After Shanghai, the more hectic part of our journey in China commenced, as we planned to hit Hangzhou, Guilin and Yangshuo in about four days.
In the words of Mike Skinner, it was all supposed to be so easyyyy. Just take the one hour train, a short bus ride, a slight walk and then hurry. That was the plan anyway. Not the perpetual nightmare that actually came to be. So much went wrong when we arrived in Hangzhou station that bullet points are the best way to relay what happened:
Hostel instructed us to take bus number one to the hostel. No bus terminal where sign posted. When (unsigned) bus terminal was finally found, no number one bus.
Forced to take taxi. Queued for ages. Driver decided he wouldn't take us the whole way. Stopped at one long, nameless road. Vaguely gestured towards a side lane and drove off.
Nobody spoke English so we followed driver's hand gesture. Wandered down a long narrow alley, past run down shops and houses until they just became building sites. Asked for directions using the Chinese address. Woman pointed right, back the way we came.
Went all the way back, not seeing what we wanted. Asked another woman. She pointed left. Great.
Had to turn on data and use the Internet. Found on Google reviews that the hostel address given was an old address that no longer existed. We were nowhere near where we needed to be.
Went back out onto the main road, trying to holler a taxi. Taxi drivers saw us and then waved us away, about six times.
Data had been blocked my network because of spending limit. No idea where to go.
Young taxi driver took mercy on us and picked us up. Couldn't find hostel.
Young taxi driver called hostel and after five minutes on the phone turned to us and said: ' no find '.
Seeing our exasperated face, he asked a random pedestrian. Hostel was actually only two minutes away...
Driver took us to the main road, not directly to the hostel for some reason. Pointed up an alley, nodded vigorously and left.
Went up said alley and came to a load of run down houses. Locals saw us, smiled and waved us back the way we had came.
Stood at the crossroads unsure what to do. Alice noticed alley opposite. Walked down it. Looming large at the end was our hostel.
Had a beer.
Hangzhou is renown for its lake and, with only one day in the city, we planned to cycle round and take in the scenery that way. Unfortunately, we happened to be there on a Saturday and so the lake was teeming with tourists. Attempting to cycle a bike through them would have been futile. We were forced to walk . The day was warm and the Lake was alive with a variety of boats crawling through its waters, making our expedition and view pleasant enough. But, in truth, the Lake was entirely forgettable and Hangzhou generally wasn't worth the hassle it took to get there.
At least it was only a day. Our next stop was Guilin, which was a six hour train journey away. Nothing compared to what we had become used to. Though it was a journey that involved an aspect of China we had found difficult to acclimatise to. The habits of Chinese men. Everywhere you go in the country, men are spitting, gargling, burping, farting, snoring or snorting at every turn. On the train, the guy next to me had even created a seamless cycle of picking his ear, then his nose ((which he'd inspect)before cutting his nails and sprinkling them into the space between us. And the guy next to Alice was clearing his throat for all he was worth, seemingly searching its innermost corners for any stray bits of flem. We were in a cesspool of Chinese bodily functions. A chorus of desperate snoring, gargling and throat clearing filled the air around us until it felt like the train was just one big orifice being flushed out. It was crazy to reflect on. The fact that it went on nationwide. I wondered if it was perhaps something to do with the extreme pollution, or awful diet, or the fact they all smoke so much. Maybe a combination of three. But there is also the reality that it is only really the Chinese men who seem to do it. And they do it loudly and proudly with an unashamedness or even arrogance that suggests, to me anyway, that these habits are closely linked to ideas about masculinity. Who knows. Whatever the reason, I was more than happy when I realised we were pulling into Guilin.
We only had one night and half day in Guilin so when we arrived at our hostel, we quickly ate something and headed outside to do a bit of exploring. Like Hangzhou, Guilin was all about its lake. And fortunately, the two pagodas situated within it really set it apart. Lit up against the dark night sky they became quite captivating and helped create a very picturesque scene. It also helped that there was a good atmosphere as live music played around the lake and tourists danced, chilled and chatted.
It was just as well we had dragged ourselves out that night because, when we woke up the next day, it was chucking it down. The wet season apparently, had rained every day for two weeks. We didn't want to just sit inside and wait around for our bus to Yangshuo so we decided to head back out to the lake just to see what it was like. The scene could not be more different. Without their lights, the pagodas were a dull grey that faded against the low, grey clouds and dirtygrey water. Nobody was about either. We soon realised there was no saving Guilin that day so after a brief stop off at Starbucks, we made our way to the bus stop, ready to move on to Yangshuo.
A small town chequered with massive green hills that seemed to have sprung sporadically from the ground, Yangshuo was my favourite place in China. It was surreal. To look out your window and see these green giants looming large above the shops opposite. Crazy. To cycle through the busy streets into open road where the full extent of the hills could be seen as they enveloped you, your bike and the whole town. A full on mad ting. The only disappointment with Yangshuo was that because it was the rainy season, we were unable to hire a bamboo raft and journey down the river through the mountains, which sounded like a really cool idea. Regardless, we still enjoyed the cycling and came away feeling extremely satisfied with our visit.