li River

The Li River

We stop at little pebble beach, where our boat driver gets out and eats something with some friends.  Meanwhile, we’re left to wander and take pictures while we wait.  Here’s Erica with our two boat mates.

Erica and our two Chinese boat mates

Erica and our two Chinese boat mates

And Erica at the beach.

Erica at the pebble beach

Erica at the pebble beach

As always, I like to take a few pictures of Chinese girls posing in ridiculous poses.  I just missed this woman with her hands in the air.

posing for pictures

posing for pictures

Chinese girls doing a silly pose

Chinese girls doing a silly pose

We could go on a pony ride if we so desired, but we don’t. 🙂

two bedraggled fellas

two bedraggled fellas

Finally, our driver finishes eating, and we’re back in boat, heading back to Xingping.  The light isn’t so great in this direction.

back on the river after our break

back on the river after our break

heading back to Xingping

heading back to Xingping

Below, you can see (and hear) a video of our trip down the Li River in our motorized bamboo rafts.

cruising down the Li River

cruising down the Li River

View at Xingping

View at Xingping

The Li River at Xingping

The Li River at Xingping

Xingping

Xingping

Soon, we’re back on shore and Erica and I each pose with the 20 yuan bill.  This is a chubby time for me; after being in China, it turns out I picked up 7 pounds, which I don’t realize until I return home!

Erica at Xingping with the 20 yuan bill

Erica at Xingping with the 20 yuan bill

a chubby me at Xingping with the 20 yuan bill

a chubby me at Xingping with the 20 yuan bill

Finally, we head back up the path to meet our driver and head back to town.

fruit vendor in Xingping

fruit vendor in Xingping

When we get back to town, we’ll have some lunch and go on a bike ride in the afternoon.

Categories: Asia, China, CNY 20 Banknote View, Cosy Garden, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Li River, Rock-n-Grill, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Travel, West Street, Xi Jie, Xingping, Yangshuo | Tags: , , , , , , | 32 Comments

mike’s reflections on china

In late January, my husband Mike traveled from Virginia to visit me here in China.  We went to Hunan province, where we visited Fenghuang and Zhangjiajie, and to Guangxi, where we visited Guilin and Yangshuo.  I was disappointed for him because we had horrible weather for nearly the whole time he was here.  His one and only experience of China was a rainy, fog-enshrouded, cold and gloomy one.  In his reflections below, you can see that despite our hardships, he managed to see the experience as a positive one.  This was more than I could say for myself, but then I’ve seen better days in China.

Mike eats dumplings at the Red Sign

Mike eats dumplings at the Red Sign

Here are Mike’s reflections, along with some of the photos he took.

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After Cathy decided to go to China to teach this year she suggested that I should plan on visiting and traveling with her on one of her breaks. My initial reaction was less than enthusiastic. My first inclination is to plan relaxing, stress-free, outdoorsy vacations away from crowds and the fast-paced life I deal with in the DC suburbs. After giving the idea some thought and talking more with Cathy, I committed, leaving the planning to her, providing feedback on trip options when asked. I am an avid reader, like Cathy, and have an interest in cultural anthropology and world history, which I get from a fictional and non-fictional perspective. In addition to having the opportunity to spend some time with my nomad wife, I would see firsthand how one in five people on our planet live.

a wedding in the streets of Fenghuang

a wedding in the streets of Fenghuang

I knew from the outset that this trip would be a challenge, starting and ending with the long time-zone crossing flights halfway around the globe. From Cathy’s early travel experiences in China I knew that our in-country travels would not be easy. Neither of us are much on tour groups, preferring the freedom to move about at our own pace, surrounded by local folks, being forced to figure things out on our own. That‘s half the adventure. The apprehension we felt every time we ventured out to our next destination was rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and relief upon arrival. I came with no expectations other than to relish the uniqueness of China. Cathy put a lot of time and energy into our itinerary, hoping to show me the picturesque and historic side of Guangxi and Hunan provinces. You seasoned travelers understand the tenuous balance between trying to visit as many places as possible within a tight time window and allowing oneself the time to soak in the essence of each layover, and recharge, before diving in to the next adventure. I felt like we achieved that balance.

Fenghuang

Fenghuang

Cathy was very honest on her blog in describing her disappointment with the cool damp weather during my visit. Besides yielding a series of fog shrouded photos for her blog, she was sad for me. I am sure that many travel bloggers portray only the positive aspects of their trips, which is not reality. You have to accept and learn to deal with weather and other circumstances that don’t go your way. I like how Cathy freely shares her personal frustrations in her blogs.

