I learned about Guilin during my job hunt. The job didn’t work out but Guilin was quickly added to my “Place I Must Go to List.” A quick Google image search was all that was needed to win my heart over.
At the end of September there was a week long national holiday and on top of that I had two days off for “Sports Day.” Those two extra days were a life safer as everyone in China had vacation time which meant all the trains were booked. I mean, 1.4 billion people having vacation at the same time is going to cause some problems!
I was debating where to go. I had an offer to go to Beijing but it really didn’t excite me- lots of people, lots of pollution, and a big city means expensive! The idea of Guilin popped in to my head and once I decided I was going to Guilin I was full of excitement and giddiness. My dream of coming to Guilin was becoming a reality was sooner than I expected! I planned my trip (and by planning I mean I made a list of places I wanted to explore and made sure I had a place to stay a majority of the nights.)
I decided to take a train to Guilin as the train is how the locals go. The ride was about a ten hour ride. There’s something romantic and old fashioned about riding the train. I was assigned the window seat and got see a great variety of landscapes. Whenever I needed to stretch or stand up for a while I could do so with ease. (One day I want to do ride the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Beijing to Moscow so I viewed this as a very mini practice.)
My host picked me up in typical Chinese fashion on a motorbike. Riding to his apartment was glorious. I thought, “I am in Guilin and on the back of a motorbike. I am happy. I am free.”
Guilin Mei Fan
My first night in Guilin my host and his friends showed me a place that served the local dish and famous dish: Guilin Mei Fan. What is unique about these noodles is that they are made of rice. Other areas in China have a wheat noodle. (I get wheat noodles from my local place in Chuzhou.) The place they showed me I would have easily have passed my on my own. I got a bowl for 8 yuan and my life was transformed forever.
The dish has rice noodles, two types of meats, and an unexpected crunch from peanuts. I had this almost everyday I was in Guilin and I always ordered from the same little place that had a line out the door. There was other places selling Guilin Mei Fan but for over 30 yuan. Why would I spend that much when I know all the locals go to this place for 8 (and this place doesn’t get my sick)?!
By the end of the trip the restaurant knew me as I guess I stood out as the while girl who ordered in Chinese (and by ordered in Chinese I mean I said “Guilin Mei Fan” but they were still impressed!).
Red Flute Cave
My mom is really in to caves so I thought I would see the big one in Guilin called “Red Flute Cave.” It was one of my favorite moments on my trip. It was full of Chinese tourist but they all followed the tour guides and I could wander one my own and just enjoy the cool views.
I went through the main part of the cave and realized I didn’t want to leave just yet. And in fact, I wanted to see some parts again. I thought, “I am probably never coming back here again so I might as well stay here as long as I want!” I went back and looked at parts at different angles. I found a “favorite” spot and sat there until my heart was content.
My host told me he always takes me his guest to the night market. It was really fun and had tons of cheap souvenirs. Being me I ended up with lots delicious food.
My host said he also likes to help people get their Chinese name on a key chain. My surname is common but for my given name we had to go to three different stations!
Seven Star Park
My host lived across Seven Star Park so everyday I asked myself, “Will I go to this place or not?” It was raining a lot and had no sign of stopping so I decided to embrace the rain. So one afternoon I bought a cheap poncho and got a ticket to Seven Star Park.
Because of the rain I essentially had the whole place to myself. The weather made perfect lighting for pictures. I was surrounded by green beauty and I loved every minute of it just getting lost in this pretty park. I wandered the park for a few hours and could have spent a longer time there but I was got tired after a while and only brought a small snack. But I saw all I wanted to see and even saw Camel Hill twice because it fascinated me so much. It just a silly looking thing.
I was able to get a ticket for a Li River cruise because my host has a friend who works at a travel agency. Everything was booked because of the holidays. The cruise was great except for all the tourist. There was just too many to make it an enjoyable experience. I was really trying to “live in the moment” and not take pictures every five seconds (cause really, do I need twenty pictures of same damn rock?!) so I would be enjoying the view, having a moment of pure bliss, and and someone would ask me to move so they could take a picture. Even though they had already taken about fifty already. I was really glad to get off the boat.
