No, it was not the landscape: I went there expecting a marvelous landscape and saw a marvelous landscape. The surprise was… the city. A modern, organized, and very tourist-oriented city, far from the rural look I was expecting.
The fir lake is a perfect central ornament, while the elephant’s trunk is just a common spot. Out of town the Reed Flute Caves are interesting and well illuminated.
Li River is the main attraction, and, after learning in location that it was the first Chinese town opened to tourism, everything makes sense.
However, visiting Guilin was a surprise.
Water plays an important role in Guilin.
A couple of lakes meandering in town complement the river: Fir Lake, edged by a small and cool garden, with its two pagodas, is really nice, and one of the most photogenic points of Guilin.
In the fast developing cities, it’s easy to loose the image of China.
Big buildings, large avenues, compose quarters that could be… everywhere else in the world.
However, here and there, even in the most transformed cities, it’s possible to see the views that filled our imaginary. Fir Lake it’s true China when visiting Guilin.
Lijiang Waterfall Hotel
One of the attractions that we can’t miss visiting Guilin is the show that each night, at 8.30 PM, takes place in the rear of the hotel: from the top, a cascade of water descends along the glasses of the wall, with music in the background. It’s nice, and it is, indeed, the most spectacular way to … wash windows!
Progress against cliches
Descending Li River all the tourists, camera in hand, waited anxiously for the cliche: a raft standing in the river, with a fisherman covered by the traditional hat.
Now, life depends on tourism, and fishing is less rewarding than travelling tourists. The rafts were there but with colorful umbrellas over a comfortable chair.
I was told that the people visiting Guilin to descend Li river were about 70000 each day. Correct or not, we really feel like being part of a long caravan, always with a couple of boats ahead and behind us.
70 000, with 100 people per boat makes 7000 boats, which seems too exaggerated, but, anyway, you do never count on a calm and lonely presence in the river.
Li River banks
I was expecting a Li river full of live, with lots of villages bordering it and living on it.
We saw animals (not many) and a few houses, but many of them seeming… abandoned.
I understand that the boats passing by are not significant to the local’s life, and business is only placed at both ends of the itinerary, but water is life, China has billions…
Li River Caves
Halfway down Li river from Guilin to Yangshuo there’s a promoted cave.
I don’t know if it is announced for being interesting, or just for being there.
There were some boats stopped nearby, but I saw no one entering it, and we had no chance to leave the boat, too big to approach the entrance.
Descending Li river, you may receive a well detailed map, that gives a name to almost all the geological formations in the banks, and to some villages hidden in the green of the trees.
Yangti is one of those names, meaning… nothing. We may see one or two roofs, maybe a child by the river, but it’s hard to imagine the whole village that stands behind. Unless you travel by road, you will stay restricted to the magnificent performance of nature, that slides by your boat, without a real look of Chinese life.
While you descend Li river the loudspeaker (and the supplied brochure), are putting names in everything that justifies a look.
A large mountain with stripes in its slopes is said to be “the 7 horses”.
OK. It’s there!
Don’t try to find the horses: one is out for a race in Hong Kong, two are mating in the other side of the mountain, and the other four are shy.
In summer the water is so shallow that, here and there it is hard to believe that the big boat will pass. I heard that sometimes it gets so shallow that is absolutely impossible to pass.
So, since that descent is the great reason to a trip to Guilin or Yangshuo, if you go in the end of summer you better check out in advance how are the things, or you risk to miss it.
During the trip along the Li River, the crew tries to amuse the clients (and collect a few more RMB) with some local drinks.
It couldn’t fail the liquor with the snake. I don ’t know the price, but no one dared to taste. Well, if selling was the idea, the snake was not the best bet!
Vendors in Li River
In Li River cruise, one raft – just one raft – approached, paddling, to the boat and offered some crafts to the tourists.
That was something we should expect, but the surprise was… only one?
Funny! China is really different!
After lunch we were invited to taste a local wine on board. Some people thought that it was included, but not, they charged 50 RMB. I did taste it. It was a sweet wine, smelling like flowers, but… fresh and balanced. Not bad!
No need to say! I know that they charged the price of a couple of bottles, but… we were tourists, weren’t we?
