Back in October, there was a 1 week holiday in China called National Week. Since the only major holidays you seem to get in China are National week and Chinese New Year, we thought we’d take full advantage. Hence forth lies the weird and wonderful diary of our trip to Guilin, in all its China quirkiness.
A Hui, our taxi driver dropped us off at the bus stop. We grabbed a cheap meal close to the bus station of Cantonese food along with a couple cups of delicious tea and took a doggy-bag for the road.
After only running 30 minutes late, our bus finally arrived. Purple and red neon lights in all its glory. We found our slots easily enough. All of our beds were bottom bunks, with a double floor bed directly beside a single raised bed and one single directly behind the other. Shoes had to be taken off upon entering the bus and pillows and a fuzzy blanket are provided. With bags squished to the bottom of beds and us all settled in, let the slumber party on wheels commence.
About 45 mins in I already needed to pee. Which was great when we were on a 10-hour sleeper bus, with no toilet. It wasn’t a if-we-go-over-one-more-bump-my-bladder-WILL-rupture, but it was enough to ponder what my life was like before I had such the urge to pee. I decided a nap was a good way to escape the pain. It was short lived and after only half an hour I was awake again.
3 hours in and still not toilet stop. We were in near enough standstill traffic like we had been from the get-go and it got to the point where people were jumping out of their cars and peeing by the roadside in the bushes. I was SO up for that. But we weren’t fast enough and before we knew it everyone was back on the bus and it was moving again.
Hour 4 and we finally stopped at a shell petrol station. The queue to get off the bus and then to use the toilets were long but moved fairly swiftly. There were a lot of toilets but only half were being used due to the degree of disgrace some were in. Initially we thought the place was clean but upon glimpsing some of the abandoned toilets, with poop dripping on the bowl of some and period in the other. I opened the door of one I at first glimpse thought was clean. Nope. Mine had a little turd on the side of the squatter. See this is why they need real toilets, there’s no chance of shitting on the seat at least. With the urge to pee getting near bursting and no fucks to give, I took a squat. As long as I didn’t step in it, it’d be fine. Low and behold, my prayer held out and whilst I peed for what felt like a solid 10 minutes, I didn’t step in the turd. After leaving that shell station I felt like a new woman, tonight I could blissfully sleep. But not before my chocolate soy milk.
Woke up, expecting it to be like 5am and us nearly being there. Turns out it was 7:15am, and we’re only halfway there. On a side note, other than one of the drivers who decided to sleep on the ‘hallway’ between our beds, and snore infrequently albeit loud enough to wake a sleeping giant, aside from that, and a couple of TURN ALL THE LIGHTS ON ITS TIME FOR A MASS PIT STOP, but luckily this time my bladder did me proud and I just rolled over and fell back asleep. Considering these mattresses are softer then the ones at the apartment, I slept like a log.
Another pit stop by 8am for the loo and a surprise buy of European pastries from Emily meant we now had a super healthy breakfast of what in effect, tasted like the little fairy cakes my mum used to buy me from Sainsbury’s with the little yellow and pink star on them, which we paired with crisps and mint ice tea.
We grabbed breakfast at the hostel and headed out to grab a cab to the Reed Flute Caves for 9:30. A short drive and 4 tickets later and we were about to set off on our little hike to the cave entrance since we weren’t paying for the expensive little train ride you can get there. But before we got very far we got heralded off by a man and his son to go on a bamboo raft to the base of the cave entrance. It’s was 10 yuan each since he gave us ‘student prices’. He was a nice guy and it sounded like fun so we went for it. The views were stunning, with rolling hills of green surrounding us on either side whilst we were calmly floated around the lake, only occasionally nearly colliding with others.
We were then dropped off at the other side of the lake near the base of the cave entrance, at which point a lady asked us if we wanted to go on a bamboo raft again. No, no. Been there, just done that. A 2-minute walk and we queued for the caves. We were part of a tour of about 30 people, and although many people working there spoke English, the guide did not. So we made do with wondering around by ourselves, reading the odd English names of some of the stalagmite and stalactite formations.
The cave boast an odd albeit interesting video on the cave ceiling which was rather reminiscent of ice age if you ask me, except with a dragon. They also had a bizarre ballet video playing too against the reflective background of the cave cast against the ponds by the bright colourful artificial lights. We in effect were passed by about 7 groups. It wasn’t until we left that we realised we were in there for 2 hours.
Up and out for 7am, grabbed the coach to the Li River where we had views out of Jurassic Park. A 40 or so minute up and down the river taking in fishermen casting their nets, mountains whose height mirror that of skyscrapers and fade out into the hazy distance, and the bare rock face that lie against the blankets of green that cover these hills.
We then got on another coach, across unpaved roads so bumpy that not even the mars rover could provide plane sailing. Could give Montervede’s pothole-riddled road a run for its money.
Anyway, the poor excuse of a road took us to Shangri-La, a stunning albeit touristy “fishing village”. We went on a 15-minutes boat ride through the stunning landscape, on the cleanest, sapphire waters I’ve seen in China yet, into caves as dark as pitch and gardens drowning in cherry blossoms.
