Every year our company offers several short travel opportunities of which we are allowed to pick one and enjoy a short vacation. Based on timing and locations available this year David and I chose to go to Guilin (for my birthday!) and it just so happened to collide with the dragon boat festival.
The most popular story told about the origins of this festival involves a highly patriotic Chinese poet who, overcome by his countries loss in a recent war, threw himself into the river and drown. Supposedly people raced out in boats to find him, and when they could not find him they resorted to throwing balls of sticky rice into the river so the fish would eat the rice (zongzi precursor) and not the man’s body. Today the festival is celebrated with dragon boat races and by eating these sticky rice filled treats. They typically have sweet or meat fillings and are wrapped in a very large leaf before being cooked.
For this trip we were joined by another American expatriate co-worker and about 25 Chinese co-workers on what I will call an “authentic Chinese tour group experience.” We were greeted at the airport with matching hats and bags complete with a tour guide who only spoke Chinese and had a large yellow flag on a stick! Let the good times roll…
Before going on the trip everyone had told us that the food was not very good and that the hotels were usually the cheapest ones the tour company could find, so we had braced ourselves for pretty low standards for the next 4 days (but a free vacation is a free vacation, right?!).
We were pretty pleased with the hotel we stayed in the first two nights. It was clean enough though the breakfast in the morning was pretty lacking (noodles and hard boiled eggs with some veggie options). The only way we could really tell we were “off the beaten path” for foreigners was the fact that the hotel would not take our passports and register us with the government as all hotels are required to do when lodging foreign guests. We also noticed the hotel prominently displaying a “C” rating at the reception desk to which my American co-worker asked “why would you want to advertise that?” After a bit more research it turns out only hotels with an “A” rating are allowed to house foreign tourists and with that rating comes certain requirements about meals served, ability of staff to speak English (this hotel spoke none), and room standards. The place we stayed was clearly not allowed to house us by these standards, but as we were part of a large tour group they just let it pass I suppose. This also happened at our second hotel, but at this time we were used to the routine. For the record, the first room was considerably better than the second. Also, what’s with the glass walls on ALL the bathrooms in Chinese hotels? Of the 6 hotels we have stayed in in China only one has not had a glass walled bathroom (the second one on this trip!). This excludes the Hostel in Xi’an and hotels in Taiwan and Hong Kong I suppose…but I digress.
Good morning and happy birthday to me; once we boarded the bus it was off to a park and gardens in Guilin followed by elephant rock and then waterfall climbing!
In the afternoon we went to a scenic area complete with free climbing waterfalls and loads of $3 photo opportunities. Being that it was my birthday, we bought pretty much every one of them. The waterfalls just had metal chains bolted into the rocks with occasional foot holds to help you remain upright. We opted for the “free” ponchos because I didn’t want to get my big girl camera wet, though it is debatable if they helped much in the end!
The next day in Yangshuo we took a boat ride down the river to the spot where the painting on the back of the 20 yuan note came from (or so they tell us). The scenery is quite stunning and unfortunately it was raining on and off, so my photos can hardly do it justice, but I will attempt to try anyway:
Later that night we went to a show by a famous Chinese director that was staged on the water amidst all the massive rock outcroppings. I forget his name, but he was the same man who directed the 2008 Olympic opening ceremonies in Beijing. The pictures REALLY cannot do that show justice, so I will not even bother posting them.
The last day started off at a neat little garden complete with another boat tour in the rain. The actual last stop was at a massive grocery store where people bought so much food and alcohol to transport home that they were provided with complimentary cardboard boxes and packing straps to check the boxes as additional luggage. Chinese people take buying food from other regions seriously!
Suffice to say, it was quite a good trip and with expectations set appropriately low I can confidently say we all really enjoyed ourselves!