Even though I don't speak Chinese, the decision to holiday in China wasn't a very tough one for me. I planned to meet up with my good friend from college and visit Guilin. It was a place he had suggested. A quick search on Google Images and I was convinced. With the destination in mind, the next step was to figure out the most efficient way of getting there from Hyderabad, India. Luckily, I figured that China Eastern flies daily to Kunming from Kolkata; and it worked out to be the best option for me.
I reached Kunming early on Saturday morning. My friend was waiting for me at the arrival hall and it was a heartwarming moment for us, meeting each other after over 5 years. We got on to a bus to Kunming Railway station. Our plan was to take the night train to Guilin. That way we would save on hotel stay cost, as well as get to tour Kunming. After dropping our luggage at the station, we headed to the Old Street. It's a beautiful amalgamation of the ancient and the new, with century-old stores and swanky new malls existing together. Apart from the knick knacks being sold along the street, what drew my attention was the stores selling pets in one corner. All types of pets - from the conventional ones like birds, puppies, rabbits to the most unconventional ones - rats, snails, scorpions, snakes, hedgehogs, chameleons, you name it! The stroll around the old street was made all the more interesting by the sights and smells of the street food. One such was fried quail eggs on a stick. A visit to Kunming wouldn't be complete without trying the Over The Bridge rice noodles. My friend ordered some incredible side dishes along with the rice noodles - duck stomach and duck blood tofu. Sounds weird I know, but both tasted good. Soon after we headed back to Kunming station and got onboard our train to Guilin.
We reached Guilin the next morning around 10AM. The train was an hour late. As per our plan, we would take a bus to Yangshuo. There are many tour operators right outside the station, so before you find a bus, the bus operator will find you. Be careful about the fare they charge. We paid 25 yuan per person and got on a private bus. The road to Yangshuo isn't great and took us longer than I expected. But we were excited to see the scenic landscape. After getting off at Yangshuo we contacted the hostel and got some directions. Since we were new to the place we opted for the motorbike ride to the hostel. This is a very common aspect of China, at least of what I've seen. Both in Kunming and Yangshuo we found the motorbike rides. But mind you, this doesn't come cheap. We paid 15 yuan per person for a relatively short ride. I suggest, get proper directions and bus guides from your hotel. Later we figured that a bus (16 seater cart) ride to our hostel costs only 1 yuan per person from the Yangshuo North Bus Station. If you are on a budget, these are things you should we mindful of. Nonetheless, we reached the hostel Sudder Street where I had already made a reservation. After checking in we spoke with the front desk staff and owner of the hostel and received some valuable to-do tips. It was also amazing to learn that the hotel was named after the street in Kolkata where the owner stayed while visiting the city. Small world, you see! :)
Yangshuo is best explored by a bike. So we rented two of them at 10 yuan each and rode to Moon Hill. The sight all along the road is brilliant and the ride is quite pleasant. Do carry a local map along, relying on road signs might not be the best option. Moon Hill is an icon of Yangshuo. On reaching the base, we parked our bikes, took the tickets and climbed all the way to the top. The climb is quite exhausting but worth every bit. The view from the top is a fitting reward for the effort. After climbing down the Moon Hill we rode back along the Yulong river to Yangshuo, stopping at places to cherish the beautiful rural landscape. Our next stop was a local restaurant that our hostel guy had recommended. Yangshuo is famous for its Beer Fish and this place is quite loved by the locals. After an exhausting day, a good dinner is what we were craving for and it was just the place. The Beer Fish with rice along with some local beer just did it for us. We rode back to the hostel and crashed. Day 2 ended on a high!