The long last hour
The best of the trip in Li River is in the middle, so we may split it in three parts: the first one, when we “go to the party”, the second one, when we “enjoy the party”, and the third one, when we ”come from the party”. This means that the final part gets a little boring, turning the arrival in Yangshuo in a pleasant relief.
If you decide to use your time for more than to sleep, read or talk, it’s interesting to notice that the coast is not overbuilt: from the river we only see a few isolated houses, respecting the dominating nature.
Visiting Guilin, the top highlight was almost a deception.
A hole in the rock, a collection of tales, and… that’s all. Not particularly remarkable nor nice.
The best of it, was… the people around it. Some funny details, a cool garden, good sight of the river, and it’s done.
Elephant’s Trunk Park
Though the elephant’s trunk it is not a remarkable spot, it’s easy to understand what it means to locals, enough to justify the arrangement of all the area.
The small park is well maintained, and it allows some beautiful sights.
I was tempted to believe that this tradition only lives now because of the tourism, but I’m not so sure. Along the river lots of cormorants, waiting in the rafts, make me believe that they keep being useful. After the parade of the touristy caravan, life may continue in its traditional way.
One common detail in China’s way of life is the way people gather in the streets to play, or to dance.
Mahjong or cards were played everywhere, but the funniest thing that I saw was the contrast between the lined employees in the modern malls, and the ease of the workers in the public underground market, in the absence of clients…
I’ve already posted something, somewhere in China pages, about Chinese discipline at work. Remarkable. The almost military way how they line in their working places, waiting for the clients, is something uncommon in the west.
But there’s discipline and discipline, and I think that all men will agree with me that discipline at work in Guilin has something special… a “je ne sais quoi”… a…
I wrote in my Tacoma page about the disappointment that was my visit to its glass bridge, by Chihuly. Maybe because of it (and because I couldn’t read any special reference to this one, in Guilin), I didn’t approach the Crystal Bridge in Banyan Lake.
Maybe glass, maybe plastic, maybe both, I didn’t approach it. It seems closer to what I was expecting from a so called glass or crystal bridge than the American one. The effects, at night, have a beauty that my poor camera could catch. But Banu was in the group, and, with her permission, I’ll join her version, in the reader’s profit.
It was a simple and nice idea, the installation of some statues of elephants playing in the water, in Elephant’s Trunk Park.
It gave expression to the shallow and calm borders of the river, and integrates well in the landscape and touristy attraction.
For those without time to descend the Li river (will it be anyone that goes to Guilin without descending the river?), it’s possible to make a small trip around the elephant’s trunk in a typical raft, protected from the sun and rain.
We had no time to approach the sailors, and check the prices (well… we descended the river…).
Half of the main street, in central Guilin, is closed each night for the night market (at least while we were there!).
For several hundred meters, three row of stalls sell all kind of crafts, for locals and tourists.
Next morning the traffic flows normally, without signs of the crowds and huge deals of… a few hours before.
I couldn’t see any difference between the ambiance and social conditions of Guilin, and any touristy city in the west.
Modernity, mass consummation, expansive youth, safety in the streets, only one warning: pickpockets! Once again, as in most western cities…
All the times that I separated some meters from Fernanda, a new kind girl offered to be my friend. That’s not too uncommon, also.
People skating in the yard, a large screen with a film exposed to the street, strong lights and music! Am I really in China… or am I lost in New York?
This was a common surprise in China, more in Guilin than elsewhere.
Reed flute cave
After a couple of days listening to the guides attaching names to everything that could be promoted for the tourists, I confess that I was expecting a small cave with a few stalactites seeming… bamboo.
I was positively surprised by the size and beauty of the caves. Of course, each rock and formation won a name and a story, but the cave is very interesting, due to the elaborated game of lights and the contrasts they create.
Situated only 5 km far from Guilin, they are easy to visit by taxi or bicycle, if you are not in a package as we were.
Li River Boats
Not so bad
We were warned by our guide that the lunch in the boat, halfway from Guilin to Yangshuo, “couldn’t reach our expectations” so we should be prepared to… starve.
Well, it was not a great event, but we ate enough, and the quality was not that bad.
One thing I was sorrow: I missed the turtle soup, because they took it away sooner than I expected. Be aware of that: the plates go back quicker than they come.