We then got to join in with the traditional dancing under a little wooden pagoda and catch the lucky ball; what once meant the catcher was to get engaged but now only means good luck. And guess who caught it. Me.
We then snagged a cup of delicious tofu and rice noodles for lunch, and caught another bus to Yangshuo, an absolutely breath-taking town. Unfortunately, we had to scoff them down as the. Is driver didn’t allow food on, which let me tell you, was no easy feat. Spicy and heat hot in the 30-degree sun is enough to give anyone the ramen sweats and their nose-a-running. Traffic meant we had us a little walk. When we got into town, we were met by jutting emerald mountains on either side, Swedish looking bright buildings and the odd glimpse of other western tourists.
Once in town we began our search for a vegetarian restaurant Em had seen on TripAdvisor, but after walking for about half an hour we were getting weary. We happened to stumble across the Minority Cafe a sweet little open plan restaurant on an adorable little street. If did a mix of Chinese and western and plenty of vegetarian food. We were still deciding until she told us it was happy hour, so we thought when life gives you lemons, drink mojitos.
After the monstrously of a food baby that I deemed triplets, we made a trip to a postcard shop where we mocked the odd and often misspelt English sayings.
Em and I made a few purchases including a notebook for me and postcards, whilst Beth and Leader went in search for a toilet. After waiting what felt like 40 minutes in the shop we reunited at quarter past 8pm, then it was time to form a human chain (which the Chinese thought was hilarious) and bob and weave ourselves through the streets that had become the apparent epicentre of China.
Taking the lead, I became at one with Chinese traffic, since no one ‘lets you go’ on Chinese roads. At one point, we got to a really busy road which went a little like this:
Raph: “Are we-? we’re walking in a roundabout right now”
Leader: “This is definitely not legal in the U.K.”
Alas, we survived unscathed. We came across an oddly high number of German food and beer gardens. After making the half hour walk back through the sweaty, bustling crowds, we managed to locate the bus stop. Just as we got their we were ushered on to a full and moving coach to Guilin where we sat on what were in effect, buckets, in the aisle between the seats, packed knee to sweaty back, set for over an hour’s drive before we got home.
We woke up early to grab breakfast at the hostel and take in the warming morning rays on the rooftop bar. Today we’re going to the rice terraces. With a 2-hour drive, our tour guide told us the background of the land…
A man looks for 3 things that are big and one that is small, when looking for his future wife. A big bum which symbolises they will give him many children. Big feet which shows they will be able to hike around the rice terraces and mountains with ease, without falling. And a big voice, to call to her husband when dinner is ready, lest her voice be too quiet and he spends his night having dinner with another woman in her home. And lastly, they must have small fingers. This is because when a woman wants to show that she likes a man she pinches his bum. The harder the pinch, the more she likes him. When a guy like a girl, he touches his feet to her feet. And then if they throw the silk ball, they get engaged and marry a year later.
The ladies and region are known as the long-haired ladies as they grow their hair to between 1-1.6 metres, winning a Guinness world record. Long hair symbolises they longevity and is also a symbol of beauty. Women cover up their hair with a black cloth so that other people cannot see how beautiful and long her hair is. It is only during the wedding ceremony; the husband can reveal her hair so that everyone can look upon how beautiful and long it is. If a woman has had children and is to get married, she wears her hair in a dragon hairstyle, and if she’s had no children, she wears it in a snail hairstyle.
The drive there took 7 hours. We left at 8:30 and stopped to eat lunch in a little odd Swedish/Canadia-in-the-Rockies-beside-a-river looking place at 2. With a couple pit stops for grapefruit and toilet in between. One toilet stop we took advantage of was during the standstill traffic where we hadn’t moved in a solid 25 minutes, so we thought, why not? Let’s be quick. Get out of the toilets to find the traffic has moved along with our car, with all our phones and Emily in the back. Alas, after a 10-minute walk of catching up, we finally found our car.
Lunch was delicious! We were in the car with two Italian girls who are studying Chinese ‘til Christmas and one was a vegetarian too so lunch consisted of sticky rice, pumpkin, aubergine, egg and tomatoes, gravy-y potatoes and sticky rice cooked in bamboo. It was all seasoned and sauced to perfection. Then it was back on the road for another hour in standstill traffic ‘til we just got told to get out and walk to the top of the hill, to catch a local bus to the rice terraces.
We arrived super late, but in time to catch dusk warm the hazy air that hugs the layers of rice terraces as we past overhead on the gondolas. The top boasted food, little market stalls owned by the long-haired ladies and an abundance of people dressed up in Traditional bright garb.
We got invited for a tea party, and I agreed to have a photo taken only to get given a child shoved into my hands, with me exclaiming “how do you hold children!!”. What do you know, it’s similar to dogs except they don’t squirm as much.
