My husband and I recently returned from a 23 day trip to China. Here is the segment that includes the Longji Rice Terraces and Guilin (Note that there is a Yangshuo section on that forum). Feel free to ask questions and make comments. Most of all, I hope you learn as much from our experience as we learned from so many others.
Sunday, April 20 – We arose early and had a leisurely breakfast on the terrace of the Li River Retreat in Yangshuo. I had eggs and toast and DH tried the Spanish Breakfast, which included eggs and bacon plus French Fries and Fried green pepper. Then I checked email for what I figured would be the last time before Hong Kong (as it turned out the last time since we never made it to the Hong Kong hotel).
We said our goodbyes to those on duty in the morning at Li River Retreat and were picked up at 9 a.m. by Lilly and Mr. Tang for the drive to Longji. This necessitated going around Guilin (Mr. Tang had a shortcut that eliminated the traffic lights and the c
ity traffic, but we had to laugh when it involved a rutted, dirt road before we got to the highway. At one point even Mr. Tang stopped to check because he was afraid his shortcut had gotten blocked, but it was okay. When we finally got on the highway it was a relief. We drove along a winding, twisty road that went halfway up the mountain (we would walk the last part so we had packed an overnight bag and left all the rest of the luggage in the trunk of the car which would spend the night in a parking area under the watchful eyes of Mr. Tang’s friend.)
After we made up the mountain and walked up innumerable steps in the rain (guys kept asking if we wanted to be carried up in chairs, but that was out of the question!), we had a little contretemps when the hotel Lilly had selected did not meet with our approval. We decided to go further up the mountain (where the views were better) and see if we could find a hotel with a western toilet, but first stopped for lunch. Lilly and I had Noodle soup with vegetables, DH had a cheese sandwich, and I don’t know what Mr. Tang ordered, but with drinks the whole lunch for four people cost 57 RMB ($8).
We ended up at the Long Ying Hotel, which had western toilets, a better view, and a manager (Danny Liang) who professed a desire to work on his “American accent.” The room cost 150 RMB and came with a snack (a cup of tea for me, a coke for DH and peanuts) and a chat with Danny for his English lesson. He asked us for help with his English sign and suggestions to improve his business which we were glad to supply.
Although it had been misting earlier, we decided to walk up to the viewing area while the rain stopped. There were more steep steps, but the view was definitely worth it. Although we had scattered showers throughout the day, we weren’t sure what the weather would be in the morning. Later the fog moved in and it rained again during the evening, heavily at times, but by that time we were cozily ensconced in our hotel.
At 6:30 we came down for dinner at the Long Ying. We ordered Bamboo shoots with Pork and Red Pepper, Pumpkin, Fried Rice with egg and cokes. I don’t have the dinner priced separately, but total for dinner and breakfast was 120 RMB. After dinner we had another long chat with Danny about websites, trip advisor, advertising for his hotel, and improvements he could make to attract more visitors. While we were chatting we watched people walking along the steps outside the hotel in the dark and the rain. They carried flashlights and I marveled that people could live in such a place, where one wrong step in the dark could send you plunging down the mountainside (no railings on the steep stairways!)
Bedtime was early since we were exhausted. Lilly had warned that it might be noisy in this hotel, and we did hear a little noise from our neighbor’s television, but they soon turned it off and it was quiet for the rest of the night.
Monday, April 21 – Breakfast at Dragon’s Backbone – The day started out with clouds, but we were glad to see the sky brightening and eventually the sun came out. We sat out on the terrace of the Long Ying hotel for Danny’s western breakfast. He asked us if we would like banana pancakes and we said “sure!” First two fried eggs appeared on plates. We ate them. Then a basket of bananas was put on the table, which we also ate. We started to get up to leave, and Danny said, “wait, the pancakes are coming.” Next what appeared to be crepes showed up. We started laughing and Lilly, who had walked over to meet us, explained to Danny and the waitstaff that in Yangshuo banana pancakes are cooked with the bananas sliced up in the pancakes. That brought a round of laughter and everyone came out to our table to share the laugh with us. We told Danny if he’s going to advertise western style breakfasts he needs a few cooking lessons for the cook. He thought that was pretty funny, too.
We checked out and walked back down to where Mr. Tang was getting ready and then we all walked down to the car. I was glad to note that there weren’t any people sharing the steps with us in the morning (too early I guess for folks coming up) since it was narrow and we were able to stay close to the mountainside and avoid the edge.
