What an experience our over night train ride from Guangzhou to Guilin. We were in a hard seat for over 12 hours! No sleep, however, it was sure worth it!
We boarded the train in Guangzhou and found our carriage after weaving through people in the aisles and found our seats. The rails for bags were jam packed, where were we going to put our huge packs? We asked a few young guys nicely if they could move their bags and they helped us. We had 2 aisle seats and there were just people everywhere! Standing in the aisles, sitting on their bags, sitting on small stools, sitting outside the toilets, at the entrances to every carriage, in and around the sink area! This is where are the people are! There were carts of food being sold. How were they going to pass in these jammed packed aisles? Well they did because people standing and sitting in the aisles lifted their bags over their heads and squeezed in between the seats! Not only were there a lot of people there was a LOT of food being consumed! All sorts, meats, sunflower seeds, cup-a-noodle soups etc. The best part of it all was that whatever was consumed the scraps and wrappers were then just thrown onto the floor (including a big pile of chicken bones)!
Not only was food being sold, there were ladies with mouthpieces selling battery chargers as well as tiger balm and Chinese ornaments! There was a family sitting across from us and one of the boys just kept eating like there was no tomorrow! The bottomless pit! One of the best parts of the journey was meeting “William”. He was from a town two hours outside of Guangzhou. He spoke near perfect English and was hoping to become an interpreter. We chatted to him about China and he taught us a whole bunch of key words that we recorded and have been practicing ever since. He was such a lovely guy. We gave him one of our travel books that we had finished reading and his face lit up like we had given him gold! What a train ride that was, no sleep! Worth it for the backpacker experience factor. I do think we will opt for the sleeper carriage on the next over night train!
Our arrival into Guilin was not that much fun as we had no sleep, were tired and wanted to find a hostel. We walked to the hostel as we had an address only to find out it was full! Walked to try and find somewhere else to stay, being tired and sticky did not help. We eventually got a taxi and found a hostel. As it was so early the room was not ready, so we went out to get some food as we had not eaten on the train! With some food in us we felt somewhat better and walked around one of the three lakes in Guilin that was surrounded by two pagodas. Very beautiful. A few hours had gone by so we were hoping room would be ready and it was. So we had a much needed shower and some sleep! Sorted out hostel for next stop so we would not have the same problem as we had here trying to find a place to stay. We then wondered the main streets and got some dinner.
In Guilin we were told the two “musts” were the River Li bamboo raft tour as well as the Longji Rice Terraces. We did both.
River Li Bamboo Raft…
The bamboo raft experience on the River Li was amazing! Check out our photos under Guilin on the site. We organized it through the hostel we were staying at. There were a lot of Chinese tourists and a hand full of westerners. Our tour guide “Eddie” gave us a briefing on the bus all about the River Li. It was rather hard to understand a word of what he was saying! All I got from his long spiel was that the River Li was 440km long and not to speak to the people trying to sell us stuff along the river, as they would then not leave you alone! The bus ride was about and hour and a half long. Upon arrival we were put into groups of four on the bamboo rafts. We ended up being on a raft with Paul and Alana who were from Northern Ireland. They were really nice and had been travelling for over twelve months and we shared stories about travel, where we were from, where we were going, where they were going etc. We were on the river for over two hours. Along the way we stopped and even before getting off the raft we were harassed by women trying to sell us drinks and souvenirs! We were able to get some gorgeous shots as well as see the water buffalo! The rest of the bamboo raft journey was as gorgeous as the first part. We then got into a vehicle with four rows of seats, about twelve people and headed to the bus. We were on a bus for about forty minutes before being dropped up in Yangshou. From there we had to make our own way back to Guilin. We spent a few hours here and wondered around. Came across a local market and this is where we saw our first skinned dog ready for someone’s dinner! Poor thing was dead meat, hanging upside down! There were all sorts of meat as well as fruits and veg. Considering the look of some of the meat it was surprising it did not smell too bad! We then found a place to eat. Had some dumplings and a rather bland noodle like soup. We have not been too impressed with the food here! Rather greasy, chewy and not that appealing to look at, so the thought of eating it is not that great!
Longji Rice Terraces….
