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Posts Tagged ‘Tour’

It was time for a truly authentic bamboo raft experience on the Yulong River, which is a tributary of the Li River in  Yangshuo. These rafts are smaller and only take two people plus a helmsman who guides  you down the river using a long bamboo pole. It was sold as a romantic tour with no engines or big ferry boats to disturb you but in China the biggest challenge is simply the number of people so it’s rare to ever have something all to yourself. That having being said it was beautiful and there was some excitement as you go over these 3-4 foot weirs on rafts that certainly haven’t been designed with that in mind. Our guide actually fell off the raft twice going over said weirs. The first time I felt sorry for him but after the second time I concluded that he just wasn’t very good.

all the rafts at the Chaoyang Dock starting point

beautiful calm water and scenery HDR

approaching the first weir

getting closer

going over the weir

and splash! (this was the point I realised having my camera out wasn't such a good idea)

one of the many floating restaurants you pass

some of the other boats having water fights with lots of screaming

looking back at other rafts going over a weir

The money shot - we are oblivious, our guide in the water & the people behind in shock

our guide fell off on this one too

bamboo forests on a narrower section of the river

getting a little crowded

Despite the crowds, restaurants and souvenir photo stations after every weir (which actually got a priceless shot of our guide falling off) it was a nice way to spend 2 hours with some more beautiful views of the Karst peaks beside the river and a little excitement going over the weirs.

We had actually hired mountain bikes to get to the Chaoyang Dock and they arrange for your bikes to be driven to the end of the cruise. They weren’t the most comfortable though, or perhaps I hadn’t been on a bike for a long time, so after riding back into town for lunch we decided to chill out that afternoon and enjoyed some Scrabble games on the deck at the hostel while sipping on some delicious honey-banana milkshakes.

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Or at least something that looked like a bamboo raft. They are actually made from PVC tubing but they look similar. We got collected from our hostel at 10:00am and taken by bus to Yangdi Pier. Along the way the tour guide who spoke reasonable English gave us some info on the area and the things of interest to look out for during the cruise on the river. We lucked out and got the front seat on our raft which was 1 of 6 in our group. It was nice to be on the water, despite being the middle of the day a breeze kept us cool and the scenery was just what I expected and hoped for.

Our flotilla leaving Yangdi Pier

Lots of rafts up ahead approaching the first bend

Interesting peak all on its own HDR

enjoying our front row seat

sheer rock face beside the Li River

and then the sun came out HDR panorama

The famous section seen on the Chinese 20 Yuan bank-note

short pit stop at riverside curio sellers

supposedly you can see 9 horses in the side of this peak, I'm not so sure

a Cormorant on a stick

Water Buffalo in the water

"You get the view and I'll get you."

One of the large cruise boats that don't look very nice

Two Karst peaks watching over the Li River HDR

cruising in style on a raft down the Li River

The bamboo raft cruise from Yangdi Pier to Xingping (where another bus took us to Yangshuo) lasted about 2 hours and was one of the highlights of my trip.

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The first order of the day was breakfast and so we set out to wander the streets in search of a very cheap Chinese breakfast of steamed buns and rice porridge. We turned left and walked around the block finding nothing and as we got closer to the hostel having come full circle we found what we were looking for but our Chinese failed us or perhaps it was a misunderstanding between dialects. Instead of pumpkin buns we got spicy pork but the red bean buns were good. Then it was on to Fubo Hill just around the corner from the hostel which we chose over the Solitary Beauty Peak because entrance was half the price (40 Yuan), it is next to the Li River and from a distance they look to be the same height.

