Last Stop In China

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Asia » China » Guangxi » Guilin
March 28th 2013
Published: March 31st 2013
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On the bus journey away from Guilin we’d been lucky enough to catch the express bus which was advertised as being a direct bus. In reality it only stopped half a dozen times to drop people off at points along the route as they negotiated with the driver. For the return journey we headed to the collection point only to see the bus on its way down the street already. Not sure what to do or when the next one was due we had a look about the bus station and found a slightly smaller bus that was advertising itself as the bus to Guilin. We managed to figure out they were charging the same fare so we jumped aboard after storing our bags under the bus. A short while after the bus set off we spotted the next express bus on the outskirts of Yangshou, if we’d stuck it out another 10 minutes we’d have caught it. As it was, the bus we’d managed to catch, rather than taking the direct highway, weaved its way through every single tiny village between Yangshou and Guilin. The further we went, the more people were crammed in, some being put on plastic stools in the aisle as all of the seats were full. A little over 2 hours later and we’d pulled into the train station car park. We fought our way past the usual gaggle of taxi drivers keen to rip a fare from our wallet and headed to the booking window we’d been told of earlier in the week.

As we began to request tickets in some broken Chinese, with some characters for the destination written down, the assistant shouted something in Chinese through the speaker while looking over our shoulder. A brightly dressed very cheerful young lady joined us on our side of the counter and asked where we were going to in very good English. Feeling a little defeated by not being able to pull this off in Chinese, we went through our trip plans with the helper, after which she translated into Chinese for the ticket staff. Before long we had a figure for how much the tickets to Hanoi were going to cost as well as knowing that they were available. All we needed, we soon realised, was money in our wallet. The helpful assistant explained our problem to the staff, who don’t take plastic payments, and then gave us directions to an ATM across the street.

Figuring our hotel wasn’t too far away, we decided to drop our bags off before returning to the packed ticket office to finish the transaction for the tickets to Vietnam. The helpful assistant took us outside to point out the directions while explaining she was there as a volunteer to help with the many tourists they find in the city, it is a project organised by their university. Saying our goodbyes for now and with a quick look on Anna’s phone, we confirmed the hotel was within one city block of the station so we headed up the main road, soon finding ourselves at the next main intersection. We must have done the walk up that stretch twice before we spotted the small entranceway with the hotel sign 3 floors above our heads strapped to the side of the building. We wandered in and checked in and were told to pay the usual 100 yuan deposit and enough to cover the first night, with very little explained we assumed we’d be paying the rest on check out in two days. We were shown to our spacious if a little cold room with rickety furniture and a rusty bath tub. Figuring it was cheap and located favourably for us near the station we could handle the run down room for two nights, so dropped our luggage and headed back to get some train tickets sorted out.

As we re-entered the ticket office, the young lady spotted us and ushered us into a window with no one at it before negotiating the same ticket office staff member back to finish booking our tickets. We handed over our cash and then our passports, which were checked over for the right visas, before being returned. The ticket lady then began hand writing a series of paper tickets before covering most of the page with a variety of small red stamps, each with different Chinese and Vietnamese phrases on them. After a good 20 minutes of watching this intricate process we were passed two books of tickets, we gave them a quick check over with the help of our assistant, confirming we had what we wanted we then began to head off, but not before the obligatory photo opportunity with our assistant.

Back on the main road into the city we walked along debating what we fancied for lunch. We both spotted the Argentinian steak house at the same time and then looked to each other. After finding out the prices were actually a lot less than we’d thought they’d be, we headed up to have lunch. The menu was quite extensive with not only steak but also salads, pork and chicken on offer. I went for a lunch special beef steak that came with some noodles and a peppercorn sauce while Anna opted for a plain steak. This restaurant offers diners with a bowl and free access to the ‘salad’ buffet, so we grabbed our bowl and headed over to see what was on offer. There were quite a few bowls of mini prawn crackers and poppadoms as well as a collection of fresh fruit and vegetables. With our petite bowls now almost overflowing we headed back to the table and before long our server returned with a pair of serving platters. Our napkins were laid out on the table and we were instructed to hold the side nearest us up, at which point they took the lids off. This revealed a skillet with the steak on super heated, so anything in contact with it was spitting furiously. Once the spitting had subsided sufficiently we stopped cowering behind our now splattered napkins and tucked into the melt in the mouth steaks.

With our feast of a lunch finished, we continued our wander through the city until we got to the pair of lakes that form part of the canal system. We took the footpath round the outside and found the Crystal Bridge at one end and the Stone Boat on the small central island with a Chinese winding bridge, called The Bridge of Polaris, leading to it. From there we wandered around the second lake and found the Twin Tower Pagodas on a small island on one side of the lake. All the time we’d been walking beside the waterways we’d been seeing loads of tourist barges floating along, with PA systems telling those on board what they were speeding past.

From the lakes we walked down the river and soon found the tourist trappings of the viewing area for Elephant Hill. At 75 yuan each for entry, we figured we’d spend the small extra and do one of the boat trips we’d seen speeding past earlier and see everything rather than just the hill. With the sun beginning to set, we headed off in the direction of our hotel, passing a collection of restaurants selling the infamous beer fish. Alongside the many fish tanks full of dinner options were a collection of cages housing other options from shell fish to furry chinchillas.

