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Published: December 12th 2015
Sunday 1st November 2015
We checked out of the apartment and flagged down a taxi at midday to take us 20 mins and £2.80 later to Chengdu East Railway station. Here we would board the train south to Guilin which would take 25 hours.
We had 2 hours to wait in the train station, so stocked up on noodles and various other snacks to keep us fed and watered during the trip. We had a McDonald's lunch and when the time came to get the train we joined the queue of people at the ticket barrier for what we knew would be a mad rush. We don't really understand why, but despite people having reserved seats/beds which you have to have on this train, people went absolutely berserk rushing and shouting their way through the ticket barrier and running towards the train. I managed to film the whole ordeal which I have since watched back with glee, but at the time managed to get caught up in the flow of people and became quite angry and the unnecessary shoving and pushing.
We boarded the train at just before 4pm and settled into our compartment. We had paid the
highest price (£50pp) thinking that this would provide the best sleeping quarters. In our train carriage there are approx 15 compartments with a sliding door that closes you off from the corridor and in each compartment there are 4 bunk beds. This is know as a soft sleeper on account that the mattress is soft, but you can also get the cheaper hard sleeper which is pretty similar but has 6 beds in the same size room and then soft seats and the cheapest, hard seats. We were quite happy with our compartments as the other 2 guest were elderly Chinese men who just fell asleep and we were able to relax. The gentle and sometimes huge jerking of the train sent us to sleep/woke us up, but our stay was fine. Gemma got plenty of sleep and I manged to catch up on these blogs having written about 2 weeks worth of information for your reading pleasure. Monday 2nd November 2015
We woke up about 8am having had a stop/start sleep due to the sudden jerking of the carriage and the noises from the railway line, but overall it was quite pleasant being able to lie down
and sleep, read and type if we wanted. We had loaded ourselves with plenty of water and snacks so spent the rest of the day relaxing and doing nothing much. I enjoyed looking out of the window at the lovely countryside passing by, while gemma attempted to beat the world record for naps.
We arrived in Guilin at 5pm having spent 25 hours stuck in our cabin. We left the train station and walked the short 5 minutes to Riverside Hostel which as the name suggests was just on the banks of the River Li that ran through Guilin. It was cheap and cheerful and being closed season for tourists we got a free upgrade to a family room. None of our family arrived to share so Gemma and I had the large room with 2 beds to ourselves. Having had a tiring journey to get here we decided we'd eat at the Hostel and get some sleep. We risked ordering a Pizza, which so far in Asia have been dreadful. The Pizza on the menu was called 'House Special' and the description was 'Chinken, Mush, Onions'. We ordered hoping that 'Chinken' was Chicken and more importantly that 'mush'
was mushrooms, alas it was and the pizza was great. Following our feast of one pizza each and having a little play with the resident kittens that ran through the Hostel we went to sleep. Tuesday 3rd November 2015
We woke early at 7am as today was the only day we had here so wanted to make the most of it. We ate breakfast at the Hostel, French toast and coffee and then headed to the bus station just around the corner to purchase a ticket to Yangshuo which was 60km away. The bus journey there cost us £2.40 one way each and was a horrible journey. Guilin, it seems, is going through some major upgrades, so much so that they had dug up the road that leads to Yangshuo and with the bus suspension being a little knackered we spent the next hour and a half being slung all over the place. We eventually arrived though and made a beeline for the town centre as the station was about 2km outside town.
We didn't have much of a plan when we arrived. All we knew about Yangshuo was what our good friend Nick Jones had told
us and if you know Nick you usually take what he says with a huge hint of sarcasm, so when he said it was stunning and he had a great time cycling along the river, what I kind of expected was factories, shopping trolleys and the River Hull. Turns out he was right and this place manged to take number 1 spot on the places we'd visited in China.
Our aim was to get to the town centre and grab a map of the local area from a youth Hostel and then hire a bike. The hiring a bike part looked very easy as we were being approached by every Tom, Dick and Harry (not the most common Chinese names I'll admit) trying to rent us bikes. After a good 20 mins of wandering through town we happened upon a tourist looking street lined with hotels, shops and restaurants. This was 'West Street' and where all the guide books suggest stopping by. Having not read a guide book it was quite lucky we stumbled upon this. We found a really friendly lady in a hostel who let Gemma use the loo and gave us a free map and outlined
a good cycle route. We then hired ourselves a couple of bikes with baskets on the front for £1 each and headed in the direction of the Yulong River.
After 20 mins of cycling out of the town and passing some absolutely beautiful scenery we arrived at the bridge. The scenery around here is made up of huge limestone rocks jutting up out of the ground. Each one is unique in size and shape and are covered in green trees and surrounded by fields. The journey to the bridge took longer than it should've on account of Gemma stopping to take pictures. I would've done the same had I been on camera duty that day.
We arrived at a bridge which was full of tourists taking pictures of the river that ran beneath. We were then approached by a Chinese lady of about 80, but if you know of Karl Pilkington and have seen his analysis on Chinese people, this lady could've been about 35. She was trying to sell us postcards and wasn't taking know for an answer. Whilst in Chengdu I asked Michael how to politely say 'no thanks' which Gemma and I was using quite
well, It didn't matter though as this old dear wasn't taking no for an answer. She kept pushing and pushing until we had to say with some force 'No thanks!'. She then told Gemma to F-OFF, but in Chinese. She probably didn't think I understood, but one of the first things you do when living with foreign people, as I did at university, is to learn all the swear words. I told Gemma what she said and we laughed at her and walked off with her still throwing profanities at us.
We took our bikes and made our way down to the river bank which had been nicely paved to make cycling easier. I had heard that the river bank was very dusty and bumpy, but the bricks they'd paved made for a pleasant ride around. We spent a good 2 hours cycling close to the river stopping and taking pictures with the river on our left and the limestone mounds to our right. The day was cloudy but warm and it was an amazing sight to see. On the river, there were lots of men on bamboo rafts ferrying people back down stream to the bridge where we
had started. We decided rather than cycling back we'd do the same. We got as far as we thought we should cycle to allow enough time to travel back to the town before dark. We managed to haggle with a guy at the bamboo ferry place and for £19 in total (massively ripped off, although he did ask for £40 to start with) he took both of us, along with our rented bikes, tied to the front of the raft down stream. The journey took about 2 hours and looked hard work for the bamboo man who was pushing us down river with a 3 metre long bamboo stick which he would stick into the bottom of the river and push us along. This hard work was made even more harder by the 2 bikes being strapped to the front, which probably explains why the bamboo driver man wasn't happy with the tout who had negotiated £19 with us as this fee was split between both of them. I expect that ferrying bikes downstream usually fetches a higher price, so perhaps we did get a good deal??
The Journey down stream was unbelievable. Every now and again we would
float over a mini water fall and the bamboo raft would partially submerge along with our bikes. The air was cooler as it was later in the day and the scenery was just as lovely and I kept humming the theme tune to Jurassic Park, which seemed to fit the surroundings. After 2 hours though we docked, jumped back on the bikes and cycled back to town, returned the bikes and then got back on the bus to Guilin. The journey back on the bus was worse than the journey there as this was done so in the dark. We arrive back at the hostel at 9pm and had another Pizza and then went to sleep.
The following morning we would be heading to see another University friend of mine likewise, who I haven't seen for 9 years.
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