We drove back to Guilin again using Mr. Tang’s dirt road shortcut. Guilin appeared to be a fairly modern and prosperous city, based on what we could see. We checked into the Guilin Bravo and said goodbye to Mr. Tang and Lilly. In each place where we had a local guide, we enjoyed their company, got attached in very short order and were sad to say goodbye. This time was no exception.
The room at the Bravo was very nice and overlooked the lake. Our non-smoking room had everything we could want, a King bed, complimentary fruit basket, bottles of water, television (many channels including some in English and a nice bathroom.
I realized that although the Bravo is on the same lake as the Sheraton and the Lijiang Waterfall, it is at the other end from these hotels, the two pagodas and the night market. It was a nice stroll along the lake to get to this area and that is what we did once we were checked in. We enjoyed the park, where lots of locals were playing cards, some were doing tai chi, and others were involved in some sort of musical rehearsal in one of the little lakeside pavilions.
At the hotel we had tried to get some information from the Concierge desk regarding a place to eat lunch and how to walk to the pedestrian street. There was no concierge on duty, but one of the fellows from the front desk along with the bellman were filling in and able to give me some information. As it turned out, we did find the pedestrian area, but not the restaurant. We stopped at another local restaurant that seemed busy and had Fried Guilin noodles (with chili peppers, pork and onion as it turned out), stir fried string beans, and two cokes for 42 RMB ($6). Then we strolled along the pedestrian street and checked out the shopping area (more expensive than Yangshuo) and ice cream. On the way back to the hotel we were accosted by a lady who turned out to be working an art scam. Of course we told her to forget it.
Tired and lazy, we decided to eat dinner in the hotel. After looking at the menus in both the Chinese and Western restaurants, we decided to eat in the Chinese one. Our meal was disappointing. We ordered Li River Shrimp and discovered they were inedible (essentially just shells). When we sent them back, the staff didn’t ask why or deduct them from the check. Also, when I asked which vegetable would be in the Guilin Noodles and Mushrooms with vegetables, the waitress was unable to answer the question – it turned out to be baby bok choy and we did like this dish. I guess they realized we were unhappy, because at the end of the meal I was given a little questionnaire to fill out. I don’t know if this is routinely given, or was their way of ascertaining what was wrong since no one seemed to speak more than a few words of English. Anyway, I filled it out and described the problems we encountered.
Then we went back up to our room, where the phone rang. It was Mr. Fish Li, the Assistant Manager, who wanted to apologize for our meal. He also asked my opinion of the hotel in general and of our room in particular. I told him how much we liked the room, and indicated that the lack of a concierge and English-speaking staff in the restaurant were issues he should address. After our chat, I was surprised when he rang our doorbell and brought up more fruit and some stuffed animal gifts to make up for our earlier difficulties. Clearly Fish Li hoped our opinion of the Guilin Bravo would be positive and I appreciated his concern and his effort to rectify the problems. After he left, Dh and I chuckled at the gifts and tried to imagine some American hotel manager being as apologetic or kind as Fish Li.
Tuesday, April 22 - We were up early, and after checking out, headed to the airport. When we got there, we asked the “Information Lady” where to go, and she sent up to what turned out to be the wrong line, but a roving official pointed us to the correct area and since the lines were short, it wasn’t a problem.
After we checked our bags, we scouted out some breakfast (noodle soup for me) and then went to Gate 3, where I chatted with a lovely young career woman from Beijing and we all played with a tiny baby. I was interested to learn that this young woman didn’t wish to marry, enjoyed her work and thought her lifestyle was just fine. She showed me the book she was reading – an anthology about famous Chinese women.
At 11:15 we still hadn’t boarded. People began to get agitated near the counter and a spokesman from China Southern Airlines appeared … ugh, I thought, another delay. No new departure time was given and it got uglier near the check-in area as people were shouting at the guy from the airline. We asked my friend, Huangshan, what was going on and she reported they were saying maybe we wouldn’t leave until 10 tonight. So, we walked over and found the guy could speak English. He said, no, not 10, the brakes needed to be relined and it would take three hours. Everyone was to follow him to a shuttle bus to a hotel, where lunch would be served.
When we arrived, much to our surprise, we were asked to surrender our boarding passes in exchange for hotel room keys (a clue that we weren’t leaving in three hours!). The room turned out to be decent, but this was a Chinese transit hotel and there were no English language channels. Lunch was served in a restaurant attached to the hotel, which was called the Guilin Airport/Aviation Hotel and Restaurant. We were served watery soup, roast chicken with potatoes and cabbage and rice on plates (not Chinese style). I chatted with a couple seated next to us who were on their way to Bali for a five day vacation and with some of the Tawanese, who told me the woman with the baby had gone home.
