Thanks to my job in education, this summer meant 7 weeks of pure blissful holiday! The only downside was being in between contracts, which meant no salary for 2 months and concluded in no real plans for a summer vacation. Although I was prepared for a summer spent down at my local club, living the life of a Tai Tai, by the first month this quickly grew old. Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful for the stunning weather Hong Kong displayed for pretty much 2 months straight, I just craved a change of scenery.
As much as I would have loved to be drinking a crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc poolside of a Southern Eastern paradise, I wanted more of an adventure which wouldn’t break the bank, didn’t eat up too much of my boyfriend’s annual leave and meant that I didn’t have to fly.
I came across Guilin which I found out was only 4 and a half hours by train. Guilin was also the first trip I had ever taken without my parents at the age of 10 years old with school (shout out to the DBIS squad!) so it seemed like the perfect place to return to, 16 years later with my boyfriend. So two days later, we were off to China. I’m not going to lie, I tried to talk myself out of going, especially when I had done my routine Social Media account check after awaking to find out there had been a close earthquake only 12 hours previously. Others would feel excitement at the chance to go away, but it did take a lot of courage on my half to force myself to Hung Hom station at 6am.
DAY 1- After a very pleasant 2-hour train trip to Guang Zhou, we cabbed it to another train station to catch our train to Guilin. Now this train experience was very different and we both felt like fish out of water. It was cramped, loud and in all honesty, a little bit grim. Though the views from the train were breathtaking and I wouldn’t have traded for anything as we got to see what most miss whilst flying. Just as the obnoxious man next to me continued to scream at his phone in a conversation for over 2 hours, we caught eyes with a little girl sticking her tongue out at us. After a game of sticking out tongues, she then came over and offered us a peanut, followed by handfuls over the next 30 minutes. I had luckily bought a colouring book and felt tip pens in my tired state in Guang Zhou which I gifted to this little girl. The look in her eyes was something I’d never forget and her mum ensured she repay the favour by giving us some face cream from the cosmetics factory she worked for. That was my first lesson of the trip, don’t prejudge anyone, not even the asshole on his phone who’s giving you an earache.
We arrived in Guilin at around 8pm and caught a Taxi to the Shangri-La where we would stay for the next 5 nights. It was a nice hotel with lovely staff and beautiful views from the room but don’t expect too much food wise. However, I would say that the hotel especially catered for children and I would 100% recommend The Shangri-La to families staying in Guilin.
DAY 2- After a long sleep in the extremely large comfy hotel bed, we headed out to do some exploring of the area. First stop were the Reed Flute Caves which I remember doing on Year 6 camp. We arrived at the site where we chose to enjoy a 7-minute walk through the botanical gardens, rather than paying for a 2-minute train journey. Got to get my 10,000 steps in!
The caves were truly magnificent, although like many attractions, it was a total tourist trap with gift shops coming out your eyeballs. The arrangement of the lights were absolutely stunning and I was in constant awe walking through, so much so, that I didn’t want to leave.
After the Reed Flute caves, we headed to Zhengyang Pedestrian Street which is known as the shopping and food quarter in Guilin. It was quite an interesting place that apparently comes alive at night.
Surprisingly enough, the no. 1 restaurant in Guilin according to my trusty Trip Advisor was the Indian Restaurant of Kali Mirch and as avid Indian Cuisine fanatics, we just had to try it. It was good but I quickly realised how spoilt we actually are in Hong Kong with amazing family run, authentic Indian joints.
Day 3 – Due to a typhoon passing Southern China, it brought a halt to our site seeing which meant a day spent at the hotel. Luckily, the weather had improved by evening so we took an evening Two Rivers and Four Lakes Cruise which was recommended by the hotel. Apart from the Sun and Moon Pagodas (pictured below), the cruise consisted of lit up buildings and fishermen bird shows which just seemed overly rehearsed and staged. It was actually quite upsetting watching these bird chained up, made to dive for fish, swallow fish and regurgitate them every 5 minutes when a new cruise boat would pass. Everything about it was so gimmicky and I wouldn’t recommend it if you want to experience true Chinese architecture and culture.
Day 4 – Today was a day of accomplishments for me both physically and mentally. We booked a bike tour as we had wanted to tour the countryside whilst getting some exercise in. We met up with our tour guide Mark Tang , who led us through manic streets through to the outskirts of the city. We rode to the rurality of Guilin and enjoyed the view of stunning limestone hills, rice fields, old villages and beautiful rivers. Half way through the ride with some burnt shoulders and a numbed backside, we stopped off for some roadside famous Chinese rice noodles. You were able to add your own toppings such as chilli, chives, bamboo shoots and soybeans. They were the best noodles we had ever had, all for 5¥ (HK $6) !
The views were stunning and our tour guide Mark was extremely friendly and had such in-depth knowledge of Guilin and China. If any of you are ever interested in a bike tour in Guilin, make sure to contact him via Facebook or here.
Day 5 – On our last day, we took a boat cruise tour down the Li River from Guilin to Yangshuo. The cruise is over 52 miles long and is estimated to take 3 and a half hours. The eye-feasting landscape did not disappoint!!
When we arrived at Yangshuo, we were given 20 minutes to explore before we were given the choice of a tour of a silk factory or the countryside for an additional large amount. After spending 5 minutes in Yangshou, we knew we had to sack off the tour group and explore at our own pace. Yangshou was filled with bars, restaurants, shops, hostels and had a great energy about it. Our only regret was that we didn’t spend more time experiencing all that Yangshuo had to offer as I have read that the hiking and the scenery were some of the best in the country.
It was great to return to a place 16 years on, travelling through mainland China by train and immersing ourselves in a culture so different to Hong Kong despite it being so close in distance. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone every single day and all in all, I am so grateful for my out of the norm summer experiences! x