Yes, I would have enjoyed some clear sunny days, but I was so alert to the sights, sounds, smells and the way of life wherever we went that the weather had much less of an impact on me than Cathy. The mist encased quartz-sandstone pillars of Zhangjiajie and the limestone karsts of Yangshuo looked whimsical and mysterious. The one rainy day where we didn’t go trekking was spent lounging in bed reading and treating ourselves to a muscle relaxing massage. That was just what we needed, some down time to recover.

Zhangjiajie

Zhangjiajie

I was constantly fascinated by assorted modes of transportation, the unified flow of scooters, bikes and buses on the crowded streets and dusty rural roads, the lack of heat throughout, the family way of life in the shops, service bays, and eateries, the variety of critters and body parts offered on the menus, the placid acceptance of a quality of life that few westerners could imagine, the third world toilets, the often derelict trains and train stations, the rural communal hamlets we cycled through, the villagers laboring in the never-ending fields, and the general friendliness of the people we encountered.

I wanted to see where Cathy lived, where she worked, the students she taught, where she shopped and ate, how she traveled, the soul and spirit of the bustling cities, the steady march of the rural farms, so I could get a sense for the environment she moved about in during her life in Guangxi. Thankfully those impressions will now be with me for the rest of her stay in Nanning, sensory impressions catalogued and brought to mind as she shares with me her weekly recap on Skype. Instead of her face and the stories she tells in words, I will see much more.

The Yangshuo countryside during a rainy bike ride

The Yangshuo countryside during a rainy bike ride

There are so many memories and images that come to mind from our two-week excursion, all fascinating to me, many of which Cathy has already shared in her blog. Some of these memories can’t be captured by pictures and words. They were moments of interaction, on some level, with others, in a land where one feels so isolated, despite being surrounded by 1.3 billion people. The thirteen hour plane ride seated next to a mother and her young son from Mongolia on their return trip from studying at the international school in Miami, Florida, the respectful sharing of a small train compartment for twelve hours with two young strangers, the prideful smile on the face of our dumpling lady in Fenghuang who was thrilled to see us show up for breakfast three mornings in a row, the conversation with a young woman, employed in international sales, on our boat ride on Baofang Lake, the engaging conversation with Duco, the young Dutch backpacker, on our bus ride to Yangshuo, the family we traveled with on our Li river bamboo raft, and the many challenging interactions arising from the language barrier at every twist and turn.

the town of Yangshuo

the town of Yangshuo

In one of Cathy’s blogs about Alex’s time in China she mentions a tension-filled afternoon. This is to be expected, in less than ideal travel situations and close quarters, as individual expectations collide with circumstances and each other. I suppose the key to traveling with someone else, successfully, is to recognize that this will happen and what to do when it does happen. I think in Alex and Cathy’s case, space and time was all they needed, and by the evening they were fine. It was surprising to me given all of the traveling we did and the inclement weather we encountered that we didn’t really encounter any moments of tension. Perhaps I’ll chalk that up to my laid back nature; HA! Just joking Cathy, I know it takes two to make this happen.

In looking back on my two weeks in China, followed by Alex’s two weeks, followed by Cathy’s trip to Myanmar, I am amazed at Cathy’s stamina, especially in light of the cough she came down with on our trip. Both Alex and I were exhausted after our short journeys. I can’t even begin to imagine doing that for six weeks. Cathy is like the Energizer Bunny, she keeps going and going and going!!!

the Yangshuo countryside on the way back to Guilin

the Yangshuo countryside on the way back to Guilin

As I left China I realized that this was truly a once-in-a-life experience. It is an experience that for myself, and for Alex, will resurface in years to come as we put global events into perspective, as a result of having the opportunity to glimpse a way of life so different from our own. I am thankful for that opportunity.

Categories: Airplane, Asia, Baofeng Lake Scenic Spot, Bicycle tour, Bus, Changsha, China, Fenghuang, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Holidays, Hunan, Jishou, Li River, Nanning, Nanning Wuxu International Airport, Seven Star Tea Plantation, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Spring Festival, Train, Transportation, Travel, West Street, Wulingyuan Scenic Reserve, Xi Jie, Xianggong Hill, Yangshuo, Yangshuo River View Hotel, Zhangjiajie, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

an overnight at the guilinyi royal palace before heading back to nanning

Friday, January 30:  In the afternoon, after our drive through the kumquat orchards, tea plantations and karsts north of Yangshuo, we arrive in Guilin at our classy hotel, the Guilinyi Royal Palace.  We stayed here, if you remember, before we headed to Yangshuo, but at that time we arrived late and departed early, so we didn’t have time to enjoy it.  The hotel sits in the midst of Guilin Central Park, the city’s botanical garden, and I want to have time to explore a bit of that before heading back to Nanning.

Entrance to the Guilinyi Royal Palace

Entrance to the Guilinyi Royal Palace

Sadly it’s just as dreary and dark as the rest of our holiday has been.  Still, the grounds of the hotel are lovely with their ponds, bridges, rock sculptures, tropical plants, and traditional buildings with flying eaves.  There is a swimming pool on the grounds, which I have never seen in a Chinese hotel, and I tell Mike that one hot summer weekend, I’m going to come back to Guilin and pamper myself.

on the grounds of the Guilinyi Royal Palace

on the grounds of the Guilinyi Royal Palace

Guilinyi Royal Palace

Guilinyi Royal Palace

Guilinyi Royal Palace

Guilinyi Royal Palace

This is our room from the outside.  It’s the one on the left.

Our room at the Guilinyi Royal Palace

Our room at the Guilinyi Royal Palace

Guilinyi Royal Palace

Guilinyi Royal Palace (Photo by Mike)

We are hungry for lunch, but we decide first to take a walk through the botanical garden on our way to look for lunch outside of the garden.  We admire the koi ponds, the pavilions and the tropical plants.

Guilin Central Park

Guilin Central Park

Pond in Guilin Central Park

Pond in Guilin Central Park

koi pond in the botanical garden

koi pond in the botanical garden

Koi pond (Photo by Mike)

Koi pond (Photo by Mike)

road through the gardens

road through the gardens

tropical abundance

tropical abundance

tropical pavilions

tropical pavilions

pavilions in the sub-tropics

pavilions in the sub-tropics

botanical gardens

botanical gardens

succulents in the botanical garden

succulents in the botanical garden

We are feeling rather hungry, and I’m tired of being cold, so we leave the botanical garden and head to what looks like an outdoor shopping mall.  We can’t find anyplace to eat in this mall except a McDonald’s, so we stop to grab a bite.  Surprisingly, I  feel full after scarfing down a fish sandwich and some French fries, and I never even get hungry for any kind of dinner.

Walking back to the garden, Mike takes some photos of Guilin’s streets.  They capture the typical Chinese city outside of the touristy spots.  It’s nothing special, so I’m long past taking photos of such scenes, but I guess he still finds it interesting.

apartment buildings surrounding the botanical gardens (Photo by Mike)

apartment buildings surrounding the botanical gardens (Photo by Mike)

one of many unusual vehicles seen on the streets of China (Photo by Mike)

one of many unusual vehicles seen on the streets of China (Photo by Mike)

In the end, we go back to our hotel where I soak for a long time in a hot bath, and then snuggle up under the covers in my pajamas, trying desperately to keep warm.  I have been chilled for so many days now, I feel that I’ll never warm up again.  We never leave the hotel room for the rest of the night.  Both of us are really feeling sick with colds, sore throats and coughs, and we’re in misery.

Saturday, January 31:  In the morning, we take the 11:55 a.m. train to Nanning, arriving at Nanning Railway Station around 2:30.  By the time we get back to my apartment, it’s well after 3:30.  As I always do after a holiday, I immediately unpack and do laundry while Mike relaxes.  In the evening, Mike and I go out to one of my favorite pizza places, outside the west gate of the university.  I am wearing the gray wool hat you’ve seen in some of my photos, one I’ve had since I lived in Korea.  It isn’t until later, when I’m packing for my upcoming trip to Yunnan with Alex, my 23-year-old son, that I realize I must have left the hat in the restaurant.  At that time I don’t have time to go look for it. 😦

Sunday, February 1:  All day today, Mike and I stay hunkered down in my apartment, as it’s raining and cold in Nanning, just as it was in Guilin.  We’re both still sick, so it’s good to have another day of rest.  I’m busy packing for my trip to Yunnan, which luckily is forecast to be sunny and in the 60s and 70s (F), with nights dropping into the 50s.  This forecast is for the next 10 days at least. 🙂  It’s lucky that Alex’s experience should be an improvement over Mike’s.  I still feel sad that Mike had such bad luck with the weather on his holiday.

In the evening, to get us out of my cramped and depressing apartment, I take Mike to my favorite Korean restaurant close to the campus, where we have sizzling oven-proof casserole dishes of bibimbap and delicious potato pancakes.  We both find the place quite charming and lively.

Tomorrow morning, Monday, I will take Mike to the Nanning airport for his 11:40 a.m. return flight to Virginia by way of Beijing.  He has to check in two hours early, so we’ll arrive there by 9:40.  Alex is due to fly into Nanning at 10:55 a.m.   It’s so nice that I only have to make one trip to the airport to both drop off Mike and pick up Alex.  Mike wonders if they will cross paths, as Mike is getting on the same flight to Beijing that Alex is coming in on. 🙂

Categories: Americas, Asia, Beijing, China, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Guilinyi Royal Palace, Nanning, Nanning Wuxu International Airport, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Travel, United States of America, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

the yangshuo countryside & xianggong hill

Friday, January 30: After leaving the tea plantation, we head north, passing through boundless farmland.  The kumquat orchards sprawl over rolling mountains, less sharp around the edges than the karsts; these mountains are clustered in the midst of the karsts between Yangshuo and Guilin.

Here are two views of the same valley, but in the first one you can see the karsts in the distance, and in the second you can see the road to the village.  For some reason, I love that little road, snuggling up to the edge of that mountain.

view of a farming village along the way

view of a farming village along the way

the view of the road to the village with karsts in the distance

the view of the road to the village with karsts in the distance

Along the way, we stop at a view-point where we can see, to our north, the famous karsts of Xingping, and beneath us, the Li River winding its way through the jagged peaks.

view of the Li River

view of the Li River

View of the Li River

View of the Li River

me with Mike at a stopping point overlooking the Li River

me with Mike at a stopping point overlooking the Li River

View north to Xingping

View north to Xingping

View south to farmland and karsts

View south to farmland and karsts

We continue our drive with Vivian’s husband.  He knows all the same places to stop that Vivian stopped with me in October.  I don’t even need to ask him to pull over.  This is a gorgeous valley filled with villages, kumquat farms, forests and other farmland.

valley of karsts

valley of karsts

I love how the karsts fade into the mist the further away they get.

karst landscape

karst landscape

to infinity and beyond

to infinity and beyond

stunning landscape

stunning landscape

final view of the valley

final view of the valley

Finally we end up at Xianggong Hill, where we climb hundreds of steps to the top; here we can see Xingping to our south, with its CNY 20 Banknote View and Chaoban Hill, among many others.  To the north, we can see Nine-Horse Fresco Hill.  Other peaks around Xianggong Hill have names such as Wave Stone View, Lad Worships Goddess, Grandpa Watching Apple, Chicken Cage Hill, Lion Hill, Pen Holder Peak, and Carp Wall.

Looking south to Xingping

Looking south to Xingping

The view north of Nine-Horse Fresco Hill

The view north to Nine-Horse Fresco Hill

Looking west to Lion Hill and other peaks whose names I don't know

Looking west to Lion Hill and other peaks whose names I don’t know

Northerly view

Northerly view

Village across the Li River form Xianggong Hill

Village across the Li River from Xianggong Hill

Mike atop Xianggong HIll

Mike atop Xianggong HIll

Looking across the Li River from Xianggang Hill to the villages

Looking across the Li River from Xianggong Hill to the villages

Me atop Xianggong Hill

Me atop Xianggong Hill

Looking northeasterly

Looking northeasterly

After we leave Xianggong Hill, we continue on our way to Guilin, making one more photo stop along the way.

Green fields and karsts

Green fields and karsts

marching orders

marching orders

as far as the eye can see

as far as the eye can see

Back in Guilin, which is just another sprawling Chinese city, we head directly to our hotel, The Guilinyi Royal Palace, where we pamper ourselves on the last night of our holiday together.

Categories: Asia, China, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Li River, Nine Horse Fresco Hill, Travel, Xianggong Hill, Xingping, Yangshuo | Tags: , , , , , , | 20 Comments

heading to guilin: kumquat orchards & the seven star tea plantation

Friday, January 30: Our original plan was to take bicycle rides in the Yangshuo countryside, to take a bamboo raft ride down the Yulong River, and to rent an electric bike to explore the mountains and kumquat orchards north of Yangshuo.  The bicycle ride we did take was short and rainy.  The Yulong River rafts were closed for the season and weren’t due to open until Chinese New Year, or February 18.  And the rain prevented us from renting e-bikes to explore the countryside north of Yangshuo.

Weighing our remaining options, we arrange with Vivian at our hotel to have her husband drive us through the countryside north of Yangshuo on our way to Guilin.  We tell her we’re checking out a day early, and she reminds us we’ll lose our money for the hotel room tonight.  We don’t care.  Her husband will meet us at 10:00 a.m. to drive us through the countryside, with our suitcases in the van, and he will take us directly to our hotel in Guilin when the drive is over.

We eat our breakfast and take a walk around the hotel before we leave.  Across the street, we enjoy our last gray view of the Li River.

The Li River view across the street from our hotel

The Li River view across the street from our hotel

Behind our hotel, we find this pretty little courtyard.

the pretty little courtyard behind the hotel (Photo by Mike)

the pretty little courtyard behind the hotel (Photo by Mike)

And we take a parting shot of the Yangshuo River View Hotel.

Yangshuo River View Hotel (Photo by Mike)

Yangshuo River View Hotel (Photo by Mike)

Outside of town, we come to rolling hills covered in kumquat orchards.  At this time of year, they’re all covered in plastic sheeting to protect them from the rain.  In October when I was here, Vivian herself took me on a motorbike ride through this same countryside.  It was so much fun riding on the back of her e-bike with the wind in my hair!  The weather was lovely then.  You can see the differences in the countryside in this post: a motorbike ride through orange groves to xianggong hill

the drive through the countryside north of Yangshuo

the drive through the countryside north of Yangshuo

kumquat orchards protected with plastic sheeting from the rain

kumquat orchards protected with plastic sheeting from the rain

kumquat orchards north of Yangshuo

kumquat orchards north of Yangshuo

mountains and kumquat orchards north of Yangshuo

mountains and kumquat orchards north of Yangshuo

Our first stop on today’s drive is the Seven Star Green Tea Plantation.  In Chinese, it’s called Qi Xian Feng tea plantation and it’s about 14 km from the center of Yangshuo  According to a brochure from the plantation: It is about 600 meters above sea level.  Cloud and mist surround it perennially. Specially when it rains, the whole plantation looks like a charming beauty in white. 

I just love Chinese descriptions of places!

We walk around the tea plantation.  Luckily today it’s not raining, just awfully cloudy.

Entrance to the Seven Star Tea Plantation

Entrance to the Seven Star Tea Plantation

The green tea plants aren’t covered up.  In the distance, the covered kumquat orchards stretch as far as the eye can see.

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Views of the kumquat orchards from the Seven Star Tea Plantation

Views of the kumquat orchards from the Seven Star Tea Plantation

kumquat orchards

kumquat orchards

The plantation is a lot browner than when I was here in October.  If you’d like to see what the plantation looked like in sunnier weather, you can check out: the seven star tea plantation and return to yangshuo

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

view of orchards from Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

view from Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation

Seven Star Tea Plantation (Photo by Mike)

Seven Star Tea Plantation (Photo by Mike)

Seven Star Tea Plantation (Photo by Mike)

Seven Star Tea Plantation (Photo by Mike)

Chicken at Seven Star Tea Plantation (Photo by Mike)

Chicken at Seven Star Tea Plantation (Photo by Mike)

After we walk around the tea plantation, a young lady performs a tea ceremony for us.  I’m not a big fan of tea, especially green tea, but today it’s a warm and welcome treat.

a little tea ceremony

a little tea ceremony

After the tea plantation, we continue on our drive through the countryside, heading for Xianggong Hill, where we get marvelous views of Xingping and the Li River.

Categories: Asia, China, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Motorbike tour, Seven Star Tea Plantation, Travel, Yangshuo | Tags: , , , , | 22 Comments

massages and a day of rest :-)

Thursday, January 29: This morning, we both wake up feeling sicker than ever.  Out the window, we can see it is raining heavily.  Besides that, Mike was kept awake all night by a bunch of Chinese people having a barbecue on the street outside of our window.  Apparently they were talking, laughing and partying until the wee hours.  I was oblivious to the whole affair as I can sleep though any noise, including my own snoring.  🙂

Because of his awful night of sleep, and being sick on top of that, Mike is feeling pretty grumpy, which is unusual for him.  I am too, but at least I have more holiday after he leaves.  I already know my whole holiday will not be ruined by bad weather, as the forecast for Yunnan province is for sunny skies and in the 60s (F) and Myanmar’s is for hot weather (90s) and sunshine every day.  I feel so bad for Mike that we are near the end of our time together, and the weather forecast is for nothing good ahead.  Even if we were to stay 10 more days in Yangshuo, the forecast would still be for continual rain and cold.

Mike has been an extremely good sport about the whole thing.  I have not been such a good sport because I wanted him to see the best of China.  I had a great time in Yangshuo in October, and I wanted him to have the same experience.  Because of his demanding work schedule, this will probably be his only holiday this year, and it’s been ruined.  He has tried to put a positive spin on it, enjoying it for the cultural experience it has been.  Meanwhile, I have felt sad, angry, frustrated, and irritated.  Besides the fact that his vacation has been ruined, mine has too!  I haven’t been able to take any decent photos or to do the activities, such as hiking and bicycling, that I hoped to do.

Mike asks the hotel staff if we can change rooms and move away from the street.  He doesn’t want to suffer through another night of no sleep.  So we pack up our stuff and move to another room, one that has a little alcove with a tea table in it.  It’s kind of cute.

After moving, we go out for breakfast at the Rosewood Cafe and then go for hour-long whole body massages.  We return to the hotel room and put on our pajamas.  We stay in the rest of the day, reading, sleeping, snacking and talking.

Mike in our new hotel room, in his pajamas. :-)

Mike in our new hotel room, in his pajamas. 🙂

During this time, as we can see the forecast is for more of the same in Yangshuo, we decide we will leave Yangshuo one day early and return to Guilin. We’ll lose the money for our hotel in Yangshuo for one night, but as it was cheap, only $35, we don’t care.  We book a room back at the Guilinyi Royal Palace for Friday night, so we can have all of our creature comforts.  We must catch a train from Guilin to Nanning on Saturday morning, so we can have a more leisurely time by going to Guilin a day early.

The only time we leave the room is in the evening, when the rain has abated a bit, to eat a Chinese dinner at Cloud 9.

 

Categories: Asia, China, Cloud 9 Restaurant, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Rosewood Cafe, Travel, Yangshuo, Yangshuo River View Hotel | Tags: , , , | 14 Comments

a cloudy day boat ride down the li river

Wednesday, January 28:  We go through a bit of an ordeal with our guide Esther today.  She has lured us into a boat ride down the Li River for a lower price than our hotel offers. She says she has connections.  I don’t understand how she can give us a better deal than the hotel, as the boat operators on the river charge generally the same prices, so she must be getting a deal on the transportation to the boat launch in Xingping and back.  She has already told us that the ride will be upriver from Xingping to Yangdi (east to west), and I told her I wanted the ride downriver from west to east, from Yangdi to Xingping.  This is the way I did it in October.  What’s so amazing about the downriver direction is that you end up in Xingping, where the jagged mountains are clustered together in such a fantastical array that a painting of them graces the 20 yuan bill.

Esther leads us through the streets to different spots, where she stops and looks all around for some mysterious person who’s supposed to show up.  She’s on the phone the whole time.  I still don’t like that she won’t guarantee the downriver boat ride, and she’s not telling us any details about who we’re going with.  She’s not planning to come along with us, and she’s being generally evasive.  As we move from one spot on the street to the other, with her on the phone yapping in Chinese and looking all around impatiently, I start to lose it.

I say, “Esther, you’ve had since yesterday to plan this!  How much longer will it be?” She keeps pacing up and down, searching for some vehicle that never materializes, and she has no answers.  Finally, I get fed up.  “I’m sorry, Esther.  You’ve had since yesterday to arrange this and you still don’t have it arranged!  We’re going back to the hotel.”

We walk away and leave her on the street, still talking on the phone.  Nearby, we stop into a travel agent, and we arrange the boat ride for the same price Esther was offering.  It seems however, that the downriver route is not available and the only way to go is from Xingping upriver a bit, but not all the way to Yangdi, and then returning to Xingping.  I guess the Li River must be lower at this time of year.  We pay the travel agent for the trip, wait about 20 minutes in the agent’s office, and then hop on a bus for the nearly one hour drive to Xingping.

On the bus, I’m squeezed in next to a Chinese lady who speaks excellent English.  She’s here in Yangshuo for the Spring Festival holiday with her husband and daughter.  She tells me her English name is Julia.  We have a long conversation about our holidays and her life in her hometown.  When we get to the boat launch, it ends up we all five share a bamboo raft together.

At the boat launch - waiting and waiting

At the boat launch – waiting and waiting

For some unknown reason, we have to wait quite a long time at the boat launch.  There are some boats lingering about, but no one seems to be manning them. Things are so much more disorganized than when I took this boat ride in October: a raft trip down the li river: yangdi to xingping

Finally, after at least a half-hour wait, we get on the boat with the lovely Chinese family.  We agree with the Chinese family that we’ll start in the front seat, which offers the best views, but we’ll switch places with them from time to time.  Sadly, the views today are not great anyway.  It’s a dark and cloudy day, but at least so far it isn’t raining.  We find out quickly that it’s quite cold on the river, with the cold wind and the spray from the river, and we realize we haven’t dressed warmly enough.

the Li River

the Li River

the boat launch at the Li River

the boat launch at the Li River

a dark day on the Li River

a dark day on the Li River

the cloudy Li River

the cloudy Li River

a river surrounded by karst landscape

a river surrounded by karst landscape

the Li River

the Li River

mysterious mountains

mysterious mountains

trees and karsts

boats, trees and karsts

For yet another day of our holiday, I’m disappointed in the dreary charcoal skies and the fog that nearly obscures our view.

a dark day on the Li River

a dark day on the Li River

the Li River

the Li River

the Li River

the Li River

The boat driver makes a stop at a little island where people are selling handicrafts, but none of us wants to buy anything.  While we wander about, the Chinese girl spends her time throwing heavy stones into the river.  Meanwhile, the boat driver sits with his friends and eats a snack.  We take turns taking pictures of each other.

our Chinese companions

our Chinese companions

Mike and I on the Li River

Mike and I on the Li River

It’s so funny, Julia reminds me so much of my Korean friend Julie.  Even her haircut is similar: my two closest korean friends

me with the Chinese girls

me with the Chinese girls

We pass on the opportunity to ride this little pony.

a ride on a pony, anyone?

a ride on a pony, anyone?

Finally, when our boat driver finishes eating his snack and chatting with his friends, we’re on our way again.

back on the boat

back on the boat

a boat with a view

a boat with a view

Soon after we get back on the boat, it starts to spit rain.  This continues for the rest of our ride.  Argh!!!!

Me, mother & daughter, and Mike on the bamboo raft

Me, mother & daughter, and Mike on the bamboo raft

heading down the Li River

heading down the Li River

Li River

Li River

Li River

Li River

Li River

Li River

continuing down the river

continuing down the river

more picturesque views

more picturesque views

another boat on the river

another boat on the river

beach

beach

one of the larger boats for the Li River Cruise

one of the larger boats for the Li River Cruise

the Li River

the Li River

The Li River

The Li River

mother and daughter

mother and daughter

on the Li River

on the Li River

Li River views

Li River views

the Li River looking out over the end of our bamboo raft

the Li River looking out over the end of our bamboo raft

Cruising down the Li River

Cruising down the Li River

By the time we finish our ride, we’re all shivering and wet from the rain and the spray from the river.  We squeeze into the bus again and ride back to Yangshuo.  We go back to the hotel to rest and get warm and dry for a while before we head out to dinner at Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant.

The restaurant has two huge wooden sliding doors at the front.  Mike doesn’t realize they’re sliding doors and he pushes one of them inward, lifting both of them dangerously into the air.  He realizes belatedly what he’s done and he steps back, letting the doors clunk back into place.  Meanwhile the people in the restaurant run to the front to stop him from knocking down the two huge doors.  They’re so heavy that they probably would have crushed him if he had knocked them off their tracks.  He causes quite a stir!

at Pure Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant

at Pure Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant

Luckily after dinner the rain has abated so we take a short walk around the town again.  We run across some funny characters in the street.

characters on the streets of Yangshuo

characters on the streets of Yangshuo

We decide to warm up a bit in Mango by sharing a refreshing mango and ice cream dessert.  It’s really yummy, but that ice cream makes us shiver all the way back to our hotel.

Mike at Mango sharing his mango dessert

Mike at Mango sharing his mango dessert

the walls at Mango

the walls at Mango

Inside Mango

Inside Mango

We get cozy again in our hotel and read a long while.  There’s never anything on TV to watch as all the shows are in Chinese.  After our day on the river, we’re both feeling really sick, with coughs, sore throats, runny noses and general head colds and shivers.  We can see the forecast for tomorrow is for rain all day.  We decide that if it is actually raining, we will get massages in the morning and just stay in our hotel room for most of the day, trying to recover from our miserable colds.

 

 

Categories: Asia, China, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Li River, Pure Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant, Rosewood Cafe, Travel, West Street, Xi Jie, Yangdi, Yangshuo, Yangshuo River View Hotel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

a morning walk around yangshuo

Wednesday, January 28:  This morning, loud explosions outside our hotel jolt us out of our sleep.  We hear musical instruments, and more explosions.  We hop out of bed, scurrying to the balcony to see what the hubbub is about.   On the street below is what looks like a funeral procession.  People are setting off firecrackers, leaving wisps of smoke and a trail of red litter scattered on the ground.  A street-sweeping crew follows behind to clean it all up.  Musicians are marching beside the procession, playing lively tunes.  Some people are walking backwards, facing what must be the casket, while the pallbearers and the mourners are moving solidly forward.

a morning funeral procession

a morning funeral procession

the sweepers

the sweepers

the procession on the streets of Yangshuo

the procession on the streets of Yangshuo

I guess this is our wake up call.  Esther, our bicycle guide from yesterday, has arranged a boat ride down the Li River for the late morning, so we get showered and dressed and head into town to grab some breakfast.

Yangshuo

Yangshuo

colorful cafe in town

colorful cafe in town

Write a postcard to the future and coffee

Write a postcard to the future and coffee

Chez Valerie

Chez Valerie

It looks like another gray day, but at least at this point, it isn’t raining.

dark street of the town

dark street of the town

We stop at the Rosewood Cafe, which has a warm cozy atmosphere and a great Western breakfast.

The Rosewood Cafe

The Rosewood Cafe

Mike outside the Rosewood Cafe

Mike outside the Rosewood Cafe

Streets of Yangshuo

Streets of Yangshuo

After breakfast, we walk around the streets a bit. As usual, I admire the lantern shops.  I go into one to ask how I’d go about transporting one of the lanterns if I were to buy one.  The two Chinese people at the counter obviously don’t want to have to make the effort to understand or speak English. They look up briefly and wave their hands back and forth in front of their faces, as if to brush me away, and then they get right back to the business at hand: their phones.  Some Chinese people can be so rude!  They just lost a sale, but what do they care?  Customer service is not part of the Chinese mentality.

Lanterns galore

Lanterns galore

Darn it all, I want one of those lanterns!!  I should have just bought one and dealt with the transport.  But after the salespeople’s rudeness, I won’t buy one from them on matter of principle. I will get one, I promise, before I leave China.

More lanterns

More lanterns

The streets don’t have much action on them at this time of morning.  Strangely, outdoor tables are set up at some cafes.  Don’t the proprietors notice the heavy skies?  Don’t they sense the threat of rain?

streets of Yangshuo

streets of Yangshuo

On a nice day, you can imagine this town is really cute, with its canals, bridges, red lanterns and colorful umbrellas and signs.

Canals of Yangshuo (Photo by Mike)

Canals of Yangshuo (Photo by Mike)

bridges in Yangshuo

bridges in Yangshuo (Photo by Mike)

Pretty little footbridge

Pretty little footbridge

Canals of Yangshuo (Photo by Mike)

Canals of Yangshuo (Photo by Mike)

Pond in Yangshuo

Pond in Yangshuo

McDonald's ~ It's everywhere!

McDonald’s ~ It’s everywhere! (Photo by Mike)

The streets outside of the tourist part of town

The streets outside of the tourist part of town (Photo by Mike)

Busy Yangshuo

Busy Yangshuo (Photo by Mike)

After our walk, we go back to the room to bundle up some more as it’s likely to be awfully cold and windy out on the Li River.

Categories: Asia, China, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Holidays, Rosewood Cafe, Spring Festival, West Street, Xi Jie, Yangshuo | Tags: , , , , , | 17 Comments

a lazy morning at the guilinyi royal palace before heading to yangshuo

Tuesday, January 27:  We arrived at our lovely hotel in Guilin, the Guilinyi Royal Palace, too late last night to wander around the grounds, so this morning, we decide we’ll have a leisurely breakfast and explore the grounds before heading to Yangshuo.  It’s the best hotel Mike and I stay at during our holiday, after the Hotel Pullman Zhangjiajie, so we’d like to savor it a bit before heading to our cheap hotel, the Yangshuo River View Hotel, for the next four nights.

The Guilinyi Palace Hotel

The Guilinyi Royal Palace

The hotel sits in the middle of Guilin’s Central Park, the city’s botanical gardens, but we don’t have time to explore those surrounding gardens today.  The hotel itself has pretty enough gardens on its own.

Guilinyi Palace Hotel

Guilinyi Royal Palace

Little waterways on the grounds (Photo by Mike)

Little waterways on the grounds (Photo by Mike)

Koi pond at the Guilinyi Royal Palace Hotel

Koi pond at the Guilinyi Royal Palace

Koi

Koi

Guilinyi Palace Hotel

Guilinyi Royal Palace

Banana plants on the grounds of the Guilinyi Palace Hotel

Banana plants on the grounds of the Guilinyi Royal Palace (Photo by Mike)

Pretty pavilion

Pretty pavilion

It really is a shame that this is only a stopover point on our trip, as we need to head on to Yangshuo by bus. It certainly warrants a longer stay.  As it turns out, we end up coming back here for another night, but we don’t know this at this time.  When we return, we’ll be able to explore the larger surrounding botanical gardens.

Categories: Asia, China, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Guilinyi Royal Palace, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 15 Comments

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