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Published: October 12th 2019
Our flight from Xian was quick and as we drove from the airport we noticed a slightly slower pace of life, although a lot busier than we had anticipated and probably not only due to the fact that we were in the middle of their national holiday and its special year.
We were looking forward to seeing this scenic area and hiking up into the rice terraces. Guilin is renowned as one of China’s most beautiful spots and I must say our first glimpse was impressive but we had only seen large cities so far on this journey. Our guide Helen said that this was her home town and she was really enthusiastic about everything we could do here. It was hot though in the mid 30s so you had to take things at a slower pace. REED FLUTE CAVES
Before arriving in Guilin we stopped at some karst caves known as The Reed Flute Caves. A short walk through this magnificent cavern we were treated to a majestic display of underground features, stone pillars, stone curtains and of course stalagmites and stalactites displayed with good lighting. In
the main central cavern we were shown a light show reflected on the ceiling depict the fall of the dinosaurs. A short while after a couple of ballet dancers danced to the music of Swan Lake with their reflections appearing in the water - quite enchanting. It would have been delightful if it had not been so noisy with far too many really loud children running around in the dark on the slippery floor - not much parental control being had which was a shame. GUILIN
Unlike other fast-developing Chinese cities Guilin was not filled with high buildings, most developments in Guilin were limited to about 20 floors (still a bit high), so that they don’t dwarf the hills and spoil the scenic view.
There are four lakes in the city centre and they are joined together with the Li and Peach Blossom Rivers. On the banks of these rivers and lakes was an abundance of trees and shrubs mainly bamboo. Scenic bridges spread across the lake and boats ferried people up and down the waterways during the day and at night they were glowing with colourful lights giving it a
magical quality. One special bridge looked like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco where as another was made entirely of glass and known as Crystal Glass Bridge - it looked rather dismal in the day but at night it just glistened.
Our hotel was situated on the edge of Fir Lake and as we walked to our hotel around its perimeter little pathway we stopped to admire two beautiful Pagodas
on the opposite side of the lake. Next to our hotel was a couple of small Pizza restaurants and we decided it would make a nice change from Chinese for dinner. There was not much choice - vegetable or bacon pizza so we chose the veggie one which was really good. What was different though was the fact that they did not bring us any cutlery, not even chopsticks but plastic disposal gloves to eat the Pizza with … … …
Guilin had a relatively relaxed atmosphere and slow pace, and later when we took a stroll around the lake in the early evening we joined hundreds of locals enjoying their holiday and these children very well behaved and all having fun not
like the ‘little monkeys’ in the Reed Flute Cave! Every now and then we would stop and listened to a variety of music being played and songs being sung at random on every corner - some were good others, well you just had to walk on … … Small groups of people were standing around happily chatting or playing cards on little tables spread out around the lake. We soon arrived at the Pagodas we had seen earlier in the day only now they shone brightly across the lake. SUN AND MOON PAGODAS
The Sun and Moon Pagodas stand erect in the water of central Fir Lake (Shanhu). They are also known as Gold and Silver Pagodas because of their colours at night. The Sun Pagoda is the world’s highest bronze pagoda, with an elevator, and the world’s highest pagoda above water. The Sun Pagoda has 9 stories and is 2 stories taller than the Moon Pagoda. The Sun Pagoda is made of bronze, while the Moon Pagoda is made of coloured glaze. They stand next to each other reflecting the beauty of each other and were really much better at night to view.
From the Moon to the Sun Pagoda, there is a 10 meter glass tunnel that links the two underwater and apparently when walking through the tunnel, one can see fish above your head and on both sides.
We did not take the tunnel but headed down to the water front to get some good photographs across the water of the two Pagodas reflecting in the water which was quite magical. Also known as the Gold & Silver Pagodas you could see why as their colours shone brightly across the Fir Lake. OSMANTHUS FOREST
Guilin means ‘Sweet Osmanthus Forest’, named after its many fragrant sweet Osmanthus trees and we were lucky to be here in October with them in full bloom. A yellow-gold flower grown in Southern China it has a uniquely sweet and buttery fragrance used to make a sweet smelling fragrance, sweet tea or create sweet desserts. Our guide Helen bought a bottle of Osmanthus wine for us to try and it was nice but sweet not the same as SB! LONGJI RICE TERRACES I have always wanted to visit the Longi Rice Terraces
in China and it was good to have the opportunity to do so on this tour. The rice terraces in Longji look just like the scales of a huge dragon’s back (‘Longji’ actually means ‘dragon’s back’) as they proceed in tiers down the mountain ridges.
The best times to see the rice terraces are around mid-May when they are irrigated and September to October when the crops are turning golden and this was when we were visiting. Helen said it was her favourite time too.
