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Travel blog I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast, but I'm intercontinental and I eat French toast (Beastie Boys) | | | Photos available at www.istockphoto.com/georgeclerk

Guilin, Yangshuo and Guangzhou

CHINA | Thursday, 15 November 2007 | Views [15638] | Comments [7]

This rabbit above had escaped from a cage outside the restaurant next door, causing much fuss in the mini supermarket!


After arriving and dropping my stuff at the hostel, I went back to the train station to arrange onward tickets, and (not counting the many late night offers of 'massage' in Shanghai) had my first direct offer from a Chinese prostitute. She just started walking along with me saying 'sex?' then 'SEX?' and when I said 'no thanks' or something, she gave a coy smile and said 'But I very beautiful lady.'

Looks quite real? It's carefully shaped and painted cement. Same thing, in loads of different imitation wood types is done in public parks all over China to make banisters, bridges, etc

Anyway, I stayed in Guilin for two nights, at the great Flowers hostel. At a local restaurant, I went for 'Diced chicken fried in a bush of chilies, garlic and ginger' and the description menu was spot on, especially re. the bush of chillies...

The tasty chicken morsels that I managed to find were scorching (spicily) hot, but then eating one of the chilies was a mistake! Weirdly, by the end of the meal the extreme hotness didn't make me sweat and my nose run at all, it just completely numbed my mouth, and - really - made my lips feel like they were vibrating very quickly. No need for laughing gas at the dentist, after eating this I think I could have had all my teeth taken out without feeling a thing!

Apparently even other Chinese (who snack on chicken feet to pass time on the train) think that the people in this part of China take culinary excesses it a bit far, saying they'll eat anything with legs that isn't a table, and anything with wings that isn't an aeroplane!

After walking down a street full of restaurants, the saying seemed spot on, though you can't eat civit cats (a type of skunk) any longer, since that was reckoned to be the cause of the SARS outbreak.

Street music

All decent restaurants have lots of cages and bowls / tanks outside, with most of animals being alive (though barely alive in some cases). Only a few larger ones (dog included) were out on the street in half-prepared state. There were all sorts of fish, terrapins, crabs, turtles, tortoises, cane rats, rabbits, snakes, pheasants and many other game birds, chickens, cats and plenty others, all unknowingly waiting to be chosen from the menu.

About ten seconds before I took this photo, a man took a cat out of the top cage by one of its hind legs, with a metal bar at the ready in his other hand in case it tried to bite him, and headed to the kitchen.

The next day it was quite strange to see a cute young girl, dressed in Hello Kitty type fluffy clothes, grab a net, retrieve a large and enthusiastically wriggling carp from one of the bowls, then bludgeon it to death by repeatedly slamming it hard against the concrete floor. Then she cheerfully walked back into the restaurant to show the fish to its diners!

Apart from the culinary delights and numerous prostitutes of Guilin, there were a few nice parks and interesting karst peaks, but really too many scammers and hawkers, from pretty young women pretending to be wanting to chat in English (but actually wanting to sell discount tickets for river cruises, tea ceremonies or opera shows), to an old man who pretended to want to look at my camera, but then took a photo of me and tried to charge for his services as a photographer!

Li River Cruise

So first thing in the morning, I joined a group of mostly Westerners (the Chinese boat was a bit cheaper, but included an hour of shopping at the start, and apparently had even ropier food than ours!) and we drove for a bit down the Lijiang (aka Li) river, until we had got to the bit where there was enough water to float a boat.

Even here, it was incredibly shallow, and as we boarded the boat, we were all quite impressed at how sleek, modern and comfortable it looked, until we realised that we were just stepping onto this one to get to our crappy, old and tired boat which was moored alongside it!

Then we had a five hour slow cruise downstream to Yangshuo, unfortunately much of the time we were part of a long and closely packed line of boats, with frequent hooting and honking of airhorns not helping any atmosphere of tranquility.

But despite the thick grey haze that made decent photos pretty much impossible, the karst scenery was still amazing, and we saw plenty of activity along the way, including lots of water buffalo, and fishermen who use cormorants instead of rods or nets. Since the birds have rings put around their necks, they can't swallow bigger fish, which the fishermen just scoop out of their bills as they skim together along the surface on tiny bamboo boats.

Getting close to Yangshuo, there was a quality moment when a pushy Chinese woman met her match - an Italian man. She'd decided that she should be at the front of the queue to get off the boat, and made swift progress through the queue of Westerners (the German passengers were at the very front of course!), by jabbing each of us hard in the arm, making angry hand signals, then arrogantly walking past.

But when she tried it with the Italian, a ten minute battle started, with very cross hand motions, intense staring matches, and lots of angry words coming from each in their own language. Trouble almost erupted when one of the boat's crew had to get through, and the Italian had decided that nobody at all, no matter what, was getting past him and his wife (who'd been told to barricade the side with her suitcase)!


So we arrived in Yangshuo, which was just a village in the middle of karst peaks until people started realising its mass tourism appeal, about twenty years ago. Now it is full of Western style cafes and hawkers, including a type new to me - silhouette cutters. These guys will subtly walk along the street next to tourists, and use pocket scissors to make a stylized silhouette, then present for the unknowing tourist to buy. Crafty (no pun intended) because the tourist feels bad about saying they don't want something that's already been done just for them. Of course I bought mine, but not before haggling down to half the original price of 10 yuan.

It even includes the famous peaks around Yangsho at the bottom - the crescent moon peak at the left!

