As with Vietnam it was Halong Bay, we had hoped that our "postcard" would be found somewhere around the rice fields in Guilin. Our flight on September 11th from Hangzhou to Guilin went, despite the date, fine, although we experienced some unfortunate delay and we arrived at our hostel around 3 am, really tired. Our hostel was the Backstreet Youth Hostel, and we had purposedly booked it to meet up with a good friend of ours. Patrizia was in China with Giulia, another friend, and they were flying into Guilin the 12th...we couldn't wait to finally meet her and spend some bohemian days together, cups of tea and cigarettes.
As we had a day to spend in Guilin before the girls arrived, we basically slept until late, wondered a bit through the city, read, wrote...but did nothing special as it was reallly warm and humid and after a 5 minutes walk we felt like collapsing anywhere. We waited until late in the evening to greet the girls, as they also suffered delay on their flight, and were very happy to finally see Patty and meet Giulia. We had a good laugh before they arrived as we were relaxing in the lobby area and suddenly a couple of Spanish guys started a huge argument with the receptionists because they thought they had been ripped off...and were threatening them by calling the police and sue them. At the same time there were two drunk English guys laughing out loud at them and we ended up chatting for a while. Once Patty and Giulia got to the hostel, we stayed up for a while, updating quickly on each other and went to bed.
The next day we left early to go on a cruise along the Li river from Guilin to Yangshuo...it was a fabulous 4 hour boat tour where we fully enjoyed the landscape full of rocky hills that distinguish the area from anywhere else in the world. It was the perfect opportunity to take pictures, enjoy the scenery and relax. Once we got to Yangshuo, we went to our hostel, the Yangshuo Senior Leader International Youth Hostel. We only had a 4 hour sleep the previous night so a power nap sounded like the perfect plan before hitting the town. Yangshuo is a pretty Chinese town, small yet full of shops and restaurants, and is right next to the Li River, making it the most fascinating out of all the cities we had visited in China. It's hard to forget China's huge population, as every new city you visit has no less than 4 million people living there...Xi An, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Guilin, you expect them to be much tinier, so I guess that any Chinese who visits Europe must find it pretty empty. Getting back to the topic, Yangshuo is a jewel that should be visited, for its size, the area around it, its Chinese style houses and the absence of skyscrapers. Once awoken, a coffee was in the list of things-to-do and finding Jochem and Susanne; we knew the guys were around somewhere, so we passed by their inn. It turned out that we met them straight away and they came for dinner with us. We also found out that it was Susanne's b-day so we invited her to dinner and a mango slushy for dessert somewhere else. Patty and Giulia were craving for their first reflexology massage and us, as almost experts, could't deny their request...so we "sacrificed" ourselves and went all together to a spa, the biggest in town. This was not a regular massage place, no masseurs with bleeding noses or chatting out loud, but a full-on spa with professionals and great service. Of course, the rates were higher, but the foot reflexology was perhaps the best we received in our trip so far, a bit painful but very relieving at the same time. The best thing about the foot reflexology is that afterwards you feel re-energised, which is why we couldn't go to bed early and stayed up chatting with a cup of tea until 4 am.
Our first full day in Yangshuo was dedicated to cycling. We rented a tandem and two regular bicycles and left the city to visit its surroundings and the Banyan Tree park. On our way back to town a storm surprised us and by the time we arrived at the hostel we were completely soaked. A quick shower and it was time to leave again; we had booked tickets for the famous light show "Impressions Liu Sanjie". Its creator, Zhang Yimou, was responsible for the opening show of the 2008 Olympics so we assumed it would be a great show, and it's definitely a must when you visit Yangshuo . The most impressive thing about the show was the scenario; a lake surrounded by the typical karst peaks you find in that area. No other performance we had seen before is similar to this, and the creativity Chinese people have is way superior to anyone else's. On the way to the show we met two Spanish guys, who afterwards took us to a restaurant they knew that was good and cheap. Patty and Giulia coulnd't resist the temptation of another foot massage, whilst we headed back to the hostel for a good rest.
