Northern Guangxi Province: Part I: Guilin

29 Jul

A view of Guilin from the Solitary Beauty Peak

The countryside around Guilin and Yangshuo was truly spectacular and we had some great times there. With the neverending karst hills, the theme of the first portion of our trip in northern Guangxi Province was climbing hills and going in/on rivers.

Inside a cave with Buddhist paintings

We arrived in Guilin in the afternoon and went up the Solitary Beauty Peak for a view of the city. Part of the overpriced attraction was a visit of an old Ming prince’s mansion and some caves with Buddhist paintings. A part of the site houses Guangxi Normal University but unfortunately the campus seems pretty much unused, having been relocated so the site could be used to make money off tourism. Other peaks were cheaper but this one was “recommended” by our hotel – they drove us there and took us to the ticket counter, probably getting a commission for it! From that experience we learned to always climb the cheapest or free peak in any place as they all have similar views.

Former Ming mansion and later Guangxi Normal University

After our visit, we went on the Guilin walking street tourist area with stores, some cafes and market areas for local buys. There we had a delicious pizza (not always easy to find in China) and the most delicious strawberry smoothie (even harder to find a drink with real fruit much less such a delicious one).

Another, pricier experience was a tour of the rice fields north of Guilin that we did on the second day. Considering that the price to get into the rice field villages was a steep 80 yuan and getting there by bus was quite complicated, the 150 yuan daytrip tour seemed reasonable. It was, at least until we got on and the guide explained that there was an “optional” river raft and village visiting tour in the afternoon. Well, it seemed you had to do this or there was nothing else to do in the area and my mom thought it sounded great, so we paid the extra 70 per person to do this part.

Pingan (Peaceful) Village

The first destination was the village of Pingan, high up in the hills. Roya got car sick on the twisty road up to the bottom of the village, then struggled to walk up to the middle of the village where we had lunch. The speciality was bamboo rice and bamboo chicken, which they stuff into the bamboo, cook over a fire and then split open to eat. We went to a clinic where I bought Chinese medicine for car sickness for 1 yuan though Roya refused to eat it but felt better by the end of lunch, even regaining her appetite.

Cooking bamboos with food inside

Our bamboo lunch

Our family on the peak above Pingan village, looking down

After lunch, we climbed for almost an hour through the village to reach the view from the top. It was a tiring climb in the hot sun and Milad kept saying he wanted to go “back to our hotel” but we finally made it. The rice fields were truly amazing to look at and it was definitely a worthwhile experience. We then had to go back down to the parking lot, which took another hour. We were especially proud of the kids walking all the way, as others were being carried up or down for 100 yuan.

For those who did not want to walk up!Stalls of goods for sale all along the way up the village

Stalls of goods for sale all along the way up the village

We then went to the “optional” part, which was actually a short boat ride alongside little “villages” with minority girls singing or showing off their hair. The Zhuang minority women grow their hair all their life, piling it on top of their heads like a hat and only cutting it once in their life, when they are 80 years old. The ones that are single cover their hair with a cloth while the married ones are allowed to show their hair – they do a demonstration of how they comb and arrange their hair on their heads.

Zhuang women and their long hair

After the short boat ride, we went though a Bai (another minority) village, which included a few songs and dances at the top. On the way back down, everyone grabbed a stick and beat drums and hanging bamboo stalks, as they walked down the stairs. This was undoubtedly the kids’ favourite part of the whole day and the rest of us enjoyed it too! Overall, Peiman and I thought this “optional” part was quite a tourist trap but my mother really liked it probably because she had not experienced such a thing before so I was happy for her. For me, this confirmed what I knew about “tours”, especially in China, and renewed my resolve to avoid them unless absolutely necessary.

Overall, I have to say we all really liked Guilin. It was clean and nice and since it is a city, it absorbed the heavy tourist and wasn’t absorbed by it.


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