Rob and I finish teaching later than the rest of our travelling group and as a result we would be missing out a chunk of the South China travelling. This balanced out with us having extra time off for exams before the end of term so we visited Guilin ourselves; an area of China so beautiful that it features on the back of the Y20 note. We left on the Friday for the 4 and a half hour bus to Nanchang followed by a twelve hour overnight train to Guilin. The train was a pretty short one by China terms but it was not a good journey. I had the middle seat so no window to lean on, no aisle space to stretch legs or have an easy exit and crammed between two people with only a tiny bit of table to lean on. I was opposite the world's grumpiest old man and enjoyed a very uncomfortable night of no sleep.
We arrived at 05:30 in the morning and misread the directions to the hostel so took a nice long detour with our bags. We chilled at the hostel for a bit then decided to work out a plan of action; we had literally no idea what there was to do in Guilin, deciding instead to wing it and see what the hostel recommended. We took a bus to Reed Flute Cave which was beautiful but very similar to the other caves we've visited. We spent the afternoon playing a bit of Mario Kart in the hostel and chatting to the staff who became our best friends pretty much straight away. In the afternoon Crystal, from the hostel, took us for a walk to the market which turned out to be an 8 storey department store. We rode the escalators all the way to the top floor to buy Rob shampoo then all the way down again. Maybe we should have rounded off a successful day with catching up on our sleep ready for our tour the next day but we met two Irish lads in the hostel and drank with them and Yang and ended up going out for spicy barbequed fish and a night of clubbing until the early hours. Better than sleep.
The next morning we were ready for 10 for a trip to Yangshuo and a cruise on the Li river organised by the hostel and we quickly found we'd unintentionally signed onto a proper tour which we try and avoid because they're expensive and annoying. The plan of catching up on sleep on the bus was foiled by our tour guide YangYang/Daniel talking the entire way but it was informative. We went straight to the start of the cruise with 4 to a boat on motorised 'bamboo' boats made from PVC. This was a nice trip winding down the river and seeing all the scenery that Guilin is famous for. Would have been better if it was properly sunny but apart from a light shower it wasn't too bad. The end of the boat ride signalled the end of the tour that we'd paid for but we chose to pay an extra Y130 for an extended tour in the afternoon because it was good value and we'd get to tick off everything in one day and go back to Guilin. Our tour group shrank to 3 Germans, an Argentinian and the Chinese people and we went for egg fried rice before being whisked off to a famous bridge to take photos. On the bridge I met Jane, a trainee tour guide who happened to come from the same province as us and after this we were taken down to proper bamboo rafts to be poled down the river. We stopped off on a outcrop of land where we spent a little while feeding and riding the water buffalo then went back on the raft to have a long, soothing journey down the river. The peace was occasionally interrupted by splashes from water guns from other rafts but this was nice because it was so hot. We got the bus back to Guilin and made good friends with Jane who would keep us company on some other days. We met a cool Indonesian couple each studying in London and New York and taught them how to play mahjiang in exchange for learning Chinese chess and we played these until the early hours.
We left Monday for a trip to the rice terraces but unfortunately Rob woke up really ill so had to stay at the hostel. I set off on my own and caught up on sleep on the bus to HePing then met two friendly Canadian couples on the bus to Ping'An. I latched on to their recently formed group (they'd only met on the bus before!) and we spent the day together walking the rice terraces and taking photos. They were absolutely beautiful, basically paddy fields cut into the sides of the mountains and we saw lots of local women who still wore their hair in the traditional fashion - extremely long and wound around their head. We timed things absolutely perfectly and managed to make both viewing point and arrive back on the dot for the bus. To do this we had to sacrifice food though and I had only had an apple for breakfast. We had plans with Jane that night to go out and sample Guilin's traditional dish; beer duck. The woman brought through a wriggling duck in a net and we waited while it was killed and cooked. Unfortunately Rob was still too ill to eat much and Jane wasn't hungry so I had to make the most of the Y200 meal - pricey! The beer duck didn't really taste different to normal duck by the way.
I stayed up late playing Mario Kart with our Indonesian friends and then drank beer with Yang while we taught each other our own languages. At some point we were joined by a two guys from Hong Kong and Turkey and before we knew it was 05:30… Had a chill night though. Met Jane again on Tuesday and we went on a boat trip around Guilin and saw the Sun and Moon Pagodas. Then it was time to get the train home which was delayed a bit but a very relaxed journey. Only 16 hours and we had beds so very comfortable! Guilin was a great place to visit and absolutely beautiful!