I first visited China in 1975, the Canton Fair and have been a regular visitor since. In late 1976 partook in a 3 week Australia China Chamber Commerce of "approved" locations, one being that of Tianjin which was near epicenter Tangshan earthquake, staying in a Russian built colossal hotel, my how China has changed! On all previous trips I had business associates assist with my travel arrangements and this Guilin experience was the first I booked. Having never been to Guilin and always wanting to visit the karst formation mountains, I was surfing and an advertisement for TCT appeared to which I responded and immediately received a positive and informative reply from Lily.
Informed her that I would be visiting a number of cities in China with my son on business and from our final city of Hangzhou I would like to visit Guilin and some attractions nearby. Lily immediately came up with a 5 day private tour proposal based on 3 star hotels and including private car transportation. The deal was so appealing I did not consider any alternatives. Arrangements were made solely by internet and whilst I was travelling. When I eventually nailed down the date I was to be in Hangzhou, Lily immediately booked a soft sleeper for the train to Guilin, some 18 hours and arranged for the ticket to be delivered to the Ramada in Hangzhou.
In the course of the trip with my son in cities such as Taizhou, Handan, Chongqing, Tonglu and Hangzhou we mentioned my intended solo trip to Guilin and all were amazed that I, a Caucasian foreigner not able to speak Mandarin, would be capable of having a successful trip.
Well at my hotel in Hangzhou there was the rail ticket as arranged, no problems to take the new Hangzhou subway to the East Hangzhou train station and on my way, sharing my soft sleeper with 3 Mandarin speaking fellow travelers
The train arrived at Guilin station precisely on time, 12.18 and outside the terminal was met by my guide for the duration of my trip, the lovely and most capable 23 year old Yu Ming. She whisked me away to see the local sites of Reed Flute Cave, Elephant Trunk Hill, and Fubo Hill then to book into Universal Guilin Hotel 3*, top location. Yu Ming accompanied me to one of her favourite restaurants which offered live; snake,bamboo rats, various turtle and many fish. I settled on what is known as duck bill fish which is boneless but expensive, about RMBY220 per half kilo, other dishes as little as one tenth this cost.
Following day joined hoards of other travelers on a flotilla of boats meandering some 83km downstream on Li Jiang (Jiang = River). The karst mountains are spectacular and the water clear and quite rapid, particularly in shallows. Considerable activity along the river conducted mainly from 12 pole bamboo rafts made of PVC pipe! Have a RMBY20 note with you and take a photograph of the scenery around Xing Ping which appears on the note. Met three fellow travellers,Guandong residents, who heard from Yu Ming we were to ride bicycles on arrival at Yangshuo and although none spoke any English they asked to accompany us when we ride hired bicycles to the Yulong River through the Yangshuo countryside. Off we set through relatively busy traffic but soon into serene countryside, easy riding. On reaching the Yulong we( Yu Ming and myself) hire a 10 bamboo pole raft (genuine bamboo), placed our bikes on the stern with poleman, sat in a pair of chairs and drifted down the Yulong (Dragon) River, going over weirs of more than 1 metre high, meandering through beautiful scenery and karst mountains to, too soon, to land at a banyan tree said to be 1,400 years old.
Off loaded bikes and before setting on way to hotel, Ai Yuan 3*, bought from local vendor, a BBQ fish similar to a sardine, which you ate ,including backbone, from the skewer. Back on our bikes to have dinner at one of many local restaurants and then to the second performance for the night of Liu Sanjie, a love story familiar to all Chinese. A cast of over 700 from the Zhuang, Miao and yao minority in a setting of 1.4 hectares ( 3.5 acres) with karst mountains in background, backlit. Spectacular colours and lights, each performance holding 3000 spectators. To avoid queues for buses and taxis we rode a motorbike, 3 up, for total of RMBY10.
During breakfast I could hear bursts of staccato which, was to see later, a funeral of a father. All mourners in white and the son and daughter of the deceased father were in long whites. The crackers were exploding and vast quantities of paper money floating everywhere to be quickly cleaned up by following street sweepers.
Our driver, Qin caught up with us at 8 in the morning for an early start for the Longji rice terraces and the following day a visit to the Dong minority village, Yanzhai in the Sanjiang region (three rivers).
More of that elsewhere
My one regret, I did not have an additional day to enjoy the serenity of the Yulong River.
I have had no further contact with tour organiser Lily, all is going like clockwork, Yu Ming not only a highly knowledgeable guide but is astutely aware of her charge's preferences, who is more than three times her age. I put this awareness down to the fact that Yu Ming is not only text book tourist taught by The Guilin University of Tourism, but she had recently spent some 8 months at the Epcot Centre in Florida.