Guilin is a place I was told about by a friend in Suzhou; it was somewhere I hadn’t really seen on a map or heard anything about in the guides but, because it was somewhat in between Shanghai and my next destination, Hong Kong, it seemed like a fitting stop.
The idea of spending a couple of hours drifting along a river, surrounded by beautiful scenery, gentle breezes, and foreign company, was very appealing-increasingly so as I was heading to one of the busiest cities on the planet. The city boasts many tourist attractions, most of which are actually within the city limits, unlike many of China’s other cities. There are Pagodas, waterfalls, rivers, and rock formations, all littered between limestone rocks and greenery that simply isn’t found in too many locations across the globe; it genuinely is a unique area.
Of course, as mentioned above, I didn’t come to Guilin to hang around another crowded city, I came here to spend a little bit of time away from flocks of people and in a quieter environment; in the end I only got half of what I wanted. I headed to the Li River in the early hours to catch a boat ride that would take me along a stretch of river that is famous enough to actually be pictured on the 20yuan note (there are enough of these photos taken, and the world doesn’t need another one).
However, unsurprisingly, I found that the river itself was amassed with boats of all sizes, themselves crammed with tourists from all over China; like elsewhere, there were very few foreign tourists here. The scene actually reminded me of the backwaters of Alleppey in the southern state of Kerala, India’s greenest state. It had been a long time since I thought of the southern states and, whilst gearing up to clamber onto a boat, my mind was adrift with the thoughts of how relatively peaceful those waters where, in comparison to the ever crowding problem of China.
The flocks of boats set off within seconds of each other, vying to get ahead of others; the handlers would get an extra tip if people could get photos without other boats in the shot, and so getting to the front was a goal for all concerned.
Motoring down the river was an experience in itself; the weaving in and over waves caused by passing speedboats was a rocky feeling, and by the state of the boats involved it seemed that collisions weren’t too uncommon, something that a couple of women on my boat looked concerned over.
I’m not generally one for tours and guides; any trips I make I tend to try and organise myself and find my own way around, and though I occasionally get lost and may spend an extra bit of money, it means I can do things at my own pace. However, my time in China was soon ending and I was eager to just get on with a final bit of sightseeing in a truly beautiful area of the country.
Though I enjoyed China, my time was limited and I knew I wouldn’t be able to see everything I wanted.
However, I feel that the places I’ve been to and the things I’ve seen have more than met up to what I’d hoped for but, with the only downside to China being the over population and the strange if not rude way the people go about their day. Given the chance, I would probably visit China again to see the aforementioned ice festival in Harbin, but other than that and a few other places, I feel I’ve gotten everything out of it that I can. It’s been an incredible journey; the mixture of cultures, the difference in food, and the overall feeling of being in one of the most revered countries in the world, is something I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. China…until next time!