CHINA: Guilin (桂林) & Yansghuo (阳朔)

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. 

Note the zongzi in the dragon’s mouth!
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.

IMG_3069For 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?!).

Night 1 & 2 spent in Guilin
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.

Enjoying snails and Guilin rice noodles with some of the guys I work with. It was a good opportunity for us to try out our Chinese too!
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!

Foreigners who cannot understand the guide: back of the bus.
Kungfu fan? One of the instructors in our apartment complex calls it that to make it more masculine I think, I am not sure.
I do not know what this is, but I really liked it.

I love all the shapes and layout of Chinese gardens.



Welcome to Elephant Rock. See if you can spot what happens when you tell people to say something before taking their picture…
When it gets hot and humid out the hair goes up and the people get a little squirrely…
Really, everywhere I tell you…
Our trusty guide blazing the trail.
There were some pretty spectacular marble carvings under one of the bridges we passed. This was probably one of twenty.
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!

Touching his ears for good luck. He touched theirs and the one on the left let out a very indignant squeak. I don’t think it was appreciated!
Guilin Waterfalls
In case you do not know where to go, they have this handy sign to guide you!
Obligatory “peace” photo…and for that $3 they will print and laminate all these photos for you so you don’t ruin them as you continue climbing the rest of the waterfalls upstream. How handy!
Happy birthday girl.
STILL wearing those grass shoes, at this point I’m starting to wonder if I will ever see my normal shoes again.
Who doesn’t celebrate their birthday by eating fried ants and nuts?
It was later followed up by this though. 🙂
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: IMG_4877



Then we went to a hokey tourist trap where they tried to tell us they found this butterfly naturally carved out in the cave. I might have given credence to the butterfly if it was not covered in sparkly dust and crazy lights all over the place. We did enjoy how cool it was inside the cave though because this trip turned us all into one hot mess…
Another nice view from atop the swamp/jungle walk.
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!

Still loving the Chinese classical gardens and architecture (complete with kio pond!).

Native song and dances put on in tribute to the four native peoples of this region. It was difficult for us to follow anything beyond the song and dance spectacle in front of us.
Even our Chinese colleagues did not understand much of the show as it was put on in the regional dialect of the native peoples from this region in China. It still amazes me how many different dialects there are and how impossible it can be for even the Chinese to communicate with each other at times.
The four main indigenous peoples of this region.
Suffice to say, it was quite a good trip and with expectations set appropriately low I can confidently say we all really enjoyed ourselves!





6 thoughts on “CHINA: Guilin (桂林) & Yansghuo (阳朔)

  1. Another AMAZING adventure shared!!! How fun it is to travel along with you both!

    What actually were the ingredients in the “aunts and nuts” dish??!

    Keep the fun coming!


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