Construction of the terraces began in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and continued until the early Qing Dyanasty (1644-1911) when construction was competed.
Longji is home to the Zhuang and Yao
ethnic groups. There are many minority villages, such as Ping'an, Dazhai, Longji Ancient Zhuang Village, and Huangluo Yao Village. In these villages you will see the locals, who still wear their traditional clothes, and live in their traditional houses on stilts.
We headed up the mountain in our tour bus with 3 other fellow travellers, the rest of our group gave the trip a miss.
Once up the mountain we
all were shocked to see so many tour buses already there and the entrance ticket area was heaving with people. The queue to the ladies loo was so long we would have waited all day if we had been desperate! Our guide realising that the holiday season had indeed brought out the ‘world and more’ managed to find us a private car and driver who agreed to take us up the mountain to a village further away from the main village of Ping’an and from here we would hike back to Ping’an and therefore avoid most of the crowds.
He dropped us off at the edge of a village and we started our hike along a track before Helen detoured off on to the terraces along a narrow rice terraces. She point out the different rice growing in the fields which she said would be harvested as soon as the Chinese holiday was over it was ripe and ready. We saw the difference between white, brown and sticky rice growing on the various terraces. In the hamlets we walked through we saw the locals going about there every day business and Helen stopped and chatted to a
lady asking her about her head dress which was basically a colourful pink towel wrapped around the top of her head. The lady then took us in to her store and rummaged around in a sack and pulled out something similar to show us. She then unwrapped her own and demonstrated how to put it on - it was not that easy. Once she had finished she pulled out her mobile phone and looked at herself in the reflections and smiled … … Helen like the pattern and brought one for her mother to wear in the winter she said.
We continued out hike ever upwards until finally we arrived in Ping’an. We stopped for an ice-cream overlooking the terraces with wonderful views the journey was worth it just for one look.
We then continued up towards a new Pagoda which had been built at its highest point. These last steps were nearly the finish of me totally exhausted but still glad to have made it. Helen said she had just been in touch with our driver and the road was too busy for him to get here so we then had to retrace
our steps and head back down. Going down though was easy compared to the steep ascent upwards … ….
On the way down we chatted to some other tourist including a delightful family from India and another from Pakistan who wanted to take there photographs with us - we are quite a novelty to all here.
The next day we were moving on although we would return to Guilin to catch a flight later. CRUISE DOWN THE LI RIVER TO YANGSHUO
We boarded our cruise boat which was going to take us from Guilin to Yangshuo for a couple of days in the countryside. At the dock area it was really busy and we were beginning to wish we had not chosen this ‘golden week’ for our tour. It did have some benefits being amongst the celebrations but also a lot of negatives with us few tourist from abroad milling with millions and I mean millions of Chinese tourists as well … … …
There were 11 docks and approximately 5 cruise boats per berth, so 55 boats in total with each boat containing around 100 people,
you can work out the numbers and they were all arriving at 0900 hours to board their particularly boat - it was not going to be a quiet journey.
The Karst mountains
range continue along the Li River valley for a hundred miles rising sharply at odd angles, these limestone peaks look like giant bamboo shoots growing out of the green plain. The Li River was like a blue green ribbon winding its way through these steep-sided limestone pinnacles dotted with bamboo groves and every now and then a small village stretching down to the river.
We were told that a few locals still fish with Cormorants
, something we had seen on the television and we did spot a couple of these old fishermen as we cruised passed. Basically these fisherman use trained Cormorants which spot a fish and dive for it but couldn’t swallow the fish because it had a snare near the base of its throat. The fisherman then took the cormorant out of the water and grabbed the fish from its beak. When we saw it on the television at the end of the fishing session the Cormorant was
then allowed to eat some fish as well ... ... ... Apparently though these days fishing this way is dying out as there aren’t many fish left in the Li River and also because this technique is highly inefficient compared to modern fishing methods. Most of the fishermen nowadays are just walking the banks of the Li River with cormorants on their shoulders so tourists like us can take a photo with them and we did see just one man when are boat docked. He only wanted a couple of Yuan for a photograph and did not seem to get many customers so we did take one and he was really pleased with this small amount. Most of the 'real' cormorant fisherman are really old now – will their sons or grandsons practice this difficult art too - I think not as many of the younger Chinese men prefer to move to the big cities and live more comfortable and easier life there.
The journey down river took us four hours with the water slowly snaking around sharp bends nearly winding its way on itself. The scenery was spectacular all of the way and even
though we were always in sight of other boats in did not feel too crowded. I was often on deck on my own as it was so hot many people stayed in the two air conditioned decks, it was a shame there was no seating or shade on the top deck though. The smaller lower deck was a little shadier but also used by smokers so was not too pleasant to stay there too long.
