It's crazy to think that I have been back in the states for 2 months now. I am officially settled into work and already finished my first 6 week long semester at school. I finally feel like I have a moment to breathe and really decompress...just kidding. I'm already ready to get back to traveling and exploring the world again! My last month in China took me to 6 different cities over 3 different countries and I can't wait to share them all with you.
We managed to do our entire trip in just 3 days. The major highlights that you must see are the Li River, Yangshuo, and Longsheng's rice terraces. When we arrived at the residence we were staying at (Hidden Dragon Villa in Yangshuo,) we immediately rented bikes. The hotel was able to rent them to us for under $5 a day and gave us helmets and locks. We didn't really know where we were going, but we could see the river so we figured...why not! Just follow the river 'till we find someplace we can catch a raft. And sure enough, it worked!
We were able to find a service that would load everyone's bikes in the back of a truck and transport it to our final destination. While they were dealing with the stress of moving bikes, we got to take a relaxing hour long rafting ride on the Yulong River. We were able to go down little water falls, under bridges and, of course, the men pushing the rafts had to have their fun splashing the foreign girls who didn't know enough Chinese to tease them back. I managed to crawl my way to the front of the raft for a photo, only getting my butt soaked once so I consider that a success!
One thing I have learned while traveling is to eat where the locals eat. You may not speak the language, but if you are willing to eat something delicious without having any idea of what it actually is, then that is usually the way to go. On our bike ride to find the rafts, we found a place on the side of the road, full to the brim with locals. We had a filling meal of rice, chicken, and lotus root and were set for the rest of the night.
That night, we went to see the local show that they perform on the water. If anyone reading this is familiar with Disney's Fantasmic from any of the resorts domestic or international, picture that on steroids. "Impression - Sanjie Liu" is an outdoor, amphitheater that has over 600 performers in it. It involves dancers, singers, stunt performers, live animals, and anything else you could think of. Not only do they have lights on the water and fireworks coming off of boats, they use project mapping on the surrounding mountains to add to the imagery. The director of the show is the same person who directed the Olympic opening ceremony when China hosted the games. I definitely have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to taking pictures at night, so I'll spare you the blurry images I attempted to capture.
After getting a good nights rest, we set off bright and early the next morning, on bikes once again. We have our eyes set on climbing Moon Hill and the Golden Water Cave. Moon Hill is a natural arch high up on a mountain.
To get to the top is a 30 minute climb that consists of over 800 steps. When you start, it seems so easy. Then out of no where, the muscles in your legs become so tight, you struggle to take the next step up. But hey, if President Nixon was able to do it in his 60's, I should be able to do it at 24.
We then hopped back on our bikes and took at 30 minute scenic bike ride in the opposite direction of the cave we were trying to go to. (Why not work our legs out even harder than we already had?) After a few attempts at trying to speak to locals in Chinese (did I mention that we are fluent in only speaking about Disney related things?) we found our way to the right cave.
The Golden Water Cave. If you want to see how to adapt a cave into a tourist trap, this is it. The entire place is lit up in different colored lights. Every single spire is named with its own plaque. Photographers take your picture in a throne (complete with lighting and you can purchase it at the end!) A tour guide was pointing out all of the lit up items explaining why they are named the way they are. When the tour is complete, you get to join all the other tourists in a mud bath. Exfoliate your skin, sit down and float, rub some mud all over your friends back and try not to think about all of the other people who have been wading their bodies around in that mud too... but really though, it is quite fun. Especially if you are able to time it right between large tour groups, you may get the place to yourself. After you feel like you've had enough of the mud, you can rinse off in the showers and take a relaxing lounge in the hot spring just down the pathway.
While I was laying there, I had one of those moments where I couldn't believe the life I was living. There I was, a quick weekend getaway from work, sitting in a hot spring...in a cave...in CHINA. Now, if you had told me back in high school that was where I was going to be when I was 24, I wouldn't have been totally shocked, but I would have never expected myself to get there the way I had. It just goes to show that sometimes, you have to follow the paths that life lays out for you, even if they may seem crazy at the time.
Ok ok, back to business. After the hot spring, you walk yourself out of the caves through a series of vendors selling jade, whiskey, tea, etc. You can even sit down and have some fish eat the dead skin cells off your feet!
Was the cave experience a total tourist trap? Yes. Did I enjoy myself? Yes. If you are able to separate yourself from the larger tour groups and go towards the end of the day, you can take your time and just enjoy the scenery and the company comfortably.
After an actual shower (not the quick rinse off in the showers at the mud bath), it was time to check out the night life in Yangshuo on West Street. It definitely leans towards a night market with far more actual restaurants and stores. While the man selling cucumber face masks made from the peel of a cucumber right in front you was tempting, we were really there for one thing: the beer fish. The fish are freshly caught from the Li River and halved without scraping off the scales. After choosing a place with live music and great outdoor atmosphere, the waitress whisked me through the kitchen into the back to pick my fish. Large fish tanks kept the fresh fish for your choosing to be cooked right before your eyes. I pointed out the one I wanted (it was pretty late at night so there was only one left) and she weighed it and handed it off to the cooks. We chose a side of shrimp rice and stuffed snails and did our best to drink '3 Flower' rice wine, a local alcoholic beverage that serves as a quick lesson on what it would be like to drink perfume. All in all, the food was delicious and since my friends didn't enjoy the rice wine, I took one for the team and finished it off (such a hard life, I know.)
Our last day spent in Guilin was visiting the rice terraces. For $50, we got transportation and admission to the Huangsluo Yao Village and the Longji Rice Terraces. We left at sunrise to start our 3.5 hour journey. If you experience any kind of motion sickness, please, please learn from my mistake and remember to bring some Dramamine or something because that long on a bus with minimal air conditioning through the mountains can be...rough. But once you see the views, it is definitely worth it.
We stopped off at the Huangluo Yao Village first. This is home to a traditional group of Yao people. It is known as the "Long Hair Village" throughout China.
Side note: I love my long hair. I often refer to it as my security blanket because it hasn't been cut shorter than my armpits since the 3rd grade. But these women take it to the next level.
The women only cut their hair once in their life, at the age of 16, to mark their coming of age and to show that they can now look for a husband. Until the 1980's, the only people who were allowed to see a woman's hair was her husband and only on their wedding day. But now, they can proudly show their hair to the tourists and put on a show full of dancing, singing, and hairbrushes to the tourists.
After a quick lunch at a local restaurant, we head of to the main attraction of the day: Longji Rice Terrace Fields. These mountains began being terraced over 800 years ago and are still producing rice today. While walking around you can see how it is slowly building up and tourism is starting to take hold. There are resorts being built, restaurants with wifi, and photographers offering photo packages. I am going to let the photos speak for themselves, but know this: there is nothing quite like getting lost on a rice terrace with a couple friends, looking out over the misty mountains of China.
Going to Guilin/Yangshuo was an incredible long weekend getaway to take with friends. You eat great food, have amazing views and get to spend the majority of your time outdoors. If you already have your visa for China, I definitely recommend this as a place to stop by if you have time and are wanting to venture outside of the major cities.