After lunch we saw the crew washing the dishes… in the river. Well… AFTER lunch, thanks God!
Stalls in Elephant’s Trunk Park
With feet in the water
In the Elephant’s Trunk park, there’s a small esplanade… IN the water.
People prepare some food by the river, and you may try the fun of eating or drinking, with your feet in the water. I didn’t check the prices, but, as we only saw locals using it, they must be a pleasant surprise.
It was hot, very hot, when we went to the Elephant’s Trunk park. We envied the lucky guys that were lazing in the shade, with the feet in the water.
That was the true image of serenity and easy comfort.
Sheraton Guilin Hotel – Excellent location
Very good hotel, maybe the best we had in China, with excellent location in the centre of Guilin.
With the rush for visiting this and that, we had no time to use most of its facilities, but everything seemed to work perfectly.
I read that the hotel has excellent views over the river, but didn’t confirm it: I had common views of the neighbour buildings. My bad luck!
Being in a package, I don’t know what I paid for it.
Address: Bin Jiang Nan Road, , Guilin, Guangxi
“A good photo” is the dream of every tourist descending Li River, but nature has its last word.
We left Guilin with rain, the guide saying that it was good for photo because it would open at any minute, probably without haze. Well, we had rain, haze, and no open sun.
Different looks, different ambiences, provided several different results. Banu was caught by the haze and enhanced it in marvellous pictures you may see in Banu Burak’s publications.
I tried to capture everything and made… something, hoping that it will help my memories of Guilin.
In the 50 km from Guilin to Yangshuo, long segments of the river seem desert. Here and there, ducks and a few buffaloes, make us understand that the people is there, but living from something else than the river, disturbed by the out comers.
That idea was confirmed by the quick and general views in our return by road from Yangshuo.
We come to a place with a series of expectations that sometimes are confirmed, some other… they don’t.
Traffic was an example: I was expecting the crazy hustle and bustle of India, or Thailand.
Wrong. The traffic is intense, but normal. There is discipline, order, and… efficiency. A very positive surprise, but… I’m going to Shanghai!
Stand at ease!
Li, you wash the dishes
Xi, you pass the dishes to the room
Pi, you take care of the costumer’s requests
Ti, you take care of the drinks.
Di, you smile at everybody, and help the other if needed.
Is that understood? Let’s move inside and work.
South Pearls Museum
The word came to my mind, but didn’t reach the mouth, when we were received by 5 elegant girls, modeling… pearls.
A rational analysis gave me some tranquility:” I’m with Americans, so, THIS TIME, someone else will pay the show. I will escape!”
Pure illusion! THAT necklace was… inevitable.
Hope again: the employee, in her diligence to sell the necklace, broke its lock. She tried to replace it, but she had no one similar. The closer alternatives were so expensive that even Fernanda refused to buy.
And the miracle happened: I came out of the pearl museum without having to buy anything.
PS – I was planning, upon arriving to Portugal, to go to Fatima and light a candle to celebrate the miracle. I didn’t know that Fernanda was carrying a heavy weight in her conscience for not respecting the sacred commandment: BUY. Next day… the airport… the free shop… pearls…
Damn! The candle would be cheaper!
What to buy: Pearls
What to pay: Too much for my taste
Address: 12 TaoHuaJiang Road, Guilin
Nightlife in Guilin
Close to the hotel we had, included in our travelling package, a show of the ethnic minorities. It was totally different from the previous shows in Beijing and Xi’an.
We were in a common theatre, with a popular audience, talking and laughing during the show, only missing… the popcorn. More visual and varied than the other, with simpler means, the result was, however, very positive, the best of our nightlife in Guilin.
Also differently from the other, they didn’t allow pictures of the show, but announced that the actors would join the public in the foyer to free photos. They did: a great confusion, with the exiting people stumbling in those standing for photos, and, in a couple of minutes everybody was gone.
The streets in central Guilin are lively, with hundreds of people walking around, ant stopping here and there in the many shops and bars. Darkness is thing of the past (at least in central area), and advertising challenges the illuminated touristy attractions.
I noticed that I couldn’t leave Fernanda further than 10 meters to take a picture, without a girl trying to be “my friend”. Is it there something wrong in nightlife in Guilin, or will I be irresistible? I would prefer the second, but the mirror doesn’t agree…