The following day we went on the Longji rice terrace tour. This was organized by the hostel and we had opted for the Chinese tour as it was cheaper and the day before with “Eddie” as our tour guide on the English tour we had not got that much out of it, so it seemed pointless to pay more to have a guide that hardly spoke any English. We left the hostel and headed on a two hour bus journey. It was overcast and raining, so we were hoping in the two hour journey it would somehow stop and be a gorgeous sunny day! There were 2 other girls from our hostel on our tour as well. Abi from Bristol, England and Sylvia from Brasilia, Brazil. They sat in front of us on the bus and we got chatting to them. Ten minutes into our journey an Asian man called Eric came to sit next to Dean. Little did we know we would spend the day with Eric as well as go out with him for dinner! He was entertaining! He sure loved to talk and the two hour journey was made to feel a lot shorter as he chatted to us the whole way! He was telling us all about his travels and how he would love to end up living in Peru, as it is his favourite place in the world! Eric was originally from Singapore but is currently living in Kuwait and has been in the Middle East for the last 19 years! Not only did he love to chat but was super generous kept offering us food! The rain did not subside! After the two hour journey we then got onto a smaller bus as we were going up a steep mountain. The road was narrow and windy the bus drivers did not seem to slow down enough around corners! Rather scary as it was a sheer drop to one side of the bus!
About forty minutes later we made it to the top of the terraces. We had bought gorgeous blue plastic ponchosJ in order to stay dry and keep the camera dry! We climbed up the terrace for about forty minutes in the rain until we stopped for lunch. Eric was all worried about Abi and Sylvia as they had not stopped with us and had gone off ahead of the tourist group. He was calling out for them and then went off up the hill shouting out for them! He was hilarious. During this time Dean and I sat at the restaurant in fits of laughter! Eric returned without the girls. We let Eric order, not only was he entertaining and full of stories, he spoke Chinese so he was a great help! We had rice, chicken and fish wrapped in bamboo and some green veg, some of the better food we had so far. Near the end of lunch the girls appeared and Eric was relieved to see them! We then went to the top of the terraces with Eric. We FINALLY made it to the top. The terraces, from what we could see were gorgeous was just SUCH a shame the weather was so bad and foggy and rainy!
We then had 40 mins to make it down to the bus, could we make it?!?!?!! Well some how we did! Got back onto the smaller bus to head down the mountain around sharp, steep turns and the bus going way too fast! Dozed off as to not have to look at the steep drop on the one side of the bus!
Minority People Village…
We then got back to our bus with “Daisy” our tour guide that had told us all about the “minority” people, we were going to see. We stopped there and saw how these “minority” people live. We had to pay extra for this part of the tour, was it going to be worth it? Well the first part seeing the “minority” people from afar on a bamboo raft, waving to them and going through a museum that we were not able to understand a word as it was all in Chinese, so far not worth it! The dance show was rather weird as well. The best part of the show was watching how amused the Chinese audience was. They were loving it and thought it was hilarious!
The best part was seeing these “minority” people tie up their long hair. The reason they let their hair grow and never cut it was because they thought “long hair means long life”. They only cut their hair when they are 18 and keep what they cut off and attach it to their real hair. They also collect all the strands that fall out of their hair when they brush it and attach those pieces to their head as well! After visiting this sight we headed back to Guilin.
Eric asked us all (Abi, Sylvia, Dean and I) to go out to dinner with him. We told him we wanted to head to the walking street market area and he was fine with that. We made a rendez vous outside our hostel thirty minutes after returning to Guilin. We walked through the park around the lake to see the pagoda’s as Eric had not been. After the hundreds of pictures of the lake and pagoda’s we made it to the walking street. Eric saw a restaurant that he liked so he told us “dinner is on me.” What a nice guy! We had baked oysters in the shell with some sort of sauce and noodles, very tasty, some spare ribs (never eaten so much pork in all my life!), a fish hot pot, some green veg and rice! So much more than we are use to eating and Eric just kept on serving us more and more! A very pleasant meal and also very interesting to listen to Eric and his life story. What a great guy! We then walked around the walking street area and then headed back to the hostel. We said our goodbyes to Eric. Sure was a fun day with him and I do hope we get to see ALL those pictures he took of us as he did say he would email them to us.
Our last day in Guilin we hung out at hostel trying to sort out my medical papers to try and get reimbursed. Dean got the lady at the hostel to scan all the medical exams and receipts. She did it all for free! A nice chilled out day catching up on “paper work and emails” and went for a wander to our favorite little noodle and dumpling place to have our last Guilin style noodles (rather thick rice noodles in a soup with some sort of meat floating about as well as some green vegetables). We also went to the bank to change some US dollars into Chinese Yuan. Dean had to fill in two forms and get his passport photocopied. Finally got some more Yuan.
On the night of the 25 Aug headed from Guilin to Chongqing on a sleeper bus. Surely it can’t be worse than a hard seat overnight train journey for 12 hours!