Panorama of Guilin looking West from the top of Fubo Hill

Panorama looking South over Guilin and along the Li River from the top of Fubo Hill

Margaurita and I on the top of Fubo Hill, Guilin

The temperature was already up in the thirties and it wasn’t even 10 o’clock so we took an air-conditioned taxi and headed for the Reed Flute Cave which is a little way out of the town. Once again there was lots of tawdry lighting but the cave itself was quite impressive with some large caverns, formations and even a laser light show casting shapes on the ceiling of the largest hall. We tagged onto the back of another tour group who had an English-speaking guide to pick up on a few things although there was nothing about how old it was or how it formed but rather what imaginary thing the formations resembled. They even pointed out a mound of limestone that they had labelled Father Christmas.

Some of the impressive formations in the Reed Flute Cave, Guilin

One of the large caverns with coloured lighting

The lighting actually made this cityscape formation and reflection look pretty cool

So much for beating the midday heat as we were finished at the Reed Flute cave before 12 o’clock. The heat was pretty stifling so we took the opportunity to head back to the hostel and ask for help booking our train tickets home, still not sure how many days in advance we could buy them. They said they could help us but with a 30 Yuan service fee (for the middle man to take a taxi to the train station and stand in line) which we thought was a bit steep. We decided we would try on our own as well as trying to find a travel agency to book a bamboo raft to Yangshuo. After walking around for half an hour we still hadn’t found a travel service when I looked at a pamphlet we had and recognized the building and where it was. They couldn’t help with the bamboo raft but they had a train ticket office however they said the soft sleeper tickets were all sold out until the 15th and we needed to leave on the 11th. They then suggested we try the train station offering no explanation as to why, if they had no tickets, the train station might. Slightly panicked we caught a taxi straight to the train station were the queues were all 20 people long and the board with the train schedules above the tellers showed no tickets for any of the trains on the dates we needed. After standing in queue for a while it became apparent this was going to be a lost cause and so we went outside. Not knowing what to do we tried an official looking China International Travel Service (CITS) office in the station parking lot. The guy behind the desk spoke very good English and said the trains were indeed all sold out but why don’t we take a soft sleeper bus. He told us it was faster (15 hours), slightly cheaper(10%) and there were 2 buses everyday. Sold we handed over 840 Yuan for two tickets and got a hand written receipt with his cellphone number on it and he told us to come back at 3:00pm the following Monday (30 minutes before the bus departs) to collect our tickets. My suspicion was first aroused when I handed over the cash and he gave me change from his wallet and the lack of actual tickets concerned me somewhat but what else could we do. We thought about a flight but that would be twice as much. Having helped us with tickets home we asked about the bamboo raft but his prices were no better than the hostels and with my doubts on the authenticity we decided to just book the raft through the hostel.

In all the panic and stress we hadn’t had a chance to get lunch so we had a late snack at 4 and deemed it too late to get to Tunnel Hill Park so settled for the Elephant Trunk Hill, a must see according to guide books, and it was actually pretty good. We were lucky enough to catch the afternoon show of a cultural performance and the soft late afternoon light which made for some good photos.

playing a Reed Flute

standing on knives

Elephant Trunk Hill with Tunnel Hill Park and pagoda in the distance

posing with some Cormorants that locals still use to fish in the river

Looking down the Li River from the top of Elephant Trunk Hill

Karst peaks surrounding Guilin, silhouetted in the afternoon sun

Margaurita and I in front of Elephant Trunk Hill

It was a nice way to end off what had been a stressful afternoon and once back at the hostel we booked our bamboo raft cruise to Yangshuo for the next morning with pick-up at a decent 10:00am.

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After a decent breakfast in the hostel our tour guide arrived and spoke no English which didn’t bode well for the rest of the day, oh well. After stopping to collect a few other groups from different hotels we headed out first to an old village with some temple or other (they really don’t interest me), a street of curio sellers where I bought a painting of Guilin mostly because it was so cheap and some that was about it when we were herded back onto the bus.

