Despite all the free time I have here, I have still managed to get behind with my blog, god dammit! But, luckily for you/me, Guilin is a place that I won’t forget anytime soon, it was incredible.
Before we started teaching we had even more free time than we do now, and as much as it would have been cool to bum around, stuff our faces with Chinese food and become pro ping pong players, we decided to really make the most of our time and travel, after all that’s why we are here! At the time our passports were currently being held by the police. I guess they were checking that we were both legit and they were happy for us to be residing in their country. We’re still here, so I guess they liked the look of us. Anyway I digress, we had an issue. We needed to get on a plane and all we had was a flimsy piece of scrap paper with an official stamp on it. We had been assured by other teachers that we would be able to get on a train and book a hotel room with it (yes, you need a passport to do anything here), but, could we really board a plane?? Turns out we could. Despite calling the airline beforehand, when we arrived at the airport we were both a little nervous, but it all worked out and we were soon on our way to Guilin, phew!
As always in China, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect with Guilin, but I am pretty sure I didn’t expect to walk out of the airport into a bustling city after seeing lots of photos of karsts and epic scenery. Granted when we arrived it was dark so I didn’t really see all that much, but it definitely had those busy vibes! We made our way to our hostel. There were quite a few hostels in Guilin and we chose Wada Hostel – best decision. We had booked four nights here, but as soon as we told them what we planned to do with our stay they recommended that we transfer to another Wada Hostel in Yangshou for our third night, again – best decision. Not only was the hostel really cool, the staff were so helpful and kind – a great first impression to backpacking in China. We grabbed a beer and started planning exactly what we wanted to do with our time here.
Day 1 – Longji Rice Terrace
The previous night we ordered our breakfast. Yes, we did order a full english, and yes, it was delicious. Baked beans…mmmm! Today we were going to explore the Longji Rice Terrace with some of the others staying at the hostel. We piled into a mini van and we were on our way. The ride took about three hours once we had navigated our way around some very steep and winding roads. By the time we arrived it was extremely hot and humid, but we had no time to waste. We had a good few hours to go and explore at our own pace, so we headed for the lookout points that were recommended to us. As always there’s a cable car for those that don’t want to experience the rice terraces up close and personal, for me I enjoyed walking through the fields imagining what it would be like to work here in the scorching heat. The old women we passed did not look up once at the tourists passing by, they just continued working hard with their heads down. The rice terraces went on for as far as the eye could see and the contour patterns that the fields make were beautiful and often went up the entire mountainsides. The patterns are said to resemble the scales on a dragon, hence the name Longji (dragon’s backbone). We were there in the summer and we could only imagine how beautiful it would be to see this place in the winter months when the fields fill with rain and snow to create some beautiful reflection shots. For some great views head to the Golden Buddha Peak and the Tiantou Village. In the village you will come across a few of the locals and if you have more time you can stay the night in one of the hostels. If you do make it up to this village look out for a restaurant selling passionfruit juice, it’s seriously the best I’ve ever tasted. You will also see many of the locals steaming rice in bamboo, this is another must try whilst in the rice terraces.
We would have loved to have stayed a little longer as we ended up getting lost a few times (it’s not well sign posted) and wasted some time, but it was a lovely day and well worth a trip from Guilin. A near miss with another car and a flat tyre made the journey back a little more interesting.
Day 2 – Li River & Yangshuo
Up bright and early we devoured a big plate of fruit (perhaps we felt guilty for the big fry up the previous morning), it was delicious none the less. The food in Wada Hostel is just one of the reasons we loved staying here, there is only so much pickled cabbage one can have for breakfast.
Today was going to be picture-perfect! So with our cameras and our recently purchased selfie stick at the ready (haters gonna hate) we headed to the ferry terminal to board our vessel that would take us along the famous and oh, so beautiful Li River.
Again, we booked this tour through our hostel and the costs are below. I have looked at other companies that run this trip and they all look pretty similar. Our tour guide Gary was awesome and his english was very good, he was fun and full of information. The karst limestone mountains that are dotted along the river are stunning and I think I have to agree with the people that consider the Li River to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. As we cruised along the river we enjoyed views of water buffalos relaxing in the cool waters, local fisherman going about their business and quaint fishing villages. The landscape here is so inspiring that the Chinese have even used it on their 20 RMB note.
Lunch was a bit of a let down, but having lunch meant we had to come inside the boat and miss out on all the amazing views, so we didn’t waste too much time eating it. I would definitely recommend bringing snacks and definitely bring some bottled water as they do not sell that on the boat, only hot water is available.
Several hours and millions of photos later we were pulling into Yangshuo. Here you could spend a couple of hours in the town and then get the mini van back to Guilin, or you could do what we did and stay in one of the Wada Hostels. We chose to stay in the hostel in the countryside rather than the one in the city and it was such a good choice, it was fantastic and so peaceful!
That afternoon we chilled in the hostel and then headed out on the bikes that are available from the hostel. We headed into the town and grabbed a beer at the other Wada Hostel and high-fived each other that we had chosen the nicer hostel to stay in. From here we departed on a tour to see the local comorant fishermen, which we found out to be somewhat of a myth, much to Matt’s disappointment. Our cycle back to our hostel in the pitch black was interesting. A few wrong turns and a quick escape from some angry dogs and we were home. It had been a long and exhausting day, but it had been a good’n!
Day 3 – Yangshuo > Xingping
We spent the morning cruising around the countryside on two wheels (bikes hired from the hostel) and it was so good to breathe in the fresh air and see how the locals live. We followed the river all the way to Yangshuo Mountain Retreat – this place was awesome! If we were to ever come back to Yangshuo we would stay here, but on this trip we just enjoyed a mango milkshake by the river and watched people floating past on bamboo rafts… this place really did look like paradise!
We then paid around 10 RMB to get the bus from Yangshuo to Xingping, it takes around 45 minutes and as much as I could have spent the entire day cycling around the countryside I was so glad we made this trip. Xingping is a beautiful little town on the edge of the river and there are lots of things to do. We enjoyed walking around the markets and we were going to hike 2-3 hours to a fishing village but we didn’t have time, instead we hiked up one of the karst mountains to watch the sunset. Ask anyone where Laozhai Shan is and they will point you in the right direction. The hike is very steep and at points you need to use ladders and chains to get further up the mountain. It took around 40 minutes for us to get to the top and we were a big sweaty mess at the end of it, but boy were the views worth it! I’ve never seen anything like it, it was phenomenal. From the top you can see an endless sea of karst mountains and the Li River below. We climbed over the barriers to get the best views, if you suffer from vertigo you may struggle a little. I was so glad we did this hike, and I would urge you to drag yourself up to the top if you can.
After what was an incredible day we waited for the bus back to the Yangshuo train station, which took around 15-20 minutes (timings depend on how reckless your driver is). From the train station we caught the train back to Guilin (just over an hour on the bullet train) for our final night in the hostel before flying back to Chengdu.
Tour prices – these are the prices we paid and other tour companies offer similar trips for similar prices!
Do-It-Yourself 1 Day Tour to Dazhai Village – 255Y/person
* Includes roundtrip
* Includes entrance ticket to the Longji Rice Terraces (admission price: 100Y)
* 4-5 hours at the terraces
* THIS TOUR REQUIRES A MINIMUM OF 6 GUESTS
Li River boat cruise – 420Y(One-way)/person (You can choose one-way or round-trip)
* Includes transport from Wada Hostel to Zhujiang Pier
* 4-5 hours tour boat ride along the Li River from Zhujiang to Yangshuo Pier
* Chinese lunch is included
* English speaking tour guide