A little under five years ago I landed in Shanghai after spending 26 hours in transit. It was hot, oh so hot! My feet were swollen and my back was constantly drenched in sweat. I was too tired to be excited and had far too much to do in a short space of time: I had to find an apartment, get oriented in a mega-city, acclimatize, do all the initial post-entry documentation and get ready to teach Chinese students. It was thrilling!
After the first two weeks I wrote an e-mail to my mother documenting all the obstacles and fun encounters and she enjoyed it so much I expanded the mailing list and wrote these anecdotal blog-like entries to share with people the day to day experiences I was having a traveling teacher and expat in Shanghai.
I stopped because I didn’t think anyone would notice or care and it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything at all. The program I am currently enrolled in has forced me to write again and I realised how I’ve missed it. Also, I think this time around I’ll make it official with this blog space right here!
The Bear and I recently enjoyed a 10 day trip to a southern province of China, Guanxi. We visited Guilin and Yangshuo and I couldn’t think of a better way to start my musings than with some of the highlights of that trip.
When the Bear and I first started dreaming about a work-away adventure I wasn’t overly keen on China as our base. The Bear was fascinated by the history, culture and architecture. I was simply drawn to the endless opportunities, the challenge of living and working in an environment where English was foreign and Asia, like Africa has only one place to go: UP.
As for being drawn to its charm, I didn’t know much. And then I saw a photo of Guilin. I wanted to visit immediately. In fact, I booked a trip there for the national holiday the next year but cancelled after we found a super cheap deal to visit Thailand. I put it off again and again and finally as we started thinking about our 2021 summer break I knew it was time to see this place that made my heart somersault with just a picture.
Before visiting Guilin you need a little bit of research. While travelers flock to Yangshuo for it’s green landscape, riverside accommodations and endless options for outdoor activities if you want to visit the iconic rice terraces it’s best to stay in Guilin. Yangshuo is a good 3 hour drive from the famous Longji Rice Terraces and ancient villages while Guilin city allows you to half the time spent in the car. We spent three days a stone’s throw from Elephant Trunk hill. One of our hotel’s exits also led out onto a pedestrian avenue filled with food stalls and trucks. A longer walk takes us to a popular vegetarian buffet restaurant. Already this place was living up to all my expectations.
The Bear is real fortunate in that his birthday is during the summer school break so he’s usually in for big spoils and surprises during our holiday. One of the spoils I’d arranged was a guided hiking day in the previously mentioned Longi Rice Terraces. I chose to use a guide because the heat in the south is unforgiving and we didn’t want to get lost, also, we didn’t want to visit well-known touristic areas and the best way to avoid those is to travel with a local. Our guide, Lily, is part of the Huang ethnic group, a minority group in China but local to Guanxi province. She shared with us stories about some of the sacrifices her family makes -her husband works in another city and only returns home once a month – she also told us about the impact her industry has had to endure with the drop in visitors to the region as a result of Covid-19 and the government’s strict travel restrictions. She also shared with us her love of painting and went on to show, on her phone, photos of her progress.
The best and only real way to explore and enjoy Longji Rice Terraces is to walk from village to village through forest, across rickety bridges, meeting sellers of handmade items, food and local delicacies.
While the hike has a lot of stairs making parts of it seem like the typical walkabout in China, views like these transport you to a completely different place.
Yangshuo is a short 70/80kms away from Guilin and takes little over an hour to drive. But why take a car when you can take a boat? Especially when the boat will slowly cruise along the Li River.
Welcome to Yangshuo
There’s a not-so-well-known Chinese proverb that says, “East or West, Guilin’s scenery is best,” it sounds like an exaggeration but it isn’t. It is by far my favourite scenery in China and while I haven’t seen all of the different provinces I’ve seen enough to appreciate how incredible it is. Guilin is one of four provinces in China that has karst mountains. Now for those of us who didn’t know what karst mountains are, a reputable source says it is a landscape made up of limestone, of soft rock, rock that can be worn away and even erode and dissolve from a weak point. This explains why the area has so many caves and the mountains have their unique shapes, like tall trees made of stone. Another proverb says Guilin’s karst landscape “is best among all under heaven.”
Some travel to Yangshuo for city breaks, to be immersed in nature, for hiking and outdoor activities. Some travel to explore the multiple caves (not me, no thanks). And some come for a change of perspective.
You can find that at around 300 meters in the air at Ruyi Peak’s Lovering Bridge. But first you have to take the 2.3km ropeway (cable car) and walk across the 148m long suspension bridge.
You can also get your high up on the moon. Well, almost.
Moon Hill is a Yangshuo icon, sitting 324 meters high this natural arch is beautiful to behold from afar and you’ll get some pretty cool photos but the short hike up gives you a view of the Yunwu village and valley you won’t get to experience from anywhere else. It gets hot really early so we thought it would be best to climb as soon as they opened the park. We were right to do so, despite the path being completely shaded the humidity sets in quickly and it’s a sweaty session of stair climbing to reach the top. Despite the early hour we were not alone. There are several ‘porters’, local women who walk near and around you carrying Styrofoam boxes, occasionally fanning you and, lucky me, swatting and killing mosquitoes on your arm. Of course, once you reach the top deck she opens her box and offers you a cold Coca cola at 200% mark up. We bought one! How could we not?
My final high came in the form of a dream come true and a motorised paraglide. I’ve always wanted to do it but it is an expensive bucket list item in my home town and I didn’t really have any opportunities to do it until now.
We had a late flight back to Shanghai so our last day in Yangshuo was one we could pack with some last minute activities. The only thing on my mind was getting high. The flight would only last a few minutes but you’d have a bird’s view of this magnificent place – all the Karst mountains for as far as the eyes could see. It was a must.
The weather was perfect and we bid Yangshuo farewell in fitting fashion.
Until next time…