Next morning, I got up early and got out to catch a glimpse of the area around. It was a relatively bright day. I ended up at the nearby farmer's market. The variety of meat, vegetables and fruits is just endless. Later after a dumpling and soya milk breakfast, we headed to our destination of the day - Xingping. Xingping is north of Yangshuo and is famous for two things - the ancient town and most importantly the image of the landscape that's on the 20 yuan note. We took a bus from the South Station and reached Xingping. On reaching Xingping we were greeted by scores of agents urging us to take the conventional bamboo boat ride. But we stayed away and instead chose to explore the place on our own. At first we walked around the ancient town and later we visited the spots which provided the view like the one in the 20 yuan note. It was a hot and humid day and wasn't particularly great for strolling around. After a relaxing lunch break, we took a motor vehicle to take us around Xingping. The lady was kind enough to guide us. She showed us the Lion Hill and the Nine Horses Mural. We also stopped to take some shots of the cormorant fishermen who were getting ready to put up a show. She dropped us at the Xingping Bus station. On returning to Yangshuo, we strolled around the famous West Street. After a quiet dinner we headed back to the hotel.
Day 4 and we would leave Yangshuo for Guilin. It was a pity that this day was the brightest and we would have to leave. We rented bikes again and rode to the Li River. The view of the bright green fields across the Li River, with the mountains in the background is just what drew me to this place. It was soon time to bid goodbye to Yangshuo. Maybe we will be back at Yangshuo again. With this feeling in our hearts, we boarded the bus for Guilin. We reached Guilin two hours later and checked into the hostel. I had made a reservation at the Riverside Hostel. It was at an excellent location, close to the bus station and the railway station as well as in the walking distance of few of the places of interest. After completing the check-in formalities, we left for the Elephant Trunk Hill. Elephant Trunk Hill is to Guilin what Moon Hill was to Yangshuo; it's an icon of Guilin. However to our dismay, we could only manage to steal a sight of it. Its surrounded by a park and to get a proper view one has to pay 75 yuan. Both me and my friend felt it was overrated and overpriced and we decided to skip. We went next to the adjacent Fir Lake and was greeted by the sight of the magnificent twin pagodas - referred to as the Sun and the Moon pagoda. As dusk made way for the night, the Sun and Moon pagodas were lit up in gold and silver respectively. We ended the day with a dinner by the river.
The next day visited the Daxu Ancient Town. This is one place that was on my agenda from the time we decided to visit Guilin. We took a bus to Daxu and it charged us 10 yuan per person. Its a quaint little township, similar to the one in Xingping but only more majestic. The stone paved paths, houses with wood walls, red lanterns and the aged inhabitants define Daxu. Must visit for anyone interested in history and ancient architecture. But the high point of visiting Daxu has to be buying water colour paintings of a local artist. The artist was generous enough to play me few tunes on his (traditional Chinese musical instrument; it was used depicted as a weapon in the comical Kung Fu Hustle, remember?). After returning back to Guilin, we went back to banks of the Li River. Our hostel front desk staff had advised us of a spot were one could watch the famed cormorant fishing in action. And it turned out to be the most exciting part of our entire trip. We got on a motor boat, and the fisherman rowed alongside. The well trained cormorants showed us its skills - they took a dip into the river, caught the fishes and then got back on the fisherman's boat waiting for him to take the catch out from their throats. The traditional fishing technique came live in front of our eyes. What a way to end the day!
Day 6. It dawned on us that our trip is nearing its end. And we wanted to make most of what was left. In the morning we rented bikes to explore more of the Guilin City. We decided to ride along the Li River upto Yangshan Bridge (the north most bridge in our map) and then cross the Li river and ride back along the opposite bank of the river. It was a pleasant ride, dotted with snack breaks. Later in the day, we took the train to Kunming. Guilin had been wonderful, apart from the fact that we felt let down by the over commercialization of it scenic spots.
We reached Kunming the next day. Our return flights were at night and we had half a day to spend at Kunming. We hadn't really planned much for Kunming, so we spent most of the time trying local dishes. We ended our trip making a short visit to the Old Street, not to have Over the Bridge noodles again, but to shop for some famous moon cakes. My friend and I parted at the Kunming airport, hoping to meet again next year. We are yet to decide on the location though - more of Yunnan next time or maybe somewhere in the freezing North East China! :)