The two main reasons to go to Guilin, according to the book anyway, are to cruise the Li River and see the dragon’s backbone rice terraces. Guilin is a place where the mountains rise almost vertically out of the valley floor, are about 1000’-2000’ high, and are somewhat rounded on top. The city is also very walkable, with lakes, pagodas, and jogging trails.
Since we had arrived in Guilin so late last night, we had set up a tour to see the rice terraces with our hotel driver. We knew of cheaper ways to see these areas, and with more freedom of schedule, but we doubted our ability to organize so late at night, so we went with a tour. The trouble was, the tour was to pick us up at 8am, but no one started serving breakfast until at least 9 or 9:30am. Hmmm. This seems like a problem. Thankfully we found a fancy hotel that was serving breakfast and ate there.
The bus tour
Our rice paddy tour was somewhat cool. I think we overpaid. But that could be partially because it either rained all day or was cloudy and foggy enough that we could not see much of the beautiful landscape. Our bus was filled with Chinese tourists, we were the only English speaking ones on the bus. Our tour guide would say everything in Mandarin, and then English, just for our sake. This would also be the point where we realized everyone in China smokes – the Chinese, the Chinese tourists, and the “green” backpackers who think they are so eco-friendly.
The first stop was the long-haired ladies and their “traditional” way of life. The last time I saw such a culturally bogus bunch of sh** was in Kenya at the “cultural boma”. Just like in Kenya, women were performing tasks that they never would truly do, including a lady sitting by the fire fanning it – all day, non stop, just so dumb tourists can take lots of photographs. Every item they sold was made in a factory, not by hand. The ladies truly did have long hair, but in order to see them take it out of the large bun, you had to pay for a “show”. It was a really big load of crap. But, there were two adorable puppies playing at the end so it made it all worth it (we did not do the show).
After our long hair lady “tour”, we got back on the bus to a village on a hill top (or side, with visibility we couldn’t tell), where after walking by a bunch of crappy trinkets, be crossed a bridge, went up some stairs (felt very much like Nepal), and finally were put to trough in a restaurant. It was ok food, chicken and rice cooked in bamboo was neat, but it would have been better with a view.
Our tour guide was very small, as many of them are (see pic of me next to her). The guys on the bridge were jumping and bouncing, despite the sign that says “do not shake, dangerous!”… and one of them slipped and fell, hehe.
In general we had not been all that thrilled with our tour, but, being that it was rainy or cloudy all day, it gave us a chance to at least do something. When people started throwing up due to motion sickness, well, that really made it worth the money. And then, when we were told we would be home by 4:30, but at 5pm we made a stop at the tea house (**!!!???) you can imagine how ticked off we were. So, we made fools of ourselves and took pics.
After goofing off in the tea house, while waiting in the parking lot for the rest of our incredibly slow group to get outside and on the bus, we had the pleasure of watching a ton of other buses come in and do the same thing we were doing – being forced into the tea house. Just before our bus boarded we saw an old lady clap her hands together very loudly, yell something in Chinese similar to “NO!!”, and go grab her husband, pull him off the stairs to a bus, and drag him away. Apparently, he was about to get onto the wrong bus.
Then, on the way back from the tea house, our bus got gridlocked in traffic. We sat at the same traffic light not moving for over 15 minutes. We would have gotten out to walk, but we had no map of the city and while we knew we were close, we did not know what direction. Finally the bus breaks free of the gridlock, and less than 1 minute later the tour guide tells us to get off and walk, and points us in the right direction. Ahhh if only she had said that before we waited in gridlock for 15 mins.
Dinner with some locals
For dinner we went to a tiny place advertising western food near our hotel (mostly microwaved pizzas). It was rather empty and the girl working the place was very nice. We had our meal and saw a group of guys starting to play a game with dice and beers outside on the patio area (it was very cold in Guilin, just above freezing). After we paid the bill our server asked if we would like to join her friends in their drinking game. Having not much else to do, and being offered free drinks, we stayed. And it was a blast. These guys were playing some game with shaking dice in a cup and bidding, constantly having to outbid the person before you, until the stakes got too high and someone called “show your dice”. A couple of the guys spoke English, and a couple didn’t, which made for really fun game playing dynamics.