Tales of picturesque mountains nurturing a winding and beautiful river led us to Guilin, China and nearby Yangshuo. We arrived into Guilin International Airport just as the sun set, leaving the 45 minute ride into the Guilin city limits dark and illuminated sparingly by lamps along the roadside. Despite our dim transit, a full moon illuminated the surrounding peaks just enough to define striking silhouettes, entirely surrounding the road into the city as if welcoming us to our home for the immediate future. As had occurred so many times before, only laying eyes on pictures of some future destination through a magazine or website, we rested easy knowing we had arrived safely and as intended.
Our first order of business was to arrange some sort of trip down the Li River. Several tour operators we inquired with, including those at the hostel, were charging between 200 and 400 RMB. The more expensive included the lengthy 4 hour cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo. After a bit of research, we found the most picturesque portion of the Li River lay between Yangdi and Xingping, a smaller portion of river between Guiling and Yangshuo. We decided we would try to hire a bamboo raft to take us through this portion, and understood we could take a bus from Guilin to Yangdi and then a bus from Xingping onto Yangshuo. We inquired about the details from our Hostel, Guilin Wada, who were more then helpful and dreamt about last minute spa breaks on our way there.
In short, we took the bus from Guilin to Yangdi (10RMB/person) which dropped us off westward down the road from the pier. Taking an additional bus from the Yangdi township to the pier eastward (3 RMB/person), we arrived much to the delight of a group of hawkers and bamboo rafters. We had already arranged in Yangdi township bus stop (really just a corner of a road T intersection) to pay 120 RMB, for the whole raft, so 60 RMB/person to take us from Yangdi to Xingping. We did this rather hurridly, mostly in my frantic excitement. We likely could have haggled for less, but I felt a little bad for the old chap, as I felt this was a very good deal already.
Our boat ride down the river went as expected lasting about 2 hours. There was a little bit of confusion as we arrived into Xingping, since he wouldn’t drop us off on the east side of the river, where the township was located. There apparently is some local tax support in effect, as we had to pay 1 RMB each to board a small vessel to cross the 30 meters of river. Simply said, don’t freak out if your rafter drops you on the east side, simply wait at the large concrete landing for the next “ferry” across.
Upon our arrival in Xingping, we perused a bit, then hopped aboard the bus to Yangshuo. There is one road in Xingping, just keep walking until you see all the buses. If you are not into walking all about and making mistakes, perform charades every two blocks to make sure you are going the right direction. Bus fare was 5.50 RMB per person from Xingping to Yangshuo, putting us right into town prior to sunset.
Yangshuo is certainly a backpacker town of sorts. The town contained the most western oriented food we had seen since our arrival in China, much to our delight. Having accomplished what we set out too for the day, we were satisfied and content. We walked around town a bit, bought a beer to keep us company, and hopped back on a bus for Guilin, costing 15 RMB per person, and taking about 2 hours. We slept sound that night, knowing we did it ourselves, saved some money and everything went off without a hitch. This actually suprised the hostel girl who had helped us confirm details. She noted, “usually I tell people, but they always come back saying something went horribly wrong”. I’m glad we were able to surprise her that day!
Oh, so we also took a half day or so and took the bus out to the Reed Flute Caves. I really don’t even want to recommend this little tourist site, because it is way overpriced, and they rush you through like cattle. Everything is also lit up in sections, so if you don’t walk to pace, you find yourself staring at pitch black rocks, which you can imagine are even more majestic than when lit. Another little interesting factoid about China…when you complain folks have an almost automatic response to simply stare at you and act dumbfounded. And I’m not talking about being rude or belligerent at all in your complaint either, but this seems to be the case quite consistently. Anyway, if you want to be ushered through this trap, highly recommended, otherwise, not really worth the horrid 90 RMB/person. Half of it was that we did nearly the whole Li River trip for just about the same money, and it was so phenomenal, and was somewhat truly authentic.
P.S. If you are in for an even more exciting experience, there are portions of the river where one can hike. Not in the cards for us this time, but seems like a lot of fun!