Talking of haggling, my poor skills there came in for much abuse from others when I got a t-shirt which had a ridiculous starting price of 340 Yuan (over £20) for 105. The sellers insisted that it wasn't a fake, though blatantly it was, and made me out to be a 'very hard bargainer'. But even paying £6 for something I probably should have had for more like £2, I was happy enough. My mistake was in starting with my offer as high as 40 Yuan!

"Scotland's not a country!"

In the hostel was a crazy Dutch girl Chantelle, who I'd first met in Chengdu, then bumped into again in Guilin. It came up in discussion that somehow, she didn't think Scotland was a country, and thought I was joking when I told her that it most certainly was. And, incredibly, she's a Geography teacher!

Anyway, this turned into a battle that I knew I was going to win, until she asked a German guy who said he thought Scotland was definitely a country, but said he'd Google for it. And, to my horror, it turned out that the top result had the title 'Scotland Is Not A Country' and listed eight official criteria for a country, only two of which they thought it could meet! Shocking, and it made my position harder to defend. Luckily I'd earler established Scotland's annihilation of Holland in terms of literature, music, famous inventions, cinema etc. The best Chantelle could come up with for Holland was the invention of dykes (doubtful!), and the company Phillips!

I told the German girl and Finnish guy in my dorm, expecting them to laugh at her foolishness, but they both said something like 'yes but really it is true I think - Scotland must be not a country'

Later on we met up with Floren, who'd also been in the Chengdu hostel at the same time, and he'd bumped into a couple of Brits, one of whom was a Scotsman, Andy. Only the second Scot I'd met since Norway. I got Chantel to ask what he thought, and his reply was straight to the point: ″F***ING RIGHT IT IS!!!″

Having got up at 6.20 to climb a local peak for sunrise, I was gutted that all the paths I could find weren't yet open, so I hired a bike overnight and went further away for the next morning's sunrise, but it was no good - the heavy grey haze prevented any decent photos. That night I tried again at sunset, and got a few sellable pictures, but decided to take a boat ride back upriver to Yangshuo, having fallen off and hurt my knee while chasing water buffalo!

While waiting for a boat, a family were taking ages to wash their clothes, while a man walked a water buffalo down to the river for a quick wash...

Then back up the river for me and my bike...

On a different bike mission, five of us headed South from Yangshuo to a huge cave network, which boasted mud pools that you could swim in. As we approached the cave entrance, there was a group of older European types, and - totally unprompted, an old man amongst them boldly announced 'Yes... It is true... We are Swedish!!'

But going in it was just the five of us, our guide, and a photographer who sold us pictures at the end. The cave was amazing with stalagmites and tites, some famous ones shaped like Buddhas, and in places we had to crawl on our bellies through tiny gaps.

This is me getting drenched in cold mud by Floren...


Many high quality products are made in and around Guangzhou (which we used to call Canton), supposedly including half of all the watches bought in the world, plus excellent banking software of course, but apparently they also make crappy rubbish like Apple iPods here too!!

The city has a great Metro system, just like Hong Kong's, and - despite lots of inner-city slums, seems quite a modern place. Definitely a place of business and commerce, and it seems you can buy pretty much anything imaginable, in vast quantites, on the street from small specialised shops.

Vases for sale

Since dim sum comes from here, I wanted to try the real thing, but ignorantly didn't realise that it's meant to be eaten for breakfast/brunch, so you can only get it here in the morning. Anyway, I did eventually find a place before noon, but despite having at least four mammoth floors to the restaurant, they were full. Even though I was a clueless foreigner (which clearly didn't endear me to them at all!) they decided to set up a new mini-table, which was placed right next to a very busy meat kitchen, with all sorts of things being chopped up. But the dim sum was delicious, and the tea making and pouring procedure was unbelievably complex!

The Pearl river on a hazy day

Doesn't look great, but at least you don't get runover trying to cross the street!

Evening River Cruise on the Pearl River. Tonnes more neon further round too.

Loaded up

Lots of places for you to shop in Guangzhou...

Tags: Mountains




Isn't it a silhouette of Lenin?

  Will Nov 21, 2007 10:45 AM


Hi,George, great pictures! I like the one in the cave the most! I went to Yangshuo in 2004 and the cave guide made us to crawl the hole as well!!! lol to see that you were forced to do the same thing. I also wrote up an travel blog about my trip in Yangshuo. Maybe you can give us more updated feedback about Yangshuo on blog.kango.com if you have a minute.

Happy travel!

  Min Guo Dec 3, 2007 8:04 PM


so beautiful
guxi is my hometown ,but i not go to guilin.
it is a pity!!

  Lenmon Dec 19, 2007 4:28 PM


When I get a sec I'll upload my pictures of Yangshao and Guilin from 1989 ... it really doesn't seem like that long ago, but I don't recognise the photo's from your post above!

  simon_monk Jun 2, 2008 3:24 PM


can ask when u go there ?

  gary Feb 18, 2009 8:10 PM


in fact, there are many red light district in China. Just avoid them if you meet one.

  Souel Aug 4, 2010 6:57 PM


Bumped into your blog as I am planning a trip to Guilin and looks like it will be fun! [except I had better not find a cat on menu display or I'll puke!]

In case you are interested in the chillies you ate - they are Sichuan Peppers [also known as Fagara] which numb the palette. You shd be able to get them in Chinatowns (if any) in your 'country' ! I love them and ground them for seasoning sometimes, say over lambchops.

  anu Mar 11, 2011 6:13 PM



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