We didn’t have much time, so instead of walk, we grabbed a rice bamboo and sweet potato for the road and caught the Gondola back down and began the 5-hour journey home. Bar one toilet break which was tiles slats in the floor, and a gross pad stuck to the door, I slept most of the way. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the long-haired ladies show, so we needed to see about getting a refund since we paid extra for the gondola anyway and the rice terraces tour was our most expensive!
We got up at a more reasonable time and had breakie at the hostel at 9:30. Which was already super hot on the rooftop bar. We then flagged down a taxi, a somewhat grotty, old, furnished-like-my-grandmas-living-room. But we ended up befriending him, got his WeChat and he took us to the bus station to help us book tickets. He even phoned his friend who spoke English to help, as there were very few tickets left. Luckily, we managed to book our sleeper train tickets for tomorrow afternoon. We then told him we wanted to go to elephant hill, he proceeded to take us to his mate and go on a free boat ride on the river to see the elephant hill which is a better view.
He even slipped him that bit more to make him drive super fast. Bloody hell, he did. He was serving and peddlin’ it. And if one of us moved seats form either side, the boats weight toppled in that favour so with that, the speed and the swerving we were clinging on for dear life, but loving every minute of it. We snapped some beautiful views up and then headed back.
He then took us to our chosen place for lunch, which bless him, he insisted we would not pay him since we were friends. We chose to eat lunch at a place listed as the second-best place to eat in Guilin, since Rice noodle pub was rated third best, and the Indian we were planning to have tonight was best overall. So, we thought let’s do the second so we can say we did the top three best places to eat.
Whilst the food was good it was rather average and definitely not worth making it in the top 3. After lunch, we went shopping in the huge shopping complex opposite our Sky Palace Hostel. We pottered around in Vera Moda, a glasses shop before making our way over to H&M to snag a couple bargains. Even though H&M is considered very fashionable and even a little expensive to some in China.
We then grabbed a coffee at the little postcard place and then headed back to the hostel to freshen up and get ready for dinner. We ate Indian food and it was delicious. Ordering too much meant we took doggy bags with us back to the hostel before heading back out for a cocktail.
Of course, whilst walking past we got invited into a bar by a guy who just so happened to be the owner of the entire shopping complex. Our night was full of free beer, drum playing and selfies with band members. With only one minor dodgy walk through a slightly desolate and decrepit hallway to reach the toilets since the bar didn’t have any. Then at home by 2am, it was time to go home and hit the hay.
Our last breakfast at the hostel at 9am consisted of banana pancakes, black coffee and black attire to mourn our final day in Guilin. We headed back to the room to pack and then check out, managing to get a slight refund for the ridiculous traffic delays, missing the long hair show and only having an hour and a half at the rice terraces. We managed to leave our luggage with the hostel too which we headed out to our adorable postcard shop which is teeny but hosts a second level within the shop where you can chill, drink your coffee or matcha latte and maybe write out a post card of two, before handing them over to the guy behind the ‘til to send them out.
We made friends with the guy, Kyle who assured us they’d be sent out the following day. Then me and Beth popped back to Rice Noodle Pub one final time for banging noodles and garlic tofu. We quickly scoffed it down and headed back to the hostel to meet the girls. Had a cheeky game of pool and then it was hailing a cab and driving to the bus station to get out tickets, which despite Em’s stressing, we got there with an hour and a half to kill so we grabbed some (more) noodles in a shop nearby to kill time. At 6pm we made our way to what we thought was the bus but ended up getting taken down another few streets, ushered into a tuk-tuk fit for two Asians and a suitcase, so in comparison the mesh network of legs, bags and knees was hilarious and cramped, alas it was a short ride.
We got taken to another weird out of the way bus station where the Chinese characters on the bus didn’t say Humen, but we confirmed for the umpteenth time and were assured we were on a sleeper bus to Humen. Loading my luggage and getting on, we de-shoed and found our spot. Sadly, we didn’t get a double/triple together this time, instead we each had singles, with Beth on the top right bunk, me in the top centre bunk and The Emily’s on the bottom right and middle. To describe this night’s sleep was to say I had to channel my inner geisha; sleep as still a possible and not move about (as Japanese men didn’t like them moving around in bed so as practise they would place rice around them as they slept and heh couldn’t touch any of it. Anyway, my “bed” of sorts was built for a small Asian so ideally, I needed to hack my legs off at the knee and trim of an arm.
The blanket had dried chewing gum on it which if you ask me was even still quite questionable. The night was full of people accidentally touching my feet or grazing past my elbow or knee, me trying to stay warm but also not wanting to touch the horrifyingly dirty blanket, whilst attempting to balance my bag at the end of the bed and simultaneously stretch my legs out in this coffin of a bed. Actually, scratch that, a coffins would be roomier than the bed we had!
After about 5 hours of sleep, we arrived in Humen for 5am, grabbed a taxi back, surprised the guards at the gate with our early bedraggled look as we clambered in, then everyone went back to bed for another few hours, not caring about our sleeping pattern and getting ready to get back into the swing of things for working the next day after such a week.
Written by Raphaella Ruggiero
Edited by Amy Ruggiero