Fairy tail beauty of Guilin & Yangshuo

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
Trip End Mar 16, 2009

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Flag of China  , Guangxi Zhuang,
Friday, May 16, 2008

IMH: The stunning landscape in which Guilin is situated is quite unique. The landscape consists of strangely shaped limestone hills, or karsts, with verdant vegetation ranging from bamboo to conifers. We felt it was strikingly similar to the outcrops we saw in Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, but on land.
Located in the North East of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin is considered to be the pearl of China's thriving tourist industry on account of the natural beauty and historic treasures. With this of course, come the big tour buses and many tour groups lead by a flag wielding tour guide - almost like herds of cattle or sheep invading the areas they move into. It was not that bad, but it is clear that touring China in an organised group is the norm as apposed to independent traveling. I was amazed to learn that the Chinese tour guides can accommodate groups in a host of European languages (e.g. French, Italian, German, etc.) and not only English.
We stayed in Guilin for one night before departing on one of the most famous Chinese attractions, namely a river cruise on the Li River from Guilin to Yangshuo. We had bad weather and rain which meant that our views of the amazing landscape were a bit hazy, but the 3.5 hour cruise was still enjoyable and we saw many local people fishing and villages on the river banks on-route. 
The town of Yangshuo is set in the same landscape with karst peaks, but is a lot smaller and as most people arrive via the river, there are no tour buses in sight. We spent two nights in Yangshuo and thoroughly enjoyed absorbing the local flavours. We saw the brilliant "Impressions Liu Sanjie" folk musical. Directed by movie maker Zhang Yimou (some of his acclaimed movies include Hero and House of the Flying Daggers), 600 performers, including local fisherman, take to the Li River - they actually perform on the water. The 12 surrounding karst peaks are illuminated as part of the show and the costumes is well designed to make most of the lights and water reflections. It was truly amazing and even though we were almost completely devoured by mosquitoes, one of our highlights in China thus far.
We rented bicycles for one day and cycled in the Yangshuo and surrounding countryside enjoying the rice paddies, small local villages and beautiful peaks, such as Moon Hill. We got a little bit lost  thanks to the terrible map we bought from the hotel and came across some unique settings, probably not visited by many foreigners, which made our day even more special.
Night life in Yangshuo is booming! We could not believe how many night clubs such a small town can have. We enjoyed the local people (and Chinese tourists) and watched in awe at how they play drinking games with little cups filled with 5 dice (provided by the club or bar) and how they finish buckets of beer without falling over.
We made our way back by bus to Guilin and I enjoyed the Chinese movies on show in the bus. Even though you can't understand the language, the actors are very expressive non-verbally which enables us to follow and even laugh in the right places.
There are many attractions in Guilin such as green mountains, crystal clear waters, unique caves, beautiful stones and parks. We did not have time to visit all the beautiful sites and bad weather kept us from too much exploring. My highlight was the seven-star scenic area, which consists of seven peaks and covers 40 hectares. As I did not have the camera with me, I'll try to explain what the attractions I enjoyed most: the camel hill which looks just like a camel sitting down, the amazing seven-star cave (similar to the cave in Ha Long Bay), a zoo where they keep pandas amongst other animals (even though I couldn't actually see the pandas), the Guihai Stele Forest which is basically mountain walls inside a cave covered with tables of Chinese writing (I'm not sure if it has religious meaning), the beautiful Qixia Temple and many waterfalls and lovely gardens. Many old people were playing cards in the shade or doing funny exercises (probably some form of Thia Chi?). I enjoyed being one of only a hand full of foreigners in the park and could really experience the true local culture.
As we are spending much more time in China than what we did in Japan or South Korea, the pace of our trip is not as hectic and we used some of our free time to catch-up on admin (e.g. updating the travel blog) and planning the finer details of upcoming trips.
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