We also learned that we were all entitled to 200 RMB from the airline for the delay (which we collected later in the lobby of the hotel). Then we were told the bad news – the flight was canceled and we were to go on the 9:55 fight. The large contingent from Taiwan (flying back through Hong Kong) was especially incensed and soon marched back to the airport (about half a mile down the road) “to fight for their rights.” One of my new Chinese friends told me that the Taiwanese are more assertive than the Chinese. Another group traveling with a guide went back to the airport in a shuttle and I thought they were being flown on another flight, but later they returned (along with the Taiwanese) for supper.
We reclaimed our rooms and then decided we’d be too isolated in separate rooms, so we stayed in the lobby with the English-language group that had formed (an Irish guy taking a break from the Canton Trade Fair, an American guy living in Shenzhen, a Canadian couple and us). One of the guys supplied bottles of beer (purchased on the restaurant bar) and cards appeared to keep everyone entertained.
Just before dinner another delayed flight group arrived – Westerners who were in a tour group on their way to Chongqing to pick up a Yangste River Cruise (scheduled to sail later that evening) so we all ate dinner in the restaurant. I noticed their tour guide produced bottles of wine and beer, while we made do with tea.
Earlier when we spoke with the Airline spokesman all of us who planned to go to Hong Kong reminded him that we wouldn’t be able to cross the border with the flight taking off so late and that we would need accommodation for the night. The Airline rep said they would provide a shuttle and a hotel (but I was more than a little doubtful that they would follow through on the Shenzhen end of this arrangement!) So the plan was to sleep in Shenzhen and then cross the border in the morning and travel straight to the airport for our 10:30 a.m. flight home.
I had called the Royal Park to cancel our reservation when it became clear that the flight would not leave in the afternoon and explained the situation. They told me to avoid paying I would need to have Ctrip handle the cancellation since they had done the booking, which I did. The Ctrip representative in Hong Kong was very nice and very helpful and after I got home I faxed them the form from the airline regarding the flight and they we weren’t charged for the hotel night. Even so, we were sitting around the hotel all day (instead of shopping in Hong Kong or having a last sightseeing trip), eating the awful food they provided (instead of a great last meal in Hong Kong), traveling at night, having virtually no sleep all instead of the lovely hotel I had booked and looked forward to visiting… not a great way to end our trip, but there was nothing we could do about it.
Finally it was time to return to the airport we had left that morning. A bus arrived to transport us at 8. Now, instead of short lines, the security line was practically out the door. First we had to go to the China Southern desk and get our forms in order, then we had to go to the regular check-in area and get new boarding passes and then we had to go through security again. Many in our group got nervous while standing on the long line that we would miss our flight, but when the China Southern rep walked by, we reminded him that we were now on this long line and that they should make sure the plane waited for us. Our new friends joined us and we joked our way to security. It took 40 minutes to get through the line!
We went back upstairs and found Gate 5. Our Canadian friends ended up on another flight scheduled for 10 p.m. and we thought we’d see them in Shenzhen on arrival, but that didn’t happen. After we got on the plane they announced a fifteen minute delay (so I’m not sure if we took off before them or after them). Fortunately we had attached ourselves to another English-speaking passenger, Wei Li, who had spent many years in San Francisco. Without her help, things could have been far worse. When we retrieved our bags, she thought to ask the women in the China Southern luggage office where to go to find the shuttle bus and they told her to ask the Information Lady upstairs on the departure level. She took off in a hurry (so as not to miss the shuttle bus) and we took off on the run after her (with the Taiwanese and various others trailing behind us and reassuring some who were headed back down after not finding anyone). When we got to the front of the departure area we were told the shuttle bus was on its way (wow, I thought, they did make arrangements!)
