Saturday, April 5, 2014
Guilin and Yangshuo: Day 1
I've never been bitten by the China bug, but one place in this vast country that has always interested me has been the scroll painting-like mountain scenery of Guìlín 桂林. Even if the name isn't familiar, you've no doubt seen the pictures of mountainous spires jutting straight up out of a landscape dotted with rice paddies. And for the next few blog entries, that is exactly what you're going to see here as well, for the Kaminoge family took advantage of our daughter's spring break from school this past week to fly from Shànghăi 上海 to Guilin in the southwestern province of Guăngxī 广西 in order to soak up some atmosphere and do some serious sightseeing.
Guilin is just over two hours by air from Shanghai. Things got off to a rocky start, however, while we sat in the plane on the tarmac for over an hour, waiting for clearance for take-off. Such delays are common in China, as the country's paranoid military authorities severely restrict the airspace available for civil aviation purposes, with the result being that civilian flights start getting backed up as the day progresses. Once in the air, our flight was rocked by turbulence almost the entire way to Guilin. Then, back again on solid ground, our taxi driver pulled away from the curb before I'd gotten into the cab, with the right rear tire actually running over part of my foot. Fortunately, nothing was damaged, but it was a scare. We eventually arrived at our accommodation, the Guilin Riverside Hostel 九龙商务旅游酒店, in one piece. The Riverside Hostel was our home for the first three nights of our trip. With a nice location next to the Táohuā River 桃花江, English-speaking staff, tour-booking services, Western-style breakfasts and a small but comfortable, wood-floored room, this inn is justifiably popular with foreign travelers. So naturally my wife, who prefers staying in the kind of concrete and linoleum hotels popular with Chinese tour groups, was a little disappointed with our lodgings.
Once checked in, we set out to explore the city. Guilin has a population of 4.7 million, but its downtown area, though lively, is somewhat small. Walking along the main drag, Zhōngshān Middle Road 中山中路, the atmosphere was not unlike that found in southern Taiwan, with the street scene evoking images of Kaohsiung 高雄 or Kenting 墾丁 (minus the latter's proximity to the ocean, of course). Pamela, getting hungry, stopped to buy some kebabs from a street stall:
The pedestrian-only Zhèngyáng Lù 正阳路 was where we eventually found a restaurant to sample some local dishes. First up was Guilin rice noodles 桂林米粉, which I found to be lacking in flavor, and which Amber was shocked to learn contained horse meat (specifically, the bowl on the right. We could've ordered some with more standard fare like beef or pork, but I want my daughter to experience new things, even if we didn't tell her it was horse until after she had eaten some. Dog meat is also widely available in this part of China, and Amber was constantly worried that my wife and I were going to spring a canine surprise on her at meal times. Don't worry - we didn't):
Another local specialty we sampled was Guilin snails 桂林田螺, which were quite tasty. My daughter wouldn't eat these, but did enjoy using a toothpick to pry the meat from the shells:
Guilin would prove to be a typically dirty and dusty Chinese city in the daytime, but at night parts of it are very attractive, such as the Sun and Moon Twin Pagodas 日月双塔 located on Shān Lake 杉湖:
As we made our way back to the Riverside Hostel, sightseeing boats plied the waterways around central Guilin:
The first day might've been brief, but we were to keep ourselves pleasantly busy in the days to come...