Wednesday, December 31, 2008
China Trip Day 9: The Li River and Yangshou
In spite of a really long and boring boat ride, this was one of the best days I've had in China thus far. We got up early to wait for our shuttle bus. Janet got really worried as it was supposed to pick us up around 8 but hadn't have by 8:05. So, she calls the number our travel booker gave us the day before to make sure everything was okay and that they knew where our hotel was, because it is hard to spot. But they said the bus was on the way, just got caught in a bit of traffic. The bus arrived around 8:30 and we were off. The tour guide gave a talk in quick Chinese. Some things we learned were that Guilin used to be underwater, which is how the strange mountains that the area is famous for were formed. We also learned that along the river is where the picture on the 20 RMB bill was taken.

Also on the bus they tried to sell a tour upgrade for 100 RMB. Apparently they are 2 levels on the boat. The boat ticket is only for the first level, while the upper deck ticket cost more. We passed on the upgrade. Once we got to the dock, we had a bit of a wait in the gift shop area. They were selling really expensive jade carvings and some different types of jewelry. At around 9:30 we got our boat tickets from the tour guide. The guide would not accompany us to the boat. We figured that we would be fine if we just followed the rest of our group, be we were wrong. Most of our group got the 2nd level upgrade and were on a different boat than us. Luckily a local shop keeper came to our rescue, looked over our ticket, and set us off in the right direction. From what I can tell, all the tours drop everyone off in the same place and then the various groups get split up onto different boats depending on the ticket level purchased. So if you're looking for a tour, just go with the cheapest one cause they are all pretty much the same.

The boat itself was not too pretty. Just a boat with some tables and chairs. Me and Janet were assigned seats 1 and 2 on our boat and we were furthest from both the windows and the steps to get to the top deck. Still, not a big deal. Each table had some tea, tea cups, and a brochure showing the path of the river cruise which had some English in it. As the tour started, once again they tried to sell more stuff. This time it was a picture book for 150 RMB. For the price, a photographer would take pictures of you by several of the popular rock structures along the cruise and you would get a picture book of it at the end of the tour. With my camera, I knew I could get better pictures myself, so I passed. I was surprised at how many of the Chinese tourists signed up for it though.

After all the speeches and what not, me and Janet headed to the top deck to take some pictures. I was a bit worried when I heard about the 2nd level ticket as I was worried we would not be allowed on the top deck, but that was not the case. The 2nd level ticket was just for having a table on the top deck. And its not like they had a better view, what with all the people standing around on the deck getting in the way of their view. It was really hazy, but still very pretty. Occasionally there would be announcements when the famous rocks came up, but they all looked really similar to me. Also, we got to see some wildlife including ducks, water buffalo, and fishing birds. There were also several people on these really long, thin, wooden boats. I think they were originally used for fishing but the ones along this river kept attaching themselves to our boat to try and sell stuff. The first time it happened I got a bit nervous cause I thought we were going to crash into them! Me and Janet were glad we were on the top deck as they wouldn't bother us. After a while all the mountains start to look the same.

The river is very beautiful, but 5 hours on a boat is a bit much. Eventually we went back to the table for a rest. Not a few minutes after we did this, lunch was served. I wasn't quite sure what it was we were eating, but Janet told me later it was some type of noodle and pickled melon, along with an egg (I knew that one though). Also, one of the couples we were sitting with were kind enough to share their shrimp with us. At the beginning of the tour, there were menus and you could order extra things for your meal, they sort of over ordered and didn't so much give, as demand that everyone at the table share in their left overs. The shrimp was quite tasty, so I didn't mind 'sharing' at all!

After lunch we went back to the top deck for a little while and something funny happened. There was a group of travelers that wanted to take a picture with me! I felt like such a celebrity. They came back a second time for individual pictures and I had Janet take a picture of them taking pictures with me. It was really funny! Later, they came up to me when we were resting at our table and gave me a gift for taking pictures with them. It was a figurine of a guy fishing on one of those boats we had seen selling stuff earlier. Janet suggested I should start my own business. 5 RMB for your picture with the foreigner! After a while, the scenery outside got a bit less interesting and almost everyone was sitting at their tables, resting. At some point, a video about a water show that happens in a lake in Yangshou was shown. Then, as usual, they tried to sell tickets to the show as well as a DVD of it. We actually wanted to see the show, but it started at 8 and the last bus back to Guilin was at 8:30, so it was impossible. If I was to go back to this area of Japan, I would definitely spend an evening in Yangshou to see the show.

Once we got off the boat there were a bunch of fishermen with birds offering to let you hold them and take a picture, but for a fee. There was also a long line of stalls selling various handicrafts. Once we finally made our way into town, an English speaking lady attached herself to us. She was offering her services as a local guide and said she would take us on a bike tour. We said we weren't interested, but she was persistent. She had a brochure of the places she would take us and a book full of customer comments and so we asked her how much. She said it would be 50 RMB apiece, including bike rental, which we found really reasonable and decided to take her up on the offer. It was a decision we did not regret.

She helped us get bikes, get bus tickets for later, and lead us along the bike path. While it would be possible to take the tour on your own, she helped explain things along the way, knew short cuts to take, and it was nice not having to worry about getting lost. The bike thing was also helpful as we heard that you either had to pay a big deposit or leave your passport with the bike people, neither of which we wanted or had to do. She took us to see a big tree and explained that the local water show was based around a legend about the tree. She also took us to this moon rock formation that Janet really wanted to see and gave us cute picture suggestions. The bike ride was amazing and one of my favorite things we did. It was also nice to have the guide because she knew how long the ride would take and was able to get us back into town before it got dark. When we paid, we took a picture together, and she brought out her son to meet us. He was really cute and made me miss my ES students back in Japan. We also ran across a random camel too!

After the bike tour, we walked down this street of restaurants looking for a place to eat before catching our bus. We were looking for a dumpling place mentioned in the lonely planet but couldn't find it so we went to a random cafe. The dinner was delicious and they were playing Mama Mia on the TV. We had fried spicy pork, onion dumplings, and rice. The dumplings at this place were better than any of the 'famous' dumpling we tried while in Xian and Shanghai. We also had time to split a banana and Kahlua sundae for desert.

After dinner we went to the bus stop, but then realized we left the Guilin map at the restaurant and rushed back to get it. Not a problem though as we made it to the bus station with 20 minutes to spare. When the bus showed up it was surrounded by a group of people on motorcycles. Apparently the motorcycles act like taxis for one.

The bus was pretty much empty except for us and 2 other passengers. The ride was quite scary. The road was under construction, but it was pretty much unmarked, so we would change lanes into on coming traffic when we came across a hole in the road. And there were a lot of holes. A few times the diver didn't spot them and the whole bus would shake. It made me very glad that I put on my seat belt. Janet, didn't notice anything as she managed to sleep through the ordeal. Once we arrived, we were greeted by cab drivers wanting to give us a ride, but our hostel was really close to the station, so we decided to walk. We stared walking the wrong direction though, but one of the taxi drivers was nice enough to point us in the right direction. Once at the hostel, we showered, watched some dramas, and then a News Years Eve show, and feel asleep a bit after midnight. We did ask the staff if there were any fireworks or New Years celebrations, but there were none. So, we simply had to enjoy the fake lamp-post like fire work lights that were in front of our hostel. Still, a great last day of the year.

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