We watched the tall peaks shadowing our boat as we passed, people camping on the shores, children playing in the water and their mothers washing their clothes. We saw local fishermen selling fruit from passing rafts or transporting their catch to the nearby towns and as mentioned above a couple of Cormorant fishermen. There were also plenty of small bamboo rafts with just two chairs on board ferrying tourists up and down the river.
Sadly not much wildlife - although we did see a few Water Buffalo on the river edge or wading deep in the water too keep cool. Also we were surprised that there was not much birdlife; one big bird of prey which we think was a Kite,
a couple of Egrets and a lonely Grey Heron along the riverbanks - another sign that there was not much fish in the river. YANGSHUO
Once we arrived at the dock in Yangshuo we had long walk to our hotel, passing some touristy shops and then out on to the streets with more shops and lots of people it was also extremely hot in the mid 30s so it was good to finally arrive in our air conditioned room and chill ... ... ... or so we thought ... ...
However about an hour later (it had cooled a bit) our guide had a arranged for us to have a private Tai Chi
lesson to learn the skills behind this ancient and spiritual exercise. This was carried out in the local park much to the amusement of the locals, particularly the children who sat around and watched us … … … The park was packed with locals out enjoying the evening - the park was nice and cool being shaded by a huge karst peak, in fact the town was surrounded by these huge peaks giving it a really scenic
setting. In the centre of the park there was a memorial to the fallen heroes and plenty of red flags flying for the on-going celebrations.
Yangshuo County lies in the northeast of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (GZAR) and to the southeast of Guilin City. This special geography gives it a breath-taking beauty while over 1,400 years of history bless it with a deep traditional culture. The diverse ethnic minority groups including Hui, Zhuang, Yao and others, enrich it with special folk cultures represented by their various festivals.
Yangshuo is a charming town with a very laid-back atmosphere but much bigger and more frantic than we had anticipated and it looked like it was on a growth spurt too with lots of building works taking place, but we enjoyed our stay in this scenic area.
Our guide, Helen took us on a countryside walk only for her and the driver to get us lost - ‘the countryside had changed since their last visit’ and we found ourselves in the middle of a building site. A couple of U-turns and we finally found ourselves in a small village which was slowly being taken
over by buildings. We met some of the local residents and wandered around for a while before heading back into town.
That evening we headed to West Street, the main street in the town to have dinner. There were so many people milling around it took us a while to find somewhere suitable to eat. Once ordered we got are bill only to be surprised to be charged for the use of the crockery. We had asked for some tissues as their were none on the table only to be charged for these as well … … .. it was still very cheap though compared to our prices back home. Later wandered through the markets back to our hotel I bought a wooly hat and a wooden fan (a strange combination you might say) but they only cost a couple of pounds … … … we also bought a Pomelo which we tried but having no knife had to cut it with a nail file, the skin was about an inch thick so it was not easy. However once we got to the fruit inside which looked like a grapefruit and tasted similar but much sweeter. RIVER LIGHT SHOW
In the evening, we watched the Impression Liu Sanjie Show
, a riverside lightshow illuminating the karst scenery, designed by Zhang Yimou who directed the 2008 Beijing Olympics' opening ceremony. Set in a large natural theatre which utilises the waters of the Li River as it stage with mist shrouded karst hills inverted reflections on the water and the sky as its backdrop it was the ideal location.
Not ones average trip to a theatre though but a new concept of Opera using nature as an integral part of its performance. It was totally enthralling and something we had never seen the likes of before. With over 600 performers we were astonished that they all blended together in a seamless performance. Not be able to understand the words or songs it we soon understood that the impressions derived from the daily life of the people living around the Li River - the local people, the cormorant fishermen and even the water buffalo took a part in the opera too.
Very professional choreographed it looked like most of the cast were floating on the water. The valley, the
hills, the cool breeze and the reflective water were all elements contributing to the three-dimensional sound effect which was great.
Sadly though the performance was somewhat marred by the audience, naughty loud children not really interested in watching what was a brilliant show. MOVING ON TO KUNMING
We left Yangshuo and travelled back to Guilin by bus to the airport for our one and half hour flight to Kunming.
Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province with a population of around 7 million, is known as 'the City of Eternal Spring' for its pleasant climate and flowers that bloom all year long. With a history of more than 2,400 years, it was the gateway to the celebrated Silk Road that facilitated trade with Tibet, Sichuan, Myanmar, India and beyond. Today it is the provincial political, economical and cultural centre of Yunnan as well as the most popular tourist destination in southwest China.
