A Whirlwind Tour of Guilin

We were on the bullet train speeding through Chinese countryside, getting glimpses of vastly changing landscapes. It was my birthday weekend and Lucas had planned a weekend getaway to surprise me. While I dozed, nibbled on snacks and peered out the window, I could feel Lucas getting more and more tense. Every couple of minutes he checked his watch, muttered to himself and radiated more nervous energy. It seemed we were running late. After pulling in at Guilin station we were picked up and whisked away, our driver threading recklessly through the traffic, barking into the phone – “Don’t leave, we’re almost there”. After a hair-raising journey, we arrived at our guesthouse just in time (okay, maybe 20 minutes late…), to get ushered into a tour van which promptly sped off to Yangshou.

Our initial rush set the tone for our jam-packed day. A few hours and several sites later we found ourselves hiking up a steep path, made treacherous by a torrential downpour, clad in colourful plastic rain ponchos. Navigating this slippery path alongside us, was a bride-to-be in full makeup and a glamorous wedding dress. She was accompanied by a veritable army of attendants buzzing around her, making sure the eyeliner didn’t smudge, fanning her so she didn’t break a sweat and guarding the dress to make sure it remained pristine. At the end of this procession trailed a rather-forgotten groom, undoubtedly told not to get in the way. We quickly overtook them, but were so preoccupied by the spectacle that we hardly noticed when we reached the top. And then we saw the view. It was breathtaking. Stretched out as far as the eye could see, the karst mountains rose up at dramatic angles, and at the centre of it all snaked the great Li River. While drinking in the view, we were also treated to a tea ceremony. Sipping on a delicious home-blended tea, on what felt like the top of the world, was a surreal, magical experience. We all sat in silence, wrapped up in our own thoughts. All too soon, the meditative spell was over. The wedding party arrived, and there were thousands of obligatory photos to take. Our guide pointed out the rubbish strewn around, encouraging us all to pick up as much as we could to take down the mountain. It was still incredible, but now with a real-life edge to it.

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View of the Li River from Xianggong Mountain
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Sipping tea at the top of the world

The next stop on our tour was the Li River itself. We scrambled down the hill, piled into the van, and made it just as the sky began to transform and sun started setting. For a change of pace, we all swapped onto bikes. Pedaling furiously through fields and along the river, we were heading to a spot where we could capture the most perfect sunset pictures. We sped along single-mindedly until we came across another intricate and potentially treacherous wedding photoshoot, which we were inexplicably drawn to. Our quest slowly slipped from our minds as we slowed to appreciate the betrothed couple delicately balanced on a raft in the middle of the river with the photographer equally precariously perched on top of a ladder on the river bank. All of them fighting to remain clean and dry. Spotting a bamboo raft hidden in the reeds, we launched it into the river and took turns fighting for balance on it, drawing inspiration from the wedding scene. We quickly developed a deep admiration for the dramatic scene we had witnessed. Looking around, we suddenly realised the sun had set, and the sky was ever-changing hues of pink and orange. As the darkness descended, we stumbled upon a little restaurant nestled between the fields and the mountains, lit up with lanterns. We stuffed our faces and swapped life stories then clambered back into the van and all fell fast asleep on our way home. We never got the perfect sunset shot, but we did get a thorough education in exactly how crazy people become when you put a ring on it!

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Sunset colours over the Li River
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A short pause from the mad pedaling

Where to stay: Zen Tea House. (CNY340 / £39 a night)

Possibly one of my favourite hotels ever! Everyone was incredibly friendly. It was cute, quaint, beautifully decorated with teapots all over the place. The room was beautiful, the bed was amazingly comfortable. There was room to roam, and we stumbled across their hidden rooftop garden. To top it all off they produced their own blend of tea which they shared very generously with us – they wouldn’t let us pay for it.

Link: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/8300705

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Zen Teahouse Rooftop
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The most comfortable bed on earth

About the tour: One Day Tour with Car and Bicycles

Lucas booked the tour through Zen Teahouse. It was CNY380/person including:

  1. A private car fee (pick up from Guilin to the Ancient Stone City, the old town in Yangshuo, the Yu Long Area and return to Guilin)
  2. Xianggong Mountain tickets
  3. Bicycle rent fee
  4. English-speaking guide

I’m not usually a fan of tours, but I cannot recommend this one enough! We had two guides who spoke great English, were very knowledgeable and so friendly. They didn’t just show the highlights on the tour, they also pointed out things that weren’t so amazing, and where they wanted to see future improvement. The tour was a great, active way to get to know the area. On top of everything, they made us the cutest personalised video with little candid clips from the tour. They sent it a couple of days after we got back and it was a great personal touch.

How to get there from HK:

As both of us were working, we only had Friday night – Sunday afternoon, and for visa reasons, we couldn’t fly. This is the journey we took, but there are definitely easier/better ways:

Friday night: HK – Shenzhen. Stay one night next to Shenzhen West railway station

Saturday: Bullet train from Shenzhen – Guilin. 3+ hours. CNY212 for return tickets

Sunday: Bullet train from Guilin – Shenzhen. 3+ hours. Shenzhen – HK

There are also direct flights from HK to Guilin. It’s an hour thirty minutes flight, and around ~CNY2,000 depending on when you buy the flights.

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Proud poncho purveyors
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A beautiful picture – with pure craziness behind the scenes!

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