Looking back on my week of travel in Guangxi and Yunnan now, it seems like it was both incredibly long and incredibly short. Although it must have been long, because I feel like I could write for hours about the things we saw and did in 2 of China’s most famously beautiful provinces (including but not limited to utilizing nearly every means of transportation available on Earth). For the benefit of any potential strangers who have somehow stumbled onto this page, I’ll try not to be too long-winded.
October 26: Guilin
Almost immediately after our midterm exam, Matthew and I picked up our bags and headed out to the airport to catch our flight to Guilin, Guangxi. Guangxi province is famous for its uniquely-formed mountain ranges and the river that flows through them. Its easy to read that phrase and think to yourself, “neat, I bet that’s pretty.” I know that’s what I thought to myself when I looked up Guangxi province online. I found myself completely unprepared for the way Guilin’s hulking mountains popped into existence from the dark and mist like monstrous sentinels from complete non-existence the moment before. They are breath-taking.
The city of Guilin itself was fairly underwhelming, but we only spent one night there. Its lit up in all neon, and we happened upon a crowd of elderly people dancing in sync to music that sounded vaguely latin. It felt a lot like an Asian version of Miami.
October 27-28: Xingping
We woke up in Guilin, and somehow, I’m still not sure exactly how, made it downriver to Xingping by way of 8 different people for one flat rate per person. Saturday morning we wandered onto a beach of the Li River searching for a bamboo raft that would ferry us to Xingping, some 4 or so hours away by boat. The four boatmen we talked to directed us to their boss, who convinced us to take her friend’s bus to Caoping, where we could get on a boat to take us to Xingping. We thought that sounded simple enough, and she offered us a good price so we said yes. So, the boss took us to the bus, we sat on hard stools in the middle isle of the bus for the +1hr ride to Caoping, where we met up with a woman who walked us to a boat. This boat took us to a place called Yangdi, where we, for no reason I could understand, camped out for about a half hour before switching boats. This boat took us to a man on the bank of the river who walked us to a ferry. The ferry took us to the other side of the river where we got in a golf cart that took us into Xingping proper. All of this, for one low, easy payment and about 6 hours of travel time.
The city of Xingping was beautiful, quiet, and only flooded with tourist (who mostly stay in Yangshuo) during the day, as most of Xingping closes up shop around 8pm. We rode bikes around the countryside to some long-closed caves and ate horse meat (I’ve eaten almost every meat at this point in China: beef, pork, chicken, fish, dog, cat, horse).
October 29-30: Transit to Lijiang
From Xingping we planned to go to Lijiang in Yunnan province. To get there we took a bus from Xingping to Yangshuo, then another bus from Yangshuo to Nanning, the capital city, for about 8 hours of total travel time. In Nanning we decided to take a 12-hour sleeper train to Kunming. Sleeper trains are…an experience. We didn’t book tickets in time to reserve a soft-sleeper style car, so we we opted for the hard-sleepers. The set up of this type of car is a private(ish) holes though the cart, in which two sets of 3-tier bunk beds are crammed along with a small table for the lowest bunks. If you value your privacy, personal space, or back health…this is an option to be avoided. I wound up cuddled up with my personal belongings in a middle bunk, “sleeping” next to a man with a very unusual manner of snoring. But it was an experience.
We missed our flight from Kunming to Lijiang because our train was late, but realizing it would happen while we were still on board, Matthew was able to secure for us a “certificate of lateness,” whatever that means, from whoever makes the trains run here in good ol’ China. It didn’t do us any good at the airport because we bought our plane tickets on sale (therefore non-refundable), but Matt had a whole bunch of people running around trying to make our lives easier which was a nice change from how that would have gone in America (I can just picture the $3 drink voucher and sincere “I’m sorry” we would have gotten from staff had we been in America). We did eventually arrive in Lijiang on the 30th, a few hundred kuai poorer but altogether very happy to be in one place.
October 30 - November 2: Lijiang
Lijiang Old Town is a giant tourist trap. Had we not been able to speak Chinese there, resulting in accidentally making some (very friendly) Chinese friends, I would have found the place entirely unappealing. The old town is tiny, made-to-look-antique shop after tiny, made-to-look-antique shop where everyone is selling the same exact stuff, and at night the central area turns into a giant, hokey night club scene. BUT! Our first (exhausted) night there, we wandered into a tea-shop mistaking it for a restaurant because the owners were inside making jiaozi (dumplings). At first they laughed at us for asking to see the menu, but then they invited us in for tea and jiaozi and insisted that we eat, drink, and not pay. Who am I to turn down that kind of hospitality? Matthew took the reins on the conversation, but I could understand most of what was being said, which is a really cool feeling. They talked to us for a long time, and offered to help us arrange cheaper tickets to ride horses up some mountains in a particularly scenic spot just outside the city (side note - everyone down South has connections, seriously…everyone). We excused ourselves after an hour and half or so of conversation, promising to return the next day to make arrangements for the horse riding.
The next day we spent most of the day walking around the Old Town before we realized how frustratingly commercial it was. Afterwards we returned to our friends’ tea shop and made the arrangements to ride horses the next day. Our friends insisted that we come eat dinner at their place, so we took a couple hours of rest at the hostel and returned to what we really hoped would not be more jiaozi. They led us to their shared home, about 6 or so friends lived in these connected buildings around a common courtyard. That dinner was both the coolest and weirdest thing I’ve done so far in China. They had cooked a bunch of dishes, including a giant hunk of meat on bone cooked into a flavorful soup and a bunch of vegetable dishes. The friends referred to each other as “older brother” and “older sister” and chatted with us in Chinese over dinner, while one of the girls urged us to drink and drink and drink beer.
The next day we rode horses, the scenery was beautiful, yada yada. I’ll post pictures that can explain it much better than words ever will.
November 2-3: Dali
We took another train from Lijiang to Dali, also in Yunnan province. By the time we got here, I was beyond exhausted from all of the traveling, walking, and activities. So we spent most of our time in Dali eating good food, good desserts, and drinking Yunnan coffee in a few of Dali’s countless cafes. And I liked it quite a bit. The scenery around Dali is also really pretty, but I wanted to rest a bit before heading back to Shanghai, so we didn’t do much trekking.
We left Dali on Sunday and bused back to Kunming to catch a late flight back to Shanghai. Getting back to Shanghai felt like coming home. I missed my roommate, the familiar sounds of traffic, and of course…my baozi lady.
Pictures to come!