Noilly Prattle

Saturday, July 22, 2017

China 2017: 21 – Yangshuo; getting oriented

     Finding your way around in a new place, especially if you are staying for a couple weeks, is the first order of business. These are the necessary activities of finding the market, local transportation, restaurants, things to do, etc. Well rested after a good night's sleep, energized with a couple cups of strong coffee, we set out to explore Yangshuo. Naturally, we were hungry . . .

rear window
       There was a restaurant just around the corner from the Nana Hotel that offered western-style breakfasts. The place was empty but a woman said she would fix us some breakfasts. It took quite a while to get the food but it was good enough. While waiting, a young couple in wedding clothes were posing for a photo op outside the window—glamorous photo shoots are a popular activity in China as we noticed last year in Dali, Li Jiang, Shuhe in Yunnan Province.

Yangshuo nestled in its karst mountains

     The town of Yangshuo itself is compact, nestled in its karst limestone mountain peaks, walkable and charming. . . and a popular tourist destination for Chinese and other visitors

Senior Citizens Center? 

Video: Senior Songfest in the Park

          There is a large public park in easy walking distance. These parks seem to function as senior citizens centers everywhere in China. They are full of elderly people doing different things to entertain themselves: some just sitting and walking around, other playing different kinds of games and apparently gambling, one group was engaged in playing some traditional instruments and singing traditional (I assume) songs; people seemed to join in or walk out as the spirit moved.

monument - Resistance
 to WWII occupation

In search of Moon Hill

West Street - the main tourist drag
walking in the rain
       It had started to rain so we stopped by the hotel and asked to borrow a couple of umbrellas and then went exploring farther afield from the West Street central tourist area. There is a karst mountain peak formation known as Moon Hill a few kilometers south of town that we wanted to see. We decided to check out the location of a local bus to get there but were as yet unfamiliar with the public transportation system. Our guidebook said there was a bus terminal where you could take a bus (#2) to Moon Hill. After a couple kilometers walking along in a busy decidedly unscenic part of town there was no sign of a “bus terminal”.

 over shot the "South Terminal" -
far background on left center of the photo
       We came to a major crossroads and walked into a nearby hotel and asked the desk clerk where the bus terminal was located. She pointed us in the same southerly direction we had been walking. Shrugging our shoulders we continued south, saw nothing resembling a “bus Station” but stopped at a muddy spot from where we could see a few buses that appeared to be stopped back in the direction from which he had just come and had overlooked. It looked something like a bus congregation point—hard to call it a “terminal”, but we decided to backtrack and check it out. There it was, the “bus terminal”! You can change buses there to go to Moon Hill. It also turned out that you don't have to walk that far, you can take another bus (#5) in town to the “South Bus Terminal” and change buses there for the #2 to go to Moon Hill. We had sore feet, but learned a lot in one day. In any new town, the first couple days are the hardest.

the #2 bus to Moon Hill

Drinks and Dinner

       All this walking and mind bending confusion called for a drink. Picked up a bottle of wine from the market and borrowed a corkscrew and some wine glasses from the mini hotel bar. Before going up to our room we asked the desk clerk about renting bicycles and taking a bamboo boat trip on the Yulong River, a tributary of the Li Jiang. The hotel clerk said they would be happy to arrange them. Had a couple glasses of wine in our room before going out to eat at a Chinese style “food court”--a very busy and noisy place with great ambiance and spicy lamb kebabs. 

spicy lamb kebab

food court

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

China 2017: 20 - cruising down the Li Jiang

ghosts at 5 AM
     It was still dark when we got up at 5AM. A glance out the window showed a low cloud ceiling threatening rain. Sure enough, the weather worsened, the cloud ceiling lowered even more and it started to rain while we were having our morning pick-me-up coffee in our room.

      Checked out of the hotel at 07:30 and waited for our car which, due to the heavy rain, was delayed about 20 minutes. The drive in the rain was all dark rain-streaked windows and rush hour traffic. Traffic was extremely heavy and congested, especially the motor bike traffic—and endless stream of rain gear bedecked bikes and drivers sloshing along in their own bike lanes crisscrossing at intersections. It looked like something out of a Sci-Fi dystopia novel—unbelievable, but all the more so because it was true. It looked ominous for our boat ride down the Li Jiang. It seemed we couldn't have picked a worse day—all we could see was fog shrouded river banks.

passenger-staff argument
in the passenger cabin
     Our driver was very helpful and resourceful in helping us with the usual language problems. With his help (and smart phone translator) and the boat company officials we finally found and boarded the right boat. After about half an hour the boat got underway and started heading down the Li Jiang to Yangshuo where we planned to spend the next two weeks. As we headed south the clouds began to break and the rain abated.

terrified tot
       We soon began to see the familiar shapes of the well-photographed karst mountains. The rain had stopped and the cloud ceiling was lifting leaving patches of fog in valleys and sort of outlining and defining the mountain peaks. Most passengers were leaving the closed cabin and heading up to upper outside deck. It was breathtakingly beautiful and we realized how lucky (despite the inauspicious start) we were to be aboard at this time just after the rain. By now, just about everybody was out of the cabin on the top deck taking pictures galore, just like me. You sort of go crazy, like stuffing food until you can't eat anymore. Amazing that my battery held out. But, don't worry, I shall restrain myself with the pix.


