So proclaimed children’s textbooks for decades. Another saying is:”East or west, Guilin scenery is the best”. It’s easy to see why, thanks to the karsts and the River Li that dominate the region all the way up to Yangshou and beyond. The views are unlike anything you are likely to see unless and until you visit here. The landscape is indelible enough to land on the back of the 20 RMB note and you will see in the next post the photo I took of the scene that is the basis for that etching. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning of this part of our adventure: Guilin airport.
Thankfully, we were picked up at the Guilin airport so I didn’t have to suffer any further indignity of paying too much for a taxi. Our guide who greeted us at the airport was Eric who has an intimate knowledge of Guilin and its province, Guangxi. As I mentioned previously, Guilin is old and it’s a very popular destination for visitors as the gateway to Yangshou which we visited and will be discussed in my next post. Tourists get there via boats that traverse the Li River as it snakes its way through the almost surreal karst landscape of hills that go on for miles.
We were driven from the airport directly to our first stop, the Reed Flute Caves. Inside this water-eroded cave complex is a spectacular world of various stalactites, stone pillars and rock formations lit by a variety of colored lights to create a spectacular, other worldly scene. The various pools of water throughout reflected the multi-color lit ceiling above, creating remarkable mirror effects that appeared to show a whole cave world below our feet but was in reality, only a few inches of water. There’s even graffiti carved into the walls in some places that date back over a thousand years ago. “Liroy was here”? (WWII humor there). By the way, as with many other tourists sites here including museums, just as in America, you exit through the gift shop. Oy!
For lunch, we drove to an ancient town called Daxu village where we took an equally ancient ferry to an island in the middle of the Li River called Maozhou. It’s a teeny, tiny island and there we dined on organic fare in an open-air, hole-in-the-wall or rather, hole-in-the-road, café sitting on chairs and tables designed for a nursery school. Despite the sub-par utilitarian arrangement (unless you are four years old), the food was quite delicious and the beer, cold.
When we got back to Daxu village, we visited the home of an elderly Chinese man (I would guess he was about 200 years old, give or take) who showed us his home (which was about five times older) and how he lived, which was decidedly un- 21st century, or 20th or 19th, etc, etc. It was very fascinating. He was quite gracious in allowing three, potentially annoying laowai to invade his space and ask him questions.
Our last stop of the day was Yao Mountain (Yow!), the highest vista in the area and just outside Guilin. It’s about 3000 feet high. As with our visit to the Great Wall, we took a cable car to the top. The views of the surrounding karsts is astounding and I say that, even though the air was quite thick and hazy and only gave me a greatly subdued view of what it must look like on a clear day. At the top is a viewing platform where we took many pictures, but again, they don’t do justice to how remarkable the karst dominated landscape must truly look like in pristine air. As with the Great Wall, we took the toboggan run down to the bottom. On our way out, I espied a tank that I somehow missed going in. Why is there even a tank there? Who can know such things. What I want to know is: How did I miss something that big, going in? I don’t know, but somehow I did. Nevertheless, I was quite thrilled to catch it on my way out. “Tanks!” -“You’re welcome.”
We were finally taken to our hotel, Golden Oriole Hotel which stands opposite Elephant Hill, a famous landmark in downtown Guilin, which we didn’t see during our first stay in Guilin. The hotel is centrally located and lovely but anything after the Ritz would be a hard act to follow. Early the next morning, we were picked up at the hotel and taken to the boat for our five hour journey up the River Li to another famous landmark town: Yangshou. After our three-night stay there, we would return to this hotel in Guilin for one more night before flying back to Beijing. With that post of our return to Guilin I will show you Elephant Hill, the Guilin lakes and pagodas as well as the famous Waterfall Hotel and why it’s called that; use your imagination.
The riverboat ride on the Li River and the scenary is worth its own posting and that will follow this, probably sometime next week. As Rachel Maddow is fond of saying: “Watch this space.”