Back at the hotel we decided to drop up to the room and have a read of the guide to figure out where to go for dinner. While in the lift up to our room we spotted an advert for a place not far from the hotel. After a little reading, and figuring we’d had enough for one day we went out in search of somewhere, ending up at a restaurant with a cheerful looking 1.5m man-high model of a chicken by the doors. Heading inside, we discovered they had an easy to read menu with pictures as well as English translations, to top it off, it was also one of the cheapest we’d seen all day. As it transpired, over the next two days, we managed to work our way through most of the menu. We also took a walk back up to the lakes to see the sights now flood-lit in the foggy evening.

The following day started slowly, so we decided to have a bit of western comfort & grabbed a KFC lunch after which we headed back to the area near the Elephant Hill to get ourselves booked in on a boat tour. We’d spotted the boat company office wandering by the previous day, so figured we may as well give them the cut rather than an agent and book direct. We had a little time before the boat was due to depart so headed off for a quick look around the statues around the outside of the park.

The boat set off from the lake with the twin pagodas, and as we headed off we passed a group of western tourists getting dressed up in traditional Chinese clothing to have their picture taken with the pagodas in the background. After a quick pass through the second lake and under the ornate twin bridges we were soon on our way up the canal system towards the Folded Brocade Hill. Once alongside we stopped to allow everyone to have their photo taken on the small rear deck are of the boat with the hill in the background. Alongside us at the end of the canal system we saw a massive lock that could fit two of the tourist boats and lower it the large distance down to the River level. This seems quite a drop when you sat in the front of a boat looking over the edge but is more than likely only a few meters. From here we sped down stream to the Elephant Trunk Hill where the boat put in a big U-turn to make sure all the people on the boat had the chance of getting a photo. Shortly after this, the boat dropped us off on the far side of the Jiefang East road bridge where we found a sculpture of a group of horses as well as a collection of clocks showing local times from around the world.

After crossing back over the river we walked to the peoples square and found a huge underground market stretching across the entire park. Soon finding ourselves a little disorientated we surfaced, and found we were stood on a huge marble world map, centred on China, made from different coloured marble to differentiate between the sea and land. Having a bit of fun we traced our journey so far marking our start with a plastic cup, while Anna stood at the marker for Guilin I headed over to the east coast of Australia. With the layout of the map this meant our start point and end were almost all the way across the map from each other. In good spirits we walked back through the cold gloomy overcast city back to our hotel. We stopped on the way to satisfy my curiosity at some street vendor food I’d seen earlier in the day. The lady was making snacks about the size of an ice hockey puck using egg. Gesturing for one and exchanging a very small sum of money she passed on fresh off the forming grill pan to me. Biting in I found the cooked egg inside a pancake outer, under which was a small amount of shredded pork with a soy flavour to it. It was almost like a Chinese version of a bacon & egg sandwich in pancake and tasted amazing. Back at the hotel reception we asked the staff about our checking out the following day and if we’d be able to leave our baggage with them as we were on a late train. They said this would be fine and also free of charge. Happy with this we headed up to our room to warm through a little and work out where we were going to go for dinner. Stood at the door for awhile, we’d tried the room card in the temperamental door lock in a variety of ways to no success. Admitting defeat we headed back down to reception to get a replacement. Once there we were told the key had been cancelled and we’d not have access to our room until we paid for the second night. At least that was the explanation that we eventually arrived at after a few confusing conversations with the reception staff, who really didn’t want to deal with us, passed us over to a colleague they called up on the phone. By this point we were both a little annoyed, not only at this not being explained when we checked in, but also that we had talked to them about checking out the next day not 5 minutes before. Instead we had to get to the room door and find out for ourselves that they were holding our luggage hostage until we paid them for another night. Not having the cash on us, as our emergency stash was in the room, we gave them a card to make the payment, the unhelpful receptionist then fumbled with the card machine for a short while offering my card into almost any place she could find that looked like it was meant to fit, before returning the card announcing to me that it didn’t work and we would have to pay her cash before we could get access to our room. Heading back out of the hotel making in clear we were not happy customers, we walked back through town until we found an ATM that would take our card to take out the meagre 150 yuan in cash we needed for the hotel, the charge the machine added only adding insult to the situation. After paying up, they re-activated our room key, thanked us for the payment, and we headed off to our room. While calming down and planning our dinner options, our room phone rang, not sure who would be calling I answered it. On the other end was the male voice I’d been passed onto earlier, only now he was trying a bunch of hard selling to get us to buy a tour, train tickets, almost everything the agency in the lobby could sell, with my answers getting shorter the longer the conversation went on, eventually ending in me hanging up. Not waiting for him to call back, we headed back to Doremi, the chicken place, to grab some dinner, now freshly aggravated by our hotel. After returning from dinner we unplugged the phone and got some sleep.

The next day, figuring we no longer trusted anything the hotel told us, we checked out and took our bags with us to breakfast. We spent a good few hours updating a bunch of blogs trying and filling in our budget as well as figuring out how much Chinese currency we had to get rid of before we left. Realising we had a comfortable amount we ordered lunch in the same place and stayed a few more hours until heading round to the train station in the early afternoon to wait for our 3pm train.

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