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09/15/2012

Guilin

(Because of an oversight on my part, I forgot to add this post to my CIEE blog when it was originally written. This post dates from the latter part of July.) Last week I spent seven days near Guilin, a city 12 hours further inland. This is what the landscape around Guilin looks like.

It's the home of the classic Chinese "pointy mountains" style landscape, and one of the most famously beautiful areas in China. 

Since I was there for a whole week and giving a day by day itinerary seems stuffy and victorian, here are some pictures and some comments. 

I took the train. The trip took about 12 hours. 

The inside of the train carriage was the most chinese place I have yet been. 

Long-distance Chinese trains have four different classes. From cheapest to most expensive, they are: Hard Seat, Hard Bed, Soft Seat, Soft Bed. I stayed in a "hard bed," which are stacked three high and quite small. Here's the view from my upper bunk. 

The area of the train I was in happened to be, by chance, filled with young mothers and their squirrely children. 

My bed was so close to the ceiling that I could only extend my arms about half-way up while lying down. I was sleeping cuddled up next to my camera bag with all my valuables in it, which is what you're supposed to do, which gave me even less space. I didn't have a window, even. 

Anyway, I survived to Guilin. Guilin is the big city in the pointy-mountains-landscape-zone, and is the name you attach to the area even though Guilin itself is relatively unspectacular. I got on a bus to Yangshou immediately after I arrived, and don't have any pictures of Guilin itself. 

Here's Yangshou, the most popular base of exploration for the landscape. 

If you've ever been to a really really touristy small town, you've pretty much been to Yangshou. The central pedestrian street is devoted to colored scarves, children's toys, keychains with your name on it, jewelry, and bars. 

See that lady with a hat? In Yangshou, every 30 seconds you're accosted by someone saying Bamboo? Bamboo? by which they mean they are selling tickets for rafts down the river. 

Here's the little alley where my hostel for the first day was. 

When I got to Yangshou, I hopped on a rented bike and headed out into the countryside. I did the "most recommended" bike ride from the bike rental shop. In about 15 minutes I was in the countryside, for the first time in months. 

I started out on a road, but as I biked the road dwindled into a little dirt path along the river. 

Chinese villages are not very picturesque up close. 90% of the houses are identical whitewashed cement boxes.

At one point on the path I crossed a little causeway and took this one. Biking along the river was my idea of fun, but the main landscape delivery method throughout the Guilin area are these little rafts, especially for chinese tourists. This was on a smaller branch of the river and the riverboats are very small. People pay about 20$ US to float down the river for an hour.

The end of my bike ride was the "dragon bridge," which is a few hundred years old. This is the view further up the valley from the bridge.

I went back a different way, on the other side of the river, and got lost and almost biked straight into a reservoir. I also saw a six year old girl in old clothes, on a dirt road, carrying a farm tool of some kind... wearing sparkly princess shoes. 

The next day I had reservations to stay in a much smaller town than Yangshou, and I intended to bike there, but I got lost, so I ended up taking the bus. This smaller town, Xingping, is where the landscape on the chinese 20Y bill was painted. The town is right next to a mountain with a steep staircase up to the top. I climbed it at sunset. The view was incredible.

I took a hundred or so pictures that night, from the viewpoint, as the sun went down. Here are some!

Here's a close up of the little town.

I took some self portraits.

 

My hostel in Xingping was a lovely little place, with wood-fired pizzas I ate every night I stayed.

The next day I headed back to Yangshou because I had left my bike there, and wanted to re-attempt biking to Xingping. This time I made it, after 5 hours of grueling up and down. The views on this bike ride, though. Oh my goodness.

Lots and lots of rice terraces.

Part of my 5 hour bike ride took me though what reminded me a lot of Wine country, like Napa or Italy.

Then the road climbed higher and got closer to the river.

Sometimes I was on the other side of the river and was facing a different set of mountains.

If you look closely, that one mountain has a hole in it. Also there's a dude in a tree.

I finally got down to the river, but I was upstream of Xingping, so I hired a raft to take me back into town. The where I got to the river was the viewing area for this mountain:

It's called the "nine horses fresco hill," and in the patterns of white and dark you can supposedly see nine horses if you are intelligent enough. To me, there's only one thing that actually looks like a horse - in white, in the middle, a little to the right - and then you make up the other eight.

Here's the kind of raft that's everywhere on the bigger river.

Once I had my bike with me in Xingping, I spent three days exploring via bike, foot, and bamboo raft. I met a couple of other hikers my age and hung out with them for a day, and had a pizza every night.

I went back up to the top of the mountain in Xingping for three more sunsets.

The second sunset, after my bike ride, there was a big rainstorm.

On the third night, there were good clouds.

On the last day I was in Xingping there was a woman with a pink hat.

That's probably mostly enough. I explored, I ate very well, I had a great time. My kindle broke, I lost the notebook I had been suing for 5 months, and I left my driver's license behind, and the morning I got back someone stole my cell phone. But it was a great time. I'm going back in August with Ben, my friend from High School who lives in Hong Kong. (He has a blog!) Maybe I'll post more about the crazy bugs I saw, the famous pickle noodles, and about the sad state of rural chinese infrastructure in some kind of "Guilin deleted scenes" post.

Before I go, my ride home is worth mentioning. I sat in the cheapest kind of seat, the lights stayed on all night, and it was filled with salt-of-the-earth chinese types. The train provides free boiling water at the end of the car, so everybody eats ramen. I shot this one of the couple across from me with my phone as stealthily as I could.

I teased this post on facebook with, "how many constantly crowing roosters was I trapped in a tiny train car with?," but really I don't know how many they were. The stop after Guilin a woman came in carrying three large cardboard boxes, and each of them could have held four roosters maximum. Somewhere between one and 12. It was probably just one. Shit, though, this rooster did not know when to can it.

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