So! Our first stop in China and what a journey to get there!! Starting with a sleeper train from Vietnam, 24 hours later... Covering 2 border crossings, navigating a mental Chinese train station (twice), somehow using sign language to describe our hostel name as we only had it written in English and all locals can read are Chinese symbols (and the hostel being on the other side of the city), we made it...
Guilin wasn't one of China's big cities but as we came to realise, a smaller city in China was still massively bigger than one such as Birmingham and has about 4 million people! We had a few days in the city before heading onwards to our first main place of interest.
What surprised us most was how clean, orderly, modern and nice the city was. Not a piece of litter in sight, modern technology everywhere but combined nicely with old fashioned and Chinese cultural buildings and style. The people were friendly and a lot of attention was put on the parks, lake and scenery. All of the opposite to what you're led to believe in 'the west' about China. In one of the restaurants they even had robot waiters!!
We spent our time just pottering around, taking it all in as it was the first stop. It's easy now to realise why Chinese tourists look so amazed when they are visiting London, very different places! We found a really nice bustling food market in the evening. Had a few local beers (of which are all strangely weak, normally about 3%) and some great street food. Grilled dumplings, meat sticks, potatoes, but loads more we didn't get to try. The street food was really reasonably priced and nice.
The city is famous for two huge Pagoda buildings in the main lake which lit up at night, a really cool sight. Walking around the city had a nice feel about it as well, and it seemed a safe place to visit which was nice especially in a country so different.
On first arrival when we began to plan our next few stops we quickly realised that a few things would make travelling in China a bit more challenging. Without a 'VPN' app, Google isn't accessible and as a foreigner you can't book direct trains etc... without paying ridiculous fees. As we are also travelling in prime Chinese tourist season trains get booked up fast, all of which means we quickly needed to plan further in advance and pay a bit more than anticipated.
However that aside and apart from the initial chaotic journey, we had a very good introduction to China and looked forward to the next month!