After visits to Beijing and Xi’an, my family and I moved on to our next (and final) destination during our 2009 trip to China: Guilin!
Pronounced “gu-ay-ling,” Guilin (桂林) is a city located in south China, even more south than Xi’an. Unlike the architectural histories of Beijing and Xi’an, the region around Guilin is rich in natural history, as it’s known for its karst topography (i.e. limestone caves) and pretty nature scenery. It would be a change from all of the temples, palaces, and man-made statues we saw in the previous two destinations, and I admit that it impressed me just as much.
Of course, Guilin is also a popular tourist spot, so when we arrived in the city, we were greeted with tons of construction and congestion, not to forget that it felt even more humid than ever before (after all, it was summer when we went and Guilin is located in the south- how can you not expect intense, humid heat?). 😛
In any case, we met our tour guide who took us to the famous limestone cave, called the “Reed Flute Cave.” Dark and mysterious, the rocks on the wall glowed in bright, almost fluorescent colors of blue and purple, and our tour guide told us to use our imagination to see images in the rocks themselves. Some had names like “Mushroom” or “Headfirst fish,” which I admit were more creative than what I tried to think up of as we toured the cave. Super beautiful; I would recommend that people visit!
Next, we exited the cave and took a raft ride along the Li river, old-school style. I was afraid that the raft would tip over from our weight, but it held up perfectly fine. We spent the afternoon rafting along the river, taking photos and admiring the natural scenery of everything. Even though lots of other tourists were out on rafts doing the same thing, it didn’t feel as face-paced or rushed as visiting urban cities like Beijing; I very much enjoyed it!
Later that night, we saw a traditional folk performance called the “Third Sister of Liu.” It is a musical that tells the legend of Liu Sanjie (literally translated as “the Third Sister of the Liu Family”) who was born with a beautiful singing voice like a bird and was admired by many in the village. She was courted by a man who desired her as his concubine but when she rebuffed him, he threatened to kill her. Liu Sanjie fled from the village with her lover (another man) and the two turned themselves into larks and became free from the constraints of the human world.
Growing up and having been exposed to lots of cheesy Chinese television dramas in the household, I was actually surprised that I found myself enjoying the folk show that night; perhaps it helps to see it live than just on screen!
For our meals, we were treated to some of Guilin’s local food. Interestingly, Guilin cuisine is not spicy like Xi’an’s (even though it’s even more south of it, and generally speaking, southern China cuisine is spicy), but rather uses a lot of rice since the rice paddies are more common down south than up north (due to warmer temperatures which makes it more hospitable for growing grains). That said, dishes like rice noodle (mifen) and sponge cake (fa gao) are local specialties that are good for trying.
The following morning was our last day in Guilin, as well as our final day in China. We took a bike ride in the countryside, stopping every so often for the tour guide to point out something notable to us (a farm, a special tree or mountain, etc.).
Mind you, I rarely ever ride bikes back in the U.S., and it was years since I had last rode properly, so I was definitely shaky and afraid as my bike wobbled along the bumpy, rocky road. At one point, I even fell off; I was trying to make a turn and apparently I had gone too fast! I saw the green bushes getting closer towards me and I fell into them, scraping my hands and chin in the process. Luckily, it was nothing too bad; I didn’t appreciate the tour guide who saw what happened and commented how I could I have possibly fallen off a bike (the Chinese aren’t known for being subtle, but what are you going to do about that?).
Regardless, the countryside was gorgeous. Hot as heck, but the green landscape and mountains made up for the horrible heat. We stopped by one of the farmer’s houses and the farmer served us fresh fruits and peanuts that were grown right outside of her home. Chilled out for a bit, and then we headed back out to finish the bike ride and return to our hotel.
After we returned to the hotel, we packed up and had a small lunch before we left for the airport. Thanked the tour guide for her hospitality and service and we headed off. We weren’t heading right back to Los Angeles, but rather stopping by Taipei to visit my grandmother and family on my mom’s side for another week or two (already wrote about my visit to Taipei, so you can check them out!).
Any case, I felt that my 2009 visit to China was a good one: even though we only visited three cities (Beijing, Xi’an, Guilin), it wasn’t the quantity that matter but rather the quality. We saw a lot in those few days, taking in as much history, architecture, and nature as possible. In fact, we could’ve stayed longer if we hadn’t been on the tour, easily taking a week to cover Beijing alone- that’s how rich China is with culture!
Of course, we couldn’t only visit China once, but instead went a second time two years later! Although this trip from 2009 is over, look out for the next segment in this “Throwback Travels” series to China. More coming *very* soon! 🙂
— The Finicky Cynic
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