When you first get off the deck to Yangshuo its the in tourist area. I didn’t mind but it was too crowded for me and I wanted to unwind and enjoy myself. After enough aimless wandering I found the peaceful side of Yangshuo.
Yangshuo is simply beautiful. There are these unreal hills and mountains everywhere. I still think about them. They look like something out of a coloring book.
After some more wandering I found a cute little coffee shop that was like an answer from the gods. It gave me a little slice of NYC and the latte was actually really, really good. The best I have had in China so far. Three little kitties played on the patio as I drank my perfect latte to an incredible view. In the moment I posted this on Facebook trying to “express myself,”
Found this coffee shop while wandering around Yangshuo. It’s giving me some NYC vibes even though it’s over 7,000 miles away. Plus, this is the first latte in China that I’ve had that doesn’t taste like crap. The view is pretty much perfection.
What I learned
Locals, locals, locals!
This was my first experience Couchsurfing and thanks to my host and his friends I had a great experience in Guilin, one I will never forget. Yes, Guilin would have been great without them but their jokes and friendliness is what made my trip to Guilin great.
From picking me up at the train station on an e-bike, showing me local eats to giving me a mini tour to helping me get a ticket for a cruise- they made me feel welcomed and like a friend. Plus, my host’s mom owns a Chinese restaurant and I got to eat a delicious meal there and got to drink Yao ethnic tea.
Balance: Doing it my way
What made this trip enjoyable is that I did what I wanted on the trip and it was a balancing act. I saw the tourist things but went “off the beaten path.” I ate where the locals ate but I spent hours at Starbucks drink lattes. If I was tired I took a nap or slept in. If I wanted to see something again, I went and saw it again.
What I would do different next time
Just one freaking cave
Don’t go to the cave in Seven Star Park. Seriously don’t go. My host said don’t go but of course I curious and wanted to go an see it myself. After Red Flute it was a disappointment. I think the biggest factor is that its a “tour” and you have to follow the Chinese tour guide as they have the ability to light everything up. If you don’t follow you will be stuck in the dark. Plus, it felt too touristy for my taste with the multiple photo opportunities and the tourist pushing for their turn. I did get some cool photos though. And me and the other foreign exchanged glances of “Oh my god. These are the most annoying tourists ever.”
I am glad I went as I think I would have been disappointed if I didn’t go see for myself. But take my advice and go spend your money at Starbucks or something. Or buy a nice dinner. Or buy shit at the night market.
More time in Yangshuo
If I would have done a little bit Google searching I would have learned that Yangshuo is amazing and easily could have spent a few days there. Granted there was something magical about only having a few hours there. It was like a quick romantic love affair. I still dream about going back there and I wonder when I will return.
So don’t be like me. Go spend a couple days there. And go drink a delicious latte at that coffee shop for me. And tell the cats hi.
Oatmeal for Breakfast
Since I don’t have a Starbucks in Chuzhou, Starbucks is my “treat yo self” item. Like I would rather go to Starbucks than a bar. Getting to Starbucks in Guilin was only two busses a way so by the end of my visit the baristas knew me. I viewed this trip as a “vacation” and for me that means relaxing and drinking all the vanilla lattes I want. On my next trip though I I want to try eating oatmeal or something cheap for breakfast to save some money. This could easily be done with who is ever hosting me or I could ask for some hot water at Starbucks. I don’t mind spending my money on yummy latte as they are a special treat. But I don’t want to spend my money on some sort of stale croissant or some half way decent pastry.
So if you are going to China I say go to Guilin. When people think of China they think of Beijing or Shanghai but Guilin is really where its at. Good food and unbelievable scenery. Just go. You won’t regret it. It’s a magical place.
I am already thinking when I can go back to Guilin but know it will for a good few years. As my first “backpacking” experience it was all I wanted.