We don the bagsThe rain has stopped and breakfast at the Paradise would have been fine had we not had to share it with a party of American College kids. Someone should warn them before they leave the US that the rest of the world does not really want to hear their views of bargaining, vegetables and college life. If they want to share them with each other that's fine but please - not so loud.

Just outside the hotel we were provided with bicycles (BMX for me, ladies no gear for Mary) and we wobbled off down the road. Given the manic way they drive around Yangshuo (and the rest of China) this is probably not one of the all time safe activities we have undertaken. Unlike 'Bungee Jumping' you could easily get killed. Apparently a lot of the rental bikes are seriously inferior models and many tourists have problems with the bikes themselves and being charged for 'damage' when bits break.

None the less we gradually got the hang of the bikes and Juli led us out into the so, so scenic countryside with the vast rocks (hills? mountains?) called karsts rising nearly vertically out of the paddy fields. About now the rain started mildly and we donned our emergency raincoats (thin plastic bags) and carried on.

 

The rain has stopped and breakfast at the Paradise would have been fine had we not had to share it with a party of American College kids. Someone should warn them before they leave the US that the rest of the world does not really want to hear their views of bargaining, vegetables and college life. If they want to share them with each other that's fine but please - not so loud.


smapans Just outside the hotel we were provided with bicycles (BMX for me, ladies no gear for Mary) and we wobbled off down the road. Given the manic way they drive around Yangshuo (and the rest of China) this is probably not one of the all time safe activities we have undertaken. Unlike 'Bungee Jumping' you could easily get killed. Apparently a lot of the rental bikes are seriously inferior models and many tourists have problems with the bikes themselves and being charged for 'damage' when bits break.

None the less we gradually got the hang of the bikes and Juli led us out into the so, so scenic countryside with the vast rocks (hills? mountains?) called karsts rising nearly vertically out of the paddy fields. About now the rain started mildly and we donned our emergency raincoats (thin plastic bags) and carried on.

We'd agreed to cycle up river and then come back on bamboo rafts and although quite expensive this was a splendid option despite the rain. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and even bought a picture ($NZ 10ish) taken as the boatman navigated a small drop in the river, I can't show you this as there was no way of getting a digital version and we have stupidly left the photo with the guide.

Continuing our cycle ride we went on to the the base of Moon Hill, a huge karst with a huge round hole bang through the top of it.  Unsurprisingly this looks from a distance like the moon we are told. Juli had trouble here with the ticket collector and then we all had trouble ridding ourselves of the  women hanging around who, starting friendly like everywhere else but then seem to lock onto you and became determined to follow us up the hill until we promised to buy water or a postcard or whatever.


Talk about wet TrevWe shook them off with some difficulty and some 900 steps later we hit the top of the hill, there were a Chinese couple there who instantly became another set of new friends (see photo). Overwhelmingly there were more impossible to dislodge touts but Mary gave them short shrift in the end as they dogged our footsteps as we made the difficult (slippery) decent. One chap on the way up even asked Juli how to get rid of his follower, she said she had no idea, even a foreigner (da biz – big nose) with excellent Chinese could not loose his shadow.

At the bottom we had our first unpleasant experience. The touts were even more aggressive and ended up shouting at us because we would not buy. We only got rid of them by aiming the camera at them and taking photos which they were very, very shy of. We had a good laugh at this, Juli reckons our laughter  would be seriously humiliating for them. Good. We have promised to write to Juli about this as this has every opportunity to become dangerous, any pushing or shoving on these steps (there is no hand rail and they are bloody slippery) could be very serious particularly for a lightweight guide like Juli.

The ride back to town was dogged by more serious rain and dumping the bikes we crossed the road to the restaurant next to the hotel arriving soaked to the skin. We did however have an excellent lunch with a terrific toffee banana desert. With some time to spare before this evenings flight at 20:35,  Juli offered us a number of options for the afternoon. We selected the white caves (I think that's the name), although we've seen caves, the rain has set in to heavy and the streets are soaked and we figured caves would not have too much wet falling in them.

In actual fact the caves were pretty good, lit in much the same extravagant way as the Read Flute caves but with a larger cavern and some really fantastic formations. At 4:30 we were on our way to the airport. Mary and I changed in the van, rather risking life and limb as our driver is more than a bit of a weaver and blind corner overtaker. He did however get us to Guilin airport dead on time with two hours to go before our flight. Not bad.


CaveHere at the airport we made a really bad mistake and attempted a meal at the sole restaurant in the departure lounge. This was without question not only the worst food we have had in China but it ranks as one of the all time rubbish meals, worthy of a Little Chef in the UK or a Holiday Inn. Not only that they charged us over $NZ 10 for a cup of luke warm undrinkable tea and the entire 'meal' over $NZ 60 = one of the most expensive we have had in China.

I was so moved by the unpleasantness of the dinner experience that I even went and told the staff exactly what I thought of the food and tea. Surprisingly they weren't bothered in the slightest, I don't imagine that it's a first. I can't describe how badly we felt let down.

So there's a real conclusion here. Guilin and Yangshuo have some fabulous and, in my experience,  completely unique scenery but this has led to the place being completely overwhelmed by tourists both from at home and now abroad. Unlike all the other places we have seen, many of the locals in particularly in Yangshuo have become disillusioned by tourism like so many other places where the numbers are too high.

Uniformly elsewhere in China we have been greeted by friendly smiles and unfailing courtesy with help and assistance when we have needed it and this has been really great. Guilin and Yangshuo on the other hand have institutionalised high prices and poor quality even choosing to make their airport a model of these values (I should mention in passing the airport bogs which are foul). The place even leaks rain!.

Our guide, Juli, was adept in insulating us from many of the worst excesses and warned us off poor quality and really was instrumental in making this part of the trip very, very enjoyable. She's pretty good company too. Frankly this is not a place to be caught without someone on your side as it could all get very awkward and I doubt the local gendarmes would take your side against a local.

So, unless you enjoy large crowds, poor service, high prices and surly touts our recommendation is to pick destinations outside of Guilin and Yangshuo. The rest of China beckons and while the bits we have seen have been hugely crowded they have yet to be spoilt.