The city is also the focal point of Yunnan minority culture. Some 26 ethnic minorities such as Yi, Bai, Miao, Dai, and Hani inhabit this region. They each have
their own independent cultures, customs, languages, and history. WEN OUR GUIDE
We met out guide called Wen she said we could call her by her Chinese name or her 'tourist' name which was Evelyn. She had excellent English and gave us a brief introduction to the minority groups in the area. She belonged to the Yi minority group and said that before the government introduced Mandarin it was impossible to understand people from other groups. Nowadays all children of the different minority groups are taught Mandarin but most still use their own languages at home as she does with her parents. Her mother and father were from different minority groups, Yi and Hani so she said she really was half and half ... ... ... Wen said that they class Mandarin as a ‘TV language’, she also said that Helen, our National Guide and her speak in Mandarin otherwise they would not understand each other too.
She said it was a really good move by the Government to have this 'linking language' for all Chinese people. We asked whether the Minority Peoples languages were dying out because of this but she said definitely
not. She said that even some minority groups that did not have their own written language were now being given one so that they could transcribe their customs into Chinese so that a record was there for all future generations. CHINESE MEAL
Our hotel was in the centre of the city and luckily next door was a great Chinese restaurant as we were did not want to have to walk too far. We arrived at the restaurant just as our new NZ friends, Marlene and Trevor so asked for a table for the four of us. No English was spoken but we worked out that we had to have a ticket and wait for a table to become free as it was really busy and all the seats were full. Marlene had forgotten to bring her fork (you really do need one) so went back to her room for it whilst we waited by at a huge table covered with different food dishes - mainly large fish decorated with vegetables etc but they were all made of plastic, we think so that you could visually see what you wanted to eat but we were
not too sure!! The place was buzzing, always a good sign so we hoped the food would be good too. We were finally shown to our table by a waitress who did not have any English so we used my phone translator but were not sure what the size of the dishes we ordered were going to be. Most of the food we have been served so far has been rice with a variety of vegetables and meat mainly chicken, beef and pork. I must admit our electronic translator from English to Simplified Chinese has been useful on this journey, particularly in restaurants where most of the staff do not speak any English. Today however we were also helped by a Chinese local who was here for dinner too. He approached us and went through the whole menu and then liaised with the waitress and it appeared we had ordered ample for the four of us.
When the meal arrived we were happy as it was very tasty and not too much as most of the meals in China are huge, most people have really large appetites . There is also a lot of wasted food as
there are many dishes to each meal and always plenty to share around the table. It is difficult though if there is just the two of you …. …
The next day, four of our group of 9 were ill a couple with sore throats so we set off with just 5 of us and Helen our National Guide and Wen our local guide to see the nearby Stone Forest. We had plenty of seats as we had a large coach so all was good. STONE FOREST
The Stone Forest is about 80 miles to the southeast of Kunming. A geological phenomenon, the Stone Forest was a vast expanse of sea during the Palaeozoic era about 270 million years ago. Later,the movement of tectonic plates altered the earth’s crust, causing the sea to recede and its limestone bottom to appear, thereby forming land. Due to the constant seeping of rain through the cracks in the limestone, some of the stone formation dissolved and the fissures broadened, producing a group of great sculptures of different shapes, all moulded by nature. It reminded us of the Pinnacles in Western Australia but on a
much larger scale. MINORITY PEOPLE
What was great was that as we arrived we were treated to a dance and music rendition by the native Sani people who are part of the Yi minority. Sani women are expert at spinning, weaving, and embroidering. They like to wear rainbow coloured headgear and brightly coloured dresses. Wen said this stemmed from the times when they would go out hunting and the women did not want to be mistaken for an animal so started to put bright coloured threads on their clothes. The young people especially are very good singers and dancers and every day at sunset, boys and girls gather at the village platform to perform. While the boys play the three-stringed plucked instruments, the girls clap their hands and dance the traditional A’Xi Dance of the Moon.
On June 24th every lunar year, the Sani people celebrate their national festival - called the Torch Festival. On that day, the entire Stone Forest is permeated with a celebratory atmosphere. There are traditional performances of wrestling and bull-fighting. Finally, when the land is enveloped in the curtain of night, the young men (holding torches
in their hands) run after the young women to propose marriage in the light of coloured lanterns. What a lovely custom that is and it would have been great to have been here during that time but we did see some lovely photographs at the entrance to the Stone Forest. MOVING ON
We had a great day at the Stone Forest and had an equally great lunch sampling some Minority food dishes including crispy duck, local goats cheese and many other side dishes and of course more rice. Back in Kunming, Wen took us to her local park and we strolled around the grounds before heading off to a local market where we sampled and brought some fruit before heading back to our hotel and saying goodbye to her.
Tomorrow we are moving on to Dali City, a overland journey of about 6 hours. Dali is the county-level seat of the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture in northwestern Yunnan - see you there.
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