Before leaving Bei Hai I decided to eat in one of the many very fresh fish restaurants. I'm used to choosing one swimming around in a tank by now, knowing that it won't be swimming around for much longer. This one, however, was picked out of the tank. thrown to the ground and summarily bashed before I could change my mind. I hate to say it but it tasted great. Maybe one of the things I like about the UK, though, is the possibly hypocritical way we fillet and de-fishify our fish, so the buying and eating process is far removed from the killing. I'll look forward to not being offered the fish head as honoured guest.
The penultimate stage of my travels brought me to Guilin in Guanxi province, a mere seven hours bus ride away. Apart from getting slightly fleeced by a taxi driver in Guilin there were no problems, but with my lap top, a back pack and an enormous bag containing a whole year's stuff, I was in no position to argue, and I met Jayne, as planned in the hostel. Tourism was easy here and we booked up trips and train tickets with no hassle. Just what I wanted. They're used to foreigners here. China's so easy when you're on the tourist trail.
We decided on the terraces (not up to those at Yuanyang),with a visit to the village where all the women have very long hair and, for a fee not included in the excursion price, watched a performance of song,dance and hair-unravelling, along with a roomful of other tourists watching this reality show. I dutifully took lots of photos and tried to pretend I was discovering this remote village.
The next day we took the slow boat to Yangshuo down the Li Jiang River, a wonderful and very scenic experience. Lonely Planet had promised 'otherworldly topography' in Guilin and I'd only glimpsed it from afar. Now we were amongst it. As we'd taken the cheaper option of the Chinese tourist boat as opposed to the English speaking one we luckily couldn't understand the guide telling us which of the picturesque hills and oddly shaped rock faces looked like horses/beautiful women washing their hair/ dragons etc and could just watch the scenery unfold before our eyes. Chinese tour guides seem to find a lot to talk about in Chinese. The one in the bus the previous day didn't draw breath for about half an hour while her mate on the English version lasted about two minutes. Were we worse off for not knowing? I don't think so.
Once in Yangshuo, trailing my bags through the docks, we found a cheap-ish hotel from the LP called the Peace Hotel. Not an apt name at that time since they were in the process of demolishing the building next door and it sounded alarmingly like the demolishing was going to spill over into our room. Otherwise it was a good place to be with a 'lovely young man' who spoke good English and became our guide/friend the next day for our bike ride. 'Friend' if the police asked, as he wasn't an official guide. We cycled on a very picturesque route, went on an extremely relaxing bamboo- rafting trip, buying beer from the river vendors for ourselves and the 'driver', eating a meal with local fruit wine (which turned out to be rice), ending up on a cave visit with more rocks (beautiful woman washing her hair/ dragon ...) and a mud bath, photographic evidence available.
Yangshuo was full of Westerners, shops, restaurants, more shops, more restaurants but was a nice place to spend a few days, eat some Western food and chill out before the fifteen hour train ride to Hong Kong on Friday 13th. This turned out to be an easy and comfortable experience too and my first and last ride on a Chinese train. Next and final stop, Hong Kong, but first we had to depart from China at Shenzhen. 'One country, two systems'. I'd forgotten that we were crossing borders here, filling in three cards, but it didn't take long and we were through.