The morning after we rented four mountain bikes and headed towards the Water Caves. It took us a while to get to the main parking in Moon Hill and from there we had to take a mini bus as the roads were too rough. We went inside with a boat and toured the caves until we finally had the chance to float in a mud pool and relax in some hot pools. In the evening, the girls wanted to invite us to a massage, and we couldn't resist...so this time we went for the full body...after Thailand and China we feel we have become addicted to massages :-)
North from Guilin there's another area worth visiting, which is famous for its rice terraces, so we took two buses and a taxi to reach the small village of Ping'an. When we arrived it was dark and there were no lights, so the owner of the guest house where we were staying guided us through the dark with some torches. We were tired, but still, that night there was room for laughs and great stories sharing between the four of us...another bohemian evening with Patty, and that's where we actually got to know better sweet Giulia. When we woke up in the morning we saw some breathtaking views from our window; we were surrounded by rice terraces and just a few wooden houses. It felt like being in another planet, away from the cities and its populations, the neon lights and the sound of traffic. We had a power breakfast and started our trekking session; our objective for the day was to walk to another little village, Dazhai, which we had been told by the guest house owner was three hours away...well, it turned out that the walk was not that short, and we only made it half-way through. The trail was beautiful, the scenery is actually quite similar to Sapa in Vietnam, but bigger, with deeper valleys and outstanding views. The area is home to some Chinese minorities, like the Zhuang or Yao, and we kept bumping into some of them, especially the long-hair women, who never cut their hair so it reaches their toes, and will show it to you in exchange for money. There was also an Australian traveller who kept popping out like Wally from random corners even if he was much quicker than us in the hiking, so every time we saw him we just cracked up stupidly as it seemed absurd that he could show up no matter where we were or what we did...this actually drove Patty a little crazy. In the evening, after six hours walk and a shower, we were ready to try a foot massage and have some dinner...it was definitely the best way to give our feet some relief!
The next day we headed back to Yangshuo as we wanted to explore more of its surroundings, whereas Patty and Giulia decided to enjoy a day in Ping'an before going to Shanghai by train. It was sad to say good bye, they were an amazing company and it felt good to share a few days with them, but we had to keep rolling, and so we did. So we did the whole travelling back to Yangshuo and went directly to our hostel, but no rooms were left, and they placed us in a hotel right next to them. It was September 18th, which meant we had three days left to enjoy before getting the night bus to Hong Kong, so we took it quite easily, except for our first day. We were so powered up by the trekking and the cycling, that we decided to rent two mountain bikes and go to the rougher parts around Yangshuo...there's a place near the village of Baisha by the Yulong river called the Dragon's Bridge, so we drove until there, where we had a little rest as it was painful hot. We just sat with an old lady who offered us her fan and some drinks and we did nothing but staring at the people around for a while; groups of men playing cards, women playing with their grandsons and random tourists looking for shelter from the sun. We actually crossed the Dragon's Bridge and followed the trail by the river until we found that there was basically no trail, but only rice fields. At that point we had two options, going back or continuing to see what we could find. We decided to walk with our bicycles between the rice fields, being careful not to fall, and we needed some time, but with patience and indications from farmers who didn't speak a word of English, we finally made our way to other villages. The area is the best around Yangshuo as there's no traffic and you end up in the middle of nowhere...which is just what we were looking for.
During the rest of our stay in Yangshuo we chilled...no bicycles or long intense walks...just sleeping in, reading, walking around town and hiding from the rain. It felt great and we spent most of our time at the Senior Leader Intl Hostel, because we loved the staff working there and the general atmosphere, full of travellers updating their families on skype or exchanging information with other fellas. On Sept 21st we took our night bus to Shenzhen to then cross the border and reach our final destination before flying to Singapore; it was time to stop by Hong Kong.