survival lunch
      Once the passengers were sated with taking pictures of the karst mountains and each other and probably getting hungry, the crew served lunch in the main passenger cabin. The lunch included in the fare was more or less like airplane food (which basically means survival) and we finally arrived at Yangshuo's Dragonhead Quay.  

covered shopping arcade
       Pandemon- ium! There was a long roofed arcade (it seemed like a kilometer long) flanked with shops on one side and the Li Jiang on the other. Passengers had no choice but to walk the entire gauntlet of souvenir shops before debouching into the ordinary street. 

schmoozing and playing cards
       Finally out of that noisy arcade we still had to walk another kilometer or more pulling and dragging a small wheeled suitcase along cobblestone streets. The riverbank is nicely laid out with tables and seats for resting and schmoozing with friends, etc. We struggled along until, using a hand drawn map, we found our hotel, the Nana Hotel. By then there was some none too welcome sunshine and it got very warm, almost hot, lugging the baggage along the uneven stone pavement. 

       The Nana Hotel is in a quiet street, cool and shaded, surrounded by a garden and a small creek. Quite quaint and charming after the huge Li Jiang Waterfall Hotel in Guilin. Our room was a spacious corner room with lots of windows, a relaxing view of the garden and creek on two sides and a nice deep claw-foot type bathtub. Just the thing to soak away the exhaustion of the stressful walk into the town from the boat landing. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

China 2017: 19 – Guilin

     The name Guilin is internationally famous for its karst limestone mountain landscape. The rounded shape of the many mountain peaks that run north-south along the Li Jiang (Li River) seem to look like goosebumps or berserk rounded mushrooms. Guilin itself, however, is basically just a big modern business-oriented city. Consequently we decided on only a brief couple-day stopover, before taking a 5-hour boat ride down the Li River for a 2-week stay in the smaller more charming city of Yangshuo.

China's high speed train the CRH
       Took the new high speed train from Sanjiangnan station to Guilin. The high speed train in China is called the CRH (China Rail High) and it took only around half an hour to go from San Jiang to Guilin at a top speed of 237km/h—very smooth and quiet. The fare was unbelievably cheap for a high speed train—only 27 Yuan ($3.98).

the winner is on the smart phone
       The high speed rail station is several kilometers outside of downtown Guilin and you have to take land transportation, bus or a taxi. Although there are official type metered taxis there are also a lot of hustlers trying to get you to take their car. That can work out to your advantage if you play the game—bargain that is. There are several hustlers competing with each other, so you can play them off against each other to get the best fare. We settled for 50 yuan and the winning guy got us straight to our hotel. Although the car was a bit old it got us there. (Notice that the taxi cost more than the high speed train.)

very nice view from our hotel room
Vitruvian man
       After settling into our hotel room at the Lijiang Waterfall Hotel we explored the immediate surroundings and wandered into a beautiful park composed of interlocking lakes and an extensive landscape garden—very picturesque. Back at the hotel bar it was great to relax with our first real cocktails since leaving home. Three weeks is a long time between drinks. We booked a boat with the hotel concierge for the trip down the Li Jiang to Yangshuo for 1000 Yuan including taxi to the boat landing and lunch on board.

natural rock formation-
reminded me of a dinosaur

       The following day we decided to do some local sightseeing a little farther out from the hotel. The two sites (Fubo Hill and Jingjiang Princes City) are both within walking distance of the Waterfall Hotel. Both were mostly interesting to me for their isolated karst mountain peaks. I thought a place called Jingjiang Princes City was pretty cool—a prince's palace with its own private karst mountain called appropriately enough Solitary Beauty Peak within the palace grounds. Imagine, a palace with its own private mountain!

Fubo Hill: Sword-Testing Rock
hangs from the ceiling,
nearly touching the ground.
Tai-Chi in the park

on a bright marble pavement shall we dance . . .
Jingjiang Princes City Gate
 Solitary Beauty Peak

       It rained overnight and in the morning. Foggy low-ceiling clouds obscured the karst mountains in the distance. Since the weather was being uncooperative and we had felt tired and out of sorts the previous evening, we decided to relax at the hotel an take advantage of their indoor pool. Great way to while away a rainy afternoon, hit the pool and do some laps—get off the feet and exercise the whole body—very restorative.

       Found a wonderful beef and noodle shop on the pedestrian arcade near the hotel. A little back alley place that you wouldn't find if you couldn't read the Chinese characters for beef 牛肉 and noodles. But the shop had a clear big red neon 牛肉 sign with an arrow pointing the way. (Both of us, especially Road Buddy, can read enough Chinese characters for the basics of travel.) The shop was crowded and busy (a sign of a good restaurant). Interestingly many of the diners were Muslims. There were even a couple of Middle Eastern types and I didn't feel the least threatened with terra-ism. There was a very exotic looking and very pregnant waitress with a bright red hijab wobbling around and serving customers. The place was fascinating and the food was delicious.

Lijiang Waterfall Hotel
       On the way way back we walked around the colorfully lighted park across the street from the hotel. The colors and reflections in the water droplets on the leaves and in the water of the lake were enchanting. We take the boat down the Li Jiang to Yangshuo—a 4½ + hour ride downstream—in the morning.

romantic night view from our hotel room