The Magical Karst Mountains
A couple of days to catch up, but the ultimate was Day 740 up the Li River surrounded by the Magical Karst Mountains onto a theme park!
Day 738 consisted of saying a warm goodbye to Dave and catching a train from Kunming to Guilin. A long, comfy journey, it was great to see the change of the landscape from the urban jungle to flat flooded rice fields to the dramatic limestone karst hills, one of the reasons for visiting this area. The train informed us that it was 29 degrees outside. Thank goodness, some heat. However, by the time we reached Guilin, the temperature had cooled considerably. At least our friendly hostel was a short walk from the station.
Day 739, sitting, relaxing, catching up on writing and then a long walk around Guilin over numerous bridges, watching men balance on their boats made from plastic poles; these would have been bamboo in the past.
Our walk had a purpose. For some reason, Tim wanted to buy a waterproof rain cover for his case and had spotted the shop Northface on the map. Does he know something about the weather that I don’t know? I hope not. The shop was nowhere to be seen, just a large shopping mall in its place. We did buy some toothpaste for 3.5 yuan; about £0.39. Bargain! Not that this is going to keep Tim’s case dry.
Guilin is a bustling city, which would be rather nondescript if it wasn’t for those impressive hills peeking out in the background. What is it about the shape of them that is so adorable? We got a peak of Elephant Trunk Hill, resembling an elephant dipping its trunk into the Li River, but it was too far for a photo opportunity.
Day 740, a bus picked us up early taking us on a 45-minute journey to the Mopanshan Pier, and this is where we met Mark and his two cousins Fran and Mel. They were over here to celebrate one of Mark’s twin boy’s wedding and took advantage of the extra time beforehand to explore. The three of them were delightful companions for part of our day, and we all piled onto the three-storey boat for our four hours up the scenic section of the Li-Jiang River to Yangshuo, 83 km away.
Our boat joined the long string of other boats dancing down the river like well-rehearsed synchronised giant swimmers. The line meandered not just around the many bends of the river, but also the exposed rocks of the bed; the water was very shallow.
Unfortunately, the weather had turned, and it was freezing. Despite wearing four layers, I was still cold but did manage to pop up on deck for quite a bit of the trip to marvel at these fabulous rocks.
And what a marvel they were. The iconic mist-covered mountains rising sharply with curved pinnacles look like a herd of gigantic camels that have been turned to stone, with their fur becoming green foliage.
These shapes have taken millions of years to form, first underwater. The soluble limestone rocks eroded, creating sinkholes and caverns; the water level dropped exposing these weird and magical shapes for us all to admire. They remind me of the mountains rocketing out of the water near Phuket, Thailand where the James Bond movie ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ was filmed, and also the landscape around Ha Long Bay in Vietnam where we will be in the next month.
As we sailed along the water, many cormorants, free from the fisherman’s clutch, flew over. For over 1000 years the local fishermen have trained cormorants to fish. They put a lead around the bird’s throats tied so that they cannot swallow the fish. Instead, the fisherman reaps the rewards of their hunting ability. This, thankfully, is a dying tradition.
We passed a few ancient villages, openings to large caves, and many craggy cliffs. We reached a point where a few of the Chinese visitors were holding 20 yuan notes out, comparing the painting on the currency to the view. The locals often joke that even though the Yangtze is bigger, their Li River is more valuable. (A picture of the Yangtze River is on the 10 yuan bill).
We finally reached the shores of Yangshuo and said a fond farewell to the three cousins. They were staying here overnight while we were going onto an additional tour to Shangri-la Yangshou, but first, we needed to find an ATM.
Money tucked in Tim’s wallet; we located the bus pickup, following the map through the town. Yes, the place is touristy, but it has a charm, with umbrellas and flags overhanging the streets with a backdrop of more of these amazing mountains, caged songbirds for passers-by to enjoy their tunes and small bridges over the many streams that run down to the River Li.
We reached the shore where the map guided us around a huge rock, but no path to be seen. Perhaps Maps.me had chartered this when the tide was even lower? Eek, we had to find an alternative route. We scurried through the little lanes, reaching the bus just in time.
Our next few hours turned out to be at a theme park. That is one of the disadvantages of not understanding the language; we end up at places that wouldn’t be our cup of tea. Saying that we did laugh, helped by meeting a delightful Chinese-Malayan young lady Lee Ha Nnah and her friend Fiona.
We climbed onto a wooden boat to take us along the Yanzi Lake surrounded by gardens and vegetable patches. We passed a wooden structure with two girls in traditional costumes dancing and another with three boys waving at us between their karate kick moves. We reached a wide area where the water was an exceptional colour, like jade and so clear, just before we sailed through the 1 km deep natural cave with thick stalagmites. At the other end, was that peach blossom? This time of year? We hooted with laughter when we realised it was plastic! But the skulls were real.
Our boat trip was over, and we climbed ashore to be greeted with a small group of Zhuang girls singing and playing musical instruments. I am not sure if it was the many Chinese tourists who kept sitting between them for selfies that annoyed them, but they didn’t seem very joyous. Luckily our next encounter was jovial, where we danced on an area like a bandstand before standing in front of the Love Tower where red silk balls are thrown to the visitors to catch. And who should catch one? Tim. He was mighty chuffed. That’s our Christmas decoration sorted and a great end to our day. Now for our long coach ride back to our hostel.