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Published: September 29th 2019
Dear Blog Readers,
Arriving quite late at Guilin train station after the panda-infested train ride, we nervously waited outside trying to let down the baying taxi drivers down gently. Mercifully, our apologetic pick up from our hotel found us and hurried us to a nearby car park. There seemed to be some singing and dancing going on in the nearby car park - like an overenthusiastic flashmob without the impromptu audience watching. We were soon crashed out in our unbelievable hotel room at the Secret Courtyard Resort Hotel - it had a wonderful view of the mountains with a tea set already lined up. The roof turned into a huge sky-light too so we had the moon and stars beaming down on us as we fell asleep.
We had a lovely cup of tea and breakfast once we woke up but the temperature had certainly racked up another notch - it must have been in the late 30s by the time we left the hotel mid-morning. We had a pleasant walk from our hotel up to the Red Flute Cave. Catering fully for tourists, the magnificent caves are beautifully lit up and you have to
have a tour guide for the hour or so to walk through - unfortunately we'd missed the English one so we were able to brush up on our Chinese. We then had a beautiful walk around the lake and park nearby. Short on options to get into the town centre about 15 minutes away, we got suitably ripped off by a taxi driver on the way in - he even tried to follow us once we had been dropped off to be our guide for the day!
We went into a nearby electronics market as we were meaning to try and find somewhere to get Laura's iPad smashed screen replaced. We'd been quoted £200 back at home so thought we would give it a shot out here. An hour later, and at the cost of £12(!!), I was suitably impressed with the results! Nearby, we went to the Solitary Beauty Peak which consists of some wonderful grounds/parks and buildings which provide you with a great visualisation of the history of the area and what the peak symbolises. We had a tough hike up to the top in the baking heat but it was worth it for the
lovely views of the area. We rewarded ourselves with a lovely bowl of beef noodles and then back to the hotel to freshen up.
In the evening, we were recommended (by Mum!) to visit the Sun & Moon Pagoda which sit in the middle of a lake in the town centre and look fantastic! We had a walk around the lake that they're situated on then found the Guilin National Cuisine restaurant just off one of the nearby shopping streets. The food was fantastic and the staff went out of their way to help us understand the mental menu! We ended up with a fried rice dome which was covered in a beef sauce, dumplings and sweet & sour pork - it was superb!
We'd booked to go on the Li River cruise the following day so it was an early start as we caught our minibus to a nearby hotel and joined a larger tourist bus to the Millhouse Port about an hour from Guilin. We were boarding the 3* boat - I think there is a 4* boat too which has a buffet lunch - but this one was perfect. We had
huge seats and shared a table with a beautiful family - Mum, Dad, Son, Daughter and their really cute granddaughter. The views along the river were incredible - rolling mountains covered in trees and small villages lining the banks. There was a steady stream of tourist boats coming along the river behind and in front of us - they certainly have the route down to a tee! The only thing spoiling the viewing deck was the photographer barking out opportunities for tourists to get their photo taken in front of certain landscapes in the background.
One such photo opportunity was a picture of the view from the river that is on every Y20 note in China! Although we struggled to get it lined up properly! We then had a pretty horrendous lunch - I'm not really sure what was in it, chicken, rice, some very strange meat and the hottest sauce ever. We arrived at Yongshou Port early afternoon and the heavens well and truly opened as soon as we got there. We had a long walk under cover lined with market stalls all selling exactly the same thing for about 20 minutes before diving into a
cafe for a drink and to avoid the rain. It didn't seem to be stopping so we just plugged on further into the town centre under as much cover as we can and going into a cafe once it all got too much. This was a shame as I'm sure the town would have been nice to look around if it wasn't so wet. We were killing time anyway as our coach back home was at 6:30pm but with the traffic it took 2 hours to get back to Guilin. We had a lovely crispy duck and shredded pork dish back at the hotel before turning in for the night.