About 11:45 we were transported to another transit hotel called the Wan Hong Hotel (not a fleabag, but definitely not as nice as our previous transit hotel and several steps down from our usual accommodations. For one, our room was on the third floor and there was no elevator so we lugged the bags up and then down again). Given the timing (Canton Trade Fair going on, we were happy to have any hotel room at all). Wei Li called one of her friends in Hong Kong and got information on border crossings. Previously we all thought we needed to head to Lo Wu at 6 and she had arranged with the front desk of our new hotel (no English spoken) for a taxi pick up at 6. Then her friend told her that wouldn’t give us enough time and described another crossing at the Port of Huanggong where apparently they stay open all night. The unseen friend advised a 4 a.m. taxi pick-up to make sure we had enough time to get to the airport for our flight. Wei Li, who had thought she would go with us at 6, threw in the towel with a 4 a.m. departure (it was now about 12:30 a.m.) and got detailed directions from her friend, told the front desk what we needed and made sure they had booked a taxi for us (which cost extra since the guy would be getting up in the middle of the night and it would be off the meter). We agreed to the new arrangements – what choice did we have considering we didn’t even know where we were at this point! Wei Li called yet again to say another woman would be traveling with us to the border (but when the cab arrived she never materialized). I am still in awe when I think of how much effort Wei Li made on our behalf – a couple of total strangers. We were fortunate throughout our trip to find many helpful Chinese people – people who went out of their way to assist us in a variety of situations, I think Wei Li takes the prize for the most helpful person (with no compensation whatsoever; she was just helping out some travelers).
After all the phone calls and arrangements, we set our alarm for 3:30 and tried to get a few hours sleep. At 3:55 the hotel front desk man knocked on our door to and said the word, “taxi.”We lugged the bags down, got into the cab and the driver said 200 RMB, which is what we had agreed to pay in one of those late-night/early morning calls, but at least a 50-60 RMB premium over the original price quoted because it was earlier in the morning.
Now here we were - driving with an unknown driver, who didn’t speak English, in what feels like the middle of the night, speeding along, hoping Wei Li’s friend, who gave us these directions to the Hong Kong airport, knows what she is talking about and that the hotel front desk man gave the proper directions to the driver. I felt a little better when I saw signs indicating we were going in the direction of the Port of Huanggong. At least that part was right…Finally, we stopped at what appears to be a military checkpoint. The driver rolled down his window and the guard checked our passports and eyed us suspiciously, probably wondering who we were and why we were traveling at this hour, or at least that’s what I thought at the time. Then he made the taxi driver get out of the cab and that worried me. What was that about? Was there some problem with him? Was his license in order. Suppose they searched the cab and there was some contraband in it or something like that… maybe I’d seen too many movies! Anyway, it was a scary moment and we were relieved when the cab was waved forward.
Soon we were in the Port area and there were lights and activity and some sleazy looking people including beggars and what appeared to be prostitutes. The driver stopped and began to offload our luggage. I didn’t see the place where we were to walk into the port. I gestured, “where do we go?” and the driver pointed to the stairs. There was a long stairway leading to an overpass crossing the road (with, of course, another stairway on the other side!) Naturally lots of guys wanted to carry our bags, but these guys were not porters, it was dark, and we didn’t want someone to walk off with our bags, so DH refused help and took the two heavier bags. I took the two carry-on bags and we made it up, across and down with minimal damage (although I think I pulled something and still feel it a month later!)
Wei Li had explained that when we got to the port we would go through Chinese customs, and then get a shuttle bus to the Hong Kong immigration station. We wheeled our bags past the Chinese customs folks and went in search of the shuttle bus. A guy with a tag told us we needed to wait with him for the Hong Kong airport, but we had spent 23 days dodging taxi touts and scammers, so we kept going to the area where the buses were. When we got there I was pleased to see a Hong Kong Octopus card reader (civilization!) but the woman told me that no, the small bus for the Hong Kong airport was on the other side and these were the big buses to Kowloon (and other areas of Hong Kong). So we went back to the guy with the tag and I started asking the others standing there where they were going. Satisfied that they, too, were going to the airport, we waited. The dispatcher kept talking to the van driver on his radio. A shuttle van pulled up (in a great hurry) and we all climbed on board and were handed entry forms (to fill out in the dark as the van hurtled forward!) Then the van drove up to the Hong Kong Immigration station. We were told to pass our passports forward to the guy sitting next to the driver and he handed them to the Immigration folks. They studied each passport and matched it to someone in the van as we waited. Okay, they waved us on and the van pulled up a few feet. A woman in uniform who had been standing there then pulled open the van door and put something to first DH’s forehead and then mine. I had no idea what she was doing and just took it in stride (another strange occurrence in a more than strange night). Unknown to me, DH thought he was about to get shot in the head… now who had been watching too many movies? (When we got to the airport we described this scene to an American working in China who was behind us on line, and he said they were using a scan to take our temperature before letting us into Hong Kong. Good thing we weren’t sick and didn’t have a fever!)
Each leg of our journey had been extremely fast (no traffic and extremely speedy drivers) so now it was only about 5:30 a.m. and we were speeding along. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to see signs for Lantau Island and Hong Kong Airport and recognize this road (which we had traversed 23 days before going to Kowloon on the A-21 bus).