Guilin (桂林): Day 1

by kangcuzzi

In continuation of last year’s summer log, I thought it’d be worthwhile to record all the quirky (or average) things I do in lands far from home. This year, I’m in Guilin (桂林), a city in the Chinese province of Guangxi (广西). Okay, maybe it’s more appropriate to say lands close to home: if flight time is anything to go by, just comparing the HK-Guilin flight time of one hour with the many hours it took to go to Spain is testimony to how close I am to the ol’ 852. But does proximity hinder novelty? We’ll see…

This morning, we woke up as early as birds, ready to hit the road. Unlike Spain, in which the entire city seemed to be asleep until at least 9AM, the thoroughfare was relatively awake at 7. Being adventurous as we are (but are family trips ever audacious?) we decided to hunt for a local, Guilin style, breakfast. And how would we find this much coveted nourishment? Easy: just enter the first noodle store on the main street, which also happens to be the only one open for business. Score! 

Surprisingly, we bagged an amazing deal. After overcoming some initial language barriers – early morning Chinese is never great – we ordered three steaming bowls of noodles. I was able to get a vegetarian version, which was awesome! We also got to pick some dim sum and vegetable side dishes to accompany the main meal. Twenty minutes of happy eating later, our bliss was only lifted by the realization that our entire meal – which, by the way, we couldn’t even finish – cost 36 yuan. Welcome to China!

After breakfast, we then headed to the bus station where we took a coach to Yangshuo (阳朔), a town 70 kilometers from Guilin. Yangshuo is famed for its karst rock formations, which seem to jut out from every uninhabited area available. (Before you ask: no, I don’t know what karst is, and autocorrect doesn’t seem to either. It’s what all the tourist brochures tout – and boy, are there a lot of them – so I assume they know best. But to utilize my extensive geology knowledge… it’s just rock. Like limestone, but grey. I apologize profusely to all geologists.)

After surviving a throng of hat-clad women shoving tourist pamphlets in our faces, we were soon walking through the streets of Yangshuo. This was when we encountered yet another hat-clad woman waving a tourist pamphlet around. We told her we wanted to ride bikes, so she – much too giddily – took us to her bike rental, where we met even more hat-clad ladies (you know what they all held in their hands). Soon, fortunately, we were out of the main throng and we were on vehicles this time.

But the thing is, the tourist-loving swarm never sleeps. Truly, it feels as if every single person in Guilin and Yangshuo is being paid a commission by some tourism agency. One moment a nice looking man suggests you take a back route to your wanted destination, to which you obey gratefully because the main road is dusty and filled with so much honking one might as well die from sound-induced heart attack. The next moment, you realize the same man has been following your bicycle for a good twenty minutes and will not be fooled by your attempts to lose him. The moment after, he pulls something out of his bag, and – oh no – you realize, with a sudden rush of dread, that you’ve seen that shade of red, you’ve seen that picture of those dancing girls, you’ve seen… the exact same tourist pamphlet at least ten times since you arrived.

Sound like a true story? A) Thank you, B) Yes, it happened. To us. We ended up finally losing the guy, but we never got to our destination. Maybe we weren’t meant to take the ‘nicer route’, but the scenery was wonderful and there was a lot of karst. Which I guess is the whole point of Yangshuo.

One thing that bothered me was that I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the ride. How can you, when you have an unexplained stalker and a million vehicles honking at you and scaring you half to death? The scenery was great, but I couldn’t appreciate it as much as I could have. Oh well, I guess that’s the price we pay for the exasperations of commercialisation. Which, in a large sense, is our fault.

After our bike ride, we took the bus back to Guilin. We spent quite some time sniggering over how, at the bus station, exit (出口) was translated as export (hmm…), then we headed back to our hotel where we went for a quick swim. Then, being the avid foodies we are, we went to dinner. Being the avid vegetarian I am, I convinced my family to go to an all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet by Nengren Temple. Thanks TripAdvisor!

How was it? Three words to sum up the experience: So. Much. Food. And a fourth: AWESOME! As a family member who has been unofficially banned from buffets because of my herbivorous tendencies, this was a shining highlight… of my life. Honestly, I had such a great time. Eggplant, dim sum, pumpkin, potatoes, sweet potatoes (!!!), tofu… in other words, an unlimited and delicious flow of all the things I’ve ever wanted. Plus, Chinese vegetarian is great, what with its unapologetic use of sauce and sweetness and all kinds of magic. The best part? It cost 26 yuan per person! What else could I ever want?!

So far, Guilin has not been a disappointment. Aside from the shameless tourist-pandering (hats! Pamphlets!) things have been pretty good. The food? Spectacular.

Here’s to hoping that the next few days will be even better.

Will keep up the updates!

And I thought it was going to be an innocent family trip…