For our 5-day May break, we finally had the opportunity to live out one of my dreams since moving to China, going to Guilin! It is known as the most gorgeous location in China and FCN has finally offered a trip when we can go! Honestly, it is the best trip we have taken since having moved here!
The trip started off with an 8-hour train ride from Beijing to Guilin. We could have chosen a 2-hour flight, but the prices were outrageous because it was a holiday, we are talking over $1000 per person! We chose the $100 train and it was worth it. While it was still a little chilly in Beijing, the southern part of China was green and in full bloom. There were farms, rivers, and rice terraces everywhere! It was a part of the country I had not yet gotten the chance to see and it was amazing. I got to see farmers working in the fields, water oxen and their calves wading in the rivers, and giant mountains! The best part, was that we were in the last row of the train car and it was the roomiest! We had space, nice seats, and breath-taking views. Can you believe? We haven’t even gotten to the trip yet!
We finally got to Guilin around 5:00 pm and had the rest of the night to wander around before the official tour started the next day. It was a surprisingly happening area and there were malls and walking street for food nearby. We were exhausted though and decided to stick close to the hotel and enjoy the mall area. Korey and I found a delicious Japanese place that was to die for. You could grill your own food right there at the table and the whole place was covered with anime decor. The next morning, the whole tour group woke up early and headed to the first stop in downtown Guilin, Elephant Trunk Hill. This mountain is not only a major tourist attraction, but also the symbol of Guilin. It is a great hill on the banks of the Li River and looks like an elephant dipping his trunk into the water to take a drink. You are able to hike up and enjoy the view from the top. The cave is the real attraction though, apparently it has inscriptions that are hundreds of years old. You can not get close to it though unfortunately, unless you have a boat. We spent a little time there and then heading next door to Love Island, which is the best place to take pictures of the hill. It is also has statues and picturesque scenery for young lovers to enjoy.
After we left Elephant Hill, to go to Mahai, a 600-year old minority village. It took about 2 hours, but we finally got to this small village surrounded by rice terraces and bamboo forests. The locals depend on these two resources to make money. They use the rice for food and the bamboo to make bamboo paper! The main reason that we came to this village was to learn how to make bamboo paper from a family the has been doing it the past 5 generations. Before we got to learn to make paper, the family made us a delicious meal in their own home. It was so cool to see the villagers and how they lived, with rice terraces right outside their windows. The family was so sweet, too. Afterwards, we looked around the terraces a bit (and oh my god there are so many spiders) and went back to learn how to make bamboo paper. The grandfather and his son showed us how they created the paper using the pulp from the soaked bamboo. They would then stick a screen into the tub of bamboo pulp with a quick motion and create an even sheet onto the screen. Once the paper had set, it would then be stuck onto the wall to allow it to dry! The whole process took days, we just got to see the most important parts. Korey even had the opportunity to try and make his own paper. It didn’t turn out so great, but it was still a great experience. After saying goodbye to the family for all of their hospitality, we hopped on the bus to head to our hotel on the Longji Terraces!
Now before I continue, our tour guides warned us to pack an overnight bag with a days outfit ahead of time. We all had very large suitcases and so this made us very confused. They went on to say that to get to our hotel on the second night, we would have to hike roughly 40-minutes up the stairs to the village and it would be rough carrying all of our belongs. They mentioned that we could take our suitcases if we wanted and pay the local farm women to carry them up, but I didn’t feel right about that (although this is how the village women make their money). So a few hours after we left, we finally got to the bottom of the famous Longji Rice Terraces, known as the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces. We paid 30 yuan per suitcase for them to be put into a locker for safekeeping while we were gone. We began the hike up and we ran into the local women that our guides mentioned could carry up our bags. They were all a bit older and I was so surprised to see how pushy they were to try to carry our overnight bags up to the top of the village. I stood my ground and just kept saying ‘no thank you’ in Chinese. But eventually, some of the other tourists just gave in and paid for the ladies to take their backpacks. It was really surprising how fast those grannies were racing us up the hill. The views as we walked up the stairs were so pretty. The stairs were all made of stone and the village buildings were something I had never seen before in China! So tall and elegant! The hike was a little difficult, but we finally got our hotel, the Ping’an Guest House. It had the charming, local decor and had a beautiful balcony over the valley to view all of the village buildings and some of the rice terraces.