The dodgy lunch kicked in overnight and the toilet and I became very well acquainted. Unfortunately I'd booked a massage the day before so this made for an interestingly risky hour - mercifully my stomach area was left well alone as there were enough issues with my neck and shoulders from carrying the backpack around! We then booked a taxi driver to take us to a tea plantation, wait for us and then take us to the train station - it was a great move! We turned
up at the Guilin Tea Research Base and were given a private guided tour of the tea fields and the process of making the tea. This included a wonderful tea ceremony being performed just for us with loads of really interesting information about the different types of tea being offered. We had the whole place to ourselves which was one of the first times on our trips! With this highlight to finish on, we made it to the station in time for our train which took us initially to Linzhou before getting the sleeper train to Zhangjiajie.
There were lots of families on board and it took a while for settling down but we managed to get a decent nights sleep. The train conductor was cracking - came in complete with his English translation book for him to practice with us. Never have I enjoyed teaching somebody the pronunciation of, "Please do not bring any explosive and inflammable objects on board"! By the time we were stepping off the train, he had a group of 5 or 6 kids gathered around, all chanting, "Outside it is raining!". Indeed, the kids and the train conductor were correct and
we were welcomed with a deluge of rain as we stepped out of the station. We quickly nipped to the shop to get an umbrella and got some breakfast at the McDonald's nearby.
Finding the bus from the station to the national park entrance was an ordeal...but the allure of a Y12 ticket vs a Y150 taxi ride was too much to resist. You have to go into the bus station and go through to the local buses section - you don't need to buy your ticket in advance (as you buy it on the bus) and the entrance to the back of the terminal is to the left. Once you go around, you will find a lot of buses parked up at the back and people sat on benches, playing games, etc. Ask around and somebody will point you in the direction of the correct bus - but show them the Chinese! The bus ride was quite windy but comfortable and after about 45 minutes we were at the national park bus station. We really had no idea where our hotel was so started walking through the town ladened with our luggage (and oversized panda) before
a friendly security guard phoned the hotel who sent a car for us. We were ushered out after about 5 minutes travelling back the way we had come and told to walk up some steps - after a surprisingly and unnerving amount of time, we found the Glass Cube Guesthouse.
It was absolutely worth the effort finding the place as we had secured a beautiful suite there and it made it difficult to leave until the evening when we went to get our bearings and walk the 15 minutes walk back into Zhangjiajie. We made our way to the park entrance and managed to buy the entrance pass that evening to avoid the queues in the morning. Unfortunately they only offer a 4 day pass even though we were only going to be able to get into the park for one full day. We had a lovely dinner at a restaurant near the bus terminal before heading back to the hotel and enjoying a lovely bath in the standalone deep tub!
Pretty decent nights sleep - still requiring a few toilet breaks as the Li River Lunch continued to wield its bowel moving force.
We had an early breakfast - fairly standard affair but with more rice than usual - before lugging our stuff down to the bus station and holding it there for Y20. We headed straight for the national park entrance and were already greeted with breathtakingly beautiful scenery. We began hiking up the mountain as suggested by the guide book but after 15 minutes, we made the best decision of the holiday and turned back around to get the cable car. It was unbearably humid and we were already dripping so felt comfortable that we would miss the queues at the cable car since we'd arrived so soon.
The cable car was really steep and the views were unbelievable - although we were worried the mother and daughter we were sharing with were going to pass out due to the vertigo! Our destination was the Huangshi village which sat atop one of the mountainous pillars that surround the national park. This area was the inspiration behind the scenery used in the movie Avatar so it really is impressive. We spent the next two or three hours walking around the village taking in numerous sights with increasingly elaborate names
- the Five Finger Peak, the Deserted Piers, the Fairy Maiden and the Bridge To Heaven. Monkeys congregate around some of the more touristic spots waiting to be fed some food, or more likely, steal the food of those getting too close for a selfie!
We saw some groups of people who we recognised going up on our initial hike - fair to say, they didn't look like they were up for another two or three hours walking around the village at the top! We decided to take the easier hike down which was much more bearable in the heat and finally picked up our bags from the bus station to get back to Zhangjiajie in time for longest train (20 hours!) to Shanghai. It was a short but sweet trip and the area definitely warrants a 4 day trip to take in all the sights so it was a shame we didn't have enough time there given our itinerary! At least we know where to go and where to stay when we eventually come back!
Tink & Laura
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