Old lady selling salty hard-boiled eggs

Me not excited about another temple with souvenir shops in the background

An old street through a traditional village

Traditional Chinese buildings

As we were walking to the bus the tour guide came up and was asking us for money and we tried to explain we had already paid at the hostel. However it appeared she wanted 65 yuan more for the next part of the tour and she made out like it wasn’t optional and the others had already paid this. A little annoyed at we just shrugged our shoulders and said no to whatever the extra was for. She seemed frustrated but we just couldn’t communicate. We then stopped and everyone got off the bus the lady again came to us to try an explain, with no English, why we should pay the money. It would appear that the whole group couldn’t continue unless we paid and could all stay together. Then a Chinese girl nearby who spoke English helped translate for us and we established that the money was for an extra part of the tour and it would take 2.5 hours so it wouldn’t really work if we just wanted to wait for the group. Frustrated we paid the extra and hoped it was worthwhile and it was as you will see.

The entrance area to the Crown Cave, Guilin

Stands of curios as we enter the Crown Cave

This train ride was quite cool but went too fast to appreciate the cave

More tawdry lighting and curios deep in the Crown Cave

a nice boat ride on a river at the bottom of the Crown cave

Low ceilings and beautifully clear water in the depths of the cave

An underground waterfall (It cost an extra 5 Yuan to see this)

Mold growing on the limestone at the bottom of the cave - probably not helped by all the curio sellers and all day tawdry lighting

Exiting the Crown Cave by boat onto the Li River (this is what we had to pay the extra 65 Yuan for)

Worth it I think for this panorama from the dock

Despite the mold, tawdry lighting and endless curio sellers throughout the Crown Cave it was a worthwhile visit with lots interesting things between two boat rides, a train ride and a barge trip back to our bus. Next was lunch (not included in the tour price) at a farmers restaurant (really just meaning fresh produce) on the edge of a rice paddy and thankfully for us our Chinese was good enough to order some well-known dishes together with just pointing at some other tables dishes saying we wanted what they had. After lunch it was back onto the bus to travel to the Gudong Scenic Area, a National Park of China. Here there were a few more surprises like 5 Yuan for some bamboo sandals and a helmet to climb through a waterfall and optional zip-line and rollercoaster activities which was actually pretty fun.

The waterfall we climbed up in bamboo sandals

A cool suspension bridge after climbing up through the waterfalls

The optional (25 Yuan p/p) rickety but fun roller coaster we took down from the top of the mountain

Our bamboo raft guide back to the entrance of the Gudong Scenic Area

Although there were some extra costs that it would have been nice to know about before hand it was a fun afternoon and we were quite tired by the time we got back to the hostel, just in time to catch sunset on the roof before going down for the buffet dinner special the hostel was putting on.

sunset from the roof top of the Ming Palace Youth Hostel

We met an Australian couple at the buffet function who gave us some great advice on what was worthwhile to see and what to skip. So the next day we decided we would do our own thing and avoid Chinese lead tours. Itinerary was Fubo Hill in the morning, Reed Flute Cave in the heat of the day and Tunnel Hill Park in the afternoon.

 

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So we started the second semester at school which was bit of a shock to the system but there was light at the end of the tunnel because in a few weeks time the school was taking all the staff on a trip, something to look forward to. I asked where we were going only to be told some unpronounceable provinces and that we would see some flowers. What flowers I asked and the local teachers said “Rape Flowers.” At first I thought it was just an error in the translation of the Chinese name but I remembered our gardener in Zimbabwe used to grow Rape as a type of spinach and it is also known as Canola. So it has a very unsavoury name but a beautiful bright yellow flower which is what we were planning to see.

Rapeseed flowers

I say planning to see because the weather forecast wasn’t great and temperatures were still in the single figures, not conducive for blooming, as we left school on the Friday afternoon. We climbed onto one of the three buses only to discover that children were allowed too. The whole tour group totalled 160 people with lots of young kids hyped up on sugar and a 3.5 hour bus ride ahead, it wasn’t looking good. (more…)

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By Roux Van Zyl

“A relaxed and happy feeling comes from the harmonious coexistence between human and nature” – is engraved on a granite slab on Yellow Mountain at a special viewing point. Exactly, well almost… (more…)

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