Shortly after we arrived, it began to POUR RAIN. I don’t mean rain, I mean a long and constant onslaught of water. Some of the guests wanted to go on the prescheduled hike, but we only had one poncho and didn’t want to chance getting sick so early into the trip. Calvin and I waited until a little later when the rain let up and wandered around the village at night. It was so quiet and the villagers were all so nice. They even gave us directions back to the Ping’an Guesthouse after we got a little lost. Our hotel didn’t have a view of the rice terraces but it was still such a nice, little place. Unfortunately, it was so darn loud when the rain started pouring again. We were on the second floor of four and we could hear it as plain as day. The next morning was the big hike over the Longji Rice Terraces, but it was still raining unbelievably hard. It was enough to scare Korey away from the hike. Calvin and I ended up purchasing ponchos and silicone booties to go over our shoes so we could enjoy the hike without him. It was a little bit scary because the stone stairs were still slick from the rain and there were no railings to prevent you from falling down onto the terraces. But the views were INCREDIBLE! The rain clouds were low over the terraces and we got some lovely pictures when the rain finally stopped. We finally went to the lookout point #2 and were stunned to see that the terraces go all the way from the top of the mountain to the bottom. It is unbelievable that farmers were able to complete this feat of engineering with no modern-day tools. We finally headed down and we had a really scary moment when Calvin slipped off the stairs from the rain and fell four feet down into some foliage that the locals had piled on the mountainside. Luckily, the poncho took the worst of it and he was fine. We got back to the hotel and checked out to head to our next stop, the Huangluo Yao Village 20 minutes away.
The Huangluo Village of long hair was only 20 minutes away! This minority village has 60 families where the woman only cut their hair when they are 100 days old and when they turn 18. They even keep the strands of their hair that fall out naturally. We watched the dancing show where the women showed their traditional dances and unfurled their hair so we could see how long it was! Most of them had it down past their knees. The best part of the dance show was when they reenacted a traditional marriage ceremony. I was so excited and I quickly volunteered Korey to join a few of the other male tourists as the bridegrooms. Korey was so tall, they made him duck down for some of the ceremony and it was hilarious. Korey nabbed himself a good-looking bride and drank some of the local rice wine with her. They did one of the marriage dances and ALL of the older ladies were pinching Korey on his butt because in their culture, it means they ‘love him’. At the end, he had to carry his new bride off the stage on his back and I got to tell you, I was roaring on the floor laughing by the end of it. The rest of the trip, I warned him not to piss me off or I would send him back to his other wife! We shopped around for a bit and bought a ton of the specialty spicy Guilin beef jerky (most of which the boys polished off before we got home). We finally took the bus back down the to the bottom of the mountain and got our luggage back. It would be another 2-hour ride before we got to Yangshuo, our next stop.
It was raining just as bad in Yangshuo when we got to the Hao Yuan International Hotel. This hotel was the nicest place we had stayed thus far. It was a huge room on the second story, with a balcony, and had a view of one of the gorgeous mountains of Guilin right outside! In fact, this part of Guilin is not allowed to build any hotels over 5 stories-high so it does not ruin the splendor of Guilin’s limestone karsts. This means that the buildings are really long instead of tall, which is completely different than Beijing! After our dinner at the restaurant next door, the group walked 25 minutes to the extremely famous West Street. Thousands of people were there, buying food, shopping, and taking pictures along the river. It was great just going in and out of all of the shops and taking pictures with the boys. Plus, everything in Guilin is so much cheaper than Beijing! We walked into a candy shop and bought a ton of sweets for only 25 yuan. We made a pretty big splash in there, too. Most of the people there were also tourists from other provinces and do not have the chance to see many foreigner children. Calvin was being photographed with many of the Chinese children and they kept giggling like crazy. After we left, a few of the girls even came running out to catch up with us once we had gotten a ways away, and gave him some of the candy that they bought from the shop. My little superstar!
The next morning, the rain was continuing to fall. I couldn’t believe it, I have never been to a place that produced so much rain, but it explains the rice! It was finally time for the big finale of the trip, going on the Li River cruise to see the famous mountains that Guilin is known for. After finally getting on the cruise ship, we took pictures from below decks since it was still raining a bit too hard. Once the boat began its ride back to our port, we got to go to the open-air second story and get some really great pictures. It was still raining buckets, but this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a picture of the 20 yuan bill with the karsts that inspired its creation. As we were up there, a lightning bolt struck right off the banks of the river in front of the boat. I knew what it was the moment I saw it, I didn’t need to wait for the big boom .1 seconds later for confirmation. I looked to my right to tell my son…and he was gone! He had run all the way back to the covering with a bunch of the other tourists. I had to break the news to him that we were on a metal boat, in the middle of a river, holding umbrellas….pretty much nothing we could do at that point. Luckily, the rain prevented the lightning from starting a fire and we got to enjoy the rest of the cruise. After we got off the boat, we headed to the Xingping ancient city not too far away. This part of the city is 500 years old and still maintains its beautiful architecture, despite most of it being turned into shops. We ended up staying inside more then outside because the streets were completely flooded. We found a lovely little coffee shop right at the entrance and spent the hour eating and drinking to enjoy ourselves. We finally went back to the hotel only to find out that the 3pm bike ride was cancelled due to the rain. We could have gone out a bit, but we were so exhausted from the whole trip that we stayed in the hotel the rest of the day and lounged around as a family. We went to bed early because we had a 10-hour train ride back to Beijing the next day. What a vacation!
We headed back home and we all agreed that Guilin was the best trip that we had taken the entire time we had been living in China. We experienced the local culture and food, the beautiful scenery, and got to do a bunch of touristy stuff too! Calvin even said he hoped to take his kids back there one day when he is older. Not if I do it first, kid! Thank you FCN and Guilin for another great adventure!