The second part of the Dutli Chinese adventure started with a plane from Shanghai to Guilin, where we took a cab to our hotel in Li Village – a small village outside of Yangshuo in South Central China where we were looking forward to the ‘vacation’ part of our 2 week trip. We made it to our hotel – Moon Resort while it was dark, but we could still see the outline of the Karst mountains rising from the ground during the whole drive from Guilin. We woke up the next morning to a beautiful view from our rooms of the Karst mountains coming out of the ground, a rice field separating them from us.
We had breakfast at our hotel (fresh squeezed orange juice a staple at each breakfast) before being escorted into town by Wei Wei, the owner of our hotel. She rode with us into town, showed us the bus stop for our upcoming boat ride, took us to a bank to exchange money and then left us on our own to wander around town. The culture in Yangshuo is as close to ‘Western’ that we found, with lots of Westerners walking around the town, outside cafes and most importantly - wine by the glass.
Once we wandered around town, we got on the bus that would take us to the Li River – where we had a boat waiting for us (arranged by Wei Wei) that would take us on the 2 hour boat ride to another village. The boat consisted of about 11 PVC pipes tied together with rope, with enough room for 2 bamboo loveseats and room for 6 people – the 4 of us and 2 drivers. Our drivers didn’t speak any English, but luckily it was easy for us to just sit and enjoy the scenery – very similar around every turn, but somehow we never got tired of it.
Our trip ended at XingPing, a small village that consisted of lots of locals selling trinkets, a few restaurants and a hostel. We wandered around the town, had lunch and once we saw most everything, we hopped on a bus back to Yangshuo. Once back to our hotel, we cleaned up and had happy hour on our hotel’s outdoor porch and went back to town for a light show, which was apparently very impressive and famous with Chinese tourists. We showed up at the show and if nothing else, the view from the stage – the Li River surrounded by the Karst mountains lit with artificial light – was worth the ticket price. The show – which was entirely in Chinese – was an interesting and impressive experience. The director of the show is Zhang Yimou, the director of "Hero", "House of Flying Daggers", and who did the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. The cast was made up of locals of all ages from the Yangshuo area, dressed in traditional costumes from various time periods. We don’t really know what the story was about (Ryan was able to pick up some words here and there), but the way they used the river as a prop for the show was very impressive – my favorite ‘scene’ consisted of hundreds of boatmen on the water – performing a choreographed dance while pulling themselves on the water (still standing in the boat) with a fiery red ribbon that looked really dramatic in the dark, lit with spotlights.
After the show, we left the show with the hundreds of other attendees and went to Yangshuo for dinner. We wandered a while and finally found a restaurant that served beer fish, the local specialty, where we were able to sit outside and enjoy the warm weather.
The next morning, we borrowed some bikes from our hotel and set off on a bike ride along the Yulong River, the other main river in the area. The scenery was beautiful, riding between rice patties, the river and the mountains side by side with farmers and water buffalo. We made it a few miles before dad’s bike pedal started coming off. Luckily, there are bike repair men everywhere in China – including on the fairly secluded road along the Yulong River. We backtracked a bit so dad could have his pedal repaired, in which what we think of as modern technology was thrown out the window in place of a can full of nuts and bolts that fit after enough pounding of the hammer. After it was fixed, we were on our way. We made it a bit further before we realized mom’s bike had a flat tire. We were too far from the repair man, so, armed with a pump, Ryan took the bum bike and we continued on – stopping occasionally to put air in the tire. Our final destination was called “The Dragon Bridge”, but due to flooding last Spring that wiped multiple bridges out, we couldn’t make it across to the path on the other side of the river. Taking this as the final sign that we weren’t meant to have a peaceful and uneventful bike ride, we turned around and started our way back home.
We stopped at a lodge on the road for a beverage and made it back to our hotel just in time for a massive rain storm. We had lunch in the Li village (by far the worst service and quality of food during our entire trip) and rested in the hotel for a while, waiting out the storm before going back to town for shopping and dinner. We were able to get all of the souvenirs we needed (in addition to a glass of wine) in between storms, making it to our dinner location before yet another downpour. After finding a cab to take us home, we fell asleep to the sound of rain on and off through the night.
Because the rain did not stop the next morning, we left earlier than planned to go back to Guilin – hoping that going even a little further North would help us get to better weather. We lucked out and had a day in Guilin to wander in the sun before our next flight. While in Guilin, we walked around the many parks and lakes they have. One in particular had two pagodas – the sun and the moon pagoda – and was full of people.
A young man came to us and started talking in English, explaining that he was an English teacher and wanted to take us to a tea house for some tea – so he could teach us about tea and speak English. Not sure if this was a scam or not, we went with him. We walked a ways to another part of the city to a tea house in which we sampled (in the traditional way) 3 teas that are grown locally. It was interesting, especially for dad, who walked out with some local osmanthus tea. We wandered a bit more, had a good noodle dinner and made out way to the airport via the bus station. We landed in Xi’an and made our way to the hostel – where we would be staying for 2 nights (and paying $26/night per room).
We woke up the next morning and had breakfast in the hostel and then bussed out to the Terra Cotta Warriors. This was one location we wanted to have a guide take us through, so we were approached by a German couple who we ended up ‘sharing’ the guide with. Our guide did not speak English very well, but the Warriors are impressive with or without the background.
What was most surprising to me was the number of warriors in each of the three buildings, and the amount that are still not uncovered or still laying in pieces, waiting to be put together into one full ‘warrior’. After wandering around the warrior digs for about 3 hours, we bussed our way back to Xi’an, where we wandered around the Muslim quarter and had a very late lunch. We made our way back to the hostel and then went to the Big Goose Pagoda – which is square – and totally different than the typical round pagodas in other cities.
We were waiting to go to dinner at this famous dumpling restaurant – where they supposedly make their dumplings in shapes – frogs, ducks, etc. We must have arrived too late, because by the time we got there, only 2 types of dumplings were left. So, we had normal steamed dumplings in what is apparently a very famous dumpling shop. We wandered through the Muslim quarter and market again at night and then went back to the hotel and had a drink before bed. The next morning, we were headed for Beijing…