I worked out that’s Craigs had a birthday in Australia, Guatemala, New Zealand, India, Scotland, England (of course) and finally now in China, for his 33rd. It’s hard to time being in a decent place on your birthday while travelling but this time we nailed it.
We had a 6 hour bus from Fenghuang to Guilin, accompanied by a screaming toddler who was contorting his body so much it looked like an exorcism was taking place. It went on for hours. The mum got his bare bum out and slapped it which only made the brat louder. It was enough to put the broodiest of women off having a child.
Guilin is very westernised, and for once there was a huge choice of hostels which all had fab reviews. For £13 we got a huge double room, heavenly mattress, electric blanket, insulated room so it actually heated up, gas chamber shower and 42inch plasma tv full of Chinese channels. Not bad at all! Plus we’re situated in a pedestrianised area with lots of street food.
Craigs birthday was falling on a blue sky day so we wanted to take a boat ride along the famous Li River to see the unique pointy mountains that line its banks and spread into the countryside. We had a choice of a large double decked boat with potentially 100 or so other people, or a bamboo raft for 4 people. So we picked the latter.
My mum kindly treated Craig to the trip for his birthday and we started the day with an amazing coffee, pancakes with maple syrup and waffles. A bus picked us up and stopped at a few other hotels before taking off at snail pace…literally the slowest bus ride ever. We were stuck in grid lock traffic due to road works.
In the meantime our ‘tour guide’ blared through the speakers above our head about where we were going and trying to up-sale an extra tour. She spoke English, but far to fast and her strong accent made it impossible to understand. Craig and I totally got the giggles and had to hide behind the seats infront. We particularly liked it when she said “Guilin iz a smoll city o’ omly five ‘undred miyyion” – did she just say 500 million?!? And then after each English speech she’d say “‘ou can pwactice your Chinese by listoning ‘o me smeak” and then she’d spiel off the fastest Chinese you’ve ever heard and me and Craig were dying behind the chairs in hysterics.
For the first time in China there were over 50% westerners on the bus, how very exciting! Finally new people to talk to. We met an English guy who’d been studying in the north east, a German couple who went almost as far as Russia to the ice festival – they said they were surprised how cold it still was even in Guilin “well it’s like 20 degrees warmer here but it’s still cold” they said it got down to -30 overnight, holy fuck!
We were put on a bamboo raft, which by the way was large plastic tubes and a wooden plank with two benches on top, no bamboo in sight. A nice couple from the Netherlands accompanied us as we drifted along the tranquil emerald waters. Most of the karst mountains were covered in thick greenery and rose from the shores in all different shapes and sizes. The river was wonderfully quiet, just a few other bamboo rafts and no big boats in sight. I think peak season would be horrible with so much traffic.
After a few bends the scenery got really impressive and the pyramid like mountains surrounded us. We were dropped of on the shore and reached an opening with golf carts. We were pretty sure somewhere in the Mumbo jumbo of the tour guides speech she said to get on a golf cart but we just stood around chatting to the other westerners for a bit. Then I spotted a lady with two Cormorant birds, one on each end of this stick. This is one thing we really wanted to see at the Li River, the ancient way of fishing with these large birds. But of course this lady was just using the birds for money, she saw me take a sly photo and tried to get me to pose for one of her ‘professional’ photos with the stick balanced on my shoulders. She literally put the stick on me while I was walking and I had the whole weight of the birds on me while chanting ‘Don’t let go! Your gonna hurt your birds!!’. I looked pretty cool as a cormorant fisherman if I don’t say so myself.
Then a lady as old as the art of fishing shuffled over to us with her hunched back. She had the cutest toothless smile and tried selling us bags of oranges. My GoPro was just on time lapse capturing most of what was going on. She then placed a bag of oranges atop my breasts expecting them to stay, grabbed then and slowly shuffled away while cackling, I felt like she’d put a spell on me.
As planned, we hopped onto a golf cart to Xingping where our tour included a bus back to Yangshuo. Everyone took the bus back but we decided to stay around and see the beautiful scenery while the weather was good. We visited the bend in the river which features on China’s 20 yuan note.
We were pretty peckish so walked around the village looking for a place to eat. They had really cute stands selling postcards where you just put money in a pot, I love the honesty system. We found a place and got some fried noodles and a local beer and for the first time sat in the warm sunshine.
A short hike up a thousand or so steps led us to a viewpoint over the surrounding area. It was awesome, but a little scramble up some rocks led to the best view. The river had a huge bend in it that went right below the mountain we stood on. There was an area of flat farmland with houses built on it and then as far as you could see were mountains shooting up like plants fighting for the sun. It was incredible. We sat on the edge drinking coffee from our flask and taking in the superb view.
It was a very dusty walk back through the village but we found a bus directly to Guilin. The journey took forever, we expected to be back before the sunset but instead saw it all from the bus. The journey took over 3 hours! But still it was a very memorable birthday.