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.
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.
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.
I walk up Elephant Trunk Hill on some very steep steps, where I get increasingly better views of the Li River and Guilin.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
After the photo session, I continue along the path. I love the old fences along the path.
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.
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.
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.
I continue walking along the walkway through the park, where there are pretty little bridges to little islands along the Li River.
I don’t cross every bridge, but I do go over one to find the Mysterious Village.
It is very mysterious as to exactly what this Mysterious Village is supposed to represent.
I wonder who these hands belong to.
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.
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.”
I pass by one modern hotel that looks very fancy. It